Before the southward migration of the Tai
people from Yunnan
in the 10th century, the Indochinese peninsula
had been a home to various indigenous animistic communities as far back as 500,000 years ago. The recent discovery of Homo erectus
fossils, also known as the Lampang man is but one example. The remains were first discovered during excavations in Lampang province
, Thailand. The finds have been dated from roughly 1,000,000 - 500,000 years ago in the Pleistocene
Historians agree that the diverse Austro-Asiatic groups that inhabited the Indochina peninsula are related to the people who still inhabit the islands of the Pacific. These peoples were dispersed along the Gulf of Thailand, Malay Peninsula and Malay Archipelago, they inhabited the coastal areas of the archipelago as well as other remote islands. The seafarers possessed advanced navigation skills, some of the seafarers sailed as far as New Zealand, Hawaii and Madagascar.
The most well known pre-historic settlement in Thailand is often associated to the major archaeological site at Ban Chiang; dating of artifacts from this site is a consensus that at least by 3600 BC the inhabitants had developed bronze tools and also began the cultivation of rice.
Indigenous states theory
Instead of the theory of the migration from southern China
which has previously often been proposed, some posit an Indigenous States theory. A number of indigenous states were able to absorb foreign political and cultural influences, and forge their own distinct cultural identity.
Previously, the studies on the initial state of Thai history has been confined to the preconception that both its origin and existence were the results only of the Indian influences. These influences were seen as being a significant cause of early Thai state becoming a unified state of with vast territorial power covering areas of the Indochina peninsula. Furthermore, the idea of a unified state also extended to the belief that its citizens were all of Mon descent.
But this preconception ignored the fact that the indigenous groups already had their own political and cultural systems, although numerous and diverse, which were both individualistic and well developed. They had contacted and exchanged between the groups and then established a common culture before the advent of Indian influences.
Initial states of Thailand
The development of Suvarnabhumi
(Thai: U-Thong, Chinese: Chinlin) and Funan
from the communities to coastal centers was due to their economic and cultural interaction with seafarers from the South China Sea
and the Indian Ocean
. They transported both new techniques and artifacts to the various settlements in Southeast Asia. They were the main force influencing the later development of populated center into states. They contacted with the seafarers of Malay Archipelago and became coastal centers of the trade and the cultural activities during the 2nd
centuries. Together with Suvarnabhumi and Funan, Chinese records also mention the states of Tun-Sun
and the later states such as Chi-Tu
. These records correlate with certain archaeological finds. The Roman lamp, copper coins of Victorius, atche beads, enameled beads were found in this area. These antiques were also firmly related to the trading which linked the Eastern and Western world.
Empire of the South Sea
By the 6th
century, mariners had learnt to use the prevailing monsoons
and navigate through the Straits of Malacca
, which helped to shorten the journey to East Asia
. This brought the Gulf of Thailand mariners into direct confrontation with their rivals, the seafarers of the Java Sea
, who were already trading out of several important ports. About this time the importance of Suvarnabhumi lessened, whereas the importance of Malay Peninsula and Archipelago appeared to grow, together with the importance of the “Empire of the South Sea”. The new network extended as far as the islands of Sumatra
and Sri Lanka
. The area located among these land and islands became the commercial and economic base for Srivijaya
as a maritime state.
The early coastal states continued to grow physically and spread inland, where they met up with more diverse cultures, which had already been through their own process of historical and cultural development. Their radiating power extended throughout the hinterland of Chao Phraya basin. There is evidence that the “Empire of the South Sea” had conquered the mainland once. Tambralinga invaded Lavo or Kingdom of Dvaravati in 903. References to the kings of Haribhunjaya, King Bakaraj (Drabaka), King Ujajitachakravard, and Javaka Raja of Tambralinga, were mentioned in these records. According to the Song’s chronicle describes that San-Fo-Shih sent tribute to Chinese court by the command of King Che-Li-Wu-Ye in 961. The envoy reported the name of their kingdom was Xian-Lo-Gua.
The import of new techniques and the growth of the initial Thai state affected agricultural production. The water buffaloes
were introduced as beasts of burden instead of the oxen. This method was ideally suited for wet rice farming. Rice production increased and became an economic base for the development of the community. The people were able to develop their own economic system based on rice until they gained economic and political power over all others states in this region.
