17 posts

Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Benjamin C. MCLELLAN


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Keeping Cool in Southeast Asia: Energy Consumption and Urban Air-Conditioning
Marlyne Sahakian
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, x–xviii+229p.

This book offers insights into some critical areas of social and environmental aspects of the sustainable development paradigm. While being focused on south-east Asia (SEA), and in particular on the Philippines, the book has relevance to other areas of the world where growing urbanization, economic development, and the current and potentially-exacerbated effects of climate change are likely to have cumulative non-linear effects on energy consumption (the impact of which will not be equivalent to the sum of the individual components of change).

The book is largely based on interviews with a variety of general and institutional stakeholders, which lends a personal touch to the case studies. Quantitative statistics and evaluation are not widely used. There are sections including good precis of historical developments leading to the current situation, although brief. As a book that seeks to engage the reader in understanding a variety of social contexts and influences in the usage of air-conditioners and other cooling devices in the Philippines, the book succeeds. However, in building a quantitative and cross-country comparison, it has some shortcomings. The following paragraphs review the book chapter-by-chapter in brief, highlighting particular points of strength or weakness.

The introduction of the energy situation in Chapter two, the author tries to contextualize the energy consumption in the region, and the importance of some specific climatic and socio-economic and political factors. While nominally discussing “consumption,” the chapter in fact focuses to a large extent on the production or generation side, mainly examining electricity. The quantitative drivers for consumption are not well-examined, as there is little discussion of the split between sectoral demand. While this is not the focus of the book per se, it leaves some of the correlation between increased cooling load, energy consumption, and environmental impacts on a weaker footing. While discussing some of the major drivers in the residential sector, acknowledgment of commercial and industrial demand would have been welcomed. Moreover, the limiting factor of resource potential—for both conventional and renewable resources—would have been a useful point to consider in the comparison of various SEA nations.

Chapter three provides a good, if brief and perhaps a little outdated (given the publication date, much of the literature cited is from the 1980s–90s, while developments in the 2000s are minimally-addressed) overview of the historical introduction of air-conditioning, the socio-economic disparities in its utilization, and cultural variations in usage. The importance of built-environment and passive cooling is somewhat understated, although the technological lock-in associated is an important concept raised in this context.

The fourth chapter is one of the most useful of the book, with an overview of some of the main reasons for people (in the Philippines) utilizing air conditioning. Briefly, these are summarized as: sleeping better at night, health and safety, preparing and caring for a child, personal cleanliness, as a status symbol, enabling or driven by apparel fashion, air-conditioning at work, and the use in public spaces. Most surprising, perhaps, is the use for health and cleanliness—by the purification of polluted-air, particularly in urban environments. While this is somewhat decoupled from energy (in the sense that the pollution is largely from transportation), it is an interesting consideration for other contexts where there may be more of a feedback loop between increasing demand from air-conditioning leading to greater pollution from power generation.

The fifth chapter addresses the highly important issue of buildings—from the history of the influences on Philippine architecture to the preferences of consumers and the competing forces in the endeavor to develop sustainable, green buildings. Two particular points are clear from this discussion—firstly, that there has been a strong westernizing tendency in Filipino architecture, which has perhaps led to poorly-adapted building stock constructed based on inspiration from temperate western countries that perform inadequately in tropical environments. Secondly, that globalization has reinforced this tendency, with these western-style buildings having a fashion status value attached—as opposed to the native styles. In effect, this has contributed significantly to the locked-in need for air-conditioning.

The last two chapters discuss some of the “opportunities for change through social learning.” This describes some of the broader landscape of political, cultural, economic, and specifically educational requirements and current constraints on environmentally-oriented social-behavioral change. Despite some contextually-specific elements (for example the influence of the Catholic church and a focus on one of the domestic energy companies), much of these sections is very general. As a positive, this means that the concepts discussed are likely to be widely applicable. To take a negative stance however, this leaves a gap—what is the specific and contextually essential component of social learning in SEA, particularly the Philippines?

From the overall perspective, it is hard to say that this book lives up to its title. There are a few immediate reasons for this. Firstly, while the book title includes Southeast Asia, the majority of the content focuses on the Philippines. More could have been done to extend the contextual correlation with other SEA nations. Secondly, by the final two chapters, the focus on urban air-conditioning and energy consumption also becomes highly diluted and diminished. What is the overall relevance and applicability of the social learning to energy usage and air-conditioning? What is and will be the overall potential impact? These types of questions remain unsatisfactorily unanswered, at least for this reader.

Benjamin C. McLellan
Graduate School of Energy Science, Kyoto University


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, NGUYEN Thi Le


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Frontier Livelihoods: Hmong in the Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands
Sarah Turner, Christine Bonnin, and Jean Michaud
Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2015, 223p.

By choosing to work on the livelihoods of one ethnic group, the Hmong, on both sides of the international Sino-Vietnamese border, this study focuses on how these people make and negotiate livelihood decisions in their complicated geographic, socioeconomic, and political contexts. The study provides a vivid description of a myriad of activities in the everyday lives of Hmong on the fringes as they make their living in the sectors of agriculture, livestock transactions, locally distilled alcohol, cardamom, and the textile trade. These livelihoods have been shaped by various integrations and negotiations between their own background of environment, culture, local knowledge, and identities, and agents and institutions of the state.

In the first two chapters, “Upland Alternative: An Introduction” and “Frontier Dynamics: Borders and the Hmong,” the authors clarify the borderlands as a “third space” and suggest a theoretical framework to approach and facilitate a more comprehensive insight into how the Hmong people are “making a living and trying to maintain their cultures and identity” (p. 15). This “third space” is the area on both sides of the Sino-Vietnamese border, Yunnan in China and upland northern Vietnam, which has been attracting a range of development schemes and policies issued on both sides in the name of speeding up the economic development of this undeveloped region. Tracing other associated political reasons, the authors view these state efforts as part of an “internal colonization scheme” (p. 27) that has an effect, direct or indirect, on Hmong livelihood decision making. On the other hand, using a bottom-up approach, the authors offer a “locally adapted, nuanced analysis of livelihoods” (p. 7) with the Hmong people passively acting as a local agency to “navigate, rework, contest and appropriate specific facets of identity, modernity, market integration, and nation-state building as they go about creating resilient life-worlds and everyday livelihood” (p. 7).

Chapter 3, “Borderland Livelihoods: Everyday Decisions and Agrarian Change,” focuses on the most important livelihood activity of Hmong on both sides of the Sino-Vietnamese border, the agricultural sector. This sector has changed a lot under the effect of state development schemes, especially through sedentarization programs that aim to reduce the use of “slash and burn” methods—a traditional agricultural practice among the Hmong—in favor of intensification agriculture, even though this agrarian change significantly affects Hmong lives and livelihoods. Hybrid seeds were introduced and quickly adopted in this area thanks to their heterosis as well as the pressure on limited land and concerns over food security. This unavoidable situation placed Hmong people in a vulnerable financial situation: due to the additional costs of buying new seeds every planting season, fertilizers, pesticides, and investing in more stable irrigation, they are more dependent on the government’s subsidies and development programs. However, local people still maintain their old practice of swidden agriculture in some places where governments cannot exercise control; they persist in planting traditional rice on available land and try to avoid over-reliance on the state by buying seed from private traders rather than waiting for subsidized bureaus. These active responses on the part of Hmong people are “the best, most resilient tactic” (p. 58) and “forms of everyday covert resistance and small acts of reinterpretation that take place in the context of a marginalized group” (p. 11).

The next four chapters provide interesting insights on non-agricultural livelihood activities of Hmong people in the borderlands: “Livestock Transactions: Buffalo Traversing the Borderlands,” “Locally Distilled Alcohol: Commodifying an Upland Tradition,” “Farming under the Trees: Old Skills and New Markets,” “Weaving Livelihoods: Local and Global Hmong Textile Trades.” The authors show that these sectors are not totally new consequences of the need for cash in the context of new market expansion but are shaped by combining the existence of small-scale barter and trade when and where needed for generations of Hmong people with new constraints of cash income and economic opportunities. Putting Hmong into the center of analysis and treating them as key actors, these chapters clearly show how they use their economic, social, and cultural capital to gain benefits from the marketplace and actively make their own decisions over when and where to engage or disengage from the market economy. On the other hand, the authors also show how in some cases Hmong people have to deal with challenges and vulnerability, for instance, “distillers in Vietnam appear to reap the least economic benefit relative to other actors in these commodity chains” (p. 103).

The position of Hmong people in this matrix of livelihood activities is discussed further in the last chapter, “The Challenge: Making a Living on the Margins.” However, according to the authors, going beyond all their struggles and difficulties in making a living in the marketplace, Hmong people use their agency as best they can and “do things their own way” (p. 153), as their habitus, to maintain their own identity. From the authors’ point of view, even though Hmong people adopt hybrids, they prefer to cultivate traditional Hmong varieties because they dislike the taste of hybrids and find the taste of traditional rice superior. They continue planting indigenous varieties to keep them alive, to let cultivation knowledge survive, and to maintain their culture (pp. 53, 154). For cash-earning activities, Hmong people are alert to outside opportunities but “with a careful eye on the household labor available and the risks entailed vis-à-vis agricultural needs and responsibilities” (p. 164). In that way, Hmong people can create their own “life project” and “make livelihood decisions that are entirely rational while rooted in their cultural context” (p. 170).

Despite a slight imbalance in research between the two sides of the border, with a greater focus on the Vietnamese side than the Chinese, this study remains an academic achievement and makes a significant contribution to anthropological studies on the livelihoods of people on the frontiers of the Southeast Asian Massif. The research embraces an actor-oriented livelihood approach and strongly confirms the active agency of Hmong people in dealing with and making the best of an adverse situation. This is a representative case of “indigenization of modernity” (Sahlins 1999). The study also raises several research ideas, such as questions on ethnic minority: “The mere fact that the Hmong in Asia number roughly the same as the whole population of Laos should prompt critical thinking on the very notions of nation and minority” (p. 16). Tourism and hiking in Lao Cai, on the Vietnamese side—emerging livelihood activities that have an influence on Hmong society—need to be further investigated.

Nguyen Thi Le
Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University


Sahlins, Marshall. 1999. What Is Anthropological Enlightenment? Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century. Annual Review of Anthropology 28: i–xxiii.




The Khmer Lands of Vietnam: Environment, Cosmology and Sovereignty

Philip Taylor

Singapore: NUS Press, 2014, 350p.

The Khmer minority of Vietnam, which is indigenous to the Mekong Delta, has long been a bone of contention between the Vietnamese and Cambodian states. From the perspective of the Vietnamese, the delta region was a wilderness which was only tamed when they began to colonize the area and build a productive economy—something which has benefited everyone, including the local Khmers. On the other hand, this historically Khmer-speaking territory, now firmly in the possession of Vietnam, is, for many Cambodians, a historical injustice in need of redress, as well as an ominous reminder of just how weak the Cambodian state is compared to its neighbors. Academic, journalistic, and polemical writings on this issue typically address issues of human rights in Vietnam or political relations between the two countries, but Philip Taylor’s book looks at the situation from a different angle, neither from the point of view of Hanoi or Phnom Penh, but rather from the perspective of the Khmer Krom people themselves without subordinating their voices to those of state-level actors.

Taylor’s presentation of the Khmer Krom understanding of history, engagement with the economy, and orientation toward the future negate the notion that the Khmers of southern Vietnam are merely an extension of the Cambodian body politic whose interests might lie in a reunification with it. At the same time, Taylor effectively undermines the official Vietnamese narrative that the Khmer inhabitants have failed to develop the region prior to the arrival of the Vietnamese because of their indolence and backwardness, by showing how the Khmers have in fact been very successful in adapting themselves to an inhospitable environment. The book itself is organized into seven chapters describing in detail the ways in which Khmers conduct their social, economic, and religious lives in each of the ecological regions in which Khmers live. These are the coastal dune belt, coastal river-dune complex, freshwater rivers, saltwater rivers, flooded mountains, ocean-side mountains, and the northeast uplands.

Far from being backwards, the Khmer Krom are resourceful engineers who have succeeded in building communities in a land vulnerable to seawater incursions and where groundwater is often undrinkable. The reader truly appreciates the exquisite nature of these adaptations to each different type of hydrological environment in the delta, and the degree to which the contemporary land and economy, which the Vietnamese narrative attributes to the modern and forward-thinking character of the government, has only been possible through the introduction of machinery and technology that would first have arrived in the French colonial period. The transformations of the eco-scape with a view to intensifying production continued into the post-independence period and into the late 1990s, and displaced large numbers of Khmers, making their traditional livelihoods more precarious or ending them completely. In each chapter, we see the diverse strategies by which Khmers alter their lifeways to meet the challenges and opportunities that present themselves in each region.

Taylor presents the Khmer Buddhist moral cosmology as the lens through which Khmer Krom construct history and make sense of these present-day circumstances. In this vision of the world, decay and degeneration are relentless forces and it is incumbent upon each Buddhist to preserve himself against them by rejecting the primacy of political life and remembering the signs of moral history inscribed in the landscape. Kampuchea Krom is a land where Buddha statues miraculously float upriver to a new temple, retracing the path of Khmer refugees who abandoned their homes in the Indochina wars. Magic boats sink beneath the waters and hide themselves along with their treasures while their spirits enforce proper standards of morality on people traveling in the area. A Khmer queen flees Cambodia only to drown on her way to the sea where her dying body gives form and life to the multitudes of plants and animals found in the region today.

These conceptions of the past are productive in engaging with the current political realities and in crafting community and personal identities in response to the environmental, social, and political exigencies that Khmer Krom face. The Khmer Krom understand themselves to be the cradle of modern Khmer culture. Speaking and writing Khmer and practicing Theravada Buddhism, they have married this culture to modernity in a way that has not quite happened in Cambodia. The success of this openness to the modern is manifest in the considerable influence that Khmer Krom such as Sơn Ngọc Thành, who founded the first Khmer-language newspaper in 1936, have had on the culture of Cambodia in the past century in the fields of government, religion, and the arts.

Yet even this commitment to making Khmer culture live in a modern context varies from region to region and is naturally subject to variation at the personal level. While Khmer Krom maintain an attachment to their language and religion, they are of different minds when it comes to their embrace of the cosmopolitan quality of life in the delta with its mix of Vietnamese, Khmer, Cham Muslim, and Chinese populations. The Buddhist wat (temple) which has long served as the locus of Khmer learning is still important to developing a local Khmer intellectual life in areas like Preah Trapeang, but the large number of Khmer students residing in the wats of Ho Chi Minh City belies the fact that the majority of these young people are actually there to avail themselves of the opportunities for study available in the metropolis, which are exclusively Vietnamese.

Khmer Lands is an important book on the problem of Kampuchea Krom because it places local agency and creativity in the foreground of events. Its treatment of the interaction between peoples and institutions mediated by geography and economy, and resulting in an ethnic Khmer identity that is resilient but flexible in the face of changing circumstances makes this work indispensable to anyone interested in understanding Khmer-Vietnamese social relations, and an important contribution to the literature on state minorities in the Southeast Asia region.

Alberto Pérez Pereiro
Breogán Consulting


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Laurens BAKKER


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Beyond Oligarchy: Wealth, Power and Contemporary Indonesian Politics
Michele Ford and Thomas B. Pepinsky, eds.
Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2014, x+178p.

The end of the Suharto regime in 1998 liberated Indonesia’s population in a variety of ways: it opened the door to democratic governance and the development of a critical and outspoken civil society, and saw a new government retract the strong grip the state held on numerous aspects of civil, political, and economic life. The regime’s end also “liberated” a small group of extremely rich and well-connected individuals. These individuals, risen to wealth and influence under Suharto’s protection but not having gone down with him, applied their capital to setting themselves up in the leaderships of the nations’ new political parties, to expanding their grasp on resources and industries, and to building a public image sustaining these activities through the television channels and newspapers they owned. The rise of these oligarchs in democratic post-Suharto Indonesia has been worrying and intriguing observers, particularly regarding their influence on democracy, rule of law, and the protection of Indonesia’s market to foreign competition. It also raises numerous questions regarding their strategies and modus operandi. Should we understand them as a mutually-supportive class with shared interests, or as individual actors with shared characteristics? How are they placed vis-à-vis other power holders, how do they obtain popular support?

While research and publications on the role and influence of oligarchy in Indonesia has been undertaken, most notably the works of Robison and Hadiz (2004) and Winters (2011), the number of publications remains limited and contains but little debate. Beyond Oligarchy is making an important difference here. The contributors seek to start a discussion between proponents of the “oligarchy framework” (see below) and scholars drawing on other theoretical traditions, exchanging views on starting points and emphases in understanding and explaining the role of oligarchs in Indonesian politics. This discussion has strengthened the debate and avoided the specter of a “collection of inward-looking scholarly camps” (p. x) with a weak collective capacity for understanding Indonesian politics. Furthermore, they aspire to take this debate beyond Indonesia and combine their own expertise with broader scholarship in order to refine theories and concepts and generate new insights.

The discussion element has come out very well indeed. The authors read each other’s chapters and address their colleagues’ criticisms and theories in relation to their own ideas. To this reviewer, this is already a very valuable contribution to the debate because it makes the book stand out among so many other edited volumes that do not get beyond a collection of thematically-similar papers. This great result is likely due to the fact that the contributions are based on conversations taking place between the authors during two meetings in 2012 and 2013, thus allowing for reflection and reconsideration.

The book consists of nine chapters which, after the introduction by Michele Ford and Thomas Pepinsky, can be seen as falling into three parts. First are two chapters by, respectively, Winters, and Hadiz and Robison in which they outline their theses of the role of oligarchy in post-Suharto Indonesia. Both chapters, albeit differing in various other aspects, place oligarchs in a position of having captured Indonesia’s political institutions for the accumulation of private wealth and social power and as a strategy of wealth defense. These chapters constitute what is referred to as the “oligarchy framework” of analysis (given the differences in analyses it might perhaps be more illuminating to speak of “oligarchy frameworks”). The second part of the book consists of chapters by Liddle, Pepinsky, and Mietzner who argue for a study of Indonesian politics that uses broader approaches than the oligarchy frameworks do, and include a greater variety of power resources, interests, and actors. The third and last part consists of the chapters by Aspinall, Caraway and Ford, and Buehler, that are united by their emphasis on contestation through mobilization and social agency.

The central subject of the chapters is the variety within the conceptual understanding of oligarchy and its relation to contemporary Indonesian politics, as given through the authors’ approaches. All the contributors after Winters’ and Hadiz and Robinson’ chapters, furthermore, present their take on the insights and theories put forward by these three authors, who do, however, perhaps differ as much from each other as that they share views. The richness of these first two chapters is that the authors do not simply repeat their earlier work but explain their arguments in the context of the other chapters as well. Briefly put (as per Hadiz and Robison, p. 37), the oligarchy thesis concerns a “system of power relations that enables the concentration of wealth and authority and its collective defense.” To Hadiz and Robison oligarchy should be understood in the context of capitalist development, the formation and maintenance of a collective interest of oligarchs, and considered from a larger theoretical framework of structural political economy. For Winters, oligarchs’ politics, place and relation vis-à-vis each other and other elites is the point of departure. Class interests and joint actions are a possible but not necessary outcome. The authors accept that electoral democracy and oligarchic rule can coexist and that democracy can impact oligarchic rule, but do not consider competitive elections to automatically diminish the power of oligarchs.

The contributions that follow all add to and critique Winters, and Hadiz and Robison. Liddle finds the focus on great material wealth too limited, and proposes a theory of political change focusing on the actions of key individuals. Pepinsky likewise seeks to expand the explanatory capacity of the frameworks outlined by Winters, and Hadiz and Robison. He argues that pluralism, studied through distributional politics, offers an approach that can explain variation in policy outcomes beyond the direct interests of oligarchs. Mietzner presents an analysis of oligarchs in which he distinguishes five subgroups by motivations and interests, and finds that the difference between oligarchs is an important, but overlooked factor in understanding their role in Indonesian politics. Aspinall, looking at a potentially reforming left, electoral populism, and the rise of an Indonesian welfare state critiques the absence of popular forces and the emphasis on material wealth. He argues that subordinate groups and their organization must be included in the analysis of Indonesian politics.

The next chapter by Caraway and Ford connects nicely to this theme as it deals with the labor movement’s capacity to mobilize socially—for minimum wages—and politically in local elections. The authors question whether the oligarchy theories are sufficiently robust to deal with the implications of local differences and nuances. In the final chapter, Buehler looks at the adoption of Sharia law in South Sulawesi to argue that the new political situation in Indonesia has made elites susceptible to the demands of societal groups and, in doing so, finds that vested interests are not those of oligarchs, but of elites. Opportunities for change arise through the changing relations between elites, but elites maintained their dominant positions in society.

The different authors do not seek to arrive at a shared conclusion, but highlight their individual thoughts and theories in relation to those of their colleagues. This presents the reader with an interesting overview of ideas, and leaves us to agree, critique, or question. The book clearly is a much welcomed addition to the field of study of Indonesian politics, but, to this reviewer, also has two weak points. First is the broad scale of statements and conclusions, which rarely (Caraway and Ford, and Buehler are exceptions) go beyond the national level at any depth. The strategies, effects and power relations in regional politics differ markedly in, say, Aceh, Jakarta, Bali, or East Kalimantan. While the importance of such variety is mentioned by several of the authors, it is poorly visible in the discussion and poses the risk of theories coming across as intended to have national, uniform validity. As a related point, the study of oligarchy can benefit from the inclusion of researchers from disciplines beyond political sciences. Social economy, history, anthropology, and other fields have members working on Indonesian politics, bringing in their insights could contribute to an even more complete understanding (or more complexity) of the subject.

Laurens Bakker
Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam


Robison, Richard; and Hadiz, Vedi R. 2004. Reorganizing Power in Indonesia: The Politics of Olgarchy in an Age of Markets. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

Winters, Jeffrey A. 2011. Oligarchy. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Rajesh DANIEL


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Tamils and the Haunting of Justice: History and Recognition in Malaysia’s Plantations
Andrew C. Willford
Singapore: NUS Press, 2015, 336p.

In Tamils and the Haunting of Justice, Andrew Willford explores the questions of justice and retribution confronting Malaysian Tamils as they face eviction from their homes and the demolition of their community structures in the former plantation districts in Kuala Lumpur by real estate developers.

With urban development becoming hugely more profitable than rubber plantations in Malaysia’s inner city districts, owners sold their plantation lands to lucrative housing developments. But these were lands in which thousands of Tamil residents have lived since the late nineteenth century, and where the British companies in colonial Malaya built their community-based model of rubber plantation production. Even as the Malay government razes the community structures of the Tamils—the schools, temples, churches, and community halls—it also views them as merely ex-laborers to be classified as “squatters” and evicted. Tamils feel compensation for their lands is insufficient and desire recognition for their longtime presence as important for achieving justice.

Willford’s study of Tamil plantation workers shows them resisting resettlement before negotiating compensation with notions of compensatory justice grounded in a desire for recognition. In attempts to prevent demolition of their temples and community buildings and “the erasure of their associated memories,” “historiographic recognition” becomes a kind of compensatory justice (p. 5).

A key argument of the book is that the transformation of land usage in Malaysia cannot be separated from its inextricable links to religious-ethnic politics in nation-building, and the deliberately measured politicizing of Islam and Malay rights. The book makes substantive and lengthy use of the French philosopher Derrida’s work to show that as a sense of victimization takes hold of an aggrieved minority, the Malaysian Tamils, the “force of law” that “marks and sustains such dissonance becomes more visible, indeed deconstructible” (p. 8). For Derrida, the logic of “haunting” is an important way of understanding justice (O’Riley 2007, 18). The spectral or haunting presence of past events, in this case the demolition of Tamil ancestral lands and religious structures, disrupts and brings into question present history and events.

Willford’s extensive citing of Derrida’s work forms the essential strands of the book’s critique of Malaysian ethnic nationalism, the racialized landscape within which these events unfold, and how the seeking of justice by Tamils goes outside and beyond the juristic or civil order, and even exceeds reason or logic to cross over into the divine or sublime.

The Tamil Sense of Cultural Historicity and Justice

Based on 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork in plantation areas between 2003 and 2009, Willford shows how ideas of race and ethnicity are produced, imagined, and negated within a political, material, legal, and discursive field. As they struggle for compensation and ultimately justice, the book portrays the sense of hurt and betrayal felt by the Tamils as they are labeled as “squatters” despite their long community presence in the area.

The Tamil sense of justice goes beyond the law. The strength of the study is showing how the notions of justice as imagined by the marginalized and betrayed Tamils complicate legal demarcations of ethnic differences in post-colonial states (p. 6).

The book provides a critique of the development ideology of the state, with its quite implicit cultural, nationalist, ethnic, and religious face. Malaysia’s development politics have forced dramatic shifts in the ethnic composition of Malaysia’s industrial heartland, which as Willford notes “was the intended goal all along” (p. 34). As Willford says: “To develop the nation’s core identity, politically constructed around Malay ethnicity and Islam, the two being increasingly synonymous, Malays, it was argued, had to be united and strong—particularly at the center” (p. 35).

The book’s long-term value is that it does not stop at exploring economic or ethnic interests but dives into the complexities of the historiography of “victimhood within a matrix of power” (p. 10). The Tamils’ growing sense of historicity and their growing sense of resentment and anger grow from their knowledge that although the labor of the plantation communities contributed to the growth of the cities of Kuala Lumpur and Klang (along with Chinese tin mining and business), now they are facing resettlement and evictions from the twin pressures of urban development and ethnic policies (and politics).

There was no unified, homogenous Malay culture or polity across the peninsula in the nineteenth century, and what was self-identified as “Malay” were in fact a plurality of groups and the peranakan or mixed origins. The “Malay” ethnic category was constructed and reinforced by both Malay language and Islam.

Census figures show that Indians were a bigger population than Malays in many parts of the peninsula in the 1900s. For example, in 1911 in Selangor, a former plantation heartland and the industrial center of Malaysia today, Indians numbered 74,067, while Malays and Chinese were 65,062 and 150,908 respectively (p. 34). Demographic evidence also shows that a large percentage of “Malays” are recent immigrants from Indonesia or have married into the community.

The study argues that this growing Tamil historicity takes on a “victim’s narrative” (p. 34) among the Tamil poor and working class in its search for justice. The Tamils’ emergent sense of justice and compensation is grounded in an equally emergent historicity of cultural recognition, defined against the politics of ethnic exclusivity.

