Peopling of Thailand
|History of Thailand|
The peopling of Thailand refers to the process by which the ethnic groups that comprise the population of present-day Thailand came to inhabit the region. Aside from ethnic groups representing recent expatriate migrations, and the earliest Negrito arrivals, the ethnic groups of Thailand are all believed to be descended from ethnicities associated with clades of Y-DNA Haplogroup O, suggesting an ancient homogeneous ethnicity in Southeast Asia some 35,000 years ago which, over time, spread out and independently evolved into diverse sub-ethnicities, branches of which found their way to Thailand at different points in history, employing different migration routes and modes of transportation, only after being infused with elements of other cultures along the way, via both exposure and inter-breeding. The result is an extremely diverse population of distantly related tribes with a common Asian heritage steeped in ancient tradition.
Early arrival of the Aboriginal Mani people
The Mani are an indigenous tribe of southern Thailand, who make their home on the Malay Peninsula. While they speak a Mon–Khmer language, they are not Mon–Khmer people, but rather remnants of an earlier migration into the region. The Mani are the only Negrito people of Thailand.
Origin of the Negrito
Being among the least-known of all living human groups, the origins of the Negrito people is a much debated topic. The Malay term for them is orang asli, or original people. They are likely descendants of the indigenous populations of the Sunda landmass and New Guinea, predating the Mongoloid and Australoid peoples who later entered Southeast Asia. Alternatively, some scientists claim they are merely a group of Australo-Melanesians who have undergone island dwarfing over thousands of years, reducing their food intake in order to cope with limited resources and adapt to a tropical rainforest environment. Regardless of the theory of origin, geographically speaking, they probably came to Thailand via the lower portion of the Malay Peninsula, through present-day Malaysia.
Coastal migration of the indigenous Mon–Khmer populations
The Mon–Khmer ethnicities were among the earliest aboriginal populations in Southeast Asia. The arrival of these ethnic groups likely represents the first waves of settlement in Thailand, although considerable inter-Southeast-Asian migration has taken place since their arrival, especially during the prevalence of the Khmer Empire in Thailand. Archaeologists suspect that the Mon–Khmer may have spread through Thailand throughout the metal ages, bringing rice agriculture, metalworking, domestic animals, and the Mon–Khmer languages to the region. They are believed to have spread through Southeast Asia from west to east along the coast, and then subsequently migrated inland along the rivers to the central plains of Thailand, long before the arrival of the now dominant Tai.
Origin of the Mon–Khmer peoples
Comparative linguistics reveals that the Mon–Khmer are of Austroasiatic descent. Genetic research suggests that Y-DNA Haplogroup O2a is the primary marker associated with the Austroasiatic ethnicities, suggesting that some 35,000 years ago, the Austroasiatic people were homogeneous with the Sino-Tibetan, Austronesian, and Hmong–Mien peoples (prior to the evolution of Y-DNA Haplogroup O into its present clades), sharing a common homeland in Southeast Asia. The coastal immigration theory suggests that the Mon–Khmer probably first entered Thailand from the Malaysia.
Regional Mon–Khmer migration throughout Southeast Asia and cross-cultural infusion
Throughout the history of Southeast Asia, the various Mon–Khmer and other Austroasiatic ethnic groups of the region have migrated from one territory to another within the region, for reasons such as the expansion and contraction of political boundaries (particularly during the Khmer Empire), the expansion of individual tribal populations, and the threats imposed by other civilizations in the region. Also, in early days, the Austroasiatic were a hunter-gatherer civilization, a lifestyle which lends itself to continuous migration. Along with this ongoing intra-regional migration, there has been considerable cross-cultural inter-marriage over the years between the Mon–Khmer peoples and other Southeast Asian civilizations, resulting in a Mon–Khmer population very different in both physical appearance and culture from other branches of the Austroasiatic ethnic tree who migrated elsewhere. Likewise, Mon–Khmer have largely assimilated into the later-arriving dominant Tai population in Thailand, beginning at an early stage in the region's history, thereby infusing their culture and genetics into the modern Thai people.
