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This is Ancient Land of Dinosaurs: Part VII

Man’s earliest true ancestor appeared on earth more than 2 million years ago, but it was not until 10,000 to 15,000 years ago that his descendants had peopled almost the entire globe. The first man known to have roamed beyond the continent of Africa was Homo erectus, who appeared about 500,000 years ago. During the 200,000 years of his existence, he moved around through Ethiopia, Yemen, Oman, South Persia, Pakistan, Central Bharata (India), Burma to reach Kanchanaburi and migrated to Baan Chiang that slowly spread to different directions. Sometime, somewhere __ the migration could go back to the same area and changed to the several other directions later on. Migrations depended on several factors __ geography, Climate, environment, food, living conditions, and their intelligence development.

From the last two Parts ... The Khorm probably made a greater contribution to this region’s cultural and political development than any other people with the possible exception of the Morn. The two peoples had much in common and in many prehistory references the term Morn-Khorm is used to denote the people who first inhabited mainland South East Asia and institutionalised the agrarian culture, the sanskrit (สันสกฤต) based languages, the basic religion and the many art forms.

The Arrival of the Tais

 

Last month we concluded with the demise of the Morn-Dvaravati and Khorm Kingdoms but before these Kingdoms fell a third people, the Tais, had already started to arrive in the region in large numbers. Originally inhabitants of the Red River delta area of northern Vietnam, as were the Morn and the Khorms, they had migrated over the years to many regions but a strong core had settled in a collection of mini-Kingdoms in southern China that came to be known as the Tai Nanzhao (Naan Jao)-Dali Kingdom. It was from here that as early as the 8th century a group moved south into present day Thailand and formed a state in the area known as Yonok based around Chiang Saen. The Tais continued to migrate southwards living in harmony alongside the Morn and the Khorm but it was the 11th century before a significant movement of peoples became truly noticeable and in 1096 another Tai Kingdom was established at Payao, neighbours of the Morn Haripunjaya (Haripoonchai) Kingdom at Lamphun (pronounced “Lumpoon”).

By the 13th century the Tais had spread throughout northern Thailand and the upper Chao Praya basin and in 1238 this settlement culminated in a new determination when two Tai chieftains attacked and defeated the northern Khorm Angkor city of Sukhothai. This was partly precipitated by the need to form a Tai power base to resist the incursions of Kublai Khans Mongol armies of China and coincided with the already disintegrating Khorm Kingdom.

When Ramkamhaeng, “Rama The Brave”, became the first Tai king at Sukhothai (meaning “Dawn Of Happiness” in Pali) in 1283 he led a period of some 20 years during which time, mostly through diplomacy rather than conquest, most of the other rulers of Thailand submitted to his authority and entered what was becoming a new empire.

Concurrently, in the north, the Lanna (‘a million rice fields’) Kingdom was being formed by the migration of the Tai-Yuan and the Tai Yai (or Shan) of northern Burma. These Tai’s moved slowly south in a clearly planned expansion over a period of 100 years building the cities of Chiang Roong in Sibsong Panna and Chiang Toong in northern Burma. Around 1259, Mengrai, the only local ruler from a legitimate royal house, noted the suffering of his peoples and determined to unite the many squabbling Tai states in the northern region. In quick succession he conquered his neighbours at Chiang Khong, Muang Lai and Chiang Kaam and in 1268 founded a northern Tai capital at Chiangrai. In 1281 he also conquered the surviving Morn Haripunjaya state at Lamphun. In 1287 the three powerful Tai kings; Ramkhamhaeng of Sukothai, Mengrai of Lanna and Ngam Muang of Payao, signed a peace accord which was to allow the culture and the institutions of the Tai to develop. This alliance marked the beginning of the formation of Siam. The name “Siam” had appeared earlier when the Khorm city of Lopburi had become the administrative capital of a land called “Syam”. It is thought the name may have originated from the sanskrit language where it means ‘swarthy’. In 1296 King Mengrai moved on southwards and in consultation with his two fellow kings established a new Lanna capital at Chiangmai. To deter Mongol attacks from China King Mengrai also made other alliances further afield within Laos and Burma although from 1312 he was obliged to send the Mongols small tributes to keep the peace. Later Mongol China gave their support to King Ramkhamhaeng to finish off the remains of the Khorm Angkor empire on Thai soil and eventually China officially recognised the Kingdom of Sukhothai.