Archive Fever, Seeking Justice

Using Derrida, the book delves into the “fever for the archive” (pp. 12–13) among the Tamil communities. An archive fever, according to Derrida, materializes a hope for an authorized knowledge and truth claim. The Tamils succumb to this archive fever as they try to provide the documentary evidence to protect their lands against the developers. Once when the author visits a Tamil temple, he is shocked to find an entire community waiting for him, thinking he was a journalist and hoping he can help them in documenting the historical presence of their temples and schools. But as Willford notes in semi-despair, the hope they were investing in this documentary form of evidence “outweighed its legal fecundity in the Malaysian context” (p. 57). Willford says his study is inspired by the works of Derrida to probe into “archive” and “archive fever” to understand the production of knowledge that both authorizes the Law and those subject to it.

Justice as expressed in Tamil Hindu terms, says Willford, “is possessive, perhaps punitive, and at the edge of reason and order” (p. 58). As the book shows, it is the defilement of the Tamil goddess within her sacred landscape of the temple that produces the haunting call for justice. Derrida’s notion of justice is its function of both melancholy and mourning, a haunting that leads to a striving for some practical and redistributive justice (O’Riley 2007, 17–19).

The book narrates how this haunting is the compelling force for the Tamils as they seek justice for their dispossession, struggling against all odds to fend off the violence of the development state and its overtly Malay ethnic agenda.

The book needs some wading into and grappling with terms like archive fever in its initial chapters. It certainly helps if the reader has some knowledge of the French philosopher and of continental literary and psychoanalytic theory. The frequent and lengthy citations of Derrida’s works and words may add literary heft to the book’s foundations, but more often become an impediment to the reading of this compelling story of the Tamil plantation communities in Malaysia. In fact, some editorial intervention to move some of the philosophical references and musings to footnotes would have made for a smoother read.

The author shows how the Tamils employ a variety of strategies and collaborate with many advisors and nongovernmental groups to understand and fight Malaysia’s legal system and its racialized landscape. Often enough, these strategies spill over beyond the law as religious symbols and symbolism as well as Tamil Hindu rituals become part of their weapons for seeking justice and recognition. It would have been interesting to also know how the other religions among the Tamils (Catholic/Christian, Muslim) deal with these challenges, since the book focuses solely on the Tamil Hindus.

Conclusion: Pinned against a Landscape of Ethnic and Religious Tension

The developments and evictions in the former plantation areas take place in a landscape of Malay-Islamic cultural nationalism and the Tamil-Hindu community faces cultural and existential barriers to political recognition even as their difficulties are compounded within a legal system where they do not have permanent land titles to plantation areas or community and residential structures.

In the eyes of Malaysian law, former land use is not a significant rights-based claim, and despite their ancestral presence in the lands as lifelong contract laborers, the Tamils have no legal claim to their home, land, or community structures and even 100-year old temples and schools, and are viewed as merely (ex-) laborers. Willford’s study situated in the early 2000s provides an inner look at how Malaysia’s development “of the prime industrial and subsequent residential heartlands . . . have taken on an ethnonationalistc urgency, given the politics of identity in the nation” (pp. 11, 123–124, 235).

Given Islamic identity’s structured dominance, the most visible aspect of marginalization of the Tamils is in their struggles to protect the sacredness of their own religious spaces. The author narrates the case of a 100-year old plantation temple in the Bukit Jalil Estate, a temple that was the focal point of the community identity—that the Tamils feared would be razed down, and the community tells that it is keen to document the temple’s historical presence.

Malaysia’s nation building was deliberately structured with separateness and differences in rights and privileges accorded to Malays, Chinese, Indians, and others. Even though the citizenship rights of all Malayans regardless of ethnic origin is given recognition, the law has enshrined special provisions protecting ethnic Malay political supremacy as “identities were created and rendered through the law and supplemented through archival measurements of race and culture” (p. 266). Willford writes that: “Malaysian nationalism was built out of negative and dissonant discourses of the other that had to be held—indeed reinforced—by legal means and supplemented by a racialized political and cultural landscape” (p. 8).

The combined effects of postindustrialism, postmodernism, and globalization are generating a “crisis of integration” in contemporary societies (Richmond 2003, 90–92). In polyethnic Malaysia, we can add post-colonialism to the mix.

By looking at ethnicity as social construct, we can regard it for what it is: essentially a work in progress that is not yet done, and so focus on the processes of the production especially the cultural content of ethnicity in particular where it joins religion.

The book offers important insights into the production and emergence of ethnic politics and the heightening of ethnic and religious tensions in Malaysia. The book is of critical relevance in our present time as growing resentment and dissatisfaction against the anti-democratic nature of economic development is manifesting in rising currents of ethnic and religious tensions and conflicts.

Rajesh Daniel
Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia, Bangkok


Richmond, A. H. 2003. Post Industrialism, Postmodernism, and Ethnic Conflict. In Race and Ethnicity: Comparative and Theoretical Approaches, edited by John Stone and Rutledge Dennis, pp. 83–94. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

O’Riley, Michael F. 2007. Postcolonial Haunting and Victimization: Assia Djebar’s New Novels. NY: Peter Lang.


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Mark Iñigo M. TALLARA


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Mother Figured: Marian Apparitions & the Making of a Filipino Universal
Deirdre de la Cruz
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015, 320p.

In March 1989, a transgender woman named Judiel Nieva reported that the Virgin Mary appeared to her atop a guava tree in the town of Agoo in the Philippine province of La Union. After much initial fanfare, a theological commission of the Roman Catholic Church declared the apparition as Constat de Non Supernaturalitate, or “clearly evident to be not supernatural.” In the 20 years since then, however, Filipino devotees to the Virgin Mary have continued to flourish, with some even making pilgrimages in different Marian shrines in and outside the country. Based on the Catholic Directory of the Philippines, more than 800 parishes nationwide are dedicated to the Virgin Mary as its titular patron. It is perhaps too simplistic say that the Marian devotion in the Philippines has persisted simply because of the intensity of Filipinos’ religious faith. What underlies the continued devotion to the Virgin Mary in the largest Roman Catholic nation in Asia?

Deirdre de la Cruz’s Mother Figured: Marian Apparitions & the Making of a Filipino Universal is a meticulous historical and ethnographic examination of the devotion to the Virgin Mary. It is published at a time in which the Catholic Church in the Philippines is embarking upon a 9-year spiritual journey that will culminate in the commemoration of the 500 years of Catholicism in the Philippines (Palma 2012). The book’s publication also finds resonance amidst Pope Francis’s radical new evangelization, which places great emphasis on the vibrancy of religious life among Catholic communities in the Global South.

This book has many important and significant key points which are approached from a number of angles using close textual analysis of church records and other historical documents. One important theme is the interaction between religion, the mass media, and lay actors in shaping Marian devotion in the Philippines. This discussion unfolds throughout the book’s three main parts, which are framed under the headings “images,” “visions,” and “mass movements.” From the outset, De la Cruz offers a very clear explanation of how the chapters are organized. And with her extensive fieldwork, she shows how passionately she is involved in her research, which involved her traveling widely to various churches, convents, libraries, and archives around the Philippines, Spain, and the United States.

Aside from a very useful introduction that outlines the framework and structure of book, the first two chapters recount the historical episodes and contemporary relevance of Marian apparitions and the devotion to the Virgin Mary. Chapter 1 examines the tripled meaning of the word “image” through a discussion of the physical appearance of religious imagery and its resemblance to published apparition stories and miracle narratives during the nineteenth century. The “appearance,” “disappearance,” and “(re)discovery” allegories are parts of the complexity of many apparition stories like in the case of Our Lady of Caysasay or the story of Our Lady of Manaoag, both of which have similarities and differences to actual images. This chapter also examines the role of missionaries and mestizo assistants called ladinos on the production of hagiographies, sermons, prayer books, popular romances, and spiritual manuals (p. 27), particularly during the period of expanding print culture in that century.

Chapter 2 emplaces the apparition stories in their historical context, looking back at the rich Catholic history of the post-revolutionary Philippines. It traces how double translation takes place through the quasi-divine figure of the Virgin Mary and through the globally circulating concept of the nation, Inang Bayan (Mother Country or Motherland). With anti-Spanish forces growing in strength, Gregorio Aglipay, a former Catholic priest and the supreme bishop of the Philippine Independent Church, propagated the tale of Inang Bayan as the localized version of the Virgin Mary. The story of Inang Bayan first appeared in Aglipay’s Novenario de la Patria (Novena of the Motherland) published in 1926, a prayer text that pays homage to the origins of the Philippine nation. The tale and the novena lay out the conditions for understanding the transformation of Marian devotion in the context of late colonial modernity (p. 60), which resonates with Vicente Rafael’s (1988) work on how unique forms of Filipino ideas and practices emerged through the reinterpretation of symbols and signs.

Chapter 3 is about the apparition of the Virgin Mary in a Carmelite monastery in Lipa. The chapter narrates how the apparitions and miracles happened through the story of Teresita Castillo, a former Carmelite novice in a monastery of nuns in the province of Lipa. It also reveals some disturbing historical narratives in the history of the Lipa monastery site, including the account of how 500 male civilians were bayoneted and their bodies dumped into the brook near the newly built seminary during the 1945 Japanese Occupation. The seminary was subsequently burned to the ground and on that burned plot of land now stands the Carmelite monastery built in 1946. The massacre was linked to why some people did not believe Teresita’s account of it was the Virgin Mary that appeared before her. According to De la Cruz’s interview: “All those that were killed by the Japanese there behind Lipa monastery, their spirits, maybe that’s what appeared to Teresita” (p. 90).

The cover image of the book is a photograph of the 1948 miracle rose petal from Lipa, bearing the image of Mary and the infant Jesus. Transformed into a public event, chapter 4 examines the story behind the showering of petals and the 15 consecutive days of Mary’s apparitions including coverage of its worldwide reception. There are claims that several petals yielded holy images and its wondrous potency is believed to cure illness by applying petals directly to the body or administering petal-infused water and petal-infused estampitas (p. 50). Like other sacred objects, whether mass-produced as souvenirs or as objects of veneration, the petals portray the accessibility of spiritual energy inherent in religious material culture (Bautista 2010). According to De la Cruz, “the petals were not ephemeral rumors or stories that would circulate by word of mouth. They are proofs of a most material sort, witnessed and possessed by not just one but by many. They were artifacts that appeared mysteriously in different conditions, that posed the greatest treat to the church effort’s to contain what was rapidly becoming a mass phenomenon, making the showering of petals were made the focal point of the verdict” (p. 151).

Chapter 5 is about the Family Rosary Crusade (FRC), a church apostolate that became a source of a new form of appearance of Mary in the Philippines. “Please pray the rosary” is a public service announcement on national television networks in the Philippines produced by the FRC. Perhaps one of the longest running Catholic-theme television programs in the Philippines, the history of FRC is a history of localization in the age of the mass media, according to De la Cruz. Founded by Patrick Peyton, an Irish-American priest and miraculously cured by the Virgin Mary of his tuberculosis, FRC had grown into a full-fledged media Catholic ministry in the United States and in 1951 in the Philippines. Made accessible to millions of Filipinos, FRC used mass rallies, television, radio, public advertising, and films to propagate the devotion to the Virgin Mary through rosary prayer, transforming the mediascape of the Philippines. During the 1980s some Catholic charismatic movements used the same format of extensive reaching to followers, combining the unique interplay of mass media and community (Wiegele 2005).

The final chapter examines how and why Filipino Marian devotees have “gone global.” This chapter clearly illustrates the importance of lay actors in the growth of the devotion to Mary, particularly after the 1986 People Power revolution. Some of the most important personalities and their Marian-related initiatives are discussed, including the likes of Maria Luisa Fatima Nebrida, founder of the Mary’s Army to Save Souls (MASS) and also the organizer of the fluvial procession of Marian images in Pasig River that served as the model to the World Marian Regatta in New York City. There was also Lydia Sison, the founder of Rosary Theater, the world’s first animated diorama on the life of Jesus, and June Keithley Castro, a Filipina journalist documentary film maker who produced a full-length feature on the apparitions of Mary in Lipa. Although many Filipinos continue to advocate for Mary as a universal figure and less in her specific and local manifestations, De la Cruz argues that this universalism is distinctly Filipino. And with the increasing popularity of the devotion to Mary in Lipa, the Philippines could play an active role in propagating the fifth Catholic dogma to the Virgin Mary under the title Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate.

This book could reshape or revision the investigation into Marian apparitions in the Philippines, particularly in the more than 60 years since the Virgin Mary was said to appear to Teresita Castillo. The book offers much needed context to the recent four-page document by Filipino Archbishop Ramon C. Arguelles which officially confirmed the apparitions to have a “supernatural character” and “worthy of belief.” Significantly, this was the first approval by the local church of the apparition after the official statement delivered in 1951 by the church commission, stating that the evidences and testimonies exclude any supernatural intervention in the reported extraordinary happenings—including the shower of petals—of the Carmel of Lipa (p. 151). When Arguelles was appointed archbishop of Batangas, one of his immediate actions was to lift the ban on the devotion to the Virgin Mary under the title Mediatrix of All Grace. Based on the Council of Trent (1545–63), the local diocese is the primary authority to judge and declare the authenticity of apparitions of the Virgin Mary, on which the Vatican may later release an official declaration.

Overall, this is an excellent book for researchers and anyone interested in various investigations on the apparitions and miracles of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines. This book not only recounts the basics of each apparition but also puts them in their historical and ethnographic context. Mother Figured is a very important contribution to the study of Marianism in the Philippines and to the worldwide devotion to the Virgin Mary more generally.

Mark Iñigo M. Tallara
Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore


Bautista, Julius. 2010. Figuring Catholicism: An Ethnohistory of the Santo Niño de Cebu. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Catholic Directory of the Philippines. 2014. Manila: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. 2002. Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Keithley, June. 1992. Lipa: With the Original Account of the Events at Lipa Carmel in 1948 by Mother Mary Cecilia of Jesus, O.C.D. Manila: Cacho Publishing House.

Palma, Jose. 2012. Live Christ, Share Christ: Looking Forward to Our Five Hundredth, CBCP Pastoral Letter on the Era of New Evangelization. Manila: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Rafael, Vicente L. 1988. Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Wiegele, Katharine L. 2005. Investing in Miracles: El Shaddai and the Transformation of Popular Catholicism in the Philippines. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.




Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts
Farouk Yahya
Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015, xxvii+349p., 308 illus., 2 maps

A fully developed scholarly source for illustrated manuscripts dealing with humans, life, the future, beliefs, death, and so on, is much needed by arts, religious, cultural, and ethnical studies scholars. Globally speaking, studies on the history of divination, talismans, and amulets suggest that there is a connection between magic and medicine notes in the eastern and western parts of the world. However, access to a comprehensive collection of Eastern illustrated manuscripts including magic, divination, medicine, and sorcery notes is implausible. There is also a dearth of studies related to such collections in Arab countries and particularly in Persia.

Farouk Yahya considered about 96 published and non-published manuscripts in the Malay-Indonesian world chiefly since the late eighteenth century in an attempt to fill a part of this blank space. Yahya’s book thus encourages other Asian scholars to produce similar works about their cultural heritage. He draws our attention to the fictional characters, popular customs, and local knowledge of magic, divination, and medicine of a region where people used to have great respect for magic and magicians. This book is divided into two parts and eight chapters.

The first part comprises an Introduction and Background, whereby the author simultaneously considers three approaches in his study, including (a) a general survey of the manuscripts, (b) an analysis of a particular illustration and note on magic/divination, and (c) an assessment of a specific manuscript. Some Malay manuscripts are unknown and sometimes undated. Apart from the destructive influence of Southeast Asian climates in wrecking the colophons, I recollect a discussion I had with colleagues in Malaysia a couple of years ago regarding many local manuscripts, particularly dealing with Islamic teachings, rituals, and customs, which are anonymous because they were written for the sake of God and not for fame. The first datable (and illustrated) manuscript considered by Farouk Yahya is from 1775 and the latest is from 1933, although there are a few sixteenth and early seventeenth-century manuscripts in European collections (refer to chapter three of the book).

The author promptly highlights the importance of his study to art studies. He also provides readers with hints of whether pre-Islamic and ancient paintings are manifested in the Archipelago. To offer some insight into the application of divinatory and magic notes occasionally written incompletely in the manuscripts, Yahya also conducted interviews with four male practitioners. It is certain that through the use of various methodologies this study addresses different scientific disciplines.

The next section of part one starts with “the Malay spirit world” that helps readers comprehend how various foreign fictional and supernatural elements have entered Malay magic and divination works. This section sheds light on the thought that as long as the language of a community is filled with loaned terms, its cultural heritage is to some/large extent impressed.

Subsequently, Yahya provides additional information about the tools applied by a Malay magician, which are divided into four groups: (a) oral tradition written in manuscripts, such as supplications and incantations; (b) particular objects such as the keris (dragger) and magic-medicinal bowl (mangkuk penawar); (c) goods and materials including water, candles, lime, eggs, betel leaves, toasted rice, etc.; and (d) effigies of humans and animals. Although magicians in other Asian and Muslim communities apply many of these tools, it seems there is no comprehensive prescription of the ingredients in materials. For instance, I observed a religious quasi-Sufi Persian practitioner who wrote some Arabic and Persian notes using liquid saffron, a plant growing extensively in Iran, inside a bowl. He put the bowl in the kitchen to bestow blessings and wealth upon the people of the house (ahl-i khāna/manzil). However, as far as I know saffron was/is not used by Malay magicians or fortune-tellers because it was/is not cultivated there. This implies that geographical context does influence the reception of foreign elements.

Likewise, Yahya displays the parallel role that both magicians and mosque Imams had for some time, to physically or metaphysically guide orang Melayu. Logically speaking, the authority of Imams reinforced or increased with the start of another Islamization wave in Southeast Asia, with particular emphasis on orthodox Islam in the very beginning of the twentieth century which led to diminishing the importance of magic culture among Malays; the opposite is expected in other societies, with the more contact that Muslims had/have with widespread so-called unorthodox teachings, the more familiar with magic treatments they will be.1) Later on, the Malay-Indonesians’ links with Middle Eastern oil kings, the re-emergence of a devoted Shīʿī authority in Iran in 1979, and the scrambling Arab governments to re-capture the Muslim world’s economic-political power, and so forth have all significantly affected the slow (and occasionally secret, non-official) handing down of Malay magical heritage to next generations.

The second part of the book deals with Manuscripts, where Yahya explains there are European manuscript collections, but only a small share of Portuguese collections include Malay manuscripts:

In fact, apart from a couple of letters that were sent to them by local rulers, Malay manuscripts are rarely found in the Portuguese collections. This could probably be explained by the antagonistic views held of non-Catholic cultures, especially that of Islam. Additionally, the lack of Malay manuscripts in Portuguese archives is also partly due to the survivability of the evidence, as many records were lost when the Casa da India in Lisbon was destroyed by earthquake and fire in 1755. (p. 42)

The author also describes the physical features, materials, formats, and colors used in the manuscripts. As there is vague understanding of some manuscript images, in chapter five Yahya draws the readers’ attention to the connection between text and images. Yahya’s attempt to find different samples of divination manuscripts is obvious. He introduces Ketika Burung and Burung Malaikat, both of which are based on depicting a bird, something that is rarely studied by contemporary scholars. Tables, diagrams, and some hints to help discern between Arabic, Jawi, and Pegon letters are presented as well. Fāl al-Qurʾān, or divination by the Qurʾān, are originally from the Middle East and (more or less) South Asian regions but are often found in the Malay world as well. Some Fāl al-Qurʾān that are ascribed to an important Shīʿī and Sufi figure, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq have been analyzed and a connection is pointed out between the structure and procedure of Persian, Ottoman and Malay Fāl al-Qurʾān.

Other techniques of expressing the human state and seeing the future are augury and physiognomy. According to Yahya, the first deals with interpreting signs in nature, which can be done by referring to earthquakes, eclipses, lightening, dreams, human limb movements, and so on. The latter (physiognomy) is also known as firasat and it is “to decode the inner character by developing a grammar of observable bodily features” (p. 151) and it covers humans, animals, and objects. The iconography part of the book essentially motivates readers to decode the secrets of signs and paintings that are extensively used in manuscripts. The relation between Chinese motifs and the Malay magic and divination culture is evident, as Yahya highlighted “A Chinese porcelain saucer with a 4 × 4 magic square in the bottom [produced at the] Jingdezhen, Jianxi province [of] China.”

Chapter seven is also interesting as it refers to magicians and gender. In the section “Female Magicians,” readers discover the importance of introducing Muḥammad’s household (e.g. Fāṭima, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn) into talismans. It should be noted that the importance of the four Rightly-guided caliphs of Islam (Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, ʿUthmān, and ʿAlī) are displayed in other Malay manuscripts by placing them far from each other (in the corners of the page) often in separate polygons, flowers, circles and ovals (see Fig. 47, p. 71; Fig. 254, p. 218; Fig. 285, p. 246). It recalls the ottoman rulers such as Bayezid II (r. 1481–1512) and his son Selim I (r. 1512–1520) who ignored Persian-Shīʿī Safavid officials’ cursing the first three caliphs by adding their names (Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, and ʿUthmān) and symbols to their banners (See Yürekli 2015). Also, I understood that the “calligraphic lion on scroll of Mehmet II” (1458 AD) preserved in the Topkapi Serai Library resembles—in terms of designation only—the “calligraphic lion on the standard of Sultan Muhammad IV of Kelantan” (r. 1899–1920) appeared on page 192 of Yahya’s book (See Shani 2011, 123). It signifies that Middle Eastern Islamic traditions and religious-political movements had impact on Malay folk prose as well as Malay notes on magic. Yahya indicates that selusuh Fatimah, which served to facilitate childbirth, belonged to (possibly) after the mid-nineteenth century; it coincides with the (re-) writing of several Malay hikayat dan buku that include Islamic (Sunni, Shīʿī and Sufi) elements (See also: Wieringa 1996, 93–111). However, Yahya claims that:

The manuscripts are therefore not only an important resource for a study of Malay visual art and magical and divinatory practices, but also for an understanding of the production and consumption of Malay manuscripts in general. The private and personal nature of their contents means that the manuscripts are different to Malay manuscripts of other textual genres such as poetry, literary and devotional works, which are often recited aloud in public. (p. 296)

The process and printing of magical and divination notes after the twentieth century along with their current status, for example in Malaysia today, form the last part of this book. To finalize his discussion, Yahya concludes that rather than manuscripts written and owned by magicians, the most illuminating manuscripts usually belonged to the religious and royalty classes of society, and more beautiful and high quality manuscripts “were commissioned by European patrons.”

This comprehensive book resembles a well-written encyclopaedia in targeting every aspect of Southeast Asian notes on divination and magic, and can be supplemented with the detailed manuscript catalogues written by Wieringa (1998), Iskandar (1999), and also Skeat (1900). Yahya’s effort suggests that the descriptive works on Malay culture are no longer effective. He also reminds enthusiastic scholars that now is the time to use his book in order to select a type of note on magic and divination and trace its development, and following Winstedt’s analytical view, attempt to answer what for/how these magical notions entered and connected with the Middle East, South Asian and the Malay-Indonesian world.

Majid Daneshgar
Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, New Zealand


Iskandar, Teuku. 1999. Catalogue of Malay, Minangkabau, and South Sumatran Manuscripts in the Netherlands, Vols. 1–2. Leiden: Documentatiebureau Islam-Christendom.

Shani, Raya. 2011. Calligraphic Lions Symbolising the Esoteric Dimension of ‘AlĪ’s Nature. In The Art and Material Culture of Iranian Shi’ism: Iconography and Religious Devotion in Shi’i Islam, edited by Pedram Khosronejad, pp. 122–158. London and New York: Pedram Khosronejad.

Skeat, Walter William. 1900. Malay Magic: Being an Introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula with a Preface by Charles Otto Blagden. London: Macmillan.

Wieringa, E. 1996. Does Traditional Islamic Malay Literature Contain Shiʿitic Elements? ʿAli and Fātimah in Malay Hikayat Literature. Studia Islamika 4: 93–111.

Wieringa, E. P. 1998. Catalogue of Malay and Minangkabau Manuscripts in the Library of Leiden University and Other Collections in the Netherlands, Vols. 1 and 2. Leiden: Legatum Warnerianum, Leiden University Library.

Yürekli, Zeynep. 2015. The Sword Dhū’l-faqār and the Ottomans. People of the Prophet’s House: Artistic and Ritual Expressions of Shi‘i Islam, edited by F. Suleman, pp. 163–172. London: Institute of Ismaili Studies and Azimuth Editions.

1) Many Shīʿī and Sufī produced their own magic and divination notes by employing Islamic, local, and cultural elements. Likewise, they had a significant influence on Malays before the twentieth century.


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, Portia L. REYES


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Luzon at War: Contradictions in Philippine Society, 1898–1902 (with an introduction by Vicente L. Rafael)
Milagros Camayon Guerrero
Quezon City: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2015, 295p.

Luzon at War has been long in coming. As a dissertation at the University of Michigan in 1977, it has eluded Filipino historians for years; that it is finally out as a book is a happy occasion. Prior to the writing of Luzon at War, its author—Milagros Guerrero—has co-written with the celebrated Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo the highly influential History of the Filipino People, and has also worked with renowned historian Renato Constantino in the edition of the five-volume compendium The Philippine Insurgent Records. As such, when she arrived in the United States for her graduate studies, wrote Vicente Rafael, she “was already known” as a scholar of the Philippines (p. 3). She has delved into the genre of “history from below” and studied the tumultuous period of the Philippine Revolution and the nascent republic from the perspective of the periphery and the marginalized. She has looked beyond the political developments in social and political centers of Malolos and Manila, examining the social realities of the Revolution among the masses in the provinces instead. Using declassified sources on the Filipino state, taxation, landownership, and popular movements in particular, Luzon at War illustrates the variegated discord in society from 1898 to 1902, as the Spanish colonizers exited and the republic fought for its existence by warding off the onslaught of the American imperialists on the islands and its people.

