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The South

The fourteen provinces of the South made up the poorest region of Thailand. Primarily rural, the South had an urban population of only 12.2 percent of its total inhabitants. Although rice was the staple food, the South's economy was not based on wet-rice agriculture. Never directly colonized, the southern provinces, with their dependence on rubber and tin production and fishing, had nonetheless long been vulnerable to international economic forces. As world market prices for rubber and tin declined in the 1970s, more southerners went to work in the Middle East; and as neighboring countries established 200-mile limits on their territorial waters, an increasing number of Thai fishing vessels could be found as far away as the coast of Australia.

Dialects in the South have more distinctive differences between them than dialects in other regions have, especially with their heavy intonation and the use of words, some from the official vocabulary, such as laeng, for speech, as in the term laeng tai (spoken southern language), which is the eroded form of thalaeng – to narrate or to inform. The southerners tend to be terse and quick in speech and maintain a strong accent. Southern Thai dialects are classified as the eastern dialect, spoken along the east coast, covering Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung, Songkhla, Pattani, Trang, and Satun; western dialect, used mostly in Krabi, Phang-nga, Phuket, Ranong, Surat Thani, and Chumphon; Songkhla accent dialect, spoken in Songkhla; and che hae accent dialect, found in Narathiwat, Pattani, and down to Kelantan in Malaysia, spoken in combination with an old Malay dialect.

In 1985 there were more than 6 million Southern Thai. Malay vocabulary was used in the Southern Thai dialect, and Malay in Jawi (Arabic) script remained in many instances the medium of written communication. Like the other regions of Thailand, the South at times opposed the central government. Following the closer incorporation of the Pattani region into the Thai kingdom as the result of the provincial administrative reform of 1902, reactions in the form of rebellions, underground movements, and violent uprisings were common. For many years, any type of antistate behavior or banditry reported by the government or press was usually attributed either to Muslim insurgents or the Communist Party of Thailand. By the mid-1980s, the press and government had become more objective in reporting and recognizing problems caused by environmental factors, other groups, and government policies. Moreover, the Muslim leadership, together with progressive political and military forces in the Thai government, had begun addressing some of the problems of the South, which led to increased national tranquillity.

Eighty percent of Thailand’s Muslims are concentrated in the Provinces of Satun, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Yala at the southern end of Thailand. The populations of these southern provinces are different from the mainstream Thai population in terms of their ethnic background, religious practices and language. The majority of Thai Muslims in the southern-most region are ethnic Malayand actually call themselves “Thai Malays,” or “Pattani-malays”. The people in these four provinces speak two languages: Thai and Jawi, or a Malay dialect. Jawi is a Malay dialect which reflects the language of the sultanate of Pattani. The Pattani dialect is similar in vocabulary, morphology, and phonology to that of the bordering Malay state of Kelantan. Some Malays of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat are not interested in the Thai language because they think that Thai is the language of Buddhism.

The peninsula of southern Thailand is bounded on both sides by two great seas and is linked to the Malay Peninsula. The region is thus influenced by Chinese and Malay cultures, as evidenced in the forms of architecture. The people lead their lives amid rich biodiversity, close to the sea. Their traditions and culture are therefore diverse and unique. People of the South have a reputation for being quick decision-makers, rapid in their movements, and fast talkers.

The performing arts of the South follow Buddhist and Muslim lines, the most popular performances being nora and nang talung, the shadow puppets, presented to the music of drums and flutes. Nora dancers are strenuously trained to synchronize gestures and movements harmoniously and in accordance with the changing rhythms. The nora dance is a classic art form of the South, with complicated gestures that require high flexibility from the dancers. The nora dance is also related to the stage performances in the central region.

In the small shadow puppet play, or nang talung, the figures are carved from ox hide, painted and decorated, and held up by actors behind a white cloth screen who are lit from behind, casting shadows on the screen. In the performance, each figure is moved by one master, and there are several narrators. The show reflects various events and happenings, some based on literature, and others on current events, the cultural, social, and political topics of the day. The figures and the performances represent the wisdom and excellence in art and culture acquired by the Southerners from their ancestors.

A major tradition of the South is the Buddha Procession Festival, in which people in communities come together to make merit; they carry a prominent Buddha image from a local temple in a procession, on land and water, through the community. It is believed to bring plentiful seasonal rains and is a way to for people to make great merit. The festival strengthens unity and amity between community members and the neighborhood, as they all come out to help the procession advance toward its destination.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2012 18:43:05 ZULU