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Phuket History: Early Portuguese forays into Siam

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket History: Early Portuguese forays into Siam | The Thaiger

PHUKET: The Portuguese were the first European power to arrive in the Far-East and established a diplomatic relationship with Thailand, which at that time was known as the Kingdom of Siam. Portuguese diplomatic missions arrived in Siam in the early 16th Century. During that period the Kingdom’s capital and center of authority was based in the ancient city of Ayutthaya. Vassal states, based in modern day Laos and Chiang Mai owed their allegiance to the Siamese King who ruled from Ayutthaya

In the year 1518 the Portuguese sent an envoy, Duarte Coelho, to the court of Ayutthaya. The envoy bore a letter and gifts from the King of Portugal to the king of Siam. The treaty that followed guaranteed the supply of Portuguese guns and ammunition to Siam. In return, King Rama Tibodi II of Siam provided the Portuguese with facilities to settle and trade freely throughout the Kingdom, as well as the liberty to practice Christianity in the Siamese Kingdom.

In 1511, the Portuguese, under Alfonso de Albuquerque set sail from Goa, on the west coast of India, with a force of 1,200 men to attack Malacca, a city-state on the Malay Peninsula ruled by a Muslim sultan. They conquered the city in August of 1511, establishing the first European colony in the Far-East. In their treaty with the Siamese King in 1518, the Portuguese also requested the King to send some Siamese settlers to Malacca to replace the predominantly Moorish traders who had settled there before.

The early years of the Portuguese arrival had proved to be good timing for Siam. Although most Portuguese writings agree that Siam was the most powerful Kingdom in the region at that time, Chiang Mai, its tributary state in the North, had rebelled against Ayutthaya’s authority in 1507 and by the year 1510, the Siamese were suffering severe losses in the war with Chiang Mai. In 1513, a Chiang Mai general took the offensive and marched south, invading Sukhothai and Kamphengphet. By 1515, these two Siamese cities fell to Chiang Mai’s army and were annexed.

The 1518 treaty with the Portuguese provided King Rama Tibodi with an opportunity to improve his army and equip his fighting men with modern European weapons. The King imported a considerable amount of firearms from the Portuguese. He also established a Portuguese training corps and hired Portuguese mercenaries to fight on his side. With the help of Portuguese military advisors, King Rama Tibodi was able to reorganize the Siamese army in 1518, after which he launched a counter-offensive against the Chiang Mai forces, driving them out of Siamese territory and defeating them at the banks of the river Mewang in Lampang province.

Gunpowder, firearms and cannons had been imported into the region long before the arrival of the Portuguese. The Malays in Malacca used cannons in their war against the Portuguese. The Siamese could have acquired them from Indian and Arab traders if they wanted. However, when the Portuguese arrived in Siam in 1511, they never saw the use of firearms in the Siamese army. The reason the Siamese ceased their use of firearms was because they did not know how to use them effectively. Gunpowder weapons, without proper training, can wreak havoc on the side using them. This would probably explain why neither the Siamese, nor the Burmese adopted their use up until the time the Portuguese arrived and trained Siamese troops to use them effectively.

After Coelho’s treaty with Siam in 1518, the Portuguese increased their trade with Siam, not just in Ayutthaya but also at several other ports in the Kingdom. Many Portuguese explorers travelled to Siam and some, like Mendes Pinto, who was an adventurous explorer and writer, travelled extensively throughout the Kingdom and kept a detailed account of his adventures.

Pinto arrived in Siam in the year 1545. His accounts of the country go beyond Ayutthaya and included a reasonably detailed account of ports in the south of the Kingdom as well. Pinto was one of the first European explorers to mention Phuket in any detail, in his travel accounts. He referred to the island as ‘Junk Ceylon’, a name the Portuguese used for Phuket Island in their maps. Junk Ceylon is mentioned seven times in Mendes Pinto’s accounts. Pinto said that Junk Ceylon was a destination port where trading vessels made regular stops for supplies and provisions, however, during the mid-16th century, the island was in decline due to pirates and often rough and unpredictable seas, which deterred merchant vessels from visiting Junk Ceylon. Pinto mentioned several other notable port cities in his accounts, including Patani and Ligor,which is modern day Nakhon Si Thamarat.