Five chapters comprise the book. Guerrero painstakingly provides a “serious and realistic analysis of the mechanisms of political and social change outside Manila and Malolos” and introduces her readers to the difficulties of both the government and the governed during the birth of the Philippine nation state (p. 23). She claims that in 1898 the Tagalog provinces of Luzon welcomed the Revolutionary Government by Emilio Aguinaldo. Townsmen organized militias, which attacked Spanish outposts and welcomed state envoys and other insurgent troops. To underline the country’s independence and prove that Filipinos could govern, Aguinaldo called for a nationwide reorganization. In response Manila, still at a quandary from the occupation of American and Filipino forces and nearby provinces elected prominent members from the cacique ilustrado or principalia (landowning, educated or privileged) class. Conflict characterized the transfer of power—civilian appointees contended with military commanders, who were uneasy to share powers or refused to accept their subservience to civilians. Free from the constraints of the outgoing colonial regime, which they also served, and far from the central Aguinaldo government in Malolos, new provincial officials collected taxes and rents and maintained peace and internal security with impunity. Long-entrenched ruling families used their new position to demand personal services, extort old and new taxes, and embezzle public funds, earning the ire of the masses who expected real and lasting change following the Spanish colonizers.

In Luzon support for the revolution, according to Guerrero, rested on people’s opposition to the colonial taxation and friar control of political and social life and vast tracks of arable land. Correspondingly, upon its ascent to power, the Aguinaldo government abolished forced labor and took control of friar lands. To support itself and its ongoing war with the Americans, the Aguinaldo government enforced a war tax on every citizen, required those who could not pay to serve either in civil or military public works and demanded rent from the use of agricultural land. It disbanded militias and encouraged citizens to return to cultivation. The economy stagnated, nonetheless. From 1898 to 1902 typhoons, floods, and epidemics like malaria and rinderpest repeatedly hit Central Luzon, its people, and animal resources. Restrictions on commerce between Manila and the provinces paralyzed agriculture, shattering interdependency among provinces and steadily dwindling supply of food and staple commodities. Meanwhile, to administer land use and ownership, the government ordered tillers to register their plots. Illiterate peasants sought assistance from escribanos (writers), some of whom unscrupulously register the illiterate farmers’ lands as their own. Other peasants, fearing the imposition of land tax, ignored the new regulation and, hence, the opportunity to legally own their plots. Also the kasama (sharecropper) who tilled the land for the small inquilino (landowner) were neglected, leading to their further impoverishment and even displacement from the farming industry. Increasingly the ilustrado and cacique minority “emerged as the true victors in the Philippine revolution, politically, socially and economically” (p. 164).

Peasant leaders, narrates Guerrero, realized early that the Spanish colonial government would not impose the social change they longed for. Their brief hope upon allegiance with Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan1) was snuffed by Aguinaldo’s government which, like the colonial regime it replaced, also imposed burdensome taxes administered by corrupt officials. Widespread indignation exemplified in social revolts Panasacula, Santa Iglesia, Guardia de Honor, and the Colorums erupted, underscoring cleavages in the Revolution. In the provinces, ilustrado and military leaders undermined peasant leaders like Teodoro Panasacula and Felipe Salvador and refused to recognize their groups as parts of the revolutionary force. Similar to the country’s colonizers, the elite equated peasant movements with troublemakers, savagery, banditry, and fanaticism, forcing them to flee to the mountains where they waged guerrilla warfare. Heavily influenced by religion, the guerrillas assassinated and raided towns and/or large farmlands, whose leadership, frustrated from the Aguinaldo government’s inaction, turned to American colonizers for protection. The arrest and execution of peasant leaders and the disbandment of their societies suppressed the movement; and the newly established American regime alleviated some farmers’ plight, but failed to resolve the “the age-old problem of social inequality in Philippine society” (p. 265). Years after independence peasant demands continued, because the social regeneration promised to them in the Revolution remained unfulfilled.

The discernible fissures in Filipino society and the persistent poverty and want among their peasants could indeed be traced back to the birth of the nation state. And Luzon at War could have delved deeper in unpacking these complex and multi-faceted contradictions. For instance it could have unraveled the idea of the educated and landed elite as a monolithic class and illustrated the cleavages brought about by politics and self-interest among their rank. It could have been enriched with further inquiry into the world of the underprivileged members of social movements—it could have amply established their particular relationship with Bonifacio’s Katipunan, their culture, their philosophy, and their enduring popularity. Also the allegiance between some members of the elite and the Americans could have been better elucidated. Lastly it could have been aptly reworked as a book—that it is a dissertation in print might be charming, but updating it would certainly not have hurt. Still it should be stressed that Guerrero’s Luzon at War provides a good overview of the social realities behind the conflicts among Filipinos during the turbulent birth of the nation state. It is an important contribution in Philippine history and a revelation of the historiography of its time; scholars of the Philippines and Southeast Asia must read it.

Portia L. Reyes
Department of History, National University of Singapore


Agoncillo, Teodoro. [1956] 2005. The Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Agoncillo, Teodoro; and Guerrero, Milagros. [1970] 1986. History of the Filipino People. 3rd to 7th ed. Quezon City: Garotech Publishing.

Ileto, Reynaldo C. [1975] 1998a. Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840–1910. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

―. 1998b. Filipinos and Their Revolution: Event, Discourse and Historiography. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Llanes, Ferdinand, ed. 1994. Katipunan: Isang pambansang kilusan [Katipunan: A national movement]. Quezon City: ADHIKA Inc. and NCCA.

Taylor, John R. M. 1971. The Philippine Insurgent Records against the United States. 5 vols. Pasay City: Eugenio Lopez Foundation.

Totanes, Vernon. 2010. History of the Filipino People and Martial Law: A Forgotten Chapter in the History of a History Book, 1960–2010. Philippine Studies 58(3): 313–348.

1) Shorthand for the secret anti-colonial society Kataastaasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Greatest, Most Venerable Union of the Children of the Nation), which fought wars of independence against the Spaniards and the Americans.




Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

A Sarong for Clio: Essays on the Intellectual and Cultural History of Thailand, Inspired by Craig J. Reynolds
Maurizio Peleggi, ed.
Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2015, 208p.

When a stellar cast gathers for the festschrift, the result is both a thoughtful reflection on the past oeuvre by Craig J. Reynolds, who inspired the essays, and a peek into the various issues and debates that will characterize the future of Thai studies.

If not directly mentioned, Reynolds’ influence and carefully crafted concepts from his decades-long career in Thai and Southeast Asian Studies pervade the book. This can partly be attributed to the contributors’ association with Reynolds as his students, colleagues, and friends. However, it would be wrong to assume that the volume represents a closed academic circuit. Reynolds’ opuses span from the 1970s to the 2010s and counting. His seminal works illuminate important aspects of these often turbulent decades, such as the analyses of Buddhist and Marxist writings in Thailand and beyond, the charting of previously under-explored terrain of historiography in Southeast Asia, the clearing of the ground for intellectual and social histories in the area, the probing of the ideas of national identity and globalization, and the meditation on varied aspects of power, including its unorthodox linkage with magic and local knowledge. All the while, he widely borrows conceptual tools from, inter alia, semiotics, feminism, structuralism, and post-structuralism, but always subjects them to scrutiny and test in the Southeast Asian weather. The editor Maurizio Peleggi’s introductory chapter well captures this across-the-board and seasoned nature of Reynolds’ works and thoughts.

In the essays that follow, three Reynolds’ leitmotifs emerge quite clearly, namely: (1) power in its multifarious manifestations, (2) an emphasis on the outcasts of Thai history, and (3) knowledge, especially in its written forms of manual and historiography. All three permeate the chapters, although some bring each of these themes out more evidently than others.

One common ground of all authors is that power operates in many fields. It operates in art historiography, in artifact of museological practices, in Buddha statues, and in beauty. Rather than in the eye of the beholder, according to Peleggi in his own essay (Chapter 4), Thai art is a discursive field of power, an intense playground of national myth and colonial rule. Power also operates in the visual sense as art history (and arguably all histories) works “to make the past synoptically visible” (p. 92), especially through classifying and inscribing meaning in objects. In Chapter 7, Yoshinori Nishizaki argues along the same line, though in a different context, that visibility is a matter of power. In his analysis, it is inscribed in a grandiose observation tower in the provincial city of Suphanburi, the public work that has become a symbol, a source of collective pride and social identity.

We can also approach power via semiotics and politics of translation, as Kasian Tejapira illustrates in Chapter 9 where he discusses the term “governance” in Thailand in the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis and the “shock doctrine” of neoliberalism. Kasian skillfully traces the transformation of the IMF’s notion of “good governance” as part of its liberalization and privatization package imposed on crisis-ridden economies, to its Thai translation as thammarat, which was picked up and used by several groups with various intentions, be it liberal, communitarian, or even authoritarian.

The collection also demonstrates that power exists in all levels of a society: it is concentrated in the elites’ hands, but also practiced by the subalterns. When these forms of power clash, various mechanisms are called forth to resolve the tension, and they can be brute, hegemonic, discursive, or emotional. This formulation of power is encapsulated in a number of essays in the volume.

In Chapter 1, Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit weds the figure of an outcast with the complexities of knowledge/power through the story of Khun Phaen. Based on classic folk literature previously translated by the authors, the essay distills basic Thai modalities of power, arguing that it can mean many things for different people in different contexts. Even the most common conceptualization of power as authority can have varied meanings. When viewed from the apex of society, it can mean the delivery of order, stability, and protection. When viewed from below, however, formal authority, protective as it might be, often causes alarm since it can inflict distress, violence, and even sudden death on ordinary people. But Baker and Pasuk also characterize power in another mode for our hero in the story: mastery. Khun Phaen derives power through a mastery of skills, magic, spirits, forces of nature, and himself—in short, the mastery of knowledge, or lore, acquired through learning and practice, which stood in contrast to authority originated in birth and hierarchy. Mastery protects Khun Phaen and his loved ones against danger; it even enables him to defend his country for the king. These two bases of power—authority and mastery—eventually collide in the climax of the tale. But the whole legend can also be read as having built upon the tension between them.

In light of Reynolds’ previous study of Thai “how-to” manuals, the tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen can also be seen as a manual that offers guidelines for living—how to understand the world, how to behave and deal with others, as well as how to approach power and politics. Diachronically, Villa Vilaithong’s essay (Chapter 8) exemplifies the implications of manuals relating to the management of oneself. Here, Khun Phaen becomes a 1980s businessman who found himself in the dizzying world of globalized competition. Yet, he could find solace in Khoo Khaeng (Competitor) Magazine, through which he could learn the lore (e.g. marketing data and statistics), practice magic and charms (marketing and advertising techniques), protect himself against danger in war-like situations (as described by the magazine), and hope to win the battle (beating competitors). Of note is Villa’s discussion of Khoo Khaeng’s role in the making of the “corporate man,” subjectivated through embellishment of consumer goods, “dress for success,” and lifestyles that reflected “notions of refinement, self-discipline, and Westernization” and “transformed middle-class corporate men’s appearance both at work and play” (pp. 177–178). The “beautiful apparition” in the tale of Khun Phaen meets its counterpart in Khoo Khaeng. Villa traces this manual from its inception until the expiry of its shelf life, ironically as a “victim,” and not a corporate “last man,” of the 1997 economic crisis.

The theme of the outcast in Thai society continues in four more essays, although each contains its own distinct flavor. The most seditious would be Patrick Jory’s genealogy of republicanism in Thailand in Chapter 5. In a country usually considered monarchical and conservative, proudly brandishing its long tradition of royalism, Jory argues against the grain that republicanism has enjoyed an underground following for at least 130 years, can be traced in both liberal and communist camps, and found among such diverse groups as princes in the days of absolutism, commoners, literati, politicians, military officers, political parties, and mass movements.

In contrast, the other three outcasts are individuals who are less out-and-out rebellious than those in Jory’s piece, yet no less anti-establishment and, as a result, they also suffered from various forms of punishment and discipline. One such individual is the audacious Cham Jamratnet, a member of parliament from southern Thailand, whose life experiences directly fluctuated with the ever-shifting political landscape in the wake of the 1932 revolution. Cham’s politics is difficult to categorize in ideological terms, but his colorful actions both inside and outside of the parliament can be interpreted as siding with the poor and the voiceless. His daring performance as a “common-man MP” earned him five successful elections, coverage in national media, and an affectionate commemoration in his hometown. But it also landed him in prison and resulted in an investigation of his sanity. In Chapter 6, James Ockey aptly links the curious case of Cham with the rise of psychiatry in Thailand after the 1950s and contends that the scientific discourse was in itself a power that suppressed as it was listed to the side of authority to relegate those who dared challenging the norm.

Another paramount example is Prince Prisdang Chumsai, the “renegade royalist,” who was reluctantly rebellious to King Chulalongkorn when, in 1885, the prince led a group of royals and demanded a constitutional monarchy at the time when centralization process was only at its nascence. In a series of backlashes, Prisdang found himself ignored, shamed, marginalized in the new bureaucracy, exiled for 20 years, blacklisted and harassed after he returned to Siam towards the end of his life. Amidst all of these, he was ridiculed, rumored to be mad, and murdered historiographically, that is, assigned to oblivion. I consider Tamara Loos’s analysis of Prisdang (Chapter 3) most innovative in terms of approach. Loos draws attention to the hitherto little known place of emotion in Thai history, to the “regime of emotion” that sanctioned against individuals through rumors, gossip, discrediting, favoring and disfavoring (rather than through, say, law), and emotional suffering, the ambiguous angst one bears throughout one’s life. As such, Loos brings to light the abstruse interstices of power and expands its notion in the Thai context, beyond power as authority, knowledge, discourse, or simple disciplining.

In the same text, Loos examines the genre of autobiography, a new mode of writing in the time of Prisdang. Autobiography is not “an objective and disinterested pursuit but . . . a work of personal justification . . .” (p. 75), and for Prisdang, who was consigned to the disgraceful corner of history, it was particularly urgent to write back. Autobiography allowed him to engage in “a historically situated practice of self-representation,” in which he can perform and construct “his identity through the narration of his own life” (p. 76) and to negotiate his place in history. In this sense, history has been inimical to an awful lot of people. And it is arguably more so for commoners than members of the elite like Prisdang. The fourth outcast, KSR Kulap (1835–1922), is a literatus and probably the first commoner whom we can call a “historian” by trade (although the term did not exist in his time). Like Prisdang, he engaged in writing to counter the weight of history. But rather than writing against history, he wrote another history. Or, rather, a different historiography and method: as Thongchai Winichakul points out in Chapter 2, Kulap wrote at a time when the sense of historicity and its writing was being drastically rethought, and Kulap’s methodology represented an older mode of historiography. The price of being outmoded was high: he was charged several times by the royals, imprisoned, and his sanity was called into question. “Fabrication, stealth, and tainting of historical records” were the charges but all these were, according to Thongchai, based on modern criteria of historiography. Previous studies of Kulap, including Reynolds’, point to the exclusivity of historical writing in the aristocratic circle and Kulap’s transgression into it. Thongchai makes a larger claim: this was an epistemic clash between two modes of historiography, and Kulap was on the losing side.

The formal charges were accompanied by denigration and ridicule: for instance, the word ku, from Kulap, was associated by the royal elite with “inventing a fact” and exaggeration, and it still has the same connotation in today’s vocabulary. A chilling point that comes forward from these essays is that formal authority is akin to fire: it can protect one against coldness, but it can also burn. And when it wants to burn, it summons instruments of suffering: brute force, legal charges, imprisonment, accusation of madness, forcing into oblivion, shaming, discrediting, harassment, rumors, and ridicule. The result can vary from death, despair, exile, voiding of subjectivity and meaning by being ignored, silenced, or emotionally tormented. Today’s Thailand is, once again, turning towards authoritarianism and this pattern of suffering is all too eerily familiar.

The only thing I miss from reading this otherwise brilliant collection is its comparative aspect, which would have allowed it to live up to its title, a sarong for Clio. Hidden here and there in the articles, comparison with other areas could be brought out more forcefully, and its implications for the discipline of History, and not only Thai history, could be more engaged with and debated. Nonetheless, the essays are a pleasant read and a must for scholars working on Thailand and Southeast Asia. Above all, the authors in the book have composed a worthy tribute to Craig J. Reynolds by building upon his works and taking them further afield.

Sing Suwannakij สิงห์ สุวรรณกิจ
Department of History, Faculty of Humanities, Chiang Mai University


Vol. 5, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, R. Michael FEENER


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 



From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia
A. C. S. Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop, eds.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, xvi+348p.

This edited volume in the Proceedings of the British Academy series is comprised of 14 chapters covering interactions between the two regions from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. Its various chapters were developed out of papers originally prepared for a workshop held at the International Centre for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies (ICAIOS) in Banda Aceh in 2012 as part of a collaborative project between the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara (BIAA) and the Association for South-East Asian Studies in the United Kingdom (ASEASUK) on “Islam, Trade, and Politics across the Indian Ocean.” The editors have done a remarkable job here in bringing together the work of historians and philologists to produce a volume of studies tightly focused along clearly defined axes of interaction between the two regions. Their efforts have produced a book that makes significant and meaningful contributions to our understandings of these trans-regional dynamics in the history of Southeast Asia. In this it both complements and substantially enriches a growing library of work focused on analogous vectors of the historical connections of Southeast Asia with the Arab Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia.1)

The editors’ very fine introduction to the collection presents an engaging overview of the field, highlighting the ways in which the various chapters contribute to developing richer and more nuanced understandings of diverse modalities of connection between the two regions. It is followed by a chapter from Anthony Reid, whose pioneering work stimulated a growing body of research on this field since his first publication on connections between the Ottomans and Aceh in 1969. In his chapter for this volume, Reid has produced a new essay that provides rich contexts for understanding the findings of this more recent scholarship in a magisterial overview of ways in which understandings of both the historical and imagined relationships between the two regions have developed over more than four centuries.

The remainder of the volume is comprised of a series of focused, in-depth case studies of particular examples of political, religious, economic, and literary connections between the two regions—including the presentation of new work on a wide range of archival sources. Jorge Santos Alves begins by introducing a previously little known dimension of sixteenth century Ottoman-Southeast Asian interactions in the role played by Jews of Portuguese origin (who had lost much to both the Inquisition and the Estado da India) that were active at Istanbul in supporting a stronger anti-Portuguese stance in the Indian Ocean. The economic focus is also central to Andrew Peacock’s own chapter, which highlights the importance of looking beyond diplomatic connections to the particulars of both trade commodities and the careers of individual merchants to develop more fine-grained depictions of connections as embodied in the people and things that moved between the two regions.

Diplomatic and political relations return to center stage in several of the chapters that follow. Jeyamalar Kathirithamby-Wells takes as her focus the Hadrami diaspora in the Netherlands Indies with an examination of both their pragmatic collaboration and resistance in light of appeals to their rights as Ottoman citizens. Isaac Donoso’s chapter presents us with yet another case in which colonial views of the ties binding Muslims in Southeast Asia to the Ottoman Empire and the heartlands of Islam factored into diverse political projects. The other chapter in this volume focusing on the Philippines, by Gervase Clarence-Smith, opens up a window onto new dynamics introduced under American colonial rule and the remarkable experiments of this new colonial power with engaging the Ottomans as part of policies designed for the management of their Muslim subjects in Southeast Asia.

The potential role of the Ottomans to influence the religious and political landscape of the region was, however, not purely the product of Western imaginations. One of the real highlights of the volume is the chapter by İsmail Hakkı Kadı, in which he provides a provocative critique of dominant scholarly understandings (based to a considerable degree on colonial notions) of the centrality of Abdülhamid II as the driver “Pan-Islamism.” In contrast to a vision of trans-national Islamic ideology and activism centered on the Ottomans, Kadı argues that interest in Southeast Asia in Istanbul was “not inaugurated by the Ottomans, but was prompted by various initiatives from the region” (p. 152). Further evidence of Southeast Asian initiative in these developments is presented in İsmail Hakkı Göksoy’s discussion of the visit of the Ottoman frigate Ertuğul to Singapore in 1890. In this chapter Göksoy continues his ongoing explorations of the Ottoman archives to present here new letters from the late nineteenth century documenting the interest in Aceh within “official circles” at Istanbul—as well as the ongoing attempts of Acehnese and those claiming to represent them to pursue Ottoman support.

The historical progression is followed through the twentieth century in the chapters that follow. Amrita Malhi’s chapter opens a window onto previously under-appreciated dimensions of anti-British uprisings in early twentieth-century Malaya through her explorations of the “subterranean symbolic life” of the Ottoman Empire in Muslim Southeast Asia—and in particular in the ritual and political imaginations of Malay “secret societies.” Chiara Formichi’s contribution sheds some stimulating new light on yet another little recognized, but very different, sphere in which developments in Anatolia inspired anti-colonial visions in Southeast Asia. Here the focus is on the impact of late and post-Ottoman secularizing projects, and the way in which some Indonesian nationalists came to perceive Kemalism as a “middle way” facilitating “progress” at a critical juncture in the country’s history.

The last three chapters of the volume shift gears from political and economic history to literary and religious connections. Vladimir Braginsky begins by taking up another thread from Reid’s early work on Ottoman-Southeast Asian relations to explore literary imaginations of “Turks” in Malay literature. Drawing on his extensive work in this field, Braginsky provides us here with an illuminating overview and typology of a wide range of pre-modern texts across various stages of Malay literary history. Oman Fathurahman’s chapter turns attention toward aspects of intellectual and religious history as evidenced in a selection of important Malay and Arabic texts in genres ranging from Qurʾānic exegesis to sermons. Here, he reminds us, the major center of gravity was not Istanbul, but rather the holy cities of Arabia where Kurdish and Sumatran Sufis and scholars came together around a shared textual corpus—as most perhaps most famously demonstrated by Anthony Johns in his 1978 portrait of Ibrāhīm al-Kurānī and Abd al-Raʾūf Singkel as “Friends in Grace” (in Udin 1978). Another modality of religious connections between the two regions is the focus of the last chapter in the volume, in which Ali Akbar presents a very perceptive overview of the influence of Ottoman traditions of Qurʾānic calligraphy and codicology on the production of manuscript and early print Qurʾāns in Southeast Asia. These examples provide a compelling case for the continuing importance of these religious and cultural connections that transcend the limits of direct political or economic relations between the two regions.

As with most edited collections, there is of course some variation in the quality of the individual chapters, but overall the work is of a very high standard. The editors and contributors are to be commended for producing a fine work that will serve to set the state of the field in studies of connections between these two regions, and should inspire further work on diverse dynamics of trans-regional history. If there is one shortcoming of this collection it would be one of omission. Of course, it is never possible to cover all that one may wish in any book. However, given the extensive coverage of Aceh across the volume, and the specific mention of this toponym in its alliterative title, it is something of a surprise that it did not include an essay on the re-invigoration of connections between Aceh and Turkey in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. Nevertheless, this fine volume will certainly serve as an important resource for work on this and other aspects of connection between the two regions in the future.

R. Michael Feener
Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, University of Oxford


Feener, R. Michael; and Sevea, Terenjit, eds. 2009. Islamic Connections: Muslim Societies in South and Southeast Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Tagliacozzo, Eric, ed. 2009. Southeast Asia and the Middle East: Islam, Movement and the Longue Durée. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Udin, S., ed. 1978. Spectrum: Essays Presented to Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana. Jakarta: Dian Rakyat.

Wade, Geoff, ed. 2007. Southeast Asia-China Interactions. Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

1) These areas have each been the subject their own edited volumes appearing over the past decade: Eric Tagliacozzo (2009), R. Michael Feener and Terenjit Sevea (2009), and Geoff Wade (2007)—the last of these drawing in constructive ways on material published earlier elsewhere. These collections both reflect and have themselves stimulated broader developments in historical work on Southeast Asia from trans-regional perspectives, as seen in the proliferation of individual journal articles and monographs on the topic over recent years.


Vol.5, No.3, LE Jiem Tsan et al.


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

Highland Chiefs and Regional Networks in Mainland Southeast Asia: Mien Perspectives

Le Jiem Tsan, Richard D. Cushman, and Hjorleifur Jonsson*

* School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2402, USA

Corresponding author’s e-mail: hjonsson[at]

DOI: 10.20495/seas.5.3_491

This article is centered on the life story of a Mien upland leader in Laos and later in the kingdom of Nan that subsequently was made a province of Thailand. The story was recorded in 1972 but primarily describes events during 1870–1930. The aim of this article is to call attention to long-standing networks of highland-lowland relations where social life was unstable but always and persistently inclusive and multi-ethnic. The centrality of interethnic hill-valley networks in this Mien case has numerous parallels in studies of Rmeet, Phunoy, Karen, Khmu, Ta’ang, and others in mainland Southeast Asia and adjacent southern China. The implications of the Mien case support an analytical shift from ethnography to ethnology—from the study of singular ethnic groups that are viewed as somehow separate from one another and from lowland polities, and toward a study of patterns and variations in social networks that transcend ethnic labels and are of considerable historical and analytical importance. The shift toward ethnology brings questions regarding the state/non-state binary that was largely taken for granted in studies of tribal peoples as inherently stateless.

Keywords: Mien (Yao), history, chiefs, highland peoples, interethnic networks, Thailand, Laos


In the studies of highland societies of mainland Southeast Asia, it is somewhat rare to get a glimpse of chiefs as a significant component of regional networks of relations. When anthropologists studied Thailand’s hill tribes since the 1965 founding of the Tribal Research Center, their mandate was to examine the socio-economic characteristics of the six main tribes: Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, and Mien (Geddes 1967; 1983). The resulting works described for the most part egalitarian village societies that had no links to lowland national society (Walker 1975; McKinnon and Wanat 1983; McKinnon and Vienne 1989). It was primarily the research of Ronald D. Renard (1980; 1986; 2002) with the Karen, independent of the Tribal Research Center since he was a historian and they were all ethnographers, that has insisted on the importance of long-standing connections between upland and lowland regions, and on the positive role of chiefs.

But recent work on upland-lowland relations in Laos, Burma, and southern China flows in a similar direction to Renard’s research and suggests that interethnic upland-lowland networks may have been historically the predominant form of political organization in this region (Badenoch and Tomita 2013; Bouté 2011; 2015; Chen 2015; Evrard 2006; 2007; Hayami 2004; 2011; Ikeda 2012; Jonsson 2005; 2014a; Kojima and Badenoch 2013; Sprenger 2006; 2010). Other recent work suggests that the attribution of statelessness to highland peoples may express recent dynamics of dispossession, rather than any intrinsic feature of highland societies over the last millennia (Scott 2009; Kataoka 2013). Both issues encourage a move away from the ethnographic focus on ethnic groups as distinct from one another and toward an ethnological focus on patterns and variations that transcend ethnic labels and leave questions with the state/non-state binary.

