Ethnic diversity at the edge of ASEAN’s border

26, June 2012
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Ethnic diversity at the edge of ASEAN’s borderEthnic diversity at the edge of ASEAN’s borderEthnic diversity at the edge of ASEAN’s border
Ethnic diversity at the edge of ASEAN’s border

In 2015, 10 countries in Southeast Asia will all unite as ASEAN Economic Community. People in both government and private sectors keep talking about economic cooperation and various changes that could occur. Sadly, despite the all the economic cooperation, less people concern about ethnic groups in this region, especially in borders where ethnic group diversity is so high. Unite as ASEAN might provide many great opportunities but what about these ethnic groups. What are their statuses right now? Where are their places, the place that they could show their identities? Will they be a part of ASEAN?


From the seminar "Ethnic diversity at the edge of ASEAN’s border" held by Osotho Magazine at Thailand Tourism Festival 2012 on June 10, 2012, many ethnic academics that closed with ethnics in borders had gave some views. Basically, ethnic groups live many areas, for instance, in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and in Malay Peninsula. In this conversation some of ethnic groups were considered. They are Mon, Phu Tai, Khmer Soong, or Thai-Muslim. Academics talked about their ways of living, norms, cultures that show their groups' identity from the past to present. 


Pu Tai: A Great Root from the Past to Present

Thai with Phu Thai blood academic Mr. Suthep Chaikan (top photo) talked about Phu Tai ethnic interestingly. In the past, Phu Thai moved regularly among Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Some of them even moved far away to China. In the present, they are living in many places, such as in Nakorn Panom, Thailand; Savannakhet, Laos; or even in Vietnam. 

Even everything has been change; Pu Tai is still able to preserve their identity and culture. They passed their language, tradition, clothes, and the ways of life from generation to generation.  Pu Tai in each country could communicate with Phu Tai from other country with their own language, even though some groups had already mixed their language with local's language. 

“Phu Tai is an ethnic that lived in many countries such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and China. Some of Phu Tai who used to live in Laos just moved to Thailand around a hundred years ago. They came here by two methods: chose to came, and were forced to come by war. The group that chose to come lived at Renunakhon (Northeast of Thailand). Another group who was forced to move during Laotian Rebellion moved from Savannakhet and Kam Muang. Some of them also moved to Vietnam and then also moved back to their own places once the war ends.”

“Normally, Phu Tai has a plain ways of living. In the area of Laotian Pu Tai, they still do rice farm as their ancestors. They live with Bru tribe, or Kha. Phu Tai is one of the important economic factors in Laos. They live at Phu Chang where one of the most important gold mines in Asia is. Phu Tai in that area makes their mainly income on gold mine. However, they also have business that worth more than 100 million baht from their indigo dyed cotton cloth which is another main income for those in Baan La Han Nam area. They export cloths to all over the world.” Mr. Suthep explained about Phu Tai’s economic status nowadays.


Not only being one of the main economic wheels, in the past, Phu Tai also helped Laos and Vietnam fight in Vietnam War. Phu Tai fought at an important transport route called the “Ho Chi Minh Route” where it was one of the most important lines for Viet Cong to transports their supply. They were also included in the main force that attacked Saigon as well. This explains that why governments and people of many ethnics in Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar behave and respect Phu Tai quite well.

Mr Suthep said about the adaption of Phu Tai people on the formation of ASEAN that even though Phu Tai can strongly preserve their norms, they also eager to accept new technologies and new knowledges. Many Phu Tai’s teenagers have access to the Internet such as Facebook and other online services. Teenager can speak many languages according to their living places, for example, English, Vietnamese, and Lao. The distribution of Phu Tai in many places while be able to remain their own language also become one of the strong advantages that allows them to have a great future in ASEAN.

“Phu Tai does not only live in Thailand and Laos, but they are also in Vietnam, and some parts of China. The bond is not only by blood, but also with the spirit of fighting. Phu Tai was the main factor of forming nation in many places, including Laos and Vietnam. Wherever Phu Tai goes, they will be welcomed. In the future, I hope to see connections of people in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and China.” Mr. Suthep said out loud with clear smile.