44th Meeting – September 1988
The Contemporary Situation in the Thai Highlands
A panel discussion with W.R. Geddes, Wanat Bhruksasri, and Peter Hinton
Bill Geddes reviewed the national significance of the foreign contribution to development [US$ 60 per capita] and the impact on highlanders, expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of knowledge [especially the widely held and erroneous notion that highlanders are solely responsible for deforestation and that trees and trees alone protect the watershed, ensure a high water yield, etc.]. He expressed special concern for the institutional exclusion of highlanders from government decision-making procedures and recommended establishing a council where they can present their opinions.
Wanat Bhruksasri provided a spontaneous rejoinder to Geddes and an interpretation which partly complemented the evaluation of the current state of knowledge ["hill tribe problems" of national security, deforestation and narcotics are national problems, rather than those faced by the hill tribes]. Ajaan Wanat rejected the Geddes suggestion to form a council. He argued that the unitary nature of the state could not be compromised and that the natural process of integration which is taking place should be acknowledged and assisted. Representation of highlander interests is important but cannot be promoted at the risk of obstructing national integration.
Peter Hinton provided a more enigmatic, impressionistic set of comments on cats, cabbages and projects. He first told a story about a collector and trader of antiques who attempted to acquire a valuable plate being used as a feeding dish for cats by offering to help the farmer by taking the cats and plate off his hands. The farmer replied that the plate was kept to help get rid of the rats and could not be taken.
are antique collectors chasing illusive truths". His second story concerned a visit to Mae
Tho, a village last visited when the hillsides were covered with opium
The sight, smell and squeak of cabbages underfoot provided a
experience, the substance of the development dream? Projects were then
discussed; by one count, over 3,000. An anthropology of the highlands
much more than a study of ethnic minority groups. Studies must include
underprivileged highland Thai farmers and