The main text of this article is a Mien history that was recorded in 1972 and centers on the life of a particular Mien chief (Le and Cushman 1972). His name was Tang Tsan Khwoen, and he later received the Thai title Phaya Khiri (“mountain chief”) from the king of Nan, and the family name Srisombat which many of his descendants still carry. The story was told by Le Jiem Tsan to researcher Richard D. Cushman in the village of Khun Haeng, Ngao District of Lampang Province, on June 1, 1972. Most of Cushman’s recordings with Le Jiem Tsan and others are in the Mien ritual language, but the chief’s life-story and a few other recordings are in the everyday language. Le Jiem Tsan died before 1980 and Richard Cushman in 1991. Because I (HJ) was somewhat familiar with the individual chief from ethnographic research among his descendants (Jonsson 1999; 2001; 2005) I am able to check some of the information against other sources. The Mien story shows the ease and normalcy with which relations between hill peoples and lowland rulers were established, and I situate the story against the general trend in northern Thailand at the time of cutting relations with highland peoples and depriving them of rights to settlement and livelihood.

While the evidence for highland people’s dispossession in the early twentieth century is published and has long been available, it seems that anthropologists of Thailand were not particularly curious about the separation of highlanders from their lowland neighbors, but instead expected ethnic divides to be important. Ethnographic traditions encouraged the search for ethnic groups as distinct and separate from others, and anthropological theory expected clear differences between state populations and stateless peoples. The peculiarity of twentieth century Thai history and of research traditions regarding highland peoples were perhaps less apparent because neighboring countries were inaccessible for research due to wars and other political turbulence for a good part of the last century. The idea that tribal culture and social organization were endangered traditions from the past appears to have discouraged areal comparisons and critical historical scrutiny of highland people’s isolation and dispossession in Thailand.

German anthropologist Hugo Adolf von Bernatzik did research in Thailand during 1936–37. In his book Akha and Miao (1970, German original 1947) he noted that many minority groups had migrated into northern Thailand in previous decades, had settled in the mountains and that their farming endangered forests and watersheds. He also noted that in 1915 the governor of Chiangrai Province had issued a ban on making fields in the mountains:

Duplicate decrees were published by the governors of all those provinces into which the mountain peoples had immigrated. Other decrees prohibited the cutting down of bamboo groves, which likewise are important water reservoirs. The punishments that were threatened, for example, for cutting down one of the larger trees, amount to more than a year’s imprisonment. An attempt to get at the smuggling of opium was also made by means of a prohibition against the cultivation of poppies. The fields of a village whose inhabitants paid no attention to the prohibition were to be destroyed; the owners, if they could be caught, were punished with imprisonment. (Bernatzik 1970, 699)

Bernatzik mentioned that as a consequence, anyone who knew the law would go into hiding once there was word of a group of police approaching a highland village. Further, highland peoples were not adjusted to illnesses that pertain to lowland areas, and the punitive policies significantly enhanced distrust across the ethnic frontier:

In various villages of the Lahu, Akha, and Meau I have met natives who had been sentenced to short prison terms for trivial and even unsuspectingly committed offenses, such as the forbidden carrying of weapons, violating market regulations, and the like. Without exception all these people were wasting away from malaria, and many of them later died from it, so their relatives told me. Precisely such circumstances have also frequently given rise to the belief of the mountain peoples that the valley dwellers could bewitch and kill them. [As Bernatzik viewed the situation]; the annihilation or emigration of the mountain peoples from Thailand can only be a matter of time. (ibid., 702–703)

Because the lack of positive engagements with highland peoples (that is, any alternatives to fines and imprisonment) was rather general across northern Thailand, it is important to point out that there were exceptions to this trend. By the late 1880s at least, the king of Nan had made a deal with the leader of Mien and Hmong highlanders that he could legally settle with his followers in the mountains of his domain, he would collect tax among the highlanders, serve as a back-up military force for Nan, and the leader was awarded a Phaya title (Jonsson 1999; 2001; 2005). Whether initially or later, the Mien were also allowed to grow and sell opium within the folds of the Royal Opium Monopoly, and this arrangement lasted until 1958 when the ban on opium cultivation was finally enforced in Thailand.

The Mien population was not uniformly allowed to grow and trade opium. This only applied to big households in five villages under the Phaya, and it was declared illegal for all other highlanders to cultivate poppy; they were thus continually at risk of being fined and imprisoned. It is not clear if the highlanders generally were poppy growers before settling in northern Thailand. Rather, it is possible that the political isolation of highland peoples—a product of national integration—led to their symbiotic relationship with itinerant Chinese traders who encouraged the cultivation of poppy. Again, the work of Bernatzik is informative on this front:

[Chinese traders] regularly visit the mountain villages, pay the taxes for the natives or lend them money, and for all these services buy the opium for a small fraction of its value. Thus the mountain peoples receive only a small equivalent for the craved drug, but the traders operated with a profit of often thousands of percent for the turnover. The business proved to be so lucrative for the traders that they persuaded the inhabitants of whole villages, especially the Lisu but sometimes also the Akha to apply themselves exclusively to the cultivation of poppies and to exchange opium for food supplies from their neighbors. (Bernatzik 1970, 697–698)

Thus it seems that the social and political isolation of highland peoples resulted directly from policies against highland farming, and further that it played to the interests of the itinerant Chinese traders who had connections to the underground opium trade. The traders cultivated relations with the highland villagers, and this economic and social alternative—that made highland peoples independent of lowland Thai stores and traders—furthered highland people’s isolation from Thai society. One part of this history is that for the most part, Thailand’s national integration was a manifestation of the hegemony of Bangkok over the regions that were incorporated, many of which had been independent kingdoms each with their own regional society of multi-ethnic networks.

When these various kingdoms became national provinces of Thailand during the reign of kings Rama V and VI (Chulalongkorn and Vajiravudh; 1865–1910, 1910–25), the old elites were for the most part replaced by officials who came from Bangkok, assumed the superiority of Bangkok civilization and language, and generally made no attempts to cultivate local society or to learn local languages (Vella 1978; Moerman 1967; 1988, 70–86, 162–172). The kingdom and later province of Nan is an exception—there the king was not replaced but was allowed to stay in power though with reduced ability to rule. He could no longer demand tribute from lowland peasants, but was dependent on taxes that went through Bangkok. It is thus perhaps not surprising that he made a contract with a highland leader who enabled him to gain from highland taxation and from the legal opium monopoly. I had learned of some of that history from the descendants of Tsan Khwoen, the Mien chief (Jonsson 2005, 74–85).

One unexpected example of inclusive and diverse identities in the Thai hinterland concerns the Mlabri, or Phi Tong Leuang, who were studied as an exotic, ancient, and isolated people by a team connected to the Siam Society, and reported on in a special volume in 1963 (Boeles 1963). Most of the reporting concerned the Mlabri as a separate race, thus blood samples, nostril comparisons, and head measurements were employed in order to arrive at a scientific sense of who the people were. The Thai and Western research team to the Mlabri in the early 1960s only had success in finding them because the Mlabri were in a labor and social relationship with some Hmong people; the Thai had no connection of their own.

The documentary film that was made of the expedition (Siam Society 1963) suggests instead that the Mlabri were a regional (Southeast Asian) people and not some isolated Stone Age holdover. That is, the film’s narrative relates the Mlabri as isolated primitives, but the footage shows that many of the men had tattoos, in line with what was practiced among lowlanders. Further, the film shows that the Mlabri men did a variation on a sword dance to entertain the visitors—something which perhaps all peoples in the region knew how to do when needing to entertain some strangers.

Writing in the 1930s, Bernatzik reported the following about the Mlabri and their regional context without any additional comment:

In Nan a Buddhist priest told us that there was a document in his monastery in which it was recorded that the Phi Tong Leuang were subjects of the king of Nan, to whom they paid annual tribute in honey, rattan, and wax. At the time they appear to have been very numerous. (Bernatzik 2005, 43)

The Mien (Yao) people have a long history in southern China and in Southeast Asia of negotiations and entanglements in regional networks of continually shifting social lines where no one position is guaranteed or necessarily stable (Cushman 1970; Alberts 2006; 2016; Chen 2015; 2016). I suggest that this situation was common across the region and that it continually availed the possibility to negotiate identities, positions, relations, borders, and basic rights between particular partners (Renard 1987), such as that shown by the unexpected case of Mlabri and the kingdom of Nan. Borders and identities were not fixed or objective. These were always dependent on particular relations, but this flexibility and specificity has (mis-) led many modern scholars to assume that neither pre-twentieth century states nor the highlanders were territorial (see Thongchai 1994). For the most part such interethnic relations were not recorded and are not easily (if at all) found in the archives. I address potential reasons for this archival absence at the end of the article, and now turn to the story of the interconnected lives of some Mien leaders in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Le Jiem Tsan’s Story of the Life of Phia Long Tang Tsan Khwoen Waa

Let me tell you the story of the Phia Long. In earlier times the Phia Long was very important among the people and all of us knelt down before him. The Phia Long, originally, lived in Laotian territory. He was a member of the Tang lineage, and his given name was Tsan Khwoen, or, as he was often called, Tsan Khwoen Lu-Phia. His descendants are among the people who now live in Phulangka Village, and one of them is the kamnan there.

Tsan Khwoen’s father was Tsoi Waa and hence the Phia Long’s full name was Tsan Khwoen Waa. His son was Wuen Lin Lu-Phia who later ruled as Lu-Phia at Phulangka. When Wuen Lin died, his son Fu-Tsan succeeded him and is now the kamnan at Phulangka. Fu-Tsan was the third son in the family, and the fourth son now lives in Chiangkham where he runs a store [this man was Tang Fu Jiem who later also established himself in Bangkok within Chinese society and took a second wife there. He had subsequently two homes and two lives, HJ].

In those early times Tsan Khwoen was a courageous man; indeed, his whole family consisted of courageous men. They lived over in Luang Prabang territory. His father’s younger brother held the title Phan Nya Djun. This title of Phan Nya Djun, or Phu Djun, was Laotian. The full title was Phan Nya Djun Lak Nii (พระยาจุลลักหนี), which means “Duke Djun who thieved and fled.”

After Tsoi Tso was appointed Phan Nya Djun Lak Nii, nothing he said was as wise as his nephew’s counsels. All of the people preferred his nephew. When the Laotians learned of this situation, they went to that village of the people to appoint Tsan Khwoen to the rank of Lu-Phia in place of his uncle. Tsan Khwoen could not be prevailed upon, however, no matter what the Laotians said, since his uncle already held the position. When further persuasion proved useless the Laotians finally asserted that they would have to “weigh the fate” (dziaang kau maeng)1) of the two men to see who should be the lu-phia.

Now, Tsoi Tso had an enormous amount of hair on his head; Tsan Khwoen, in contrast, had only a tiny bit of very fine hair on the sides of his head, his pate being totally bald. One of the Laotians took out a razor and shaved off a little of Tsan Khwoen’s hair. From Tsoi Tso, on the other hand, quite a lot of hair was obtained. A pair of scales for weighing opium was then brought forth and assembled. A little of Tsan Khwoen’s hair was put on one of the scales and a one-gram weight on the other. When the weight was put on the other scale, the scale with the hair immediately tipped downwards. The same thing happened when a second weight was added to the first. Well, let me tell you, nobody had seen anything like that before! When Tsoi Tso’s hair was put on the scale it balanced out even with more weight, but it took three weights to balance Tsan Khwoen’s hair in spite of the fact that there was 10 times of the uncle’s hair being weighed as there was of the nephew’s.

The Laotians were amazed by this demonstration and interpreted the results as indicating that Tsan Khwoen’s power (maeng hlo hai) was much greater than his uncle’s. So, again, the Laotians tried to appoint him Lu-Phia but he wouldn’t accept regardless. The Laotians, however, kept up their persuasion and tried to make him Sien Long [lower ranking than Phia/Phaya] but he wouldn’t accept that position either. Finally, when their entreaties had no effect, the Laotians had no other recourse than to force him to become Sien Long. In making the appointment they proclaimed that, in the future, if the Sien Long did anything wrong, the Lu-Phia was not empowered to fine him. Such transgressions were to be outside the Lu-Phia’s jurisdiction to decide/settle. On the other hand, if the Lu-Phia committed a crime, the Sien Long was empowered to judge the case and fine him.

In a while thereafter, the Lu-Phia and the Sien-Long went on living in the same village, but finally a division was made with each residing in their own village. After the division had been carried out, Tsoi Tso, having turned into a good-for-nothing (mwoen tsoeu hu), conceived the desire to become king. When it was known that someone had shot a wild animal, that person had to give him a share of the meat to eat. Whoever shot a deer, a diem dzei, or anything else for that matter, was required to present him with a portion to eat.2)

At the time there were a lot of Hmong in the area and he ruled over both the Hmong and the Mien. Quite a few Mien grew displeased with him and getting together with the Hmong they hit on a plan to deceive/trick him. Several Mien went to him and told him; “One of the Hmong shot a deer but he hasn’t given you any of the meat, has he?” He answered; “I haven’t seen him, is it true?” They answered him it was true and so he called a number of Mien together to go with him to apprehend the Hmong. After discussing how they were to go about the matter of seizing the Hmong they set out for the Hmong village. Having been thus tricked, Tsoi Tso reached the Hmong’s house, entered, and lay down on the guest platform.

The Hmong asked him his business. Tsoi Tso answered; “It is said that you’ve shot a deer. Now, you can’t get away with not giving me my share, so I have come to fine you.” The Hmong answered; “I’m afraid we’ve eaten the deer up. There isn’t any left and I haven’t been able to bag another one. The venison’s just all gone.” “How come you ate it all up without giving me my share?” “Well, there are an awful lot of people around, and if I had divided it up there wouldn’t have been any left.” “What do you mean? Giving me my share doesn’t mean you have to give everybody else shares too!” The discussion continued in this vein for a bit until the Mien and the Hmong pounced on Tsoi Tso and tied him up so there was no way for him to escape.

Their plan was to take him down to be incarcerated in the capital (mung long). Tsoi Tso could see that there was no way for him to escape since it was true that he had previously treated his people harshly and they had, as a result, hardened their hearts (ngong nin) against him and would refuse to obey his orders. So, tied up as he was, he sent a letter to ask Tsan Khwoen Lu-Phia to release him. Tsan Khwoen Lu-Phia brought three men with him, each carrying an axe or two on his shoulder. He himself did not carry any weapon with him, but led a horse along (on a rope).

When they arrived (at the house where Tsoi Tso was being kept prisoner) Tsan Khwoen tied the horse up just outside the door. Entering the house he demanded; “Untie him! Why don’t you untie him? What’s he done wrong? Even if he is guilty he should be untied, and if he is not guilty he certainly should be untied. When he’s been released we’ll talk about the matter slowly according to the proper etiquette. Untie him!” Tsoi Tso, however, had harmed a great number of people and his captors, having managed this time to tie him up, were not about to let him go. “You won’t untie him?” “No we won’t.” So Tsan Khwoen put down one of the axes he was carrying on the ground, placed the chain (binding Tsoi Tso) on it, and gave it a blow with the other ax. Then, walking over to Tsoi Tso and calling to him; “Get up, uncle!” he took hold of the ax and with one yank burst the chain asunder.

The chain, mind you, was as big around as one’s thumb! Well! That terrified all those present. “How powerful is he,” they wondered, “that he can break a chain with one jerk?” Again Tsan Khwoen called out; “Get up!” As soon as Tsoi Tso got up they ran out the door, lifted it back in place and Tsoi Tso got on the horse and rode off with Tsan Khwoen bringing up the rear. Everyone in the house snatched up their guns and ran off in pursuit, but they called to each other, “Don’t do it, Don’t do it,” since they were all afraid to shoot. And so Tsan Khwoen got Tsoi Tso safely back home and then returned to his own village.

The conspirators, however, were not satisfied and decided to make another attempt. So the Hmong and Mien again got together and sent a file of soldiers to capture Tsoi Tso at his house. This time they did not manage to catch him although they did capture his younger brother. They then took the incense pot from Tsoi Tso’s ancestral altar and tried to smash it but were unsuccessful. Although they finally managed to break off the ears of the pot they were unable to find any way to destroy the main body. Even hurling it on the ground and beating on it had little effect. They next turned their attention to Tsoi Tso’s portraits of the gods. Taking the [spirit] pictures down from their storage basket hanging over the altar they spread the pictures out on the guest platform for the Hmong to lie on while they smoked opium. Afterwards, the Hmong who had done this went insane, of course, and didn’t recover until the ritual heads of their households killed a pig and held an atonement ritual.

The younger brother was taken and tied to the platform of the cattle shed and left there. He managed to escape by dragging the shed along with him. Just imagine how strong he must have been!

Tsoi Tso, meanwhile, had had time to think the situation over and had realized that he wasn’t going to be able to go on living there, so he fled to Tsan Khwoen’s village. Tsan Khwoen, unfortunately, lived quite close by and Tsoi Tso decided he should move up to the border area near China, where he had some relatives. Everyone knew, however, that he planned to flee and as he was then extremely rich they were very anxious to capture him. As he did not have any horses at the time he carried his money, amounting to 11 or 12 pack saddles of silver, away on oxen.3) He himself, dressed in women’s clothing, put on large earrings (but since his ears weren’t pierced he just hung them over his ears), put on a woman’s turban and departed. His pursuers, meanwhile, had taken up positions along the trail where they could shoot him. But having taken up their positions they didn’t see any Phaya-Jun-Lak-Ni. All they caught a glimpse of was a bit of woman’s clothing further down on the trail. So they shifted over to the other trail out of the village, but again they saw no one although they could have shot him on sight.

Meanwhile, Tsoi Tso’s followers, who were to take the silver-laden oxen with them, brought out the ox-saddles and got them ready. They then obtained some hooks which, after being tied to ropes attached to the saddles, were hooked onto the saddle frame. The group then set out and when they reached the part of the trail where the pursuing Mien and Hmong were lying in wait, they stopped. Slipping the saddles loaded with silver off the oxen, they drove the hooks deep into the ground. By this time their armed attackers were almost upon them, and so they grabbed their guns and fled into the forest. The attacking Mien and Hmong tried to help each other carry off the silver loaded saddles, but, no matter how much muscle they put into the task, they couldn’t budge the saddles because of the hooks embedded in the ground.

The oxen drivers, in the meantime, started firing on their attackers and killed one man. In a moment another man who was trying to lift a saddle and failing was hit and fell. Indeed, that day a lot of men were shot and killed. When the attackers finally realized that the saddles were so firmly embedded in the ground that they could not be moved they fled to a man. And that’s how Phraya-Jun-Lak-Ni got his name which Mien bestowed on him in praise of this exploit whereby he stole his own belongings and fled.

In this way Tsoi Tso managed to flee the area but Tsan Khwoen didn’t get to go along with him. Tsoi Tso eventually fled all the way up to China. Tsan Khwoen stayed on and when he moved to the territory of Dong Ngon4) he was appointed Phraya. Later Tsan Khwoen fled to Phu Wae.5) That is, he entered Thai territory and settled at Phu Wae in Nan Province where he was again later to receive a government appointment.

When Tsan Khwoen first came to Thailand the authorities adamantly refused to grant him and his fellow villagers permission to stay and they were not even allowed to cut down any part of the forest. He therefore got out his copy of the Charter for Crossing Mountains6) and invited a Cantonese to translate it for the king of Nan and for the officials at the Nan court. Now, in the Charter it says that in ancient times the Emperor Pien Kou, who opened the heavens and established the earth, gave the charter to the Mien and therein ordered that, wherever the Mien went, no one was to deny them access to, or the right to live in, any part of the mountains. Nor was anyone allowed to collect tolls from them at fords or ferries, or charge them for riding on any kind of conveyance vehicle. As for the collection of taxes in any area, such could be levied on all other peoples but not on the Mien, and this restriction was to apply equally to corvée labor, to surcharges on goods, and to all other kinds of taxes. After the Charter had been read to the King of Nan, he decided that he could not forbid the Mien to settle in his territory.

In this way Tsan Khwoen and his followers received permission to settle at Phu Wae, and Tsan Khwoen was further appointed Phaya Khiri. At the time Tsan Khwoen was made Phaya Khiri, Thai rule extended all the way up as far as Muang Singh. As soon as Tsan Khwoen had shaved his head, he was put in charge of all the hill peoples—Mien, Hmong, Lisu, Lahu, Akha, Kuei-Tsong, Tsan-tsei/Mun—in the Nan Kingdom and was empowered to collect taxes from everyone of them. His jurisdiction extended all the way up to the Chinese border and included the areas controlled by Nan in both Laos and Thailand. This place was a really bustling place then, as big as a province, and people had an awful lot of fun there. Although he, himself, collected the taxes from all the hill people therein, everyone looked up to him in the same way as, though obviously on a lesser scale than, people today love and respect the Thai King.

Tsan Khwoen ruled uneventfully until the business concerning a man of the Le surname group [Sae Lii], named Wuen Tso Lu-Phia, who lived at Doi Chang. The whole affair began with an incident which occurred at Doi Chang when a Thai tax collector went to extract money from the people and was shot to death. The whole village apprehended Wuen Tso and sent a message down to Tsan Khwoen Lu-Phia. Tsan Khwoen sent an escort up to bring him back safely out of the area and the Thai never did manage to apprehend him.

Phia Tso came from a very poor family belonging to the Le surname group. His father’s name was Yao Ei so his name was Wuen Tso Ei. Phia Tso had two older brothers, Kao Ei and In Nai Ei, who, being so poor, became thieves. They were caught, tied up, and fined. To pay their fines, Yao Ei had to sell his son, Wuen Tso. After a few years, when he had grown up a bit, Wuen Tso began to think of his father. So he begged the people who had bought him to let him go home and raise the money to buy himself back. They agreed, but after three years had passed he still hadn’t been able to save enough money and was forced to go back and live as son in the house of his foster parents. Later his father came to visit and said that he didn’t have any rice to eat or clothes to wear.

About 20 kilometers from the village where Wuen Tso was living there was a very good place to grow opium. A lot of people had settled there and they frequently hired people to harvest their opium for them. So Wuen Tso went there at harvest time, to see if he could earn enough money to buy himself back. But everywhere he asked for work people refused him saying that his father, Yao Ei, was a clever thief and they were afraid that his son would likewise steal their opium. Over a week passed and he still couldn’t find anyone who would hire him. Finally he went to visit some of his relatives, his maternal grandfather’s younger sister, whose husband had planted some opium in the area.

When he arrived, his relatives were clearing the undergrowth off for fields for early corn, but they needed someone to chop down the trees. “Well,” his great aunt’s husband said, “I thought you’d come to hire out as an opium harvester but I haven’t seen you working at all. Aren’t you going to look for work?” “I haven’t been able to find any work,” Wuen Tso answered, “because nobody will hire me.” “If you can’t find any work harvesting opium, why don’t you work for me and cut down the trees in my fields. If you help me I’ll pay you three lung of opium.7) How about it?” “Any work I can get,” Wuen Tso answered, “I’ll take.” So he helped his mother’s father’s younger sister’s husband cut down the trees in his corn fields and when the work was finished Wuen Tso received three lung of opium.

Wuen Tso took his three lung of opium back to his village, a day’s journey away, and sold them, receiving banknotes in return. At the time one lung of opium was selling in the area of the opium fields for four banknotes. In his village, however, where opium wasn’t being grown, one tiu of opium was selling for 2 banknotes, and one lung cost 20 banknotes. By selling his three lung of opium in his own village, Wuen Tso obtained 60 banknotes. He then went back to the fields where his money enabled him to purchase 15 lung of opium. Wuen Tso, himself, told me this story and how, by traveling and trading back and forth between the fields and his village for a year he was able to make a profit of 120 bars of silver.8) In addition, he was able to buy one large knife to carry on his shoulder, one thick blanket, one pot for cooking rice, and two bowls to eat out of, one for his father and one for himself.

With the 120 bars of silver, Wuen Tso was able to reimburse the people who had bought him and with what was left over he bought cotton and learned how to deseed it. In those days there wasn’t anyone who knew how to deseed cotton, and cotton wool was very expensive. By buying unseeded cotton, deseeding it, and selling the cotton wool, he managed, over a number of years, to become a respected, responsible member of society, and ended up being appointed Lu-Phia.

Only after he had received the appointment of Lu-Phia did Wuen Tso look for a wife. But, having married, the couple did not have any children, so he left his wife with his father. He figured that the reason they couldn’t have children was because he didn’t have any merit.

So he went looking for horned poultry, particularly roosters, and whenever he could find one with a long comb, he bought it up. Taking the roosters home he used their combs in preparing “mustard-green horns.” These are made by sealing a piece of the comb tightly inside an “old lady rice cake,” and tying the skin of a rat firmly around the cake and soaking the whole bundle in the blood of a freshly killed chicken, after which the bundle was put out to dry in the sun until it rustled in the wind. Wuen Tso took the “mustard-green horns” around to various places in Laos to sell for 80 Burmese rupees apiece. Since he had prepared about 15 he made over 1,000 Burmese rupees. And in those days money was really worth something! Anyone who accumulated money was considered really respectable. The remaining mustard-green horns, which he couldn’t sell, he threw away in a river—it was really only a glorified rice cake, after all!

After he returned home, Wuen Tso was afraid to go back to the places where he had sold the mustard green horns, so he bought some opium and set out in the fifth month to sell it in Mung Thswon, Mung Hiem, Mung Long, Mung Thsiaang, and other areas in Jau-tsei (today called Vietnam). He took along some servants and three of his paternal cousins, Wuen Fin, Wuen Yen, and Wuen Seng, to help him carry the opium. One day they discovered that they weren’t going to reach a Mien village before dark so they stopped to spend the night at a temple in a small village at the foot of some hills in which there was a Mien village.

Now, at the time they were carrying quite a lot of gunpowder stored, as was practice in those days, in water-buffalo horns and ox horns. That evening it started to rain and, fearing that the gunpowder was getting damp, they poured it out over paper on one side of the room so it would dry. Then they sat down to supper. When the meal was finished somebody lit a match to smoke and, without thinking, threw the match away right into the middle of the paper. The gunpowder instantly caught fire and exploded with a bang, knocking over everyone in the room. Two monks were very seriously hurt, their torsos and limbs being badly burned. Everyone else had also been scorched, but none so badly that they couldn’t get up and move around. The two monks, however, couldn’t even manage to feed themselves.