Individual Mon–Khmer ethnic groups in Thailand
Since the Mon–Khmer were aboriginal to the region, there is great ethnic diversity among the individual ethnic groups. In fact, there are at least 15 distinct Mon–Khmer ethnic groups who make their home in Thailand today. These groups have resided within Thailand for thousands of years, with the possible exception of the Pearic peoples who are indigenous to neighboring Cambodia. The following Mon–Khmer ethnic groups currently reside in Thailand:
- Aslian clade (indigenous to the Malay Peninsula)
- Viet–Muong clade
- So (forest tribe straddling the Thai-Laotian border)
- Monic clade (indigenous to Burma and Thailand)
- Pearic clade (indigenous to Cambodia, fled recently to Thailand, but were probably a people of Thailand as well during prehistoric times)
- Katuic clade (indigenous to Thailand and surrounding countries to the east)
- Khmer (indigenous to Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam)
Arrival of Malayic peoples by sea
The Malay were historically a seafaring people, as is evident by their prominence on the islands of Southeast Asia, and they likely settled throughout the region via a mixture of sea and land routes. The Malayic migrations to Thailand took place over a vast expanse of time. The Mon–Khmer probably inhabited the Malay Peninsula prior to or contemporaneous with the Malay people, but long before the Tai came into the region.
Origin of the Malayic peoples
It is believed that the ancient Malayic speakers were once part of a greater Malayo-Polynesian people who originated in Philippines and then expanded outwards into Sumatra and later into the Malay Peninsula, establishing substantial settlements in present-day Malaysia. They were part of an earlier Austronesian ethnicity originating on the Island of Formosa (Taiwan). It is believed that the Y-DNA haplogroup O1 is associated with the Austronesian people, thus suggesting that prior to their arrival in Taiwan, they were part of an earlier ethnicity in China which encompassed the Sino-Tibetan and Austroasiatic people as well. Archaeological evidence supports this theory, and suggests that the Austronesians may have come to Southeast Asia via boat, south from mainland China through Formosa island after settling for a period of time in mainland China.
Individual Malayo-Polynesian ethnic groups in Thailand
- Cham (population of 4,000 in Thailand, considered to be descendants of the kingdom of Champa, the only Malayo-Polynesian ethnic group in Thailand to have migrated by land, coming from the coastal region of Vietnam where they had settled over a thousand years ago by sea, to Thailand via Cambodia in recent times)
- Malay (Peninsular and Island ethnic groups in Southern Thailand)
- Moklen clade (Nomadic sea-based tribes)
- Urak Lawoi (Sea Gypsies residing on the islands of Lipe and Adang, in the Adang Archipelago off the western coast of Thailand)
Gradual inland migration of Tai peoples from China
The Tai migration from the northern mountains into Thailand and Laos was a slow process, with the Tai generally remaining near to the mountainous regions within the region, where they were able to use their specialized agricultural knowledge relating to the use of mountain water resources for rice production. The earliest Tai settlements in Thailand were along the river valleys in along the northern border of the country. Eventually, the Tai settled the central plains of Thailand (which were covered with dense rainforest) and displaced and inter-bred with the pre-existing Austroasiatic population. The languages and culture of the Tai eventually came to dominate the regions of both modern-day Laos and Thailand. In more recent times, many of the Tai tribes of Laos also migrated west across the border establishing communities in Thailand. The Laotian Tai ethnic groups, often referred to as the Lao), are largely clustered in the Isan region of Thailand.
Origin of the Tai peoples
Comparative linguistic research seems to indicate that the Tai people were a proto-Tai–Kadai-speaking culture of southern China, and that they, like the Malay-Polynesians, may have originally been of Austronesian descent. Prior to inhabiting mainland China, the Tai are suspected to have migrated from a homeland on the island of Taiwan where they spoke a dialect of Proto-Austronesian or one of its descendant languages. After the arrival of Sino-Tibetan speaking ethnic groups from mainland China to the island of Taiwan, the Tai would have then migrated into mainland China, perhaps along the Pearl River, where their language greatly changed in character from the other Austronesian languages under influence of Sino-Tibetan and Hmong–Mien language infusion. The coming of the Han Chinese to this region of southern China may have prompted the Tai to migrate in mass once again, this time southward over the mountains of southern China into Southeast Asia via the mountains of Burma and Laos to the north of Thailand. It is believed that the Tai ethnic groups began migrating southward from China and into Southeast Asia during the first millennium A.D. While this theory of the origin of the Tai is currently the leading theory, there is insufficient archaeological evidence to prove or disprove the proposition at this time, and the linguistic evidence alone is not conclusive. However, in further support of the theory, it is believed that the O1 Y-DNA haplogroup is associated with both the Austronesian people and the Tai.
Tai ethnic fusion
Over the centuries, the Tai intermarried and absorbed many of the other populations who co-inhabited and/or politically occupied the region, particularly populations of Mon–Khmer, Burmese, and Chinese descent. This fusion of ethnicity has led to considerable genetic diversity in the modern Thai people, and has resulted in a Tai population significantly diversify in culture, language and apparel from the Tai ethnic groups who remained in China. In addition, many of the individual Tai ethnic groups have merged under a common Thai identity, and have adopted a nationalistic view of their culture.