Pinto first visited Ligor when on a trading mission, under the leadership of Antonio de Faria e Souza. According to his writings, the trading party went with a cargo of Indian cotton textile. When he reached the city, he wrote that it was a rich and heavily trafficked seaport in Siam, always crowded with junks from the island of Java and from several other ports in the region. Trading ships came to the city from as far away as Borneo to trade with Ligor. It was the center of regional power in the South of Siam. Their journey to Ligor was not a happy one. According to Pinto’s accounts, their trading party was attacked by a band of Moorish pirates on the high seas and they lost all of their merchandise to the attackers.

The Portuguese were arguably the first Europeans to introduce the proper use of firearms into the Siamese army. They also travelled the coastline of the Kingdom extensively and drew many of the early European maps of Siam. The term Junk Ceylon, later used as a common European reference to Phuket Island, also first appeared in Portuguese charts. Later down the timeline, other European powers, the Dutch, French and British would follow the lucrative trade route pioneered by the Portuguese which would eventually lead them into a fierce competition to become the dominant power in the Far East.

Anand Singh is an avid Phuket Historian and can be contacted here.

— Anand Singh

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Business

500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies

Greeley Pulitzer

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500 people own 36% of equity in Thai companies | The Thaiger

Roughly 36% of Thailand’s corporate equity is held by just 500 people, highlighting wealth inequality in the Kingdom, according to a study released by the Bank of Thailand’s research institute.

Each of these 500 amass some 3.1 billion baht (102 million USD) per year in company profits, according to the report from the Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research. In contrast, average yearly household income in Thailand is around 10,000 USD.

A report out this week from the Economic and Business Research Centre for Reform at Thailand’s Rangsit University also pointed to divisive and polarised politics being another root cause of the economic divide.

Thailand’s private sector is dominated by tycoons running sprawling conglomerates. According to the World Bank, the gap between the mega-wealthy and the rest of the Thai population of 69 million is among the many economic challenges for Thailand. According to Bloomberg, the perception of a divide, exacerbated by an economic slowdown, is a major political fault line.

“Magnates arise in Thailand from institutional factors that privilege certain businesses,” said the executive director of PIER, author of the study.

The institute said Thailand needs to promote competitiveness to reduce profits from monopoly power and bolster entrepreneurship to create a more equitable distribution of corporate wealth.

The research is based on analysis of 2017 Commerce Ministry data on the 2.1 million shareholders in Thai firms, and was funded by the University of California San Diego.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Thai Life

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers

The Thaiger

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Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: Daily News

The answers are in the banana leaves.

Thai people LOVE playing the lottery (and gambling generally). In fact they’re BANANAS about the twice-monthly lottery (it was drawn again today). Daily News has reported about two unusual banana trees growing in front of a shop in Klong 4 Pathum Thani, just north of Bangkok. The trees did not have blossom and on one plant two bananas were pointing skywards. On another there was a whole bunch pointing up into the sky.

There was a steady stream of the faithful lighting incense, praying and rubbing powder on the trees to get lottery numbers. One group thought ‘542’ was the magic numbers and a path to riches (we’re not sure how they came to this conclusion). 53 year old Surachai says the trees had been growing for a few months and that he’d never seen anything like it before.

An unnamed agricultural expert suggested that there was probably something wrong with the banana plants. Trees and malformed animals are a favourite source of inspiration to select numbers for the lottery, as are numbers of houses and vehicles involved in events where people experience “miracle” escapes from danger, or even bizarre accidents.

SOURCE: Daily News

Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger Thais go bananas over freak plants in pursuit of lottery numbers | News by The Thaiger

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Entertainment

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

The Thaiger

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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | The Thaiger

On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Finalists for this year

Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.

But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.

“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.

His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”

Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.

“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

The Korean Wave

K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.

The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.

“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.

“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.

“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”

The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.

“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Be who you want

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.

“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.

“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.

“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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