Isaan,Isan, Northeast Thailand, Past and Present

Present in this case being nearly 13 years ago in this paper that was authored by Doctor Boonsom Yodmalee, of The Research Institute of Northeastern Art and Culture at M hasarakham University.
I have read many papers or articles, about Isaan,Isan, Northeast Thailand and such as this online. Many of them are cut and pasted from one another and have more errors than I am interested in wasting my time reading. I have found this one the most interesting. The sources of much of his data are not mentioned and some numbers seem to be, just a bit too precise. Some of  the flow gets a bit battered due to translation. Anyhow, for anyone interested in theregion this is worth a read.

I scanned the booklet and then OCRed it., followed by a lengthy edit. I hope you find it as interesting as I did. I find it one of the better papers of it’s type available
Isan, Isaan: Past and Present

Location and size
lsan or Northeastern Thailand has an area of about 42.4 million acres or
106 million rai. It consists of 20 provinces. It borders on Laos to the north and
northeast and Cambodia to the east. The total land area and population (22
million 2000AD), each accounts for one-third of the country. lsan is covered with rolling
hills, plains. and plateau. Mountain ranges located at the western and southern
parts separate lsan from the rest of the country. The Shi and Moon are the two
rivers that run through thereglon and join the Mekong River at Ubon Ratchatani
The annual rainfall is about 1,300 millimeters. however, lsan has had rainfal instability lately. It therefore experiences poor soil, population pressure.poverty, and more recently, out-migration.

What Had Been Here Before?
Going back to the period of the Mesozoic Era some 230-150 million
years ago. the land of today’s lean has gone through several major geological
changes. During the beginning of the Triassic period. lsan was covered with a
shallow sea. Toward the end of the same geological period, the sediment
collection of the sea shifted and slid making Phoo-Pan mountain ranges. By the
Jurassic period. lsan experienced folding and faults allowing several volcanoes
to erupt. Ten extinct volcanoes are now in Surin, Srlsaket, and Burirum provinces.
Dinosaurs roamed this vast area during the Jurassic period. The fossilized
remaining were excavated at Phoo Wiang National Park, Khon Kaen and some recent ones were found at Kalasin. A fossil of a fresh water” turtle was
found at Loei Province dating back some 200-210 years ago.
Valuable mineral deposits include rock salt, copper, gold and uranium.

Early Civilization
Several studies indicate had been the home of the human inhabitants some 12,000–14,000 years ago. The early settlers were believed to be hunters and gatherers. As the weather
condition began to change from cold to warm and the population began to
increase, early irihabitanits looked for a better way to improve their way or life.
It took them at least some 7,000 years to come up with animal taming and
plant growing.
The earliest food producers were Ban Chiang wet rice cultivators. By
raising animals. such as cows and water buffaloes and planting rice, they
brought to the world the Neolithic Revolution some 5,600 years ago. The wet
rice cultivation not only lead Ban Chiang civilization to gain sell-sufficiency but
also obtain food surplus for exchange with neighboring communities and far
away traders. They developed cloth weaving and pyroteohnology. During
Ban Chiang eivili7ation the people produced pottery and metallurgy.

Some pots were used for reiigious purposes. such as burial. As for metallurgy,
the people made tools and farm equipment. it was there and then the people
learned to use basic technology to use natural surroundings for their own living.
Division of labor, religion: and tool making specialization soon became important
foundations of Ban Chiang cultural and social comptexity. l
Out-migration due lo popuiation growth, land and natural resource
scarcity were taking place lending to building more settlements elsewhere
throughout lsan for years to come