When everyone had sorted themselves out it was discovered that nobody present knew any curing spells—none of the Mien there even knew any! One of the Mien, I think it was Wuen Seng, did remember the name of his gya-fin-tsio [“the leader of his ancestors”]; Le Kwe Faam Long. Another fellow, Wuen Yen, was able to do one of the minor kinds of divination but he only asked a question after he got an answer. Well! There wasn’t much any of them could do since they did not know any curing spells. They managed to carry a pail of water up to the room where the two monks were and hold a sort of slapdash curing ceremony as best they could.

Taking up a knife, Wuen Seng invoked his gya-fin-tsio; “Oh, Lei Kwe Faam Long and all the ancestors. Whoever among you, when they were alive, could cool water, could make frost appear, could cause snow to fall, please descend. We are on a business trip and not in much shape to invoke your help properly. We’ve had an explosion and people are hurt, etcetera, etcetera.” And so Wuen Seng improvised a ceremony, and instead of putting proper spells on the water he just talked on in the same vein. When he finished the ceremony he took some water from the bucket and spewed it over each person in turn. In a moment everyone was shivering with cold.

As a result of the ceremony, those who weren’t so badly wounded didn’t even blister. The two monks, however, did break out in blisters. From the 20th day of the fifth month on they stayed at the temple and looked after the injured with what medicines they could get hold of. During this time they stored their opium there in the temple and only after almost a month had passed were they well enough to leave, reaching the nearby Mien village in time for the jie-tsiep-fei rites.

When Wuen Tso arrived at the village he found that his fame as a prosperous person had preceded him. And there he met the woman, Nai, who was to be his second wife and who was later mauled by a tiger. He engaged a go-between to arrange the marriage and an agreement was almost reached when Nai’s mother insisted that they drink the wine. “I won’t allow an itinerant trader to buy her and beat her,” she said. “If he is willing to stay and drink the wine, I’ll consent, but not otherwise.” Wuen Tso, not having any choice in the matter, settled down to prepare the wine and a house for the ceremony. His companions, however, he allowed to return home ahead of him.

Some of the local villagers helped him build a house and he settled in for a short while in whatever the area was called. Vietnam has a lot of Mung located there, Mung Long, Mung Thsiang, Mung Thswon, Mung Hiem, Mung Phon, Mung Mwon, Mung Maa, Mung Paw, Mung Thaeng, Mung U—but I think this all took place in Mung Hiem. When the winter months arrived, Wuen Tso bought pigs and other things needed and the full wedding ceremonies were carried out.

When he and his wife finally set out for his home village they found it lying deserted and abandoned. Every last person had moved away, including his first wife. Here he had returned home and the whole village was absolutely quiet; he hadn’t the slightest idea where everyone had gone. The weeds were already thick in his front yard. As the nearest village lay two nights away they had no choice but to sleep in his old, deserted house.

The next morning they set out for the nearest village to ask where all his villagers had moved to, and learned that they had gone across the river. They had gone up to Pha Mun on the Laotian side and some had settled there, whereas others had moved on down and across the [Mekong] river into the areas of Mung [Thoeng] and [Chiang] Khong. Taking his bride with him he finally managed to track down his first wife on the Thai side of the river and there they all lived for a number of years. Later they moved into the Doi Chang area and there Wuen Tso Ei finally succeeded in establishing his reputation as an important person.

For a number of years Wuen Tso lived peacefully on Doi Chang and slowly built up a fortune based on the opium trade, while Tsan Khwoen ruled uneventfully at Phu Wae. The string of circumstances which were to bring these two men into competition did not begin until the incident over the shooting of a Thai tax collector. There was a Chinese of the Liow surname group also living in the Doi Chang area and he and Wuen Tso were close associates. In those days only the Thai tax collector could arrest Mien, not like today when the Thai are all confused. One day a tax collector went up with some men into the Doi Chang area, arrested Mr. Liow and a number of Mien, confiscated many saddles of opium, and started back down the mountain. Wuen Tso called on a Hmong named Ku Taa Nyouw, who was exceptionally skillful at hunting wild cattle, to waylay the Thai. Ku Taa Nyouw set up his ambush and shot the tax collector dead with one bullet through the heart. One of the ambushers, who had gone to sleep on a pile of wooden partitions, was shot in turn when the Thai saw the sun reflected off the silver on his gun. As a result of this affair Wuen Tso couldn’t continue to live on Doi Chang and so he sent a message down to Tsan Khwoen Lu-Phia to request his help. Tsan Khwoen deputied an escort to bring him safely out of the area, and the Thai never did manage to apprehend him.

When Wuen Tso reached Tsan Khwoen’s territory he discovered that it was a really bustling place, and that Tsan Khwoen, with an appointment as a high official, controlled people all over the place and collected taxes amounting into the thousands and ten thousands from them. When Wuen Tso learned how much money was being collected in taxes he grew jealous, and through jealousy began to covet Tsan Khwoen’s position. So he went down to the Nan court to advise the king. After discussing a number of matters, he asked the king, “what arrangements did you make with Phaya Khiri when you gave him the right to collect taxes (from the hill peoples)?” “Let’s see,” the king answered, “once he really shaved his head, we only asked 500 tsin a year. Regardless of how much he collects in a year we only take 500.”

“Well,” exclaimed Wuen Tso, “then he is only giving you a hundredth part of what he collects! Isn’t it stupid for a king to receive only a hundredth? Why not require that whenever a man wants to move to another village he first obtain a [four Baht] permit (a baai si baat, as they were called in those days) for which he would have to pay four tsin? Then, however many permits were issued times four would be quite something, wouldn’t it? Furthermore, whenever a couple gets married a license could be issued at a charge of four tsin per couple. If you don’t do something like this, aren’t you just letting Phaya Khiri keep all the money for himself? Why should you, as king, receive nothing and he keep it all?”

When Wuen Tso had finished talking the king had to admit that such a procedure would be quite profitable, and so the system of permits was instituted. Phaya Khiri was required to collect the fees for the permits but he himself did not get to enjoy any of the profits since all the money so collected had to be handed over to the king. Phaya Khiri, needless to say, was quite dissatisfied with this arrangement.

About the same time Wuen Tso had also promised to help the king of Nan feed his soldiers. In those days there weren’t any paddy fields in the territory of Nan and the King of Nan kept a large army of soldiers. Since there wasn’t anyone else to take care of them Wuen Tso had promised to collect upland rice from the hill tribes to give the king to feed his soldiers. A huge granary was built at the Nan capital to receive the rice sent down to supply the army. After Wuen Tso had carefully kept his promise for a number of years the king began to think very highly of him and appointed him Phaya Intha. The king simultaneously began to regard Phaya Khiri as a good-for-nothing and decided to bestow his position as ruler over the hill tribes on Phaya Intha.

When the king confided these thoughts to Phaya Intha, Phaya Intha stated that, if the king turned Phaya Khiri out of office and appointed Phaya Intha as ruler over all the tribes people, he would let the king decide how much of the yearly tax revenue was to go to the king and how much he could keep himself. The king, when he understood Phaya Intha’s offer, then took counsel with him on how best to handle the situation, and then ordered Phaya Intha to return home while a command to appear at court was sent to Phaya Khiri.

When Phaya Khiri arrived at court, he and the king discussed the matter for quite a while but the king could not get the better of him. Finally the king, in exasperation, ordered him to go home without yet having deprived him of his position. And so Phaya Khiri went home. Phia Tso, meanwhile, waited in vain for word that the Thai had bestowed overlordship of the hill tribes to him. When he heard that Phaya Khiri had been to Nan and returned home already, he went back to court taking another saddle of silver with him. In those days Phia Tso was extremely rich and only became poor later because of all the problems he got into. When he got to Nan he presented the saddle of silver to the king and begged that the king, regardless of the difficulties, obtain the position for him. The king assured him that he would speak forcefully and not listen to Phaya Khiri’s objections.

Again, Phaya Khiri was called to court for an audience and again the king couldn’t get the better of him. So once more the king declared that he was impossible to deal with and ordered him to go home, still without having obtained his resignation. Phia Tso waited and waited but didn’t receive any news concerning his appointment as overlord. So once again he went to Nan and took more money to present to the king. During the audience he told the king, “You are the highest person in the kingdom. Even if he isn’t willing to step down there is nothing he can do about it. Why should you, the king, listen to him? There are proper procedures for dealing with cases like this.” The king stated, “All right! This time I won’t listen to him. As soon as he gets here I’ll remove him from office and I won’t stand on ceremony to do it either.”

Yet again Phaya Khiri was called to court for an audience. As soon as he arrived the king called out, “I am not going to let you be Lu-Phia any longer!” “That’s all very well and good,” answered Phaya Khiri, drawing forth his official letter of appointment, “but just what did you have in mind when you drew up this document? If you, in your capacity as an official, hadn’t used a written proclamation to appoint me, you could then remove me like this. But as it is you do use writing for all kinds of documents—passes, permits, certificates, and the like—which have to be honored. Now, only, if you can take this official appointment of mine and return the paper to me in its original condition, without the ink used to write on it, will I step down.”

The king could find no answer to this and so Phaya Khiri went home. When Phia Tso reappeared the king told him, “There just isn’t any way to get the better of him. Besides, he’s old and about ready to die, so wait and when he’s dead I’ll appoint you in his place.”

Phia Tso, being left in the unenviable position of having to wait for Phia Khwoen to die before taking over his office, decided upon a plan to hasten his death. This plan, however, was not successful. What he did was to send some men to ambush him, one evening at the village bathing area. While Phia Khwoen was bathing they shot at him, but their gunpowder only sputtered and failed to explode. Phia Khwoen, hearing the noise, shouted out, “Has someone come to shoot me, or what?” and thereby frightened them into running away.

Now, Phia Khwoen had a very powerful riding horse. Everyone recognized this horse and knew that no one could get near it. Anyone who approached close enough to put a hand on it got bitten. Phia Khwoen himself was the only person who could touch it. So Phia Tso again sent some men to Phia Khwoen’s village with the idea of releasing the animal and then shooting Phia Khwoen while he was looking for the horse in the woods. They managed to sneak up to the stable without being seen, open the gates and let the horse out. Phia Khwoen, however, suspected that this might be some kind of ploy to shoot him and so he, himself, did not go and look for the horse. The only problem was that no one knew just where the creature had gone.

After everyone had bustled about looking for the horse for some time without success, Phia Khwoen decided he would just have to go and search himself, plot or no plot. But as soon as he stepped out of the door he met the horse returning on its own accord. As his horse did not make a sound and as there wasn’t any electricity or anything like that in those days, Phia Khwoen took the horse back to its stable, tied its rope firmly to a post, and firmly sealed up the stable door. The ambushers spent a fruitless night in the forest and Phia Khwoen was now convinced that someone was out to kill him.

Now the trail which led to the city of Nan had broad expanses lying on each side of it which were perfect for fields. Every year Phia Khwoen sent out an announcement to all groups in the area that they shouldn’t start clearing these expanses before the 15th of the third month when he took the tax monies he had collected down to give the king. The reason for the announcement was that Phia Khwoen was afraid that, if the forest were cut down and people started burning off their fields, he wouldn’t be able to deliver the taxes on time because the trail would be blocked by fire. When Phia Tso heard about the interdiction he called together a bunch of Mien and Hmong under him and took them off to cut down the trees along the both sides of the entire length of the trail. On the 15th of the third month he and his followers planned to set fire to the area and burn Phia Khwoen to death.

When Phia Khwoen had gotten about a third of the way down the trail the cut timber on both sides was fired. Seeing the flames, Phia Khwoen realized something was afoot and beat his horse into retreat. Fortunately, a wind blew up at that point and while the fire on one side caught quickly, the wind blew the fire on the other side the wrong way. Only after Phia Khwoen had managed to escape did the fire on the second side finally catch. Phia Khwoen was certainly a man of power. Not only did his hair vastly outweigh that of his uncle’s, but he managed to escape the fire as well.

Matters proceeded in this fashion for some time, but no matter what Phia Tso resorted to, he couldn’t do away with Phia Khwoen. The reason for the ambushes could not remain hidden forever and in the end, Phia Khwoen learned who was trying to do him in. Once he knew who was behind the attacks, Phia Khwoen sent for Phia Tso to come and give a personal accounting for his actions, or to come and be judged. On those days such judgements were arrived at in a general council. Phia Khwoen’s council was very large, consisting of 40 or 50, maybe even 60 men, all of them were very sharp indeed.

These men filled a multitude of lower offices, as kae ban, sien long, and tong kun under Phia Khwoen.9) There were even some in the position of Phia or Lu-Phia, to be distinguished from Phi-Nyaa, the highest rank any of them held and of which there was only one, Phi-Nya Khwoen himself. These councilors included Yaao-thsiang Lu-Phia, Wuen Fou Syo Lu-Phia, and a great many others, all of whom had assembled to discuss the case of Phia Tso.

Now, Phia Khwoen’s house consisted of two storeys, the upstairs being his official government offices and the downstairs forming his regular living quarters. The meeting was held downstairs and during it Wuen Lin Lu-Phia insisted that Phia Tso should be tied up. When Phia Tso heard about the meeting, he realized that this time he wouldn’t be able to escape, that no matter what, they were determined to tie him up. Since he had no other recourse he got out his silver and put some in each of the side pockets of his coat; in these days men were wearing long coats with very large pockets which were bought from Chinese traders and were called ko tu lui.

An escort was sent to bring him to Phia Khwoen’s village as everyone was afraid that he wouldn’t come otherwise. The escort, whose name was Ta-Seng Wuen, was a highly respected person. When they reached their destination, Phia Tso was not allowed to enter Phia Khwoen’s house or to sleep there. Instead, he stayed at Ta-Seng Wuen’s home and the next morning was escorted to Phia Khwoen’s place.

The night before Wuen Lin Lu-Phia and the other Mien officials had sat up late discussing the case and working a consensus on tying up Phia Tso. Because of the many guests who had to be fed during the proceedings, a huge cane basket to uncooked hulled rice had been placed upstairs. While the deliberations were still going on downstairs, the basket burst with a resounding “pop” and the rice came pouring down on the people seated below. “Hey! How come,” someone said, “you didn’t floor over this part of the upstairs? And now to have the basket burst like this!” Everyone’s daring dissipated somewhat with this incident, and someone else said, “If we don’t tie up Phia Tso then he won’t have any opportunity to escape his bonds.” And so it was agreed that they wouldn’t tie him up.10)

When Phia Tso reached Phia Khwoen’s house the next morning, he went in and started up the stairs to see Phia Khwoen. At this moments Phia Khwoen, who had just gotten up, started downstairs and so the two encountered each other there on the middle of the stairway. Phia Tso quickly transferred the silver in his pockets to the pockets of Phia Khwoen. Phia Khwoen didn’t know how much it was; all he knew was that his pockets were equally weighted down. They descended the stairs. Phia Khwoen invited his opponent to have a seat while he went into the family quarters to get some tea and tobacco and while he was there he took the silver out of his pockets and put it aside.

When Phia Khwoen returned, he and Phia Tso talked for some time. Finally Phia Khwoen said, “Well, I guess there isn’t much more to be done. Everything that you have said here younger brother Phia has been very placating.” Phia Tso, after all, was trying to get off with as little punishment as possible. “Yes, very placating. In these circumstances we think the best course is for all of us to share in a feast of reconciliation.” So a special pavilion was erected and a cow was killed while the discussions continued at Phia Khwoen’s house.

All the preparations for the meal were carried out in the pavilion and a great many Mien were invited to share the feast. As the discussions at Phia Khwoen’s drew to a close, Yao Thsiang Lu-Phia got up to say a few instructive words. “Well, now, people say that ‘the early litters are fat while the later ones are skinny’. It’s been said here before and I’ll say it again loudly, the only reason matters have reached this point is because of your actions, younger brother Phia Tso. If it hadn’t been for your actions we wouldn’t have had to do all this. So think about the saying ‘the early litters are fat while the later ones are skinny!’” Yao Thsiang then sat back down.

That was just too much for Phia Tso. He rolled up his pants legs and then jumped up, shouting, “Damn it! What are you talking to me about ‘the early litters are fat while the later ones are skinny’ for? Whose wife have I dishonored?” On and on he ranted, his body poised in fighting stance with one leg raised to kick. Everyone sat stunned, their faces blotched, and nobody could get in a word in answer. When he had finally run down, Tsan Syo Lu-Phia spoke up, “We needn’t say anything more about this, or we’ll just get into another argument. There was plenty of justification for holding this meeting—we all know about it—and now we should all get together and settle the matter. We are going to eat a feast of reconciliation. Now, we of Phia Khwoen’s group will eat more of the meat because there are more of us, but together we constitute only one of the parties to this case.” Wuen Tso’s group, though fewer in number, constitute the other party in this case. The ox for the feast, whatever its cost, should be paid for equally by each groups. “Fine,” said Phia Tso, “I know the proper custom here.” And so each of the two parties paid for half of the feast ox and the case was formally closed.

Phia Khwoen’s son, Wuen Lin Lu-Phia, however, was not satisfied with the feast of reconciliation. Being still very angry at Phia Tso, he ensorcelled him. During the sorcery ritual, Wuen Lin invited his masters to help him, collected together the heavenly forces, blocked off the protective spirits who might have rendered the sorcery ineffective, built a magic bridge, and sent his celestial soldiers across it to Phia Tso’s body where his soldiers captured his life spirits. When the soldiers had returned across the bridge with Phia Tso’s life spirits, Wuen Lin put them on the back of a land crab and let the crab go down into a hole.

Well! Phia Tso got really sick and no matter what measures were taken he didn’t get any better. A divination ceremony held for him reveled that his life spirits wouldn’t return but had descended into the water world. A save-the-life ceremony (tzo seng), therefore, was held but was unsuccessful. Nothing worked! He went on being sick until he became prematurely senile. Sick for years, he didn’t die. All the family’s money was spent on unsuccessful cures and they ended up as nobodies, with neither rank nor face.

When I (Jiem Tsan) was born, Tsan Khwoen Lu-Phia had just completed a 60 year cycle. I met him once when I was quite young, my uncle having taken me to visit him. He was 60 in ki-yo 1909 and 70 in loi-mei 1919. He didn’t live to 80, but only reached 75 or 76, while Phia Tso, the younger of the two, died later. After Phia Khwoen his son, Wuen Lin, was made Lu-Phia, but he was not the man his father was, nor were the times the same anymore.

On Chiefs and Interethnic Polities

The life story is not meant as a report that simply lists facts, but instead as a Mien performance that is entertaining and pleasant, and expresses the varied skills (memory, word-play, insight, social commentary, humor, etc.) of the storyteller. The story is quite unique and gives considerable insight into life in the old days while chiefs mediated relations between villagers and lowland kingdoms. Tsan Khwoen is a real person, his title from the king of Nan is right, he lived in a two storey house (unlike other Mien at the time), and he would purchase a cow from lowlanders for the occasional feast (Jonsson 1999). There is a photo of Tsan Khwoen flanked by family and perhaps associates in an old volume of the Journal of the Siam Society, that was taken in Nan town in about 1920. The photo caption only declares that the people are “a group of Yao” and calls attention to the silver jewelry (Rangsiyanan and Naowakarn 1925, 84).

I had never heard of Phaya Intha before reading the story in translation, but instead had been told that Phaya Khiri’s full title had been Phaya Inthakhiri. This is curious, and it is possible that his son Wuen Lin (who had the title Thao La and later was made kamnan and was based in the village of Phulangka), who hexed Phaya Intha with lasting effect, had a hand in making his father’s rival disappear in plain sight by having his official identity absorbed by that of his father. On this front I can only offer conjecture, but I find the matter intriguing.

Mien leaders in 1860–1930 were for the most part strongmen, analogous to the Thai nak-laeng. Their power came in part from the ability to intimidate people, but how this was felt is another matter. The way Mien people have related this to me, both regarding chiefs in Thailand and Laos, is as follows: some say that the chief had complete command and that there was peace and the rule of law; others say the chiefs were cruel and heavy-handed and would arbitrarily punish or harm people; and a third segment of the population suggests that these men were not so important, that they basically sat in their house, never engaged in farming themselves, and mostly kept busy by drinking tea and receiving visitors (Jonsson 2005, 82; 2014a, 65).

Chiefs in highland areas were largely made to disappear in the social transformations that came with colonial rule and subsequent nation states. The basic difference concerns a shift from localized valley kingdoms that had many networks in lowland and highland areas, toward a single-capital nation-state whose officials owed primary loyalty to the capital and not to the local peoples where they ruled. Nan is somewhat exceptional in Thailand in that the royal house was not immediately dismantled but was allowed to exist for two more generations. The king of Nan lost a lot of power, however. His domain had covered what now are parts of northern Laos. Along with a shrunken land-mass, the king no longer could demand tribute in rice from the peasants.

Thus was the king’s interest in striking a deal with Tsan Khwoen to collect tax from the highlanders, and his facilitation of legal poppy growing through the Royal Opium Monopoly. Poppy cultivation everywhere else was against the law. Both the Nan king and the Mien leader profited greatly from this legal farming and trade. Everywhere else, poppy cultivation basically profited only the agents of the illegal trade, and the highland farmers had no other options since they were formally excluded from Thai society. There is some indication that the account of Phaya Intha procuring rice for the soldiers stationed in Nan is to a large extent historically accurate. I at least found published accounts describing that Bangkok had stationed a number of soldiers in Nan by the border with Laos, and that because the Nan peasants had no rice surplus then this became an opportunity for the Mien to sell their rice (Jonsson 2005, 77).

Many elements of the story of Tsan Khwoen as Phaya Khiri correspond to things I had learned from local recollections in the early 1990s, as well as the occasional published source. Tsan Khwoen was engaged in a major status contestation with another Mien leader, Tzeo Wuen Tsoi Lin who became Phaya Kham Khoen Srisongfa in northern Laos during 1870–1930. They were both well connected to lowland authorities, had an analogous title, and are said to have been trying to outdo one another with a household of 100 people—something neither of them really achieved (Jonsson 2009; 2014a). Mien recollections to me were that the king of Nan had denied the group settlement in the domain but reversed the decision in exchange for a payment of silver and elephant tusks. After that, Tsan Khwoen received his title and collected tax for the Nan king. Published works by explorers and missionaries affirm Tsan Khwoen’s two-floor house, his considerable wealth, his many trips to the court in Nan, and declare that it was the Mien population that was providing rice to the Thai military posts in Nan that were placed near the border with French Laos/Indochina (Jonsson 1999; 2001; 2005, 73–93).

I had not previously heard of Phaya Intha, or that there had been a Mien settlement on Doi Chang in Chiangrai. The story brings out persistent rivalries between Mien contenders for leadership, such as in relation to the king of Nan. This suggests that conflict was less between state authorities and highlanders and more internal to either social order. The story suggests repeated assassination attempts and numerous conflicts among Mien and Hmong highlanders. The ritual desecration of spirit paintings suggests, somewhat like the story of the spell against Phaya Intha at the end, that ritual knowledge was commonly used for competitive and destructive purposes—this element is an important corrective to the ethnographic impulse to assemble a composite image of Mien religion as somehow a shared tradition. Equally, it is important to note that the storyteller insists on the effectiveness of certain spells and formulas and at the same time he mocks the group of Mien men who were lacking even the basics of calling on ancestor spirits and performing a curing spell.

The story reflects the esteem that Tsan Khwoen had among his followers, in such elements as the magical quality of his hair (compared to his uncle) and his unusual strength when he later broke the chains that held the same uncle. But he is also described as rather easily corruptible, such as in accepting the bribe from his rival Wuen Tso (Phaya Intha).

One thing I learned in the early 1990s is that in approximately 1945 the Thai police had come to Phulangka and had taken away a permit that was in the possession of Thao La (Tang Wuen Lin), Phaya Khiri Srisombat (Tang Tsan Khwoen)’s son. The permit was never returned and I don’t know what it said. But I do know that for the following decades, the Mien population and their leaders stubbornly insisted on their membership in Thai society by annually going to pay respect and taxes at the District Center in Pong. The Mien villages each had a “village owner spirit.” They would ask around who was the most powerful lowland leader in their area and then invite the spirit of that leader to become the guardian of the village (Jonsson 1999, 105, 115). These ritual relationships certainly indicate one aspect of inclusive identities, elements that the ethnographic emphasis on the Mien as bounded, unique, and distinct might make disappear.

When I first learned of Tsan Khwoen as Phaya Khiri I did not have the sense that such chiefly connections were common. But I later learned that many Mien leaders at the time were successfully making analogous connections in the adjacent areas of Vietnam, Laos, and Yunnan. Vanina Bouté (2007; 2011; 2015) shows how Phunoy came into titled leadership and registered villages in an area of northern Laos in the eighteenth century. The preserved record of titles and associated command is unusual; in most cases such relations were made verbally and practically without any archival trace (see Sprenger 2006; Evrard 2006; 2007; Badenoch and Tomita 2013 for some cases of non-recorded titles and networks; for a rare case of a documented contract and titles, see Kraisri 1965). This is the main reason Renard (1980; 1986; 2002) could find little archival trace of the Karen in Thai histories.

Dynamics of national integration contributed to the general disappearance of titled highland chiefs across mainland Southeast Asia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The kingdoms which made such relations and granted the titles were demolished in the colonial-era making of large single-capital states. Kingdoms previously had mostly been much more locality-specific affairs of particular hill-valley settings that combined diplomacy, trade, and ritual that established relations and at the same time maintained ethic and other differences. There is no indication that pre-twentieth-century states insisted on ethnic or other homogeneity, or that ethnic diversity marked the state’s outside (as suggested by Scott 2009). Instead, the typical situation appears closer to the shifting and multi-ethnic networks described for northern Laos by Badenoch and Tomita (2013), Bouté (2011), Evrard (2006), and Sprenger (2006), where members of the same ethnic group were unevenly situated and differentially integrated into polities, but where a considerable number of ethnic identities was generally involved in any one state.

Given these indications of pluralism, one may ask why there is so little trace of it in the archives, and how come there is no trace of Karen and many other hinterland peoples in the common perceptions of the region’s history (Renard 2002). I suggest that the pluralism that some scholars have pointed to is just one of several “structural poses” among the region’s peoples. The term is from anthropologist Fred Gearing (1962), who suggested that any society takes shape in relation to particular orientations and activities; livelihood, feuds, ritual practice, and war each structured the same settlement differently and in terms of different units. For mainland Southeast Asia, if pluralism was a regular feature of social life then it was made largely invisible by an alternative structural pose that stressed boundaries and exclusivity. That is, I suggest that any society may harbor alternative models of itself that imply exclusive versus inclusive identities. In general, groups tend to promote an exclusive self-image while in practice its boundaries can be much more varied, negotiable, and/or elusive. Linguist N. J. Enfield (2005; 2011) makes one such case for social diversity in mainland Southeast Asia, that an insistence on ethnic boundaries went hand-in-hand with the cultivation of ethnic diversity.

