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341st meeting : Return to Mae Sariang: Ethic Relations in a Thai Frontier District

Tuesday, December 13th 2011

A talk and presentation by Charles Keyes

In 1967-68 Jane, my wife, and I carried out research in Mae Sariang District, Mae Hong Son province. This district then, as now, is one of the most ethnically diverse districts in Thailand. Lua, whom the Thai call Lawa, the most ancient people of northern Thailand, still live in the hills although many have long become Northern Thai. Nearly half the population are Karen, both Pakanyor and Phlong. The Khonmüang, or Northern Thai, are the dominant people of the lowlands, but are intermixed with Shan. The Indian Muslim community, founded by traders in the late 19th century, expanded and spun off new communities elsewhere in Mae Hong Son province. Descendants of Chinese also have played a prominent role in the local economy, once centered on timber and mining as well as cross-border trade. Farang have also long lived in Mae Sariang, early on as representatives of the Bombay-Burmah company, subsequently as missionaries, and today primarily as NGO workers.

Jane and I are now working on a book based primarily on her photos and my fieldnotes from the late 1960s. We have this year, while I am affiliated with the Center for Ethnicity and Development and the Regional Center for Social Science and Development at Chiang Mai University, had the opportunity to make return visits to Mae Sariang. While the town and surrounding countryside – including the hills – show many signs of improved transportation and associated Thai consumer culture, we have found Mae Sariang still remains a very distinctive local place. In this talk, I want to reflect some on the ethnic relations in this small world.

Charles F. Keyes is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and International Studies at the University of Washington. He has also had a long affiliation with the Faculty of Social Science at Chiang Mai University. At the University of Washington, where he joined the faculty in 1965, he has mentored forty PhD students, over one-third of them from Thailand and Vietnam. He has since the early 1960s carried out extensive research primarily in Thailand, but also in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia on Buddhism and modernity, ethnicity and national cultures, and culture and ‘development’. He has authored, edited or co-edited 14 books, monographs or special issues of journals and published over 80 articles.


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