New Religions and Wet rice Agriculture “
Hinduism and Buddhism were introduced to the lsan people as
early as 557 AD. (1.100 Buddhist Era}. Hinduism was spread along the Mekong
River and later to the Moon and Chi Rivers.
Hinduism oeveioped from an original belief, known as, Brahmanism.
Hinduism emphasizes supernatural powers. Such powers could do harmful as
well as beneficial deeds to humans. Believers, therefore, treated their natural
beings as gods by providing chanting, food. and other offerings. Later, simple
treat with gods or natural beings was developed to be complicated using
Brahrnins as the ritual leaders. Brahmins, therefore. were regarded as the
highest status. They were the people who communicated between natural
beings and humans. .
Gods in Hinduism are named as Brahmin, Visnu, and Siva. Brahmln is
supposed to be the world builder. He has four faces and four hands.
Among the 3 gods, Brahmin is the least important, but good at
compromising. Visnu (narai), the world protector. He represents honesty,
goodness. and kindness. He has more man 1,000 names. He has 4 hands
and is believed to move in water.. ‘
Siva (lsuan), the world destroyer. He has 3 eyes. The third eye is on
the forehead. He is believed to stay on Mount Krai Lat with his wife Uma and
son Pikkanet. He has the power to destroy things and make the world better
for living.
Buddhism, on the other hand. came into lsan through Northern
Thailand via Petchaboon Province into the Chii River basin. Buddhism
emphasizes life is suffering. One has to learn to be kind. trustful, honest, and
unselfish; one’s life depends upon himself and his own previous iives. Merit
making is popular among the Thai people. They believe that merit making
may be able to help them to make up for what has been lost or done unfairly
both this life or other lives. Buddhist teaching emphasizes self whereas
Hinduism and Brahmanism emphasize the power of the three gods, sacred
rites and water, the separation between the rulers and the followers or
ordinary people.
Both Hinduism and Buddhism were well accepted in lsan during
557-1257 A.D. (B.E.1100-1800) . Buddhism was well accepted in certain
areas and it was the same for Hinduism. While Buddhism was strong along
both sides of the Mekong River basin, Hinduism took a faster route to achieve
its goal by making Hinduism a political religion. The King or ruler
donated apiece of land to his Hindu gods; reiigious toliowers were then asked to
contribute their labor and crafsmanship to build reiigieus centers like the ones at
Pimai, Pnom-Rung, and seyeral Khmer ruins throughout the southern and middle
Isan today.
It was unfortunate that the Hinduism under the Khmer ruiers could only
progress and last between 957-1257 AD AD. (B.E.15OO-1800). Buddhism. on the
other hand, survived and is still still practised by the majority oi‘ the Thai people
Regerdles of what has been changed in every aspect, the Thai and Isan
people owe a lot to the Hindu priests, Buddhist monks, and their followers for
what they had left behind. Among them were some 1,501 archeological sites
throughout. Isaan. Among these, 182 were Khmer ruins: 714 were residential
cities. The provinces that have the most Khmer ruins are Buriram. Surin, Nakhon
Ratchesirna, and Sri Saket.
Mahasarakham has a few Khmer ruins. Among them are Khu Santirat, Ku
Ban Deng, and Ku Ban Khawa. Ku Santiret was basicaily built using Khmer style
intended to be a hospital or a heaith care center for passersby and or religious
followers. Hindu priests were believed to carry out such services.

lsan Today
Although lsan has quite a number of ethnic groups, but only Mon-
Khmer and Thai are the maior ones. Some of the Mon-Khmer include
Kaleong, Kalong, Kuay (Suay). Kamu, Bru. Bon. So. and Sag. Some of the
Thais are Thai-korat, Thai-yo, Thai-You. and Phoo-Thai. lnspite of their ethnic
backgrounds, the Thai lsan get together well. There are no racial or ethnic
conflicts in lsan. The new comers to the area, such as, the Chinese. the
Vietnamese also find themselves welcome. Not only intermarriages have
been practised among ethnic minority groups themselves or between the
Thais and the non-Thais, but also sons and daughters of these ethnic groups
and the new corners could hold high ranking government positions and/or run
profitable businesses in Thailand. Most of them send their children to local
government schools. The parents themselves and their children also go to
village, town or city temples: they also celebrate the New Year, Song Kran,
and other Buddhist religious festivals together.

