People of Esarn
book from the champion of the Esarn poor, Pira Canning Sudham. Having
previously written Tales of Thailand, Monsoon Country and The
Force of Karma, this latest is an updated version of the People of
Thailand, with the subtitle ‘The Damned of Thailand’ and with a
small addition ‘The Kingdom in Conflicts’.
Pira Canning Sudham is very well qualified to write on behalf of the Esarn
dwellers, having come from an impoverished family in Napo, Buriram province.
As a small boy he toiled in the rice paddies alongside his parents, but when
aged 14 he was ‘indentured’ to a Buddhist monk and was sent to Bangkok as a
temple boy. This was not because he showed any particular spiritual leaning,
but because the family was too poor to be able to continue to feed him. I am
sure that none of the readers of this book has had to endure such hardships.
It was during his time as a temple boy that the opportunity of experiencing
further education was made available, and Pira showed himself to be a very
bright student and managed to throw off his past from rural Thailand. His
intellectual abilities took him to New Zealand, Australia and the UK;
however, despite the opportunity to turn his back on his past he took upon
himself the mantle of championing his people and began his writing in the UK
where he wrote two of his books.
This new book, like all of his books, has an all-pervading air of sadness
running through the beautiful descriptions of the various facets of the
rural life of the Esarn people. That life is not to be envied, and in fact,
the vast majority of the privileged readers would not be able to endure the
hardships of an Esarn taxi driver in Bangkok and the roadside food-seller,
or the centenarian (rara avis in Esarn), or the Buddhist novice or the
farmer and his wife - all of whose lives are scrutinized and displayed with
empathy in this book.
The depth of the corruption indicated by Pira Canning Sudham is astounding.
He indicts successive governments, police, government officials and prime
ministers for the oppression of his people, and for the farang outsider it
is difficult not to want to do ‘something’ - but what? I have the feeling
that the author just wants us to ‘understand’ what has happened to the rural
poor, how they are downtrodden and how some of their behavior, previously
inexplicable, relates to the dirt poverty they are made to endure.
There are many detailed case histories in the book, particularly of people
who have perished while protesting the oppression. Unfortunately most of
these are from the early 1990’s, and being almost 20 years ago have lost
some immediacy or impact. Author Pira has tried to bring the book up to date
at the end of the book, with mention of the 2006 coup and veiled references
to the deposed ex-prime minister Thaksin, but I was looking for more hard
Available at B. 395 at Bookazine, compulsory reading for anyone who wishes
to understand Esarn and its people.