Looking through Photographs in the Same 'Shadow of History'

Papan Raksrithong  |  Published in WeWatchBook "In Between; Restive South" Deep South Photojournalism Issue, 2011
 
หมายเหตุ: อ่านบทความภาคภาษาไทยได้ที่ http://www.wewatch.in.th/blogs/184 **

 

"...Each human being is an individual, yet we are undoubtedly inter-connected. We realize that the face of a farmer in Arizona says as much about his determined patriotism as the face of a young Kurd rebel. A man who fell under a strange voodoo trance in Togo reflects the faith of those who came to worship the Sun God at Teotihuacan. The beautifully colored lips of an Italian maid reminds us of the same narcissism of a young geisha. The tears of a young child, no matter where, tell the tale of misery. Looking through these faces, and the feeling of estrangement turns into intimacy. This time, you may even say, 'Oh, that's me'."
Article titled "We are a brotherhood"
National Geographic Magazine: 100 Best Pictures

 

Somebody once said that 'photographs' are records of the drama of history. Photographs may represent a new discovery, or the next step in humanity. Photos represent joy and bear witness to events, including tragedy. A photograph presents both the story and the tale within itself. In a photograph, an image of an individual may be projected, or there may be estrangement of some people, you and us, relationships, conflicts and, importantly, they can bring out imagination to be so close to that place that we could have felt it.

Likewise, in this land, our 'photographs' will once again take you to a place that seems to be so far away as through it is beyond the horizon of your heart, while in reality the distance may actually be as close as a day of train ride. We will take you to the 'Deep South' of Thailand,a place where many people absolutely do not wish to go, as the place is filled with conflicts, violence, and tragedies.

Yet, the thing that causes the terror may not be the unrest itself, but rather the unfamiliar faces that make some people feel so.

In the deep south, pictures of girls with open faces that are familiar to us are replaced by the hijab, a big veil that encloses the face, keeps the hair, and covers from the neck to the shoulder. The girls seem so quiet and reserved that some of us can only feel them by their eyes. Meanwhile, images of Korean-looking, booze-filled, talkative boys in our way of life are replaced with the sun-burnt faces, long goatees, style-less loose clothing, and outdated cylindrical hats. The incomprehensible language further made their 'identity' seemed mysterios and different. On the other hand, because of these things, such frowning eyes may also be returned to us as well.

However, as 'photographs' are records of the drama of history, we have tried to search for 'photos of the past' that can substitute the connection between our 'identities' to one another. At the same time, we also try to search for photographs from the past that created the new 'identity' of people in the deep south. Our rationale is not to further worsen the difference. We only need shadows and a large mirror so that we can look into our own faces more realistically than the faces that have been created from the illusion of history. 

 

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We begin with 'photographs' of people. The first and the third images are pictures of the 'Pattani Malay" people waiting to receive the visit of King Vajiravuth of Siam during His visit to the southern prefectures in 1915. When the second picture is included, while it is uncertain whether the picture was taken in Krabi Province, but if so, then it can be roughly observed that the Muslim society in the 'Corridor of Mecca' did not appear to be so different from the Muslim society at the shores of Siam. Nearly a century ago, the 'Melayu' society was not as strict on proper Islamic attire. Women still wear cloth at their chest level like the wives of the farmers in the central region, although some had headscarf to their shoulder without being too strict on covering their hair. Some even used conical hats. As for the men, aside from the turbans on their head, some were wearing cylindrical-sleeved shirts with sarong, making them look formal, although we could still some men who were tired of the heat and went bear-chested, showing their muscular features.

 

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The following three sets of pictures are from the time when King Chulalongkorn of Siam made visit to Terangganu in 1905. Later, Terangganu became a British crown colony and is under the jurisdiction of Malaysia at present. These images tell us that there might not be so much differences in the Melayu society in the past. There were many modes of attire, some without covers. The first picture was taken at the market, while the bottom two pictures were taken at the residence of the Phraya (Lord) of Terangganu.

 

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Present: Changes have taken place with the passing of days. Pilgrimages, political assylums, faster communication, the revolution in Iran, translation of the Quran into many languages including Thai, the Persian Gulf War, as well as 911, caused knowledge and awareness of Islam from the Middle East to flow more and more to the Malay Peninsula. In the deep south, people now prefers to dress according to religious principles rather than follow the traditional indigenous Melayu attire.