Settlement and Housing
Except town or city people. most lsan. people lived in villages and
many still continue to do so at the present. Most villages are located on high
land surrounded by rice fields and natural resources such as pond, rivers and forests.
Some villages are named after certain kinds of trees, animals and insects.
Most isan people own their own homes. People in the Thai villages do
not build houses or apartments for rent. A newly wedded couple often live with
either side of the parents; they could live there until a sister or a brother of Ihe
copuie gets married. This practice has been built into the Thai way of life and is
still going strong at the present time. There has to be, in most cases. at least one
son or daughter to be in charge of looking after their own parents a couple
has no children. relatives will have to send someone to take care of the old
Most isan houses, often built on posts, were traditionally built by hardwood
wood getting from forests nearby. The floors were lifted 2-2.5 meters from the
ground. Today trees and forests are almost gone. People have to buy
construction materials from a nearest market town. This is why building isan
houses today requires professional house builders; the slyles and functions of
the modern houses are so much different from the fraditional isan house styles.

Isan Everyday Life
Most isan people believe in the Buddhist teaching mey also believe in
ghosts, spirits. and Brahmanism. in real life a lot of peoplo bring whatever they
believe in together to make a mundane rule for them to foilw. The rule is called
“Heed Sibsong Kong sipsee”. A short name is “Heed Kong”.

By following Heed Kong, an lsan knows and is aware of his own
place in the Thai society. One’s place in the society depends upon his own
status and kin relations; one has to he responsioie for himself and respects
for the others as well. _
As parents. the couple have to lake good care of their children: see
if each child will he provided a piece of land when he or she is married. As a
social rule, lsan parents should leave a piece of land. regardless of size, for
each child.

Major Occupations
‘l. Rice growing. Most lsan villagers grow rice annually. The most
popuiar rice grown is known as Hom Mali. It is widely grown in the Central
lsan Plain {Thung Kula Ronghai}. The areas include Roi-Et. Buriram, and
2. Cattle Raismg. lsan has been well known for cattle raising for a
very long time. in the past, lsan cattle traders, Known as, Nai Hoy, walked
their cows and bullafoes to the Central Thailand provinces. Today, most
cattle trading is done in local cattle trading grounds, there are several well
Known cattle trading grounds (market places) in lsan; millions or Baht are
involved in the lsan cattle markets.
3. Household industries. lsan people are lamous for household
industries. More recently, villagers in many provinces have taken up
househoid industries making brooms, baskets, pottery, local music
instruments, jewelry, mats and mattresses. clothing, lsan pillows, and many
more. Some household industries have gone into making an and souvenirs for
4. Music and folk singing businesses. lsan people, due to ethnic
backgrounds, are famous for music and folk singing. Some to these singing or
music showing businesses are known molam, lamphoothai, gun-trum,
lamsing, lamklorn, mahoree. Each singing business can be done individually or
as a group. The singing, such as, lamklorn can be performed individually. Each
performance can get paid at least 10,000 baht per 8 hour singing. Molam, if
done in group, may cost the host family or village up to 30,000 baht or more per
night performance.
lsan music and folk singing can be performed on various occasions
ranging from birth to death, wedding, merit making, house opening, soul-calling.
and religious festivals, such as. songkran, and
more. Some music players and singers also use modern instruments.along with local instruments suchas Kan.

Major Changes and Development of Isan
lsan or Northeastern Thailand has experienced major changes and
development since 1961. It began when the Thai government launched its First
five year social and economic pian in 1961. The government spent a large
amount of budget spending on building infrastructure including hydro~eleotrio
plants, roads, air ports, and regional development centers.
A large number of wage laborers were recruited from all parts of lsan to
take part in those major construction projects. it was the first time for most lsan












You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Isaan,Isan, Northeast Thailand, Past and Present”

  1. […] More: Isaan,Isan, Northeast Thailand, Past and Present […]

  2. good read on the 10th of February, the Chinese new year day.

Leave a Reply