Lost Brothers of the Thais: Tais of Assam
Dr. Rajib Handique
When Chusak Suvimolstien left Bangkok for Assam, a state in the eastern part
of India bordering on Myanmar, he never imagined the surprises that would be
in store for him. A Thai Buddhist, he had just left an important job as an
instructor at the Huachiew Chalermprakiet in Bangkok and decided to plunge
into research. He had heard about the Tai people and especially of the
Tai-Ahoms of Assam, from several academic sources and therefore wanted to do
research on them. What Chusak experienced after staying and interacting with
the Tai people in Assam was very profound. According to him, the Tais of
Assam belong to the same ethnic stock as the Thais, and in one way are their
lost brothers or cousins.
visits with a village elder.
A long way back in history, the Tai-Ahoms had migrated from Yunnan in China
to Burma and finally migrated westwards into the Brahmaputra Valley located
in the eastern part of India. In the year 1215, Sukapha, the leader of the
Ahoms, along with his followers left Maulung in Upper Burma and after
defeating several tribes on the way, entered the Brahmaputra Valley in the
year 1228. Sukapha founded the Ahom Kingdom, which lasted for more than six
hundred years. During the early period of Ahom rule, there continued
intermittent flows of small migrant groups of Tai origin into the Ahom
Kingdom. The later Tai migrants were mostly Buddhist.
The Ahoms were able to develop a new civil society based on equality of all
the tribes living in the Brahmaputra valley. This new identity was Assamese,
which also developed a distinct language. The Ahoms assimilated and
patronized the new identity and the Assamese language. In the process, the
majority of the Ahoms forgot their ancestral language. However, the priests
of the Ahoms preserved the original Tai language and this is what scholars
like Chusak find so interesting. The Ahom kingdom was only overthrown after
the advent of the British colonial masters as per provisions of the Treaty
of Yandaboo signed on 24 February 1826.
Assam alphabet somewhat resembles the Thai alphabet of today.
However, under the colonial rule, the Royalty
disintegrated and the British cultivated a new and privileged middle-class
and bureaucracy. The British did not have much confidence in the Ahoms, as
they initially struggled hard to regain their lost independence. This
marginalized the Ahoms and diminished their power. This marginalization of
the Ahoms fit perfectly into the well-known British policy of ‘divide and
Thus a new elite developed in colonial Assam, which largely excluded the
Ahoms. This same elite largely dominated the polity and the socio-economic
and cultural domains of Assam even in the post independent period of the
Ahom consciousness of a distinct identity developed during British rule. It
also led to political mobilization with the formation of the All Assam Ahom
Association in 1893, which was later named as the Ahom Sabha. In a
significant speech, one of the presidents of Ahom Sabha, Surendranath
Buragohain stated, “It is a great fortune on the part of the Indian Union
that the great Tai family people have been within India. The Indian
Government can utilise this force as a medium to establish friendship
between India and Eastern Asia.” However, this was not heeded to both
before and after independence of India.
With the dawn of the new millennium and the increasing demands of
globalization coupled with the demand created upon the opinion built up by
academicians, intellectuals and the people of Assam demanding opening of the
eastern borders, the situation has begun to change. One should never lose
sight of the fact that the peoples of North East India are predominantly
mongoloid and there are several groups of Tais, like the Tai-Phake, Tai
Turung, and the Tai-Ahoms. Chusak lived amongst these people and was
exhilarated by some similarities.
As he said, “Though it was a gap of almost a millennium, I found many
similarities in their Tai language, some of the rituals and some sculpture
and architecture. Even some food and food-habits bear uncanny similarities.
I feel a urge to admit that maybe we even feel alike.”
The names of several rivers and places of Assam in Tai language remind us of
their cultural background. Nam means water, as kai means chicken in their
traditional language. Chusak feels that it was western imperialism that
divided these peoples and that it is time to build bridges between them.
“There are lots of linkages and one needs only to use them to strengthen
the ties,” he feels. He further opines that places like Chiang Mai and
Chiang Rai are closer to Assam than other places in the region.
One can feel the optimism in the air as there is the new Look East Policy
adopted by the Government of India. The ASEAN car rally held in 2004,
linking up Guwahati, the premier city of North East India, with the other
centers of SE Asia marked a new beginning. One can definitely hope that in
the coming days there will be closer ties between the people of Assam and
this region, including Thailand. Perhaps there would also be more projects
like the Thai-Yunnan Project, which was done in the late 1990s jointly by
Chulalongkorn University and the Australian National University.
Perhaps, the dream of Chusak to travel by public transport all the way from
Bangkok to Assam via Chiang Mai and Burma will be accomplished one day. One
can only pray that sooner is the better.
(The writer is from Assam, India and is a participant of the Three-Months
Certificate Course on Peace and Conflict Studies at Chulalongkorn
from right) standing with a group of Tai Phake villagers.
Chiang Mai Expats Club meets again
The Chiang Mai Expats Club (CEC) is growing, growing, growing! The
well-attended meeting was held on Saturday, August 26, 2006, at 10:30 a.m.
at the Chiang Mai Orchid Hotel on Huay Kaew Road. Just over 100 members
attended the double feature presentation as Jim Cox, founding president and
board member introduced 15 newly joined members who hail from all over the
(Yai) Napikun giving short lesson on how not to speak Thai.