Individual Tai ethnic groups in Thailand
There are presently upwards of 30 distinct Tai ethnic groups within Thailand, making up nearly 85% of the nation's population. The genetic stratification of the ethnic clades of the Tai ethnicity is a topic of present debate among linguists and other social scientists. A list of the individual Tai ethnic groups is provided in a separate article: List of Tai ethnic groups in Southeast Asia (Thailand).
Continuous diverse Chinese immigration from the 13th century
The history of Chinese immigration to Thailand dates back many centuries, and the specific Chinese ethnic groups which made their way to Thailand are numerous, although there is a greater concentration of Chinese from the southern provinces due to their geographic proximity to Thailand. The Chinese are a part of the greater Sino-Tibetan ethnicity which also includes the Tibeto-Burmans. The Chinese immigrants were largely able to merge into the predominant Tai culture, and have contributed significantly to the economy and infrastructure of Thailand over the years. Even the current King of Thailand is part Chinese, on his mother's side. Also of note, the Khek River in Thailand derives its name from the Thai word Khek, which is the Thai name for the Hakka people of China who settled along its banks in the Phitsanulok Province.
Chinese immigration during the Ayutthayan Period
Chinese traders in Thailand, mostly from Fujian and Guangdong, began arriving in Ayutthaya by at least the thirteenth century. Ayutthaya was under almost constant Burmese threat from the 16th century, and Qianlong, the Emperor of Qing was alarmed by the Burmese military might. From 1766-1769, Qianlong sent his armies four times to subdue the Burmese, but all four invasions failed. Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese in 1767. During the Ayutthaya period, many of the Chinese traders and soldiers inter-married with the local Tai, infusing Chinese culture among the population early in its history.
18th and 19th century male Chinese immigration
In the 18th century, General Taksin actively encouraged Chinese immigration and trade. Settlers principally from Chaozhou prefecture came in large numbers. By 1825, the population of Chinese in Thailand was 230,000, and grew steadily as a constant stream of Chinese immigrants entered the country throughout the 19th century. Early Chinese immigration consisted almost entirely of Chinese men who married Thai women. Children of such intermarriages were known as Luk-jin (ลูกจีน) in Thai.
20th century immigration of Chinese families
The Chinese population in Thailand rose to 792,000 by 1910. By 1932, approximately 12.2% of the population of Thailand was Chinese. The corruption of the Qing dynasty and the massive population increase in China, along with very high taxes, caused many families to leave China for Thailand in search of work. The Chinese who came before the World War One generally came by sailboats called sampans; whereas by the end of World War Two, most came by steam ships. The earlier tradition of Chinese-Thai intermarriage declined when large numbers of Chinese women began to emigrate into Thailand in the early 20th century. Moreover, the new arrivals frequently came in families and resisted assimilation.
Burmese infusion during the Ayutthaya Period
Historical evidence suggests that Burmese intermarriage with the Tai in Thailand likely occurred during the Burmese occupation of Ayutthaya. These Burmese invaders from the Pagan Kingdom were largely of Tibeto-Burman ethnicity, particularly members of the Bamar people, (with an infusion of indigenous Southeast Asian Mon–Khmer ancestry).
Origin of the Tibeto-Burman peoples
The Tibeto-Burmans in Southeast Asia primarily took a migration route from western China, expanding southward into the Himalayas of Tibet, and southeast into Burma. Comparative linguistics suggests that the Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups are part of a larger ethnicity referred to as Sino-Tibetan. The Sino-Tibetan, Hmong–Mien, Tai and Austronesian ethnicities all have high incidence of Y-DNA haplogroup O, which suggests a common ancestral ethnicity along the lines of 35,000 years ago in an area within the borders of the present-day Peoples Republic of China.
Lolo migration from Tibet via Burma
Some Loloish tribes such as the Lisu arrived in Thailand as recent as 100 years ago, while others came at a much earlier date. The Lolo are believed to be descended from the ancient Qiang people of western China, who are also said to be the ancestors of the Tibetan, Naxi and Qiang peoples. They migrated from Southeastern Tibet through Sichuan and into Yunnan Province, where their largest populations can be found today.
Origin of the Lolo
The Lolo (also commonly referred to as the Yi) is one of the two major distinct Tibeto-Burmese ethnicities within present-day Thailand, along with the Karen. The Lolo migrated southeast from Burma into Thailand.