'Photographs' allow us to see the changes. While the story of the winner is that of glory, the story of the defeated is that of pain. However, as human beings create memory through 'history', whether they are winners or the defeated, their identity would appear in the shadows as a type of illusive pride, which normally would not leave much space for other sides of the story of people who have once shared the land to be shown.

 

  

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We have chosen images of the statue of the Buddha and the Sun God to remind us of the past that could be both the lesson and the conflict in the future. Archeologists found these traces of belief from an archeological site in Yarang District, Pattani Province, and there are many more sites, the dhammachakra (wheel of dhamma), Shiva Lingam (phallus), etc. that are reminents of the past from over 1,000 years ago, when trade was prosperous and diversity in beliefs could co-exist. We found the traces of faiths in Buddhism, Bhramin, or even the Saora Cult, a relatively minor sect that worshipped the Sun God, on the same land.

 

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 Meanwhile, we also have chosen the image of the procession of Raja Hirau of Pattani that appeared in the book Achter Theil der Orientalische Indien (1606) (Teeuw and Wyatt ,1970 : Image Cover, the author has not yet seen or read the actual book) next to the other image, together with the arrival of the Dutch and the Chinese neighborhood on Pattanibhirom Road in 1915.

 

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The era of the 4 queens of 'Patani' was the time when there were tales of greatness and glory, a point when the 'Melayu Identity' was strongly merged with 'Islam', i.e. the port city freely welcomed a large number of people, including westerners, in a manner that was not different from Ayutthaya. There were relations and conflicts with one another, and such characteristic was found in many other ancient communities e.g. in Java or Champa. However, the significance of Patani is that it served as a trading route that connected the Indian Ocean, Lanka, and the Arabic World, together with China and Japan. Thus Patani should be considered as an ancient state that had a continuous and diverse mixing of cultures, such as the legend of the "Lim Kor Niew Shrine" or the traces of trading in the Chinese culture that still predominates to present day, which serve as a great reminder of the past.

However, although Islam diffused slowly into the area, but the great faith that existed afterwards was undeniable. After Southern India was defeated by the Muslim forces, Muslim traders came to trade in this region and brought along their religion. It might be because of the influence of trade, or because some of the traders had strong faith, or there was some influence on the internal atmosphere, or because it was the will of God, faith in Islam grew larger and larger, and changes were made among the ruling elites. Once the rulers had faith in the religion, it was not difficult for Islam to be embedded in this land. Afterwards, the universe of the Pattani Peninsula turned towards its center in the Middle East, and spread its borders along the sea.

Next, we chose to project a memory of the history of conflict that continued from the colonial era to the post-colonial era. It is an image after the amphibious landing of the Japanese soldiers during the beginning of the second world war. The military junta government of Field Marshall P. Phibulsongkhram surveyed the damage in Pattani. In the picture, the role of the Thai-western 'mala naam Thai' ('Head covers leading Thailand') nationalist policy that spread all the way to the southern borders could be seen, in which artificial civilization was forced upon the locals to create cultural unity caused great discontent among the people, even those living in Bangkok.

 

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 The last set of photographs are those that reflect the 'identity' that can be mobilized or pave the way for one another, particularly for young people with dreams, ideals, and a search for freedom that lingers from the heart.

 

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These 3 pictures were taken at the same period of time, i.e. in 1976. The first two pictures were taken in Pattani. Mom Rajawongse (M.R.) Kukrit Pramoj, Prime Minister, visited the southern border provinces, since on 18 December 1975, there was a large demonstration in front of the Pattani Central Mosque. Although the beginning of the protest came from the incident when a group of Thai marines slaughtered innocent people and threw the bodies into the Kotor River in Saiburi District, Pattani Province, but the oppression and abuse of government officials that had existed long before had culminated in the large protest of the Melayu people that numbered in the tens of thousands that took place for as long as 45 days. Throughout the protest, people widely and openly talked about the oppression by the government. We tried to put in the last picture from the protest in October 1976 protest at Thammasart University in Bangkok into the mix as well. A glance at the picture would make it appear as through it was the same incident. During that time, young people might not be looking as much at the issue of 'religious identity' as the issue of oppression and the demand for justice in the society, possibly due to the influence of the atmosphere after the 14 October 1973 incident, even if such democracy lasted for a short period of time.