What is really fascinating is that club members’ ages run the gamut,
anywhere from thirty-something to seventy-something. So many members seem to
have so many things in common, such as current or former occupations,
recreational or social interests, hobbies, etc. To say the least, CEC is not
an organisation filled with ‘couch potatoes’ or do-nothing retirees.
These folks are vibrant and active and willing to get involved in Chiang Mai
Since the club started in September, 2005, membership has grown to well over
200 members, and the occasion will be celebrated at the September 23, 2006
anniversary meeting to be held at 10:30 a.m. at the Orchid Hotel. Special
treats are in store for those who stop by to join in the momentous occasion.
You won’t want to miss this meeting.
The list of CEC friendly merchants and club sponsors also keeps growing each
month. Friendly merchants and sponsors offer discounts to those who show
their membership card when receiving services at local Chiang Mai business
Sentoria Blackwood, a spokesperson and volunteer with Australian Business
Volunteers (ABV) works with WEAVE, an organisation ‘founded in 1990,
with the intent to empower indigenous women and support their needs and
basic human rights’. WEAVE is an acronym for Women’s Advancement
and Empowerment Via Education.
from the WEAVE program displaying handcrafts.
Using her slide presentation and display of crafts made
by women involved in the WEAVE program, Sentoria shared information on how
women along the Thai-Burmese border are working toward self-sufficiency,
while assuming leadership roles in their communities and villages. Women in
the program learn valuable work skills which provide income with which they
are able to help support their families. WEAVE also has a child development
component which incorporates special education and assistance to children
with special needs.
To learn more about this very special organisation, please make contact
using the following information: P.O. Box 58 Chiang Mai University, Chiang
Mai 50202 Thailand. Telephone: 66 53-221-654. Fax: 66-53-357-695. Email:
Thatsawan (Yai) Napikun, owner and teacher at Easy Study Thai Language
School brought her classroom to the expats club meeting and delivered a
‘hands-on’ lesson on “How Not To Speak Thai”. Using a power-point
presentation, Yai demonstrated proper Thai language conversational
vocabulary and word pronunciation, and exhibited correct Thai language
sentence structure, while at the same time working her audience into her
presentation by having them repeat words and sentences.
Yai pointed out that it is very important to recognise the five tones in the
Thai language, and be sure to, at all times, use correct tones when
speaking, otherwise, the listener might hear something he or she does not
want to hear, or that listener and the speaker both might become embarrassed
by words or phrases used with improper or wrong tones. Yai’s contact
information: Telephone: 06-6594532, www. easystudythai.com or Email:
Remember, the month of September has five Saturdays, and since expats club
meetings are held on the second and fourth Saturdays each month, the next
regular meeting will be on September 9. Please mark the date on your
calendars. Remember, it all about expats helping expats.
Blackwood displaying dolls made by women in the WEAVE program.
Six Mekong countries join to training program to combat human trafficking
UNIAP and MI staff
Photos by: Phitsanu Thepthong
The official launch ceremony of the Regional Training Programme to Combat
Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) was held at the
Mekong Institute (MI) on the campus of Khon Kaen University on 28 August
on behalf of the GMS embassies, the Ambassador of the Socialist Republic of
Vietnam, His Excellency Nguyen Duy Hung, expressed satisfaction on the
progress currently made in the region to combat human trafficking.
The Regional Training Programme is the first project under the COMMIT
(Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking) Sub-regional
Plan of Action organised by the UN-Inter Agency Project on Human Trafficking
in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (UNIAP), who was appointed by the GMS
governments as the Secretariat, and the MI.
In her keynote speech, Ms. Joana Merlin-Scholtes, UN Resident Coordinator in
Thailand, highlighted that the Regional Training Course “…reflects a
recognition among all parties to the COMMIT process of the need to come
together and learn, to review existing assumptions, to share best practices,
and to fight this crime of human trafficking systematically.”
Joana Merlin-Scholtes, UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand, is seen
delivering her keynote speech to the participants from the six GMS countries
at the Mekong Institute in Khon Kaen, Thailand.
Speaking on behalf of the GMS embassies, the Ambassador
of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, His Excellency Mr. Nguyen Duy Hung
expressed satisfaction on the progress currently made in the region to
combat human trafficking but emphasised the need to do much more to make a
difference. A key feature of the programme is the opportunity for
participants to meet colleagues from neighbouring countries, to share
information and to build trust and relationships that will become important
in fighting the crime of human trafficking in the region.
Ambassadors and senior officials from the Embassy of Cambodia, China, Lao
PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam, senior officials of the Royal Thai Government, UN
representatives, development partners from the Embassy of Sweden and the
CIDA-funded SEARCH project were present on the occasion to commemorate the
official launch of the highly regarded Regional Training Programme.
Altogether 29 middle to senior level government officials and International
Non-government Organisations (INGOs) personnel from all six GMS countries
will be attending this fourth training session from 28 August to 6 September
here, seated in front , from left to right are: Joana Merlin-Scholtes, UN
Resident Coordinator in Thailand, Zhang Wanhai, Minister Counselor and
Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of China to UNESCAP,
H.E. Nguyen Duy Hung, the Ambassador of Vietnam, Souvanna Phouyavong,
Minister-Counsellor of Lao PDR, Deputy Permanent Representative to UNESCAP,
Myint Soe Minister Counselor of Myanmar, and Rarintip Sirorat, Director of
Bureau of Policy and Strategy, National Operation Center on Prevention and
Suppression of Human Trafficking (NOCHT).