The Nan Chronicle (Wyatt 1994) can serve as an example of how such diversity was made to disappear from public view. Written by a certain Saenluang Ratchasomphan in about 1894, the chronicle is singularly focused on Tai royal genealogies and Buddhist virtue, and there is no trace of the Mlabri, Khmu, Lawa, Mien, or any other hinterland peoples who had more or less formal and more or less regular relations with the court. This issue of a public denial of internal diversity commonly arises in ethnographic research, such as in statements that members of a particular ethnic group will only marry members of the same group and not of others, when follow-up inquiries such as household surveys and the assembly of genealogies often reveal pervasive patterns of the incorporation of outsiders (Hanks and Hanks 2001). Such strategic essentialism, the insistence on an exclusive identity (in kinship, politics, or any other dimension of sociality), is a common feature of a society’s self-image, while no society is ever singular or matches the ideal image of itself.

The complexity of social orders is not specific to states. Anthropologist Robert H. Lowie (1920; 1927) suggests that any social order can have at least three dimensions that are in part incompatible or at least irreducible to any single one. Organization along alternative lines such as kinship and territoriality (based on a village or a larger entity) tends to coincide, and Lowie further suggests that it is general to find also associations based on some third premise (gender, age, craft, trade, etc.). Any social group may come up with norms of behavior and ways of monitoring and enforcing them, while the three alternative and co-present bases for social organization may at times be at odds: “A trade union may oppose the central authority, successfully cope with its agents, and in so far forth nullify national unity” (1927, 111).

To some extent it was anthropologists’ shift from ethnology to ethnography by about the 1930s (see Stocking 1992)—from comparisons to the expectation of bounded groups—that encouraged the disappearance of multi-ethnic networks from the anthropological horizon. Scholars tended to seek “pure” examples of hinterland peoples who showed little or no signs of “contact” (see Jonsson 2014a, 46–47). One example is the work of anthropologist Douglas Miles in 1967–68 (Miles 1967; 1990) with the direct descendants of Phaya Khiri, Tsan Khwoen Waa, in the village of Phulangka. In the introduction to his dissertation he acknowledges the link to the authorities and the considerable wealth that derived from the opium trade, but Miles proceeds to study and describe the Mien of Phulangka as an ethnic case that reveals particular patterns in the combination of agriculture, ancestor worship, and kinship.

Karl Gustav Izikowitz did research in northern Laos in the 1930s. He mentions titled Lamet chiefs, but not as an important feature of local social life and regional connections. He states instead that; “the Lamet were deceived into buying titles of nobility from the [Tai Lue] in Tafa” (1951, 354). In my assessment, the Lamet interest in purchasing titles must be understood in terms of how Lao, Lue, and other rulers of lowland kingdoms in what is now Laos had shifted their interest from Khmu, Lamet, Phunoy, and others and toward Mien, Hmong, and Mun leaders (Jonsson 2014a; Lee 2015; Badenoch and Tomita 2013).

Edmund Leach’s (1954) work on Kachin and Kachin-Shan connections suggests that ambitious Kachin chiefs would emulate the Shan and call themselves Saopha (Shan, analogous to chao fa, “lord of the sky”). But his description does not show that any of the Shan lords or kings had a role in social life—50 years after the British colonial take-over of northern Burma, which separated Shan and Kachin in previously unprecedented ways—so it is unclear how telling the case is of things beyond the colonial setting.

In contrast, connections to valley lords and national authorities in Thailand and Laos in the 1930s had considerable impact in the everyday lives of Hmong, Mien, and others. The ethnographic consensus—the focus on ethnic groups as distinct from one another and as either tribal peoples in kinship-based societies or peasants in stratified and territorial societies—contributes to making unthinkable the long histories of multi-ethnic networks that shaped Southeast Asian societies. Neither Izikowitz (1951) nor Leach (1954) viewed highland chiefs as normal or important features of regional and local societies—the former thought the titles were fraudulent, while the latter thought they expressed a quest for power that drew on imitative desire of lowland king’s glory and would lead to the emulation of stratified lowland society.

The Mien story of how Tang Tsan Khwoen became Phaya Khiri shows the mutual interest between the Nan king and the Mien leader in making and maintaining interethnic networks. The kingdom of Nan had a long but mostly-unrecorded history of making networks with a range of peoples, and recollections of Tsan Khwoen and other leaders suggest that they had been making such relations with lowland rulers in numerous places as they moved through southern China and into areas that now are northern Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand (see Jonsson 2005, 74–85). Elsewhere I have suggested that there are clear parallels in Mien attitudes toward the spirit world and what can be called the political world, of an interested search for contracts of some mutual benefit by establishing relations that are maintained as long as they are considered rewarding (ibid., 78–91; Jonsson 2014a, 27–35).

Guido Sprenger’s (2010) study of the relevance of lowland-derived titles among Rmeet/Lamet upland peoples suggests an important regional dimension to these dynamics: “Outside objects are introduced into the ritual reproduction of society, kin terms are expanded to foreigners, people boast of their knowledge of other languages. . . . The necessity of external influence for a social system crystallizes in values that emphasize interethnic communication as desirable and productive” (2010, 421). This perspective spells out what I am calling inclusive identities which contrast sharply with the exclusive-identity focus on group distinctions and non-permeable boundaries.

When Le Jiem Tsan told his story to Richard Cushman in 1972 he remarked at one point: “In those days only the Thai tax collector could arrest Mien, not like today when the Thai are all confused.” He was talking during a time of civil war when there was considerable violence and discrimination against highland peoples, and Hmong in particular had become singled out as dangerous communist suspects (as Meo Daeng, “Red Hmong”). Le Jiem Tsan had lived in a region where the Mien had citizenship, legal residence, and license to farm. That area was unlike anywhere else in the northern mountains, where highland peoples and in some ways especially the Hmong regularly faced extortion and imprisonment.

The Mien population that was integrated into Thai administration, economy, and society since the late 1800s was always diverse and differentiated, and the Hmong who were under the Mien leader may never have received citizenship. The members of one Hmong community in that area joined with forces of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) in the late 1960s but later surrendered. As part of their surrender in the early 1970s they discussed how they came to join the CPT. In one testimony, a Hmong man says that they felt betrayed by the Mien leader, the kamnan, who annually collected taxes from the Hmong on the promise that this would get them citizenship. The Mien leader simply took their money every year, and never brought them any benefits in return (Somchai 1974, 250–274).

Perhaps because of the conditions of the interview—the surrender of former guerillas to government forces—the Hmong villagers do not air the possibility that decades of official (military and police) discrimination, extortion, or abuse had motivated them to join the insurgents. The Mien kamnan in question was the third-generation leader, Fu Tsan, who according to his daughter-in-law had a weakness for opium and who did no work at home or in the fields. Fu-Tsan’s son who succeeded him as kamnan, Tang Tsoi Fong (his Thai name was Phaisal Srisombat, and he passed away in 2011), was a farmer and a genial leader. He was instrumental in bringing some equality and recognition to the Hmong people in his sub-district during the 1980s and early 1990s, before he reached the age of mandated retirement. In my experience, Tsoi Fong never had any chiefly airs about him; he did not impose himself on people in the nak-laeng fashion of his grandfather and great-grandfather. The times were different, and each person is individual.

In a recent historical study that responds to the claim regarding highland “Zomian” statelessness (Scott 2009), Kataoka (2013) suggests that the Lahu in Yunnan and Southeast Asia had their own notions of kingship and states, and that it had only been as of the eighteenth century encroachment of Han Chinese on Lahu domains that they became “stateless.” This claim is very much at odds with the ethnographic consensus that so-called tribal peoples are kinship-based and stateless societies. Kataoka’s case is compelling, but in many ways different from what I call attention to in this article regarding the Mien and various other groups having most likely for centuries been embedded in multiethnic political networks that connected hill and valley populations.

The case for Lahu statelessness as a recent matter of active dispossession is useful for critiquing the ethnographic consensus. In many ways the idea that some peoples are intrinsically stateless has been the rhetoric of dispossession, in the Americas, Africa, and across Asia. Ethnologist Robert Lowie (1920; 1927) argued strongly against the notion that state-ness was a feature exclusive to certain societies. He showed through comparisons that even the most apparently egalitarian peoples had state-like features and could produce mechanisms of coercive power. Lowie suggested further that even in simple societies one can find elements that are associated with sovereignty. He expressly rejected the validity of an evolutionary trajectory for human societies, and the distinction among societies on the binary of kinship versus territoriality (1927, 112–113).

This distinction was common among anthropologists as a way to distinguish state societies from tribal peoples as supposedly non-state societies (thus the distinction between kinship and territoriality). A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1940) offers an angle somewhat similar to Lowie’s in the preface to the African Political Systems, a collection of essays by his peers and juniors. Radcliffe-Brown’s preface blatantly disagrees with the premise of the book, which was also the consensus in British social anthropology; the distinction between state societies (as organized territorially) and stateless societies (as organized through kinship) that later re-surfaced in Edmund Leach’s (1954) study of highland Burma:

Every human society has some sort of territorial structure [that] provides the framework, not only for political organization whatever it may be, but for other forms of social organization also, such as the economic, for example. The system of local aggregation and segregation, as such, has nothing specifically political about it; it is the basis of all social life. To try to distinguish, as Maine and Morgan did, between societies based in kinship (or, more strictly, on lineage) and societies based on occupation of a common territory or locality, and to regard the former as more “primitive” than the latter, leads only to confusion. (Radcliffe-Brown 1940, xiv)

States may look somehow singular from examinations of the ethnic frontier, if ethnicity implies a political unit. But with Lowie (1920; 1927) things may look different—the same society may harbor rival agendas or perspectives rooted in the different priorities of kinship, territoriality, and sodalities. Instead of any hard and fast ethnic and/or upland-lowland divides, Southeast Asia as a region may avail a very different story of complexity and the negotiation of diversity. The case of the Mien in Nan (later Chiangrai, Phayao, Lampang, Kamphaeng Phet, and elsewhere) suggests that they are somewhat exceptional among highland peoples in northern Thailand in that they were not made stateless in the early twentieth century. Bernatzik ([1947] 1970) describes how most of the highlanders were defined as illegal settlers and illegal farmers. The consequence was a general highlander avoidance of Thai authorities and many other lowlanders, as they were perpetually at risk of arrest and fines. The tendency to avoid contact with lowland peoples is apparent in what Bernatzik reported about a stay in a Lahu village in 1937, when he had sat down with his notebook and was about to get answers to all his questions about them as a people:

Suddenly a Lahu man from a neighboring village appeared and whispered a few words. Without a word, all my informants and the spectators who had gathered seized their belongings and, to my astonishment, disappeared with kith and kin into the forest. I did not understand what was going on until, almost three hours later, several Thai gendarmes appeared, who, after a short rest, again left the village. They had scarcely disappeared [when] my Lahu with friendly smiles appeared again. (Bernatzik 1970, 702)

Such avoidance patterns correspond to the Zomian image of highland areas as those actively avoiding contact with lowland states (Scott 2009). It seems clear that this contrasts sharply with the manifest interest in interethnic hill-valley networks that shine through the Mien case of Phaya Khiri and the king of Nan. In that case there was little sign of conflict of interest between lowland kings and highland leaders, while there is much about rivalries among contenders for leadership within highland domains.

While the vagaries of life mean that the three co-authors are not in direct consultation about the contents of this article, it does seem appropriate to close on a somewhat enigmatic statement from Le Jiem Tsan that makes up the final entry in Richard Cushman’s field diary, dated in March of 1972:

The other day Jiem Tsan told me [RDC] that before WWII the Yao fled to the forest whenever Thai came to their village. We were really stupid then, he said—now we are beginning to wise up and learn a little about the world.

This description certainly seems to contradict the ease of interaction between Mien leaders and the court in Nan, but it comes very close to describing how stateless highlanders lived in perpetual fear of arrests based on their (recent) dispossession. Among Thailand’s Mien one can find evidence of successful integration and national recognition, as much as of dispossession and marginalization. The story of the life of Tang Tsan Khwoen Waa and his rivals is a clear indication of the kinds of histories that were never included in any histories that emphasized ethnic exclusiveness, either highland or lowland—stories that express regional traditions of multiethnic negotiation that maintained a level of diversity and contestation that had no singular center.


The life story of the Mien leader Tang Tsan Khwoen Waa is telling of a historical setting that has been somewhat unthinkable in ethnography, of diverse and multi-ethnic networks as the basic units of politics and society. I situate the issues in relation to alternative models of exclusive and inclusive identities, in part to contextualize the invisibility of highland peoples in the historical record of Southeast Asia. Rather than aiming to offer an interpretation or explanation of every part of the life story of Tang Tsan Khwoen, I (HJ) wish to leave some things for the reader to discover, ponder, and perhaps enjoy. Instead of being exhaustive about the story I have tried to call some attention to regional and historical contexts that have made or unmade the patterns of social resilience and creativity that one finds in settings of inclusive diversity, within and beyond Thai society and the Thai national borders.

Some episodes of the life story evoke hilarity, such as the accidental explosion of gunpowder and the rice-container that burst. Hilarity may also pertain to the group of Mien men who knew not even the basics of curing spells and knew no details regarding their own ancestor spirits. Many elements of the story concern human decency, including when the traveling Mien men tended to the injured monks until they were healed. Various components bring up human trickery (“mustard-green horns,” Tsoi Tso disguising himself as a woman to escape assassins) and sometimes cruelty, and the very last bit is on the use of powerful magic spells that can destroy a person and ruin a family’s fortune. I don’t try to extract some timeless Mien culture from the story, but insist instead that a number of Mien perspectives and experiences come together in the complex and skilled performance of Le Jiem Tsan’s storytelling that Richard Cushman recorded and translated.

By 1910, the Bangkok government had largely replaced all valley kings with provincial governors whose primary allegiance was to Bangkok and they were not particularly interested in striking up relations of possible mutual benefit with local upland or lowland peoples. By 1915 the governor of Chiangrai officially declared a ban on opium cultivation and slash-and-burn farming, and for the next 20 years the highland peoples were being fined and arrested on both real and bogus charges by agents of the Thai police and military. The dynamic created much distrust across the upland-lowland divide, and appears to have given this divide a stronger force than was otherwise the case. This production of mistrust between hills and valleys went on for the next 60 years in all the provinces across northern Thailand before things turned even worse during a civil war (Jonsson 2005).

In reaction to the general expectation that the hill tribes were traditional and isolated until the Thai state started to incorporate them by the 1960s, I suggest that the isolation of highlanders was a novel element that can be dated to 100 years ago. All of the scholars of highland society have presumably perused the books of Bernatzik, but none so far has been looking to explain highland people’s isolation as recent and anomalous. The awareness of highland diversity helps clarify the situation: A small group of perhaps initially only 500 Mien people had official recognition from the king of Nan by the 1870s and their descendants have had official recognition since, including citizenship (ibid., 73–147).

This group is an exception. All other ethnic minority highlanders and including many Mien peoples were made stateless and deprived of the ability to negotiate for any improvement of their lot. Many people in this particular state-included Mien group were legal growers of poppy from perhaps 1900 and until 1958. Everyone else in the highlands was continually at risk of arrest, eviction, and extortion. The leader of the legal Mien group had received a semi-royal title, phaya, from the king of Nan in perhaps 1880, and the group never lost these administrative connections because they stubbornly maintained them through friendly visits and annual tax-payments.

Outside the small area of legal poppy cultivation by certain Mien peoples under the king of Nan, the pervasive opium production in the northern Thai hills was the result of highlanders’ societal isolation. They were made to grow the crop by agents of the illegal trade (this includes the Thai police force during the mid-twentieth century) who profited greatly, and the farmers had practically no other options because of their “accidental” isolation from Thai society. The (mostly “Chinese”) traders would visit villages and sell consumer goods, often on credit. This process perpetuated the isolation of hill peoples from Thai society and their dependence on the clandestine opium traders. The majority of highlanders had no inroads in the Thai towns and most did not learn to speak Thai during this time of isolation.

Most of the ethnographic work on the highland peoples of northern Thailand was done through the Tribal Research Center in Chiangmai. This work was directed at discovering and describing “the six main tribes”; Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lahu, Lisu, and Mien as non-Thai peoples and as ethnic types. By design or not, the research accentuated ethnic distinctions and uniqueness, and generally focused on settlements that seemed untainted by too much contact with lowland society. Thus this research generally found nothing unusual about the isolation of highland peoples from lowland national society. The resulting ethnographic image suggests that highlanders can be described in terms of their disconnection from regional society and hill-valley networks. Against that ethnographic grain, the story of the lives of Tsan Khwoen Waa and his rivals implies that Mien and other highland peoples have always situated themselves in networks with valley populations, and that they have only become stateless through deliberate policies of dispossession.

Accepted: May 24, 2016


I am indebted to Mien villagers in Pangkha, Pang Ma-O, and Huai Kok in Phayao Province, Phale and Huai Chomphu in Chiangrai, Khun Haeng in Lampang, and Jom Khwaen in Kampheng Phet for friendship, collaboration, and various assistance that in some cases goes back to 1990. Tang Tsoi Fong and Pung-Si Fam Kwe deserve special recognition, as do my old friends Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri and Ratason Srisombat. Greg Green, Tre Berney, and others at the Cornell University Library have been very helpful regarding the Cushman archive and the digitization of the sound recordings. A Visiting Fellowship at Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program in 2014–15 provided the freedom to explore new things. An A. T. Steele Travel Research Grant from the Center for Asian Research at Arizona State University enabled by work in Thailand during summer of 2015, and my ability to concentrate on the material in the Cushman archive came down to a sabbatical leave from my teaching duties at ASU. Finally, I am much indebted to SEAS and their anonymous readers for their efforts regarding the text.


Alberts, Eli. 2016. From Yao to Now: Daoism and the Imperialization of the China/Southeast Asia Borderlands. Asian Ethnicity. doi: 10.1080/14631369.2016.1192946 (in press).

―. 2006. A History of Daoism and the Yao Peoples of South China. Youngstown, NY: Cambria Press.

Alting von Geusau, Leo. 1983. Dialectics of Akhazang: The Interiorizations of a Perennial Minority Group. In Highlanders of Thailand, edited by John McKinnon and Wanat Bhruksasri, pp. 241–277. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.

Badenoch, Nathan; and Tomita, Shinsuke. 2013. Mountain People in the Muang. Southeast Asian Studies 2(1): 29–67.

Bernatzik, Hugo Adolf von. [1937] 2005. The Spirits of the Yellow Leaves: The Enigmatic Hunter-Gatherers of Northern Thailand. Bangkok: White Lotus.

―. [1947] 1970. Akha and Miao: Problems of Applied Anthropology in Farther India. Translated by Alois Nagler. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files.

Boeles, J. J. 1963. Second Expedition to the Mlabri (Khon Pa), North of Thailand. Journal of the Siam Society 51(2): 157–160.

Bouté, Vanina. 2015. An Ethnohistory of Highland Societies in Northern Laos. Journal of Lao Studies 5(2): 54–76.

―. 2011. En miror du pouvoir. Les Phounoy de Nord Laos: Ethnogenese et dynamiques d’integration [A mirror of power: The Phounoy of Northern Laos: Ethnogenesis and the dynamics of integration]. Paris: Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient.

―. 2007. The Political Hierarchical Processes among Some Highlanders of Laos. In Social Dynamics in the Highlands of Southeast Asia: Reconsidering Political Systems of Highland Burma, edited by Francois Robinne and Mandy Sadan, pp. 187–208. Leiden: Brill.

Bunchuai Srisawat บุญช่วย ศรีสวัสดิ์. 1954. Thai Sipsong Panna, Vol. 1, ไทยสิบสองปันนา เล่ม๑ [The Thai peoples of Sipsongpanna]. Bangkok: Rapphim.

Chen, Meiwen. 2016. Gendered Ritual and Performative Literacy: Yao Women, Godesses of Fertility, and the Chinese Imperial State. Doctoral dissertation, Leiden University.

―. 2015. Religion as a Civilizing Process? Rethinking Yao Religious Culture and Ritual Manuscripts. Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore 187: 155–209.

Cushman, Richard. 1972. Yao Ritual: An Avenue to Ethnohistory in the Chinese-Southeast Asian Borderlands. Final Report, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University. Richard D. Cushman Papers, #4518. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

―. 1970. Rebel Haunts and Lotus Huts: Problems in the Ethnohistory of the Yao. PhD dissertation, Cornell University.

Cushman, Richard D.; and Wyatt, David K. 2000. The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya. Bangkok: The Siam Society.

Enfield, N. J. 2011. Linguistic Diversity in Mainland Southeast Asia. In Dynamics of Human Diversity: The Case of Mainland Southeast Asia, edited by N. J. Enfield, pp. 63–79. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

―. 2005. Areal Linguistics and Mainland Southeast Asia. Annual Reviews in Anthropology 34(1): 184–206.

Evrard, Olivier. 2007. Interethnic Systems and Localized Identities: The Khmu Subgroups (tmooy) in North-West Laos. In Social Dynamics in the Highlands of Southeast Asia: Reconsidering Political Systems of Highland Burma, edited by Francois Robinne and Mandy Sadan, pp. 127–159. Leiden: Brill.

―. 2006. Chroniques des cendres: Anthropologies des societes Khmu et dynamiques interethniques du Nord-Laos [A Chronicle of the ashes: Anthropology of Khmu society and interethnic dynamics in Northern Laos]. Paris: Institute for Development Research.

Gearing, Fred. 1962. Priests and Warriors: Structural Poses for Cherokee Politics in the Eighteenth Century. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association.

Geddes, William R. 1983. Research and the Tribal Research Centre. In Highlanders of Thailand, edited by John McKinnon and Wanat Bhruksasri, pp. 3–12. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.

―. 1967. The Tribal Research Centre, Thailand: An Account of Plans and Activities. In Southeast Asian Tribes, Minorities, and Nations, Vol. 2, edited by Peter Kunstadter, pp. 553–581. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hanks, Jane R.; and Hanks, Lucien M. 2001. Tribes of the North Thailand Frontier. New Haven, CT: Yale Southeast Asia Studies.

Hayami, Yoko. 2011. Pagodas and Prophets: Contesting Sacred Space and Power among Buddhist Karen in Karen State. Journal of Asian Studies 70(4): 1083–1105.

―. 2004. Between Hills and Plains: Power and Practice in Socio-Religious Dynamics among Karen. Kyoto: Kyoto University Press; Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.

Hinton, Peter. 2002. The ‘Thailand Controversy’ Revisited. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 13(2): 155–177.

Ikeda, Kazuto. 2012. Two Versions of Buddhist Karen History of the Late British Colonial Period in Burma: Kayin Chronicle (1929) and Kuyin Great Chronicle (1931). Southeast Asian Studies 1(3): 431–460.

Izikowitz, Karl Gustav. 1951. Lamet: Hill Peasants of French Indochina. Gothenburg: The Ethnographic Museum.

Jonsson, Hjorleifur. 2014a. Slow Anthropology: Negotiating Difference with the Iu Mien. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications.

―. 2014b. Phantom Scandal: On the National Uses of the “Thailand Controversy.” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 29(2): 263–299.

―. 2009. War’s Ontogeny: Militias and Ethnic Boundaries in Laos and Exile. Southeast Asian Studies 47(2): 125–149.

―. 2005. Mien Relations: Mountain People and State Control in Thailand. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

―. 2001. Does the House Hold? History and the Shape of Mien (Yao) Society. Ethnohistory 48(4): 613–654.

―. 1999. Moving House: Migration and the Place of the Household on the Thai Periphery. Journal of the Siam Society 87: 99–118.

Kammerer, Cornelia A. 2003. “Thigh-Eating Chiefs” in an Egalitarian Society: The Case of Akha Highlanders of North Thailand. In Founders’ Cults in Southeast Asia: Ancestors, Polity, and Identity, edited by Nicola Tannenbaum and C. A. Kammerer, pp. 69–86. New Haven, CT: Yale Southeast Asia Studies.

Kataoka, Tatsuki. 2013. Becoming Stateless: Historical Experience and Its Reflection on the Concept of State among the Lahu in Yunnan and Mainland Southeast Asian Massif. Southeast Asian Studies 2(1): 69–94.

Kojima, Takahiro; and Badenoch, Nathan. 2013. From Tea to Temples and Texts: Transformations of the Interfaces of Upland-Lowland Interaction on the China-Myanmar Border. Southeast Asian Studies 2(1): 95–131.

Kraisri Nimmanhaeminda. 1965. An Inscribed Silver-Plate Grant to the Lawa of Boh Luang. In Felicitation Volumes of Southeast Asian Studies Presented to His Highness Prince Dhaninivat Kromamun Bidyalabh Bridhyakorn on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, Vol. 2, pp. 233–240. Bangkok: The Siam Society.

Leach, Edmund R. 1954. Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Lee, Mai Na M. 2015. Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850–1960. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Le Jiem Tsan; and Cushman, Richard D. 1972. Biography of the Phia Long Taang Tsan Khwoen Waa. R. D. Cushman translation of Item 138, Tape 71, from June 1, 1972. Richard D. Cushman Papers, #4518. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

Lowie, Robert H. 1927. The Origin of the State. New York: Russell and Russell.

―. 1920. Primitive Society. New York: Boni and Liveright.

McKinnon, John; and Vienne, Bernard. 1989. Hill Tribes Today: Problems in Change. Bangkok: White Lotus.

McKinnon, John; and Wanat Bhruksasri, eds. 1983. Highlanders of Thailand. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.

Miles, Douglas. 1990. Capitalism and the Structure of Yao Descent Units. In Ethnic Groups across National Boundaries in Mainland Southeast Asia, edited by Gehan Wijeyewardene, pp. 134–148. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

―. 1967. Research in the Yao Village of Phulangka, Amphur Pong, Changwad Chiengrai. Field Report No. 1. Chiangmai: Tribal Research Center (mimeographed).

Moerman, Michael. 1988. Talking Culture: Ethnography amd Conversation Analysis. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

―. 1967. A Minority and its Government. In Southeast Asian Tribes, Minorities, and Nations, Vol. 1, edited by Peter Kunstadter, pp. 401–424. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Price, David. 2011. Counterinsurgency, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Political Uses of Militarized Anthropology. In Dangerous Liaisons: Anthropology and the National Security State, edited by Laura McNamara and Robert Rubinstein, pp. 51–76. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.

Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1940. Introduction. In African Political Systems, edited by Meyer Fortes and E. E. Evans Prichard, pp. xi–xxiii. London: Oxford University Press.

Rangsiyanan, Nai Chan; and Naowakarn, Luang Bamrung. 1925. The Yao. Journal of the Siam Society 19(2): 83–128.

Renard, Ronald D. 2002. On the Possibility of Early Karen Settlement in the Chiangmai Valley. In Inter-Ethnic Relations in the Making of Southeast Asia and Southwest China, edited by Yukio Hayashi and Aroonrut Wichienkeeo, pp. 59–84. Bangkok: Amarin.

―. 1987. The Delieation of the Kayah State Frontiers with Thailand, 1809–1894. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 18(1): 81–92.

―. 1986. The Integration of Karens in Northern Thai Political Life During the Nineteenth Century. In Anuson Walter Vella, edited by Ronald D. Renard, pp. 229–248. Honolulu: Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

―. 1980. Kariang: History of Karen-T’ai Relations from the Beginnings to 1923. PhD dissertation, University of Hawaii.

Scott, James C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Siam Society. 1963. The Phi Tong Leuang, film. Bangkok: The Siam Society.

Somchai Rakwijit. 1974. The Jungle Leads to the Village. Translated by Chumsri Race. Bangkok: The Agency for International Development and the United States Operations Mission to Thailand (mimeographed).

Sprenger, Guido. 2010. From Power to Value: Ranked Titles in an Egalitarian Society, Laos. Journal of Asian Studies 69(2): 403–425.

―. 2006. Die männer, die den Geldbaum fällten: Konzepte von austausch und gesellschaft bei den Rmeet von Takheung, Laos [The men who cut down the money tree: Concepts of exchange and society among the Rmeet of Takheung, Laos]. Berlin: LitVerlag.

Stocking, George W. 1992. The Ethnographer’s Magic and Other Essays in the History of Anthropology. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Thongchai Winichakul. 1994. Siam Mapped. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Vella, Walter F. 1978. Chaiyo! King Vajiravudh and the Development of Thai Nationalism. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.

Wakin, Eric. 1992. Anthropology Goes to War: Professional Ethics and Counterinsurgency in Thailand. Madison: University of Wisconsin, Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Walker, Anthony, ed. 1975. Farmers in the Hills: Ethnographic Notes on the Upland Peoples of North Thailand. Singapore: Suvarnabhumi Books.

Wiens, Herold J. 1954. Han Chinese Expansion in South China. Hamden, CT: Shoe String Press.

Wyatt, David K. 2000. Introduction. In The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya, translated by Richard D. Cushman and edited by David K. Wyatt, pp. xviii–xx. Bangkok: The Siam Society.

―. 1994. The Nan Chronicle. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications.

Appendix: On Richard D. Cushman’s Research

Richard D. Cushman had written a two-volume ethnohistorical study of Yao in southern China, based on archival materials accessible in the USA (Cushman 1970). His follow-up research in Thailand was focused on the ritual language and ritual traditions. Cushman wanted in his work to emphasize a “confrontation” of many cultural elements, and thereby to offer an alternative to the commonly expected story of the colonization of weaker or less advanced people by a stronger civilization (see for instance Wiens 1954). Inter-cultural borrowing, he proposed, may have played a much more creative role in the fashioning of new societies than commonly expected in scholarship and elsewhere. To show this, there needed to be research on Yao (Mien and some others) religious practices. Cushman conducted research with Mien in Thailand in 1970–71 under a Cornell China Program post-doctoral research grant. A Ford Foundation Southeast Asia Research Fellowship enabled continued data collection during 1971–72, and that is the archive of tape recordings, texts, and photographs that now is housed in the Cornell University Archives.

Cushman (1972) explained in a final report to the Anthropology Department at Cornell University: “My basic strategy of research consisted in working from text to performance. I discovered quite early in my research that even the simplest ceremonies were too complex in actual performance to allow me to take down adequate descriptive information—and this even if I had a knowledgeable priest free to explain what was happening! Moreover, because priests frequently had to move around during ceremonies, and because the background noise was usually excessive, tape recordings of what was being said proved to be both incomplete and often unintelligible. Furthermore, in several cases, because of the special sacredness of actual performance, I was requested not to record or do any photographing. The only reasonable solution was to have the texts for the various rites written out in Chinese characters. The texts could then be recorded and explicated, and detailed instructions for all activities linked in at the appropriate places. A crosscheck on the reliability of the results was maintained by my attendance at as many real performances as possible.”

Mien ritual traditions are voluminous and complex. “When I left the field in June [1972] my list of ceremonies totaled 280. These may, on the basis of form, be divided into three types: ‘ordinary’ rites each under five hours in performance (total 210 ceremonies); rites witnessed by the Jade Emperor (heu lung) which take between 5 and 10 hours (50 ceremonies), and ‘feast’ rites which run continuously for three or four days and nights (20 ceremonies). My chief informant managed to write out the texts for fifty of the ceremonies, a total of 2,300 pages. Of these fifty, I ‘finished’ thirty-five: i.e. we recorded the texts verbatim on tape, and then for each recorded detailed explication covering meaning and how-when-where-why-by-whom-for-whom performed. Although we could have finished the other fifteen ceremonies, I chose instead to spend the time taping a general overview of all the other ceremonies in order to have available a greater range of material while pursuing the comparative side of this research.”

In addition to the number of ceremonies and the length of their performance, Mien religious life is further complicated by the use of four or five distinctive linguistic idioms. Certain parts of most ceremonies are spoken in Everyday Mien language but they have an enormous ritual vocabulary which I refer to as “liturgical Mien” (sip mien nye waa). The conventions of story-telling are distinct enough from Everyday Mien to refer to this variant as “Narrative Mien” (ko waa). Yunnanese Mandarin (khe waa) is used for reciting many spells, for reading the official petitions addressed to the high gods, for consulting horoscope books, and for the complete text of one ceremony. Many myths and stories are written in a formal song-style. The Song Language (ndzuung waa) is related to Cantonese. Finally, the language used in most rituals is a second form on Cantonese; Liturgical Cantonese (zie waa).

Linguist Herbert Purnell was Cushman’s graduate-school mate and in 2014 he gave me (HJ) a box with over 20 reel-to-reel tapes of Cushman’s recordings that I then passed on to Cornell University. Then I learned that historian David K. Wyatt had deposited 18 boxes of Richard Cushman’s research materials to the Cornell Library and that there were over 70 tapes in the Cushman Papers that are in the Rare Manuscripts Collection. The Library channeled some funding to cover the cost of digitizing the recordings (myth, history, song, and primarily ritual matters) that ideally will have a guide to the contents in English, Thai, Romanized Mien, and in Chinese (I am still working on the details and the collaborators). The history involing Tang Tsan Khwoen Waa is on one of the tapes, and Cushman had written up an English draft translation of it but not pursued the matter further.

When Cushman got an academic job at Rice University (1974–81) he appears to have already abandoned the Mien research project (Wyatt 2000). So far I have not found any explanation for this shift. But it deserves mention that as of 1971, the world of US American anthropology was convinced that many or most of the anthropologists working among Thailand’s hill tribes (and especially through the Tribal Research Center) had been complicit with counterinsurgency efforts and had been entangled with the agents of the US State Department in Thailand and that information garnered from the anthropologists had been essential to the Thai military’s bombing of highland villages. While the claims or insinuations were based on scanty information and primarily on misinformation and panic, they appeared convincing to many in the USA who wanted to take a stand against the US war effort in Vietnam and Cambodia and needed somewhere to point an accusatory finger (Hinton 2002; Jonsson 2014b; for the more conventional view, see Wakin 1992; Price 2011).

The consensus in American anthropology at the time did make it difficult for Thai highland researchers to get published and they met persistent suspicion at conferences and the like. This is the most likely explanation for Cushman having abandoned the Mien project. Earlier, Cushman (1970) had written a PhD dissertation based on library research on the Yao in southern China, a work that Mien and Yao scholars consider top-notch and still of major importance. Subsequent to this, Cushman channeled his energies into a translation of the Ayutthya chronicles, work that David K. Wyatt helped finish (Cushman and Wyatt 2000) as Richard Cushman had passed away in 1991.

The story of the life of Tsan Khwoen Waa was a story which Richard Cushman’s teacher, informant, and friend Le Jiem Tsan wanted to tell. The village of Khun Haeng had only been in existence for a little over a year when Cushman arrived there for his research project. Sometime in 1969 or 1970 the Suan Ya Luang people moved, fleeing increased fighting between units of the Communist Party of Thailand and the Thai military in the mountains of Chiangrai and Nan Provinces adjacent to Laos. By the late 1970s, many in Jiem Tsan’s group had moved to the village of Jom Khwaen in Amphoe Muang of Kamphaeng Phet Province, where I met them in summer of 2015 and played them some of the digitized recordings. When they settled in Kamphaeng Phet they bought forested land in lowland areas that they gradually cleared. Initially the soil was fertile but over the years it has required more and more fertilizer to sustain yields, and for about the last 20 years the soil has only been good enough for growing tapioca, not rice or corn. But the ability to purchase land in the early 1970s is very telling of their somewhat unique history. Because of Tsan Khwoen’s status as Phaya Khiri, and of his direct descendants’ continued administrative service as kamnan, everyone in that group had citizenship and village registration already for a long time. This is very unlike the marginalization that was common among highlanders in the 1960s to 1980s (see Alting 1983; McKinnon and Vienne 1989), and which I suggest was the result of policy changes initiated in about 1910.

1) “Fate” is only a rough translation of the complex Mien concept maeng which relates to a person’s luck, fortune, or power as dictated by astrological influence. The concept is close, but not identical, to that of rit (ฤทธิ) in Thai.

2) [HJ] In 1992–94 I asked after this regarding Thao La, Phia Khiri’s successor son. One answer I got from older people was that the chief expected this but that people often kept him uninformed of their occasional hunt. The issue was identified by Edmund Leach’s (1954) study of Kachin chiefs and their prerogatives, and continued in Cornelia Kammerer’s (2003) study of “thigh-eating chiefs” among the Akha of Thailand.

3) A “pack saddle” (taw) measure is a wooden frame to each side of which baskets, boxes, or other containers may be strapped. The saddle is then lifted up by two men and placed on the back of an ox or horse and the only trick is to make sure that the two sides balance each other in weight. Taw is used here only as a very loose measure of silver. According to Bunchuai Srisawat (1954, 349), one ox can carry about 52 kilograms with a pack saddle, as compared to about 78 kilograms for a horse, but takes two or three times as long to cover the same distance as a horse does.

4) Dong Ngon (Phu Dong Ngon) is the name of the western end of a mountainous area located within the angle formed by the Nam Beng and the Mekong River and, since it rises over a mile above sea level, contains one of the highest peaks in northwestern Laos.

5) Phu Wae is a mountainous region extending over the eastern through northwestern parts of Thung Chang District in northernmost Nan Province. Phu Wae is located in the eastern part of Pua District, in Bo-Kleua-Neua Township, just south of Thung Chang District.

6) [HJ] Cushman was going to include a study of the Charter for Crossing Mountains (which he photographed, transcribed, and translated) in a prospective book from his research.

7) Ten tiu equals one lung. [HJ] The ratio is comparable to what Douglas Miles reports from the Mien village of Phulangka in 1967, of 10 saleung amounting to one tamleng. About 24 tamleng weigh in at about a kilogram (Miles 1967, 20).

8) At 1972 exchange rates, 120 bars of silver equaled Thai Baht 60,000 and US$ 3,000.

9) [RDC/HJ] These titles pertain to the rulers of individual villages, while Phaya and Saen usually implied a chief who had power over a number of settlements.

10) Note that Wuen Lin is Phia Khwoen’s son who at the time did not yet have a title or an official position. Also note how small a role Phia Khwoen plays in the discussion. RDC had left himself a note to discuss the significance of the burst rice basket, but did not get to that task. It may remain a mystery.


Vol.5, No.3, Muhammad RUM


Contents>> Vol. 5, No. 3 

The Case of Regional Disaster Management Cooperation in ASEAN: A Constructivist Approach to Understanding How International Norms Travel

Muhammad Rum*

* Department of International Relations, Faculty of Social and Political Science, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Jalan Socio-Yustisia No. 1, Bulaksumur, Sleman, Yogyakarta 55281, Indonesia; Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University, 1 Furo-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya, Aichi 464-0814, Japan

e-mail: rummuhammad[at]; muhammad.rum[at]

DOI: 10.20495/seas.5.3_491

This paper demonstrates how constructivism is applicable to the rationale for the growing trend in international relations. The case to be examined is disaster management cooperation in the Southeast Asian region, although there are now 13 regional organizations around the world implementing concerted regional efforts to respond to and reduce the risk of natural disasters. This paper suggests that national interest is not the sole motive for member states to support this agenda; there are also norms that dictate how states recognize the appropriateness of a behavior. Member states believe that establishing regional disaster management is an appropriate behavior. In an attempt to discuss how the norms for disaster management were adopted in the Southeast Asian region, this paper underlines the importance of international dynamics of norms in the formation of the ASEAN regional disaster management architecture. Ideas travel from one mind to another, and this happens also in international politics. Hence, this paper uses the norm life cycle framework to track the journey of international disaster management norms. The idea of disaster management norms emerged and was promoted by norm entrepreneurs on the international stage, and from there international organizations introduced the idea to the Southeast Asian region.

Keywords: international dynamics of norms, norm life cycle, regional disaster management cooperation, ASEAN

I Introduction

I-1 Background

The 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) started cooperating on disaster management under the framework of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER), signed in 2005 and in force since 2009. Cooperation under AADMER is an institutionalized expression of the member states’ joint efforts. Previously, ASEAN worked in an ad hoc manner to deal with major natural disasters, especially the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004 and Myanmar’s 2008 Cyclone Nargis.

ASEAN now has two operating arms for disaster management. To facilitate the institutionalization of regional cooperation, the ASEAN Secretariat established a division responsible for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (DMHA). This division works to help the 10 member states discuss the agreement, facilitate meetings to formulate standard operating procedure, and assist the parties in building a working plan for future development several years ahead. In addition, for executing mandated works such as dispatching emergency response and survey teams, coordinating aid from different member states, and delivering such aid to the field, the 10 member states established the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (the AHA Centre) in November 2011, headquartered in Jakarta. The AHA Centre has been involved in some major humanitarian operations, such as in Thailand’s floods of 2011–12, the Philippines’ Typhoon Bopha in December 2012, response preparation on the eve of Myanmar’s Cyclone Mahasen in May 2013, the Aceh’s Bener Meuria earthquake in July 2013, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013.1) This development is considered relatively progressive for ASEAN, which was originally established in 1967 as a political effort to contain Communism.

I-2 Significance of the Study

The development of ASEAN is not a unique phenomenon in the contemporary world. Within the last decade there have been many other intergovernmental arrangements established by different actors. The international community has agreed to further support the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) of 2005 as the basis for strengthening global, regional, and local empowerment to tackle disasters. Hence, the growing trend of empowering intergovernmental cooperation in disaster management is interesting to examine from the perspective of international relations.

In accordance with the HFA 2005, regional organizations are also strongly urged to establish their own frameworks for disaster management cooperation. According to Elizabeth Ferris and Daniel Petz (2013), there are 13 regional organizations working on their own frameworks for disaster risk reduction and management. International disaster management involves a large number of nations, including ASEAN members.

One motive seems to be positive: in today’s international politics, regionalism plays an important role in effectively bridging the international and national systems (Ferris and Petz 2013). Regionalism has also moved from hard politics to more specific issues. The group of scholars who believe in Functionalism Theory argue that more sectorial cooperation is needed to achieve even deeper regional identities. For example, by cooperating in combating common problems, the member states of a region can learn that there are more advantages to cooperation than conflict. This leads to a decrease in military conflict. A reduction in military conflict means more space for peace, which could lead to regional stability, the fortunate condition that is a requirement to further nurture economic development. While interactions through trade and cultural exchange are intensified, at the end of the day the feeling of belonging (togetherness) with each other becomes stronger.

Nevertheless, conventional or rational motives per se (as suggested by realism and liberalism) may not explain the specific reasoning of different regions with regard to their socio-political development. The trend of international disaster management may be explained globally by using both realist and liberal approaches, but it would be a generalization of problems as both schools neglect the importance of the idea and normative reasoning beyond cooperation in disaster management. From the perspective of international relations, it is necessary to answer certain questions about states’ behavior: Why are different nations doing the same thing? Furthermore, what makes them do it in a similar span of time? Both realists and liberals might be unable to answer the questions because they require material proof. For example, does the number of disasters necessarily have to increase within the last two decades in every region in the world to meet the requirement of rational justification?

Meanwhile, the more developed form of neorealism as suggested by its main advocate, Kenneth Waltz, is not sufficient to predict the trend of regionalism in Southeast Asia. Nuanced by the Cold War international structure of bipolarism, the neorealist perspective believes that the international structure is anarchic and that therefore states tend to behave according to their own interest and rely on the unequal capacity of power (Waltz 1988). The neoliberal approach might touch the whole picture of international politics, relying on millions of lobbies and interests. The corresponding interests are interwoven into a complex interdependent structure of international politics (Keohane and Nye 1989). However, neoliberalism cannot detach the focus of analysis from state interest and does not deny the anarchic nature of international politics. Neoliberals believe in international institutionalism, but like neorealists they believe in a positivistic way of analyzing the state system.

Meanwhile, regionalism in Europe shows that it is more than a state’s interests that determine the behavior of states in international politics. There are many other variables, such as identity, discourse, and norms, that can be manifested in deeper regional integration. This success is echoed through other regional endeavors to deepen ties beyond state boundaries through normative means, including in Southeast Asia. Both neorealism and neoliberalism hence fail to explain the paramount importance of those variables. On the other hand, constructivism emanated as an alternative to further understand the ignored variables, such as the importance of norms in international politics.

Hence, this paper aims to understand the institutionalization of regional and international cooperation in disaster management by using a constructivist approach for a specific region. The main reason for using this alternative approach is that the other conventional approaches fail to explain why such a trend occurs globally during the same period of time. This paper can contribute to understanding the matter from a Southeast Asian perspective. Instead of picking the global stage, this paper attempts to understand regional disaster management cooperation by examining the case of ASEAN to find how the norms of regional disaster management have been introduced, socialized, demonstrated, and internalized as one of the normative drives for ASEAN member states.

I-3 Literature Review and Methodology

This sub-section explains the constructivist approach used in this paper as the most suitable approach to understand the development of regionalism in Southeast Asia as part of the debate in international relations between constructivism versus the positivistic approaches of realism, liberalism, and their variants neorealism and neoliberalism.

According to Martha Finnemore and Katheryn Sikkink, constructivism posits that there are factors other than state interests that influence a state’s behavior (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998). For example, a democratic state tries to shape its foreign policy according to democratic principles. Foreign policy could be driven by several factors, such as identity, norms, or discourse. How do global norms influence ASEAN? The general definition of a norm is a standard appropriate behavior with a given identity. Norms promote justification over action and embody a quality of moral “oughtness” (ibid., 892).

Two norm life cycle works are examined in this sub-section to illustrate how the theoretical framework is used to explain the spread of new international norms. The first work, by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and David Hulme (2011), focuses on the international level, while Birgit Locher (2003) focuses on a regional-level case study in the European Union.

Fukuda-Parr and Hulme assert that Finnemore and Sikkink’s norm life cycle is a valuable tool to understand the evolution of complex international norms (Fukuda-Parr and Hulme 2011, 29). They successfully map the journey of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from formulation to introduction by the UN. They show the dynamics within the formulation. There was a norm marketing strategy and even ideological battle within the formulation of the MDGs, but there is also a limitation to using this method according to Fukuda-Parr and Hulme. It cannot be used to understand why the norm life cycle is relatively fast during the process of emergence but rather slow in implementation.

Locher’s work indicates that the norm life cycle is sufficient to understand the extension of international norms into regionalism. The case against trafficking of women in the EU is an attempt to demonstrate Finnemore and Sikkink’s framework for solving the puzzle of EU policy making. The extension of international norms to the regional level in the case of the EU is possible only if there are “political opportunity structures” resulting from the deepening of regional integration (Locher 2003). In the case of ASEAN, regional disaster management cooperation could also be linked with the success story of the deepening of ASEAN by the establishment of the ASEAN Charter.

The norm life cycle can be described as a tool to understand a pattern of influence. It is divided into three stages. Between the first and second stages there is a critical point that is very important in determining when state actors start to adopt the norms (see Table 1).

Table 1 Stages of Norm Life Cycle


I-3-1 Norm Emergence

The first stage is characterized by the motive of persuasion. Norm entrepreneurs work to persuade or influence a critical mass of national leaders to adopt a new norm (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998, 895). One well-known example of a norm entrepreneur is Henry Dunant of the Red Cross. Organizational platforms could also have a certain characteristic that makes them suitable to play the same role. According to Finnemore and Sikkink, the UN has certain bodies that influence state leaders to promote specific ideas (ibid., 899).

The tipping point is where a norm reaches sufficient critical mass. This means the norm entrepreneurs have successfully persuaded state leaders to adopt the new norm. According to Finnemore and Sikkink, it should reach one-third of the total number of states (ibid., 901). The other way to measure this critical mass is by examining which important states adopt the new norm. The more powerful and influential an adopting country is, the more likely it is to influence critical mass compared to a small country (ibid.).

I-3-2 Norm Cascade

The second stage is characterized as dynamic imitation. This means that state leaders are already convinced and are now trying to influence other states to also follow the norm (ibid., 895). Cascading an idea means that the population is about ready to accept the new idea due to pressure for conformity, to gain international legitimacy, or because the political leaders are pursuing self-esteem and are therefore promoting this new idea to the people and their counterparts.

I-3-3 Internalization

If an idea is already well recognized, the newly formulated norm has started to be internalized. People and actors with different interests are less likely to challenge the importance of the idea. State leaders are willing to obey agreements regarding this norm. Regional or international actors are therefore bound by the necessity to comply. The other word to describe this behavior is “habit.”

II Analysis

For the analysis, this paper uses data collected from interviews conducted with ASEAN bureaucrats: at the ASEAN Secretariat with Neni Marlina of the DMHA Division and Rio Augusta and Asri Wijayanti of the AHA Centre in Jakarta in July 2013; and the deputy secretary general of ASEAN, Dr. A. K. P. Mochtan, in October 2014. This paper has been greatly influenced by the works of Finnemore and Sikkink on the international dynamics of norms, the experiences of ASEAN bureaucrats through William Sabandar’s “Cyclone Nargis and ASEAN: A Window for More Meaningful Development Cooperation in Myanmar” (2010), and Ferris and Petz’s In the Neighborhood: The Growing Role of Regional Organizations in Disaster Risk Management (2013).

II-1 Norm Emergence in International/Regional Disaster Management

The very foundation of norm development is the necessity to govern. Modern history is filled with progress as well as calamities. The necessity to govern responses during calamities is the origin of disaster management. As suggested by Damon P. Coppola, as the world witnessed the horrors of World War II states were beginning to organize civilian protection; the concern was not natural disasters at that time. This wartime civil defense is the origin of disaster management (Coppola 2011). As for how the idea of disaster management was developed further at the international level, the role of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNSIDR) in the 1980s was critical to creating the tipping point. Meanwhile, to introduce the advanced idea of regional disaster management into Southeast Asia in the 1990s, donors and dialogue partners engaged with ASEAN.

II-1-1 The Norm Entrepreneurs: States Involved in Wars

Coppola mentions no specific individual who had the most important role in building the new idea of international and regional disaster management. Instead, he suggests that states initially introduced the idea of civil defense. During this early period, the term “disaster management” was not well known. Coppola observes that the idea of global standards and organized efforts to manage disaster emerged only in the middle of the twentieth century (ibid., 4). It was correlated with the institutionalized mechanism of civil defense in the post-World War II period.

Prior to World War II the idea of disaster management was largely unknown. After the war, governments with experience in facing war played an important role in the formulation of civil defense. There were no comprehensive national disaster management authorities as we know them today, but the system was reinforced with legal frameworks to provide authority and budgeting during the 1950s and 1960s. According to Enrico Quarantelli (1995), these civil defense units later evolved and formed more comprehensive disaster management organizations (Coppola 2011, 5). This process of evolution can be seen in the following examples. In Britain, the Civil Defence Act of 1948 evolved into Great Britain’s multilayered disaster management system, which included the involvement of local authorities, the Strategic Coordination Centre, the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, and the Cabinet Office Briefing Room. In Canada, the Canadian Civil Defence Organization, which was established in 1948, is the foundation of Canada’s Office of Critical Infrastructure Preparedness and Emergency Preparedness. In the United States, the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 led to the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In France, the Ordinance of 1950 and the Decree Relating to Civil Defense of 1965 formed the basis for the Direction de la Protection et de la Sécurité de la Défense, which is administered by the Ministry of Interior. Algeria’s Direction Générale de la Protection Civile is rooted in the 1964 Decree on the Administrative Organization of Civil Defense.

Nevertheless, Coppola observes that there was another motive for the creation of disaster management agencies, particularly in countries that established their disaster management in the 1970s. This other motive was responding to the pressure of popular criticism of governments’ poor disaster management, for example in Peru in 1970, Nicaragua in 1972, and Guatemala in 1976 (ibid., 6). The first attempt in Southeast Asia also occurred during this decade. Yasuyuki Sawada and Fauziah Zen argue that disaster management in ASEAN was conceived in 1976 (Sawada and Zen 2014). Meanwhile, Lolita Bildan’s report also points out that among the earliest domestic disaster management bodies established in Southeast Asia are the Philippines’ National Disaster Coordinating Council in 1978 and the Indonesian BAKORNAS PBP in 1979 (Bildan 2003). We may say that these countries were in the second wave of disaster management emergence.

From Coppola’s examination we can conclude that although disaster management agencies are within the authority of the national polity, there were two patterns in the emergence of these agencies. The first pattern dated to the postwar era and was dominated by more developed nations such as the United States, France, and Great Britain, while the second wave was started in the 1970s mostly in developing countries such as Peru, Nicaragua, Indonesia, and the Philippines. This phenomenon illustrates the mirroring of an idea from one country to another, especially through assistance from developed countries to developing countries. This means that as more countries tried to establish disaster management bodies, they learned and adopted the best practices from other nations. From this interrelated learning process, global standards of disaster management were created.

Within ASEAN, the group of experts on disaster management was established in 1971. This group, called the Experts Group on Disaster Management (AEGDM), is viewed as the pioneering body in the region and was behind the acknowledgement of disaster issues in the ASEAN Concord of 1976. This group is no longer active, but it acted as the norm emergence agent within the region. Until the first decade of the twenty-first century, its status did not noticeably improve. With the support of foreign actors such as the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), formerly known as the European Community Humanitarian Aid Office, it successfully sustained the effort to mainstream the idea of institutionalizing regional disaster management (ibid.). During AEGDM’s early period, its role was to establish a non-binding document that would later serve as the basis for regional cooperation.

There have been several attempts to elevate the status of disaster management cooperation in ASEAN. In the AEGDM’s 11th meeting in Chiang Rai, there was a proposal to elevate its status to the ASEAN Committee or the Senior Officials Meetings with the obligation to report to the ASEAN Standing Committee or to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (Sawada and Zen 2014). However, ASEAN cooperation on disaster management did not really gain momentum until the successful operations for the Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004 and Myanmar’s Cyclone Nargis in 2008, when ASEAN and the international community found a way to cooperate.

Since the 1990s, more developed countries have been involved in helping with Southeast Asian efforts to strengthen disaster management norms. Based on previous research, ASEAN donors and dialogue partners such as the European Union, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF), and NGOs such as Oxfam continuously encouraged Southeast Asian countries to introduce best practices for disaster management. As in the case of the MDG norms (Fukuda-Parr and Hulme 2011) and the anti-trafficking of women norms in the EU (Locher 2003), the motivations of actors in the first stage of norm emergence were varied. In the case of disaster management in ASEAN, there were two scopes of cooperation. The first aimed to develop better domestic disaster management institutions, and the second to establish country-to-country cooperation in disaster management. The development of domestic disaster management agencies is important, because without them it is less likely that Southeast Asian countries can engage in any international or regional cooperation. Listed by Bildan (2003), among the donors and dialogue partners who engaged with Southeast Asian countries were USAID, the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), and ECHO.

The main function of USAID is to achieve US foreign policy goals by providing economic, humanitarian, and development assistance for the people of developing countries. In the case of ASEAN disaster management, USAID founded the Asian Urban Disaster Mitigation Program in 1995. The program was responsible for the following: (1) engaging Cambodia by introducing community-based flood mitigation preparedness; (2) engaging Indonesia with an earthquake vulnerability reduction program; (3) engaging Lao PDR by establishing an urban fire and emergency management program; (4) engaging the Philippines by working on flood and typhoon mitigation; (5) cooperating with Thailand in risk assessment and mitigation planning; and (6) working with the Vietnamese by sharing disaster-resistant housing best practices. Through these programs, USAID engaged six Southeast Asian countries and socialized them to the idea of disaster management. Another important scheme carried out by USAID is the Extreme Climate Events Programme, as reported by Bildan (2003, 13). The program began in 1999 and was funded by USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Through this program, the application of climate information toward disaster management in three countries—Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam—is illustrated through training for capacity building and demonstration. Lastly, USAID funded the Program for Enhancement of Emergency Response in 1999. The program focused on building capacity in Indonesia and the Philippines, especially for urban search and rescue, medical response, and hospital preparedness for emergency response (Bildan 2003).

DANIDA started a program for less-developed countries in Southeast Asia in 2001. Through the Disaster Reduction Programme for Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam, DANIDA focused on the development of short- and medium-term frameworks for community public awareness programs in Cambodia and Vietnam and the development of disaster awareness teaching materials for elementary schools in Lao PDR (ibid.).

The European Union works closely with Southeast Asia through ECHO, a global collaboration that the EU initiated in 1996 via the Partnerships for Disaster Reduction–South East Asia, which aims to train disaster management practitioners in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, the Philippines, and Vietnam and facilitate capacity building for community-based disaster management. ECHO also assisted the oldest disaster management expert group in the region, AEGDM. Acknowledging that AEGDM was the norm entrepreneur inside ASEAN, we can conclude that ECHO aimed to support ASEAN in building its own regional disaster management architecture.

Those initial programs played an important role in bringing norms of disaster management into Southeast Asia. Experienced dialogue partners introduced regional disaster management to ASEAN in two waves: the first wave of cooperation was to build state national disaster management offices. The second wave of cooperation was to build state-to-state disaster management cooperation in the region.

II-1-2 Organizational Platforms: UNISDR, International and Regional Organizations

According to Coppola, there are some milestones at the international level in the evolution of disaster management. One of the most important events was the United Nations General Assembly declaration of the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The action was aimed at promoting internationally coordinated efforts to reduce losses caused by natural disasters. The United Nations declared this campaign in 1987 and supported it through UN Resolution 44/236, which promoted better disaster management practices globally and encouraged national governments to improve their performance in disaster management (Coppola 2011, 6–7).

The second milestone was the Yokohama Strategy–Global Recognition of the Need for Disaster Management (ibid., 7–9). The Yokohama Strategy was approved by the UN member states in 1994 at the World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction. This conference was held to evaluate the progress of the IDNDR. There are some important points of the Yokohama Strategy that we can use to understand the formulation of international disaster management, such as in articles 4 and 7.g, where it states that the world is increasingly interdependent and that regional and international cooperation will significantly enhance the ability to respond to disaster (HFA 2005).

These two points of importance are a call to promote further regional and international disaster management, as we recognize that we are living in an interdependent world and better coordination is needed to tackle disasters, which do not respect borders. To further sustain the efforts, IDNDR and the Yokohama Strategy were followed by the setting up of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The main role of UNISDR is to guide the international community in disaster management (ibid., 12).

Entering the twenty-first century, international organizations launched some programs in Southeast Asia in parallel with their efforts at the international level. Among the notable actors named by Bildan (2003) are the Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC), the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center–Regional Consultative Committee on Disaster Management (ADPC-RCC), and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) Typhoon Committee. Established in 1998, ADRC supports Southeast Asian countries mostly through socialization and information sharing on disaster reduction mechanisms. The ADPC-RCC, established in 2000, focuses on capacity building for national disaster management offices (NDMOs), including those in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, since July 2001 the UN ESCAP Typhoon Committee has been assessing the technology required for mitigation and preparedness, serving as an information and education provider, and developing communication networks in Southeast Asia.

Complementing the efforts of international organizations are Southeast Asian regional bodies. One example is the ASEAN Regional Forum Inter-Sessional Meeting on Disaster Relief, which was established in 1993. Although this forum was not very active in the past, at its fourth meeting in May 2000 the body agreed on the idea of socialization and capacity building for better regional disaster management. As noted by Bildan (2003), there was agreement on the following: (1) information sharing of disaster data and early warning; (2) mutual assistance for disaster preparedness and relief; and (3) training in disaster management and promotion of greater awareness in disaster preparedness and relief. The key word for this program is socialization. At the subregional level, associated with Southeast Asian Indochinese countries, there is also the Mekong River Commission, which is working on flood management and mitigation strategy.

It should be noted that not all cases of regional cooperation are success stories—for instance, ASEAN experienced a failed attempt to integrate haze pollution into disaster management. Although ASEAN regional cooperation in tackling transboundary haze pollution started in 1995, it ran into several political obstacles. Malaysia and Singapore protested against Indonesia for the haze pollution produced from forest fires in Borneo, particularly after the 1997 fires there. Until the first decade of the twenty-first century the tension rose, since there was no settlement agreed upon between the three countries.

In the beginning, Malaysia and Singapore benefited from the continuous bilateral pressure on Indonesia. Indonesia initially preferred to discuss the matter with Malaysia and Singapore at a subregional ministerial meeting in Riau instead of bringing the issue to be fully resolved under the ASEAN mechanism (Tan 2005). But due to political considerations, ASEAN established its own legal umbrella for transboundary haze pollution, which is the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution signed in 2002 (ibid.).

The issue of transboundary haze pollution deserves elaboration. It is true that the national interests of member states may clash with regional endeavors to regulate a particular conflict. However, this case shows the weakness of neorealism theory in predicting the trend of ASEAN regionalism. Neorealism believes that the international structure is anarchic (Waltz 1988, 618). Using the logic of neorealism, Singapore and Malaysia would prefer to use the variables of unequal state capacity (by which they would benefit) and defect from the regional architecture. However, as issues and negotiations develop, governments rely on the formation of regional normative tools to ensure the implementation of cooperation.

Formal regional attempts to tackle transboundary haze pollution began with the signing of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002. This agreement requires ASEAN member states to actively monitor and prevent activities that may lead to forest fires. The agreement also endorses regional cooperation in the form of joint monitoring of such activities. Although the agreement was signed by ASEAN member governments in 2002, the ratification process was hindered by domestic politics, especially in Indonesia. Malaysia and Singapore were the first two nations to ratify the agreement, in December 2002 and January 2003 respectively, while the ratification process in the Indonesian parliament was impeded until 2007 (Haze Action Online 2015). This prolonged process of ratification worried Malaysia and Singapore because the haze produced from Indonesian forest fires frequently carried over into their territory.

The inability of the regional organization to mediate the negotiation and give satisfying closure would create distrust toward regionalism. It could have caused Malaysia and Singapore to voluntarily defect or withdraw. However, the conflicting parties were willing to give the regional mechanism a chance. Strategic sequential measures (or rather positive tit for tats) were launched by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. In the absence of the implementation of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, the new Indonesian administration preferred a subregional negotiation. ASEAN then facilitated a subregional ministerial steering committee in 2006 as a forum to assist Indonesia. Malaysia and Singapore responded by joining in together with Brunei Darussalam and Thailand. To respond to the goodwill, the Indonesian government invited Malaysia and Singapore to assist Indonesian provinces that were prone to forest fires. Both countries responded well: Singapore signed a collaboration agreement with Jambi Province, which lasted from 2007 to 2011; and Malaysia signed a collaboration agreement with Riau Province in 2008 (National Environment Agency, Singapore 2016). The sequential give and take of political negotiations during this period was important to build trust within the regional framework despite the absence of an agreement.

The ASEAN subregional arrangement was continuously implemented through frequent subregional ministerial meetings. There were 16 subregional meetings from 2006 to 2014. The Indonesian parliament finally ratified the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution on October 14, 2014 (Aritonang 2014; Haze Action Online 2015). It took 12 years to build trust among these three neighboring countries. At the moment, the process of combating transboundary pollution is managed multilaterally under ASEAN regionalism. This finding opposes the argument that anarchic bilateral pressure works best. Using the constructivism framework allows for predictability in analyzing how the traveling of norms affects regionalism. The framework helps us understand when and how international norms influence regionalism in accordance with universal values. This method can be applied to analyze various cases in different regions. There is potential for supranational governability of transboundary pollution since the 10 member states agreed on the ASEAN haze monitoring system in October 2013. Hence, the predictability of the constructivist approach (i.e., international norm dynamics) is beneficial for analyzing the trend of regionalism.

II-1-3 The Tipping Point

The idea of international disaster management did not reach the tipping point until most of the world’s countries recognized its importance. This paper argues that the most important event that could be defined as a tipping point was the HFA in 2005, which came about as a result of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in Kobe on January 18–22, 2005. The HFA is an international effort to encourage national governments to strengthen the institutional basis for implementation of disaster risk management and to integrate it into sustainable development policy. The HFA has directly influenced ASEAN to pursue its own regional disaster management cooperation. It should be noted that the HFA is referred to as an international strategy for disaster management and the ASEAN legal framework acknowledges the importance of this framework as the basis of Southeast Asian regional cooperation on disaster management.

Coppola highlighted the magnitude of this conference by showing that there were more than 4,000 participants, with 168 governments represented out of about 195 countries in the world in 2005. A total of 78 specialized UN agencies participated, along with 562 journalists from 154 media corporations, and the conference attracted more than 40,000 visitors (Coppola 2011, 13). According to Finnemore and Sikkink, to reach the tipping point, no less than one-third of the world’s state number (33.33 percent) needs to recognize the importance of newly established international norm (Finnemore and Sikkink 1998, 901). Based on the number of countries that participated in the conference, we can conclude that 86.15 percent of states recognized the necessity for international disaster management. This means the tipping point was reached globally. Regionally, the tipping point was reached with the signing of the AADMER on July 26, 2005 in Vientiane, Laos, only six months after the signing of the HFA. The AADMER was signed by all ASEAN member states, which consist of all Southeast Asian countries except for Timor Leste.

II-2 Norm Cascade

In the norm cascade, states try to persuade other states through socialization and demonstration. In this case, ASEAN states were influenced to adopt the norms and to build a feeling of belonging to the international community. In this stage, leaders who have already been convinced about the new disaster management norms try to influence other leaders. Three possible motives are: (1) to provide pressure for conformity by asking the member states to implement the agreement; (2) to gain international legitimacy; and (3) to pursue self-esteem.

This paper has pointed out several important actors that were influential in promoting ASEAN regional disaster management cooperation. Among the strong supporters of this regional mechanism was then-ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan. He served as the secretary general from 2008 to 2012. During the early part of his term, Southeast Asia was hit by a major calamity in Myanmar. Assisted by William Sabandar, the then-special envoy of the ASEAN Secretary General for the post-Nargis recovery in Myanmar, and field officers led by Adelina Kamal, Pitsuwan succeeded not only in uniting ASEAN behind Myanmar to deal with Cyclone Nargis, but also through his dispatched assistance team he proved that the ASEAN-led mechanism worked in the field and technical operations.

As reported by Anik Yuniarti, Pitsuwan proudly claimed that AADMER was the fastest ASEAN agreement to be negotiated and accepted by all of the member states—it took only four months (Yuniarti 2011, 25). Pitsuwan’s optimistic tone is worth examining. The way the ASEAN secretary general proudly claimed the success of disaster management cooperation could be regarded as a way to gain esteem and reputation. We also understand that Pitsuwan proposed the idea of a more progressive ASEAN during his term as Thai foreign affairs minister. During his term, he proposed the ideas of flexible engagement in 1998 and forward engagement in 2003 to challenge the traditional conception of the ASEAN way (Katanyuu 2006). “Flexible engagement” was an idea proposed to make ASEAN more critical of unsavory practices in Myanmar under the military junta. This proposal was rejected by the other member states back in 1998. However, Pitsuwan in his capacity as Thai foreign affairs minister unilaterally launched the policy of forward engagement in 2003. This policy was designed to pressure Myanmar to proceed with the road map to democracy. This implies that Pitsuwan was among the progressive diplomats in the region.

Under his leadership, ASEAN also achieved consensus in signing the ASEAN Charter and establishing the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. From what we have learned about his background, Pitsuwan himself believed in a more progressive ASEAN. His perspective shaped his style of leadership to be more open toward the international community, endorsed open and frank discussion, and aimed to gain ASEAN more legitimacy. As for the involvement of ASEAN in Myanmar in 2008, he argued for responsibility to protect, as he stated in his speech at the Asia-Europe Summit in Beijing on October 24, 2008.

The other motive involves the state as an actor. For example, under its period of chairmanship in 2011, Indonesia built a facility for ASEAN disaster response on its own initiative, located in West Java. This was initiated by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during the session of the ASEAN-Japan Special Meeting in the ASEAN Secretariat on April 9, 2011 (Yuniarti 2011, 29). According to this author’s interview with the AHA Centre representative, the Indonesian government also fully supported the establishment of the AHA Centre, which is located in Jakarta. This regional disaster management operating body was established in November 2011. The Indonesian government provides the facility for the AHA Centre, integrated into the infrastructure of the Badan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi (Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology). The development of the AHA Centre was supervised by the coordinating minister for people’s welfare, Agung Laksono, who routinely monitored the progress of the project.

These Indonesian attempts were informed by the country’s motive of gaining legitimacy and esteem as one of the most influential ASEAN member states. This was in accordance with Indonesia’s efforts to promote deeper ASEAN regionalism. Since its democratic transition in 1998, Indonesia—together with Thailand and the Philippines—has become more vocal in supporting a democratic ASEAN. In the Bali Concord II of 2003, Indonesia for the first time introduced the terminology of democratization in an ASEAN document. It also launched the Bali Democracy Forum to further spread the idea of a more democratic regional sphere.

ASEAN’s success in cascading the norms of regional disaster management cannot be separated from the successful mechanism of linking issues. Borrowing the terminology proposed by Fukuda-Parr and Hulme, as a “supernorm,” disaster management cooperation is closely linked to global normative shifts such as the issues of human rights, political openness, and democratization. Deeper ASEAN regionalism has resulted in newly established bodies dealing with nontraditional issues, as exemplified by the establishment of the Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance Division, the AHA Centre, and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. At the operational level, disaster management and humanitarian assistance cannot be separated from the issue of political openness. If ASEAN cannot make an agreement with all of the member states, any joint operation will not succeed. For example, if diplomatic trust among ASEAN member states is not high, it is less likely that the involvement of foreign military personnel will be welcomed. To help build trust regarding military involvement in regional disaster response, ASEAN has initiated the collaboration of civil-military actors in disaster management and humanitarian assistance operations since 2005. Through annual regional disaster response exercises, ASEAN member states gain a better understanding on how to coordinate joint civil-military operations in a regional operation. This could reduce suspicion among member states.

Involving the military in regional disaster management could also help ASEAN countries redefine the purpose of the armed forces. The challenge to proportionally reposition the function of the military is urgent in several countries, such as Thailand and Indonesia. In Thailand 19 military coups d’état have been launched to date, indicating that the military has constantly attempted to get involved in domestic politics. Reformed Indonesia also has had the same problem of military political involvement in the past. In the Reformation era, the repositioning of the military to make this institution more professional includes introducing international peace building and other nontraditional operations. With this new mechanism created by ASEAN, the governments have found a forum to exercise their interests. It can be said that cooperation on disaster management has led ASEAN to establish deeper mechanisms, such as the use of military assets in “joint operation[s] other than war” (ibid., 16). The use of military assets and personnel to deal with disaster management was discussed by the defense ministers of ASEAN member states in Vietnam on October 7, 2010, followed by another meeting in Jakarta in 2011. Workshops for the representatives of all member states’ military forces on the use of ASEAN military assets and capacities in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief were held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia on October 7–8, 2010 (ibid., 27). These workshops produced the standard operating procedure for ASEAN’s disaster response, in which military personnel from ASEAN member states are allowed to contribute to disaster response—although there are some limitations, such as different administrative mechanisms to accept foreign military assets within other countries’ borders and creating an extra budget to establish this mechanism. The most important thing to be highlighted is the willingness of member states to nurture healthier civil-military relations. The presence of foreign military personnel in cases of disaster relief should not be overreacted to, because their presence is for the sake of humanitarian operations (ibid., 28). Responses from the Indonesian side collected by Yuniarti were also positive, and Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (Indonesian Institute of Science) claimed that the aid from foreign military forces for Aceh had gradually reduced ideological suspicions while Syiah Kuala University also noted that the mechanism to include the military was successful in Aceh (ibid., 29). With the aid from foreign military forces for Aceh gradually reducing suspicions, the international community is no longer divided by ideology (ibid.).

II-3 Internalization

The final stage of new norm installation is the internalization process, when states in Southeast Asia have no further obstacles to implementing cooperation on disaster management. There are legally binding documents, and ASEAN member states willingly comply with the agreement. The AADMER and the ASEAN Standard Operating Procedure for Regional Standby Arrangements and Coordination of Joint Disaster Relief and Emergency Response Operations (SASOP) outline the actors responsible for regional disaster management within, associated with, and collaborating with ASEAN, such as NGOs and donors, since the establishment of AADMER. This means the internalization of regional disaster management in ASEAN can be examined in its implementation.

ASEAN regional disaster management cooperation is now supported politically. According to ASEAN Deputy Secretary General A. K. P. Mochtan, disaster management cooperation in ASEAN is considered an important tool to further nurture solidarity. According to this high-ranking ASEAN bureaucrat, cooperation is growing fast due to three important factors. First, cooperation is a less sensitive matter than issues such as democratization, corruption, and human rights. Second, the ASEAN members view disaster management as the necessity to act quickly at critical moments. Third, ASEAN needs a tangible result to showcase the progress of the Southeast Asian regional framework. Hence, the deployment of ASEAN missions into disaster-affected areas is important.

The internalization of ASEAN cooperation can be noted also in the exchange of projects in the NDMOs. NDMOs are the official bodies responsible for disaster management and risk reduction within member countries. They vary in terms of organizational structure, but under the AADMER they work together within the framework that has been set by ASEAN. Therefore, although they are primarily domestic actors, under the ASEAN mechanism they are also regional actors, since they send representatives to the ACDM and collaborate through the assistance of the AHA Centre in cases of field assistance deployment. Although they vary in form and legal framework (see Table 2), they have been working closely to build their networks since November 2011.

Table 2 List of NDMOs in ASEAN Countries


To help ASEAN member states implement effective cooperation, ASEAN established two operating arms: the DMHA Division (Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance Division) and the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance for disaster management (AHA Centre). The ASEAN Secretariat works to facilitate dialogue and serve as the bureaucracy for the implementation of AADMER. Before the AHA Centre was established, the DMHA Division also served as the operational body for field operations. Nowadays there are incremental transfers of roles, such as in mid-2013, when tasks related to disaster response, operations, and capacity building were transferred to the AHA Centre. The DMHA Division also has transferred the administration of the ASEAN Disaster Risk Reduction Portal (DRR Portal) to the AHA Centre. Nevertheless, the division still functions as the custodian of disaster response funds and monitored the balance scorecard for the implementation of the 2010–15 work plans. Therefore, the DMHA Division acts as the bureaucratic arm with the task of monitoring conformity. The AHA Centre is the operating arm of ASEAN cooperation in disaster management and risk reduction. Since its establishment in 2011, the AHA Centre has been involved in major natural disasters such as the Thailand floods of 2011–12, Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines in December 2012, response preparation on the eve of Myanmar’s Cyclone Mahasen in May 2013, the Aceh-Indonesia Bener Meuria earthquake in July 2013, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013.

The AHA Centre also operates a yearly regional exercise called the ASEAN Regional Disaster Emergency Simulation Exercise (ARDEX) as the platform for member states and different actors to collaborate in a simulation. ARDEX involves NDMOs, search and rescue teams, and the military personnel of member states. All of these mechanisms were developed by the AHA Centre to ensure the smoothness of regional cooperation by making it habitual and internalized.

An interesting finding is that help from donors and dialogue partners continues up to today. They support the fund under the larger framework of the ASEAN master plan for connectivity. I was informed by Mochtan that he was still helping ASEAN to maintain cooperation with JAIF. JAIF has been donating funds and material since its establishment, including the real-time early detection warning system for the AHA Centre. This information was previously confirmed by the communication officer of the AHA Centre, Asri Wijayanti.

In the wider area of regional cooperation, ASEAN also drives the ASEAN Regional Forum Exercises (ARF DiRex), which involve not only the 10 member states but also their dialogue partners2) to ensure peaceful coexistence in the Pacific region. In 2015 alone, there were four meetings and agendas related to disaster management in the joint ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting and Defence Ministers of Dialogue Partners (ADMM-Plus).3) Among them was the ARF DiRex in Kedah, Malaysia, in May 2015.

Another important aspect is the involvement of the population in ASEAN regionalism. To endorse a more people-centered approach, ASEAN established the AADMER Partnership Group (APG). The APG is a consortium of international NGOs collaborating with ASEAN for the people-centered implementation of AADMER. The NGOs involved in this endeavor are Child Fund International, Oxfam, Save the Children, Mercy Malaysia, and Plan. The funding comes from the European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection. This could help ASEAN promote activities for wider audiences in the region. According to my interview with ASEAN DMHA representative Neni Marlina in July 2013, the ASEAN Secretariat welcomes such progressive ideas. The motives range from socialization and education to the internalization of the idea of regional disaster management.

III Conclusion

Through the analysis in this paper, I have answered the question of why there is a trend of regional organizations establishing disaster management cooperation mechanisms: the reason is strong global advocacy. The move to establish the supernorms of international/regional disaster management has successfully traveled from the norm entrepreneur to the international stage through introduction, socialization, and persuasion mainly by international organizations. The dominant mechanism to introduce and persuade state leaders in the norm emergence stage is the top-down approach, using the UN as an organizational platform for entrepreneurs. Hence, the genealogy of an internalized idea can be traced back to UN resolutions as the basis for global cooperation. The roles of UN resolutions and UNSIDR were important in bringing the idea to the tipping point in 2005, followed by the Southeast Asian tipping point which also reached the ASEAN region in 2005. This means that advocacy during the norm emergence stage was diffused in parallel at the international and regional levels, as we can see in Table 3. We can also conclude that in terms of the regional/international disaster management idea, the function of international organizations is pivotal.

Table 3 International/ASEAN Regional Disaster Management Supernorm Life Cycle


To sum up the findings, regional disaster management cooperation in ASEAN was successful only because there were certain facilitating factors: (1) continuous assistance from the international community; (2) the determined leadership of ASEAN; and (3) a proven regional mechanism as a result of the deepening of ASEAN regional cooperation.

First, most of the funding and initiative to introduce socialization and demonstration of disaster management in ASEAN was supported by foreign actors. Hence, there was strong international advocacy for spreading the global normative shift. Since the 1990s there has been continuous engagement by international organizations and dialogue partners in assisting Southeast Asian states to establish domestic national disaster management offices and improve regional disaster management cooperation. Donors have worked together with individual countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, as well as giving assistance to the ASEAN Expert Group on Disaster Management. The collaboration created better opportunities for the future regional disaster management architecture. Some donors are still working with ASEAN in this sector.

Second, there was strong leadership from both ASEAN bureaucrats and state leaders. As demonstrated in this paper, the role of then-Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan and the current director of the DMHA Division, Adelina Kamal, was pivotal in determining the success of ASEAN operations during Myanmar’s Cyclone Nargis in 2008. State leaders such as Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Agung Laksono were also important in showcasing the political will to support the cause and indirectly convincing other ASEAN member states to join Indonesia in supporting regional disaster management cooperation.

Third, ASEAN has a proven regional cooperation mechanism. The importance of the momentum resulting from the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004 and Cyclone Nargis in 2008 cannot be ignored. The former had a great impact on both HFA and AADMER reaching the tipping point in 2005. ASEAN involvement in Aceh to assist in the reconstruction and reconciliation process was a successful demonstration that the regional organization was capable of conducting field operations. Moreover