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121st Year Anniversary Our Ancestors' Legacy

In the 19th century, probably during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V 1868-1910), the monarch appointed local governors (Samuha Thesa) to rule the states or mini-kingdoms (Monthon Thesapibaan) which comprised the Great Kingdom of Siam. In most cases the Samuha Thesa were princes or other men of royal rank, Lord Lieutenant, from Bangkok. Meanwhile the Tipchang monarchs were still respected by the northern people as their figureheads, "Jao Luang", lacking administrative power.

Driving along the Sarapee Road with the official name of Chiangmai-Lamphun (pronounced as Lumpoon) Road (Route 106), you may notice the magnificent, stately trees that grace the roadside for about 10 kilometers. One may assume the trees were planted by the local government to beautify the roadside. Indeed this may be true. However, a little research of local history and legend reveals a much more interesting tale.

It is believed that the various Lord Lieutenants who ruled these northern Monthons were responsible for having the trees planted along the roadside. Local historians and scholars tell us that the princes planted the trees to delineate the borders of their regions. This would seem a logical explanation as the type of tree lining the roadside within Chiangmai is different from the type of tree found along the roadside in Lamphun. Most all of the radial roads leading out of the city have been planted with tall shade trees of one variety or another, which gives rise to the belief that the trees were planted to provide shade for soldiers enabling them to walk farther in the hot tropical sun. It would seem that great minds think similarly. Napoleon is said to have planted large shade trees along avenues in Paris for the same reason.

King Chulalongkorn was the first Siamese king to travel extensively abroad. He was quite impressed with Western civilization and attempted to adopt their methods in his country. At that time, the roads were little more than rudimentary dirt tracks between villages and towns; travel was mostly on foot, on elephant or by oxcart. One source reports that the king never visited the northernmost regions or monthons, never the less he appointed Praya Surasee Wisithsak (Cheuy Galayanamit) as Samuha Thesa of Monthon Payap which meant "North Region" to improve the road between Chiangmai and Lamphun.

Obtaining the authority of the Samuha Thesa, he conscripted the local citizens, who were not able to pay tax or who did not want to serve the armed forces, to labor 15 days each on the road improvement project. It was sometime after the roadwork was completed that the trees were planted. Historians differ as to the exact date, but most would agree that the trees were brought by Praya Surasee Wisithsak on 20 October 1882. He assigned each citizen to look after 4-5 future giant trees with water and natural fertilizer. The starting point of the tree growing project was near Mhuang Phaya-come Bridge, Baan Den which is the home of Gymkhana Club. There were approximately 1500 mature trees during the first generation. Those years were under the reign of the 7th ruler of the north, Jao Luang Inta Wichayanon, the father of Jao Dara Rasamee. She was one of the consorts of King Chulalongkorn.

Within Chiangmai, Yaang Naa, trees Dipterocarpus alatus were planted. "Yaang Naa" trees are a type of resin trees which grow to be quite tall (30-40 meters) and provide a great deal of shade. The trees retain their foliage throughout the year and in late spring produce a seed pod shaped like a feather which, when carried by the wind, spins like the rotor of a helicopter. "Yaang Naa" trees produce latex and resin. The resin is used in the manufacture of paints and coatings. The bark is used to compound folk remedies for such ailments as anemia in children, toothache, rheumatism, cough and local pain. Some types of "Yaang Naa" tree produce a toxic sap which was used to poison the tips of arrows and darts.

Timber are used in construction and ship building, but is not durable in the open. It is regarded as a middle of the road, i.e. better than soft wood but value is lower than hard wood. This reddish brown wood, Mhai Yaang Naa, is good enough for interior use floor, interior wall, furniture, etc. Since Thai people always like to shorten names, the word of Yaang Naa eventually became "Yaang" which coincides with the Rubber Wood or Para rubber trees , Hevea brasilliensis (Enphorbia-ceae), were imported from South America to Southern Thailand. The word of Yaang in Thai would mean latex, resin, rosin, and rubber.

We believe that during the first generation of growing, the Yaang Naa trees became so shady that convinced citizens to call their district as Yaang Nerng. Nerng could mean "bending", however the name of district was changed to Sarapee (The flowers of Mammea siamensis were popularly grown by local citizens).

On the Lamphun side, "Khee-Legh" trees are to be found lining the roadside. From April to June the trees are covered with bright yellow flowers a truly eye-catching sight. Later in the year the trees produce a long legume-like pod. Little boys are often seen using these for mock sword fights. The leaves and buds are used as ingredients for a type of curry popular in the central region. A warning: the taste is somewhat bitter.

Historically, the Samuha Thesa assigned his officials to grow temperate climate trees in the old city, Teak and Pine trees on the city moat, Monkey Flower trees (Pradu) on Chiangmai-Doi Saket Road, Kassod trees (Khee Legh) on Chiangmai-Hang Dong Road. Luckily enough, Yaang Naa and Khee Legh on Chiangmai-Lamphun Road are still our heritage for at least three generations.

Within the past decade there has been concern among local environmentalists that there could be attempts to cut down the trees, perhaps to widen the road. An unconfirmed rumor has it that one local expert proposed cutting down the trees to improve Sarapee Road. His Majesty is said to have informed the expert that he was not pleased with the proposal. Alternative measures have been sought for road improvement especially as at the present there are only 936 Yaang Naa Trees still alive on Chiangmai-Lamphun Road.

Whatever the reasons for our ancestors' tree-planting, the trees today are their legacy to us a living gift of practicality and beauty.

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