Individual Loloish ethnic groups in Thailand
The Loloish of Thailand are generally hill tribes in the northern portion of the country, near the border with Burma. A list of the Loloish ethnic groups of significant size within Thailand are as follows:
- Southern Loloish clade
- Akha sub-clade
- Bisu (population of approximately 1,000 in Thailand, centered around Chiang Rai and Lampang Provinces)
- Mpi (population of approximately 1,200 within Thailand)
- Northern Loloish clade
- Lisu (population of approximately 16,000 in Thailand)
Hmong–Mien migration from China via Laos
Like the Lolo, many of the Hmong–Mien ethnic groups are among the hill tribes in Thailand. Their population is clustered in the north-eastern region of Thailand near the Laotian border. The Hmong–Mien of Thailand generally migrated from China through Laos during the second half of the nineteenth century, where they established themselves for some time, prior to their arrival in Thailand. An exception to the China-Laos-Thailand migration pattern is the Iu Mien people, who apparently passed through Vietnam during the thirteenth century, prior to entering Thailand through Laos. The Iu Mien arrived in Thailand approximately 200 years ago, contemporaneously with a large number of other Hmong–Mien migrants.
Origin of the Hmong–Mien peoples
Palaungic Arrival as Burmese Refugees
The Palaungic people are indigenous Southeast Asians. The center of their population cluster lies in present-day Burma and neighboring regions of China. Many of the Palaungic people arrived in Thailand recently as refugees.
Origin of the Palaungic peoples
The Palaungic are closely related to the Mon–Khmer. They are an Austroasiatic people of Burma.
Individual Palaungic ethnic groups in Thailand
The following is a list of Palaungic ethnic groups of significant size in Thailand:
- Blang (larger population clusters in China and Burma)
- Lamet (larger population cluster in Laos)
- Lawa (inhabitants of Thailand and Laos before the arrival of Tai people)
- Mok (nearly extinct culture along the Wang River in Thailand with only 7 members able to speak their aboriginal language)
- Palaung (indigenous to Burma where they have a population of 257,539, compared to a population of 5,000 in Thailand who arrived recently as refugees)
Karen arrival as refugees from Burma
The Karen left Tibet and migrated to Burma as refugees, establishing themselves along the Burmese border with Thailand. When during World War II the Japanese occupied Burma, long-term tensions between the Karen and Burmese turned into open fighting. After the war ended, Burma was granted independence in January 1948, and the Karen, led by the KNU, attempted to co-exist peacefully with the Burman ethnic majority. However, in the fall of 1948, the Burmese government, led by U Nu, began raising and arming irregular political militias known as Sitwundan. In January 1949, some of these militias went on a rampage through Karen communities. In 2004, the BBC cited aid agencies estimates that up to 200,000 Karen have been driven from their homes during decades of war, with 120,000 more refugees from Burma, mostly Karen, living in refugee camps on the Thai side of the Burmese-Thai border. The conflict continues as of 2009[update].
Origin of the Karen
Individual Karen ethnic groups in Thailand
- Pwo clade
- Sgaw–Bghai clade
Khmuic arrival as refugees from Laos
The Khmuic people are indigenous Southeast Asians. The center of their population cluster in present-day Laos. They were by and large absorbed by the later arriving Tai ethnicity, except for small populations that migrated to the mountainous regions of Laos during the Tai migration into the region. Most of these ethnic groups entered Thailand recently as refugees from Laos around the outset of the Vietnam War. An exception is the Mlabri, who are a nomadic people whose dwindling population has straddled the forests along the Thai-Laotian border for quite some time.
Origin of the Khmuic peoples
The Khmuic peoples are closely related to the Palaungic peoples. They are an Austroasiatic people of Laos.
Individual Khmuic ethnic groups in Thailand
The following is a list of Khmuic ethnic groups of significant size in Thailand:
Expatriate populations in recent times
In recent times, since the development of inter-continental modes of transport in Thailand, including air travel, populations of Indian, Japanese, Korean, European and African descent have added to the ethnic pool of Thailand, particularly around the area of Bangkok. The Thai often refer to Westerners and those of European descent as farang (from the Indo-Persian word farangi, meaning foreigner), carrying the connotation of "outsider." Most farangs come to Thailand on a temporary basis, although a growing community has begun to settle in Thailand, as the coastal regions of Thailand are establishing themselves as an ideal locations for western businessmen to retire and enjoy a comfortable living. While cost of living in Thailand is relatively low in comparison to Western nations, it is on par or relatively high when compared with neighboring countries. Thailand's relative political stability compared to other nations in the region, however, makes Thailand particularly attractive to westerners.
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