Another event that should be mentioned but, regretfully, the pictures of which cannot be found, is the 'Hijab Protest' in 1988 when a group of 7 Muslim students at Rajabhat Institute of Yala wanted to wear the hijab as docrinated by Islamic principles, i.e. their entire bodies would be covered by loose clothing except for the face and the palm, which violated the uniform of the Institute. This event should marked a key cultural struggle of the Muslim people, one in which the 'identity' was more clearly mentioned.

At present, the fight for justice still continues both in the form of a violence struggle and a peaceful one. However, nearly all contemporary struggles have merged the issue of oppression to the issue of 'identity' with a deep meaning at the spiritual level. In mid-2007, protest in from of the Central Mosqe happened again, which reminded people of the protests of the past, although the issue remained the demand for justice which nearly had never been solved by the government, but we could see some clear changes this time.

 

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The protesters were no longer the liberal students during the hippie era, but the protest progressed into a struggle under a changed 'identity'. Meanwhile, we make a reference to Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation as a comparison, as many common points can be seen. Nowadays, the Zapatista have come to be seen as a contemporary symbol of struggle for justice and equality after the era of Che Guevara.

Consealment to show sincerity and faith in equality has lead towards a great success in liberating the Chiapas state in Mexico. The Zapatistas are an inspiration to those who struggle for equality all over the Earth. Perhaps, their hearts are also beating as a heated rhythm in the bodies of the young people in the Deep South.

The entire world is connected. Recently, we have beared witness to the great changes that took place in the Muslim world. It started by a man who was oppressed in Tunicia, northern Africa, but it ignited revolutionary fires that could eventually end the reign of a dictator. That was not all. The wind of change has also brought the sweet scent of 'jasmine' from tunisia to the other lands in the Arab world, including Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Libya.

As for the deep south, all changes are normally connected to the events in the Arab world. Although we cannot yet touch that wind from far-away places, but we believe that whenever the world becomes as small as a mobile phone, the wind of change will reach us and then the 'Bunga Raya' flower will be able to bloom like the jasmine, carnation, or any other pretty and virgin flower on Earth.

We only hope that these changes will bring forth the faces of love, peace, liberty, and equality, and not the faces of those who have died from war, as today we already have lost too much blood, too many lives, and too much tear.

 

Sources of the Images
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Figures 1- 6 National Library's Archives
Figure 7 Blog http://www.oknation.net/blog/idongphoto
Figure 8 Standing Buddha, c. 8th-9th century.
Sawang Lertrith. Ancient City of Yarang. Bangkok: Amarinth Press. 1988. Page 31.
Figure 9 Broze statue of the Sun God, c. 9th-10th century.
Sawang Lertrith. Ancient City of Yarang. Bangkok: Amarinth Press. 1988. Page 37.
Figure 10 Procession of Raja Hijau of Pattani, as appeared in Achter Theil der Orientalische Indien (1606) (Teeuw and Wyatt ,1970) cited by Khrongchai Hattha. History of Pattani from Ancient Kingdoms to the 7-Cities Administration. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Press. 2008. Page 181.
Figure 11 Arrival of the Dutch at the Port of Pattani, as appeared in Achter Theil der Orientalische Indien (1606) (Teeuw and Wyatt ,1970) cited by Khrongchai Hattha. History of Pattani from Ancient Kingdoms to the 7-Cities Administration. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Press. 2008. Page 182.
Figure 12 Trading district of Pattani City around Pattanibhiromya Road during the Pattani Prefecture Era, 1915 AD. Khrongchai Hattha. History of Pattani from Ancient Kingdoms to the 7-Cities Administration. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Press. 2008
Figure 13 – 16 National Library's Archives
Figure 17 Picture by Charoon Thongnual, photojournalist for Nation Multimedia (retrived from the internet)
Figure 18 Blog http://mblog.manager.co.th/undertakered/