Although the international trade through the Strait of Malacca had been favored since 6th century, the overland routes from the coastal towns in Southern Myanmar to the port towns of central Thailand were favored until the early Rattanakosin period. Together with the rice commerce, Sukhothai, Ayudhya and Rattanakosin became one of the trans-peninsula routes parallel with the Strait of Malacca.
The result of population movements and migrations certainly affected cultural traditions and lifestyles found among the peoples who are to populate the kingdom of Thailand. Therefore the Thai / Sama / Sayam / Siam
is the various indigenous peoples, Proto Malayu, Mon, Khmer
, as well as to immigrants from India. In addition, the population also consisted of coastal peoples, some mariners, Chinese, and a host of other minority groups. This important characteristic is “The great variety” of Thai people.
Thai society and culture covered an area far wider than that ruled by the state. Tai peoples refers collectively to the ethnic groups of southern China and Southeast Asia, stretching from Hainan to eastern India and from southern Sichuan to Thailand, that speak the Tai languages and share similar traditions and festivals, including Songkran. Despite never having a unified nation-state of their own, the peoples also share or historically shared a vague idea of a "Siam" nation, corrupted to Shan or Assam in some places, and most self-identify as "Tai". A far more comprehensive list is available in Thai only for this term. For example, 29 ethnic groups & languages are identified as "Tai" in the Thai language version in People's Republic of China alone. Tai peoples include:
- The Lao of Laos and Northeast Thailand
- The Northern Thai (Lanna or Thai Yuan) of Thailand
- The Thai of Thailand (Tai Noi or Little Tai)
- The Shan (Thai Yai or Big Tai) of Burma
- The Zhuang of China
- The Buyei of China
- The Thai Lue of Laos and China (also called "Dai")
- The Nung of China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam
- The Black Tai (Tai Dam) of Laos and Vietnam
- The Red Tai (Tai Daeng)
- The White Tai (Tai Kao)
- The Tai Dom people of present day North Vietnam
- The various tribes in Yunnan, China.
The initial Thai society, the basic division was that between the rulers and the ruled. During this formative period, there were radical changes in the local political system. The original system of chiefdom is led by a chief
was changed to a system of divine kingship
based on Indian models. The king and the royal aristocracy
together with the bureaucratic nobility
wielded full economic and power. Next was the upper class consisting of statesmen and high officials who supervised the carrying out of state and royal duties. There were also community leaders who interacted closely with the populace.
Beneath these strata were the masses, the great majority of whom were either free men or slaves. Within this hierarchical system, each individual had a fixed status with clear-cut responsibilities and rights toward individuals above and below him. The ordinary people consisted of several groups. Every free man was the client or retainer of a person in the upper strata, while every slave was the property of an elite individual or family. The great majority of the free men were agriculturalists, townsmen and traders emerged as a result of the state being located on both continental and seafaring trading routes. The fact that it was one of the most important commercial centers in Southeast Asia can clearly be seen from the multitude of archaeological evidence found.
The growth of the initial Thai states gradually came into a Buddhist
culture instead of Shamanism
. Buddhism became the core faith of early Thai society, linking up and unifying the various lifestyles and beliefs found in this region, and also played a part in determining the form of the political system. The Buddhist faith was recognized by both the state and the people. Buddhism also played an important part in the affairs of the ruling classes it was accepted in early Thai society that the king was not only the royal patron of Buddhism but also the Dharmikaraja
whose duty was to spread the faith through following the righteous path as well as through the domination and subjugation of other peoples through the waging of war.
The monks partook in religious duties which were more related to the needs of the ordinary people. They taught the people how to read and write, as well as giving lessons concerning the Buddhist doctrine. While the brahmins had a direct relationship with the royalty through their ceremonial duties, the hermits and mendicants took refuge in the deep jungle, although some enjoyed various degrees of influence over politically powerful persons.
The development of Buddhism during the early Thai state period formed the basis for a Buddhist society and state in this area and provides the historical basis and origins for the later development of the kingdom of Thailand.