By the 14th century, in their new state of Siam, the Tai were now largely free of external enemies and their civilisation prospered. They implemented the traditional Tai system of royal rule with an absolute monarch, a dhamaraja who ruled justly according to Therevada Buddhist traditions. This is reflected in the wording of the famous inscription, known as Ramkamhaengs stele, that is now held in the Bangkok National Museum. Although quoting Ramkhamhaeng himself and probably a little biased it no doubt contains an element of truth. “In the time of King Ramkhamhaeng this land of Sukhothai is thriving. There is fish in the water and rice in the fields ... [The King] has hung a bell in the opening of the gate over there; if any commoner has a grievance which sickens his belly and gripes his heart ... he goes and strikes the bell ... [and King Ramkhamhaeng] questions the man, examines the case, and decides it justly for him”. Sukhothai adopted the Khorm political system and absorbed the artistic and religious traditions of the Morn joining these with their own unique varieties of culture. King Ramkhamhaeng is also credited with introducing the forerunner of the modern Thai alphabet, a new script to help make their tonal language more easy for non-Tais to comprehend. Sukhothai’s religious architecture was lavish and although borrowing Khorm and Sri Lankan ideas is said by some to have shown the greatest creativity of any stage in Thailand’s development.

King Ramkhamhaeng died in 1299 and his successors took their Buddhist responsibilities so seriously that they overlooked the running of the state and by 1320 Sukhothai had lapsed into being a Kingdom of only local significance. Although the Sukhothai period was to last for only 200 years it is today recognised as perhaps the finest moment in Thai history. A similar situation existed in the Lanna Kingdom at the same time. When King Mengrai died in 1317, the effect was to destabilize the Lanna Kingdom which also reduced in size and influence.

Lanna’s development was to gain another burst of momentum under King Gue Na (1355-1385). He induced a venerable monk, Sumana, from Sukhothai in 1369 and established an ascetic Sri Lankan sect which became enough of a cultural force to initiate a unifying effect on the Lanna Kingdom. Sumana brought many Buddha images with him and elevated the role of Buddhism in the Kingdom again. Lanna had remained an ally of Sukhothai but the successes of the kingdom had attracted the attention of a state from further south, Ayutthaya, and intermittent conflicts between the two were frequent from the start of the fifteenth century. King Tilokaraja (1442-1487) of Chiangmai and King Trailok of Ayutthaya fought each other to a standstill but at the same time Lanna conquered the Tai Lue state of Naan in 1449 increasing its kingdom.

Lanna showed its first signs of problems in the early 16th century and this worsened after the death of King Gaew in 1526 when a war of succession ensued with kings being assassinated or forced to abdicate by rival royal factions. This period of unrest sent out unwelcome messages to the kingdoms neighbours and in the mid 16th century Chiangmai passed briefly into the hands of King Setthathirat of Lan Xaang (Laos) who took the opportunity to acquire the Emerald Buddha for his capital at Luang Prabang. In 1558 the Burmese invaded and captured Chiangmai and brought the Mengrai dynasty to an untimely end. Burma maintained control for the next 200 years and Lanna once again reverted to a multitude of competing states as it had been prior to King Mengrai. Control over the kingdom was erratic during this period, however, sometimes coming under direct control of Burma and at other times falling under the control of ‘puppet’ Lanna kings. In the early eighteenth century the Burmese split Lanna into two parts; the northern part was effectively annexed to Burma and ruled from Chiang Saen whilst the southern part remained a vassal state and was ruled from Chiangmai. This state of affairs was to remain until the late eighteenth century when King Taaksin from the new Tai capital of Bangkok (this will be discussed in Pt.IX) expelled the Burmese from all Thai territory. Although smaller and less influential than Sukhothai, the Kingdom of Lanna was longer lasting. Lanna was officially annexed into Siam in 1899 but was to retain a certain degree of autonomy from the greater Thai state until as recently as the early twentieth century when it was eventually brought under the direct authority of central government.

Lanna showed its first signs of problems in the early 16th century and this worsened after the death of King Gaew in 1526 when a war of succession ensued with kings being assassinated or forced to abdicate by rival royal factions. This period of unrest sent out unwelcome messages to the kingdoms neighbours and in the mid 16th century Chiangmai passed briefly into the hands of King Setthathirat of Lan Xaang (Laos) who took the opportunity to acquire the Emerald Buddha for his capital at Luang Prabang. In 1558 the Burmese invaded and captured Chiangmai and brought the Mengrai dynasty to an untimely end. Burma maintained control for the next 200 years and Lanna once again reverted to a multitude of competing states as it had been prior to King Mengrai. Control over the kingdom was erratic during this period, however, sometimes coming under direct control of Burma and at other times falling under the control of ‘puppet’ Lanna kings. In the early eighteenth century the Burmese split Lanna into two parts; the northern part was effectively annexed to Burma and ruled from Chiang Saen whilst the southern part remained a vassal state and was ruled from Chiangmai. This state of affairs was to remain until the late eighteenth century when King Taaksin from the new Tai capital of Bangkok (this will be discussed in Pt.IX) expelled the Burmese from all Thai territory. Although smaller and less influential than Sukhothai, the Kingdom of Lanna was longer lasting. Lanna was officially annexed into Siam in 1899 but was to retain a certain degree of autonomy from the greater Thai state until as recently as the early twentieth century when it was eventually brought under the direct authority of central government.

See related articles (This is Ancient Land of Dinosaurs, Siamoid, Siamese, and Thais):


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