The Invention of “Isan” History


  • Akiko Iijima Toyo Bunko, Tokyo, Japan


In 1899, a new name, Monthon Tawan-ok Chiang Nuea (Northeastern Circle), was introduced into the incipient provincial administration system by the Siamese government to replace the former name, Monthon Lao Kao. The term Lao, denoting “racial” peculiarities from the Siamese point of view, was removed from the new name indicating directions from the centre, Bangkok. The following year, the name was changed again to “Isan” (from Pali: Northeast) “for shorter and easier pronunciation”, according to the Regulation signed by the Minister of Interior, Prince Damrong Rachanuphap. The designation of “Isan” thus was of the centralizing Siamese origin, being an invention in order to conceal the non-Siamese racial identity of most of the region. It could be argued that the French, after 1893 the overlords of the Lao domain, had to be prevented from using the Lao living on Siamese territory as a tool for further territorial expansion so the Lao-ness was henceforth negated by the Siamese state. In this article, a typescript text of “Isan” history, replete with handwritten marks of erasure and modification, is introduced to demonstrate how the ruling elite of Siam consciously manipulated historical source materials for the purpose of negating the Lao. Importantly, the printed version of this text, which was seriously altered, is contained in the “prestigious” Prachum Phongsawadan (Collected Histories) series, of which publication started in the early 20th century. As the Prachum Phongsawadan has long been considered essential source material for studying Thai history, a radical reappraisal of the whole pantheon of modern Siamese historiography might be suggested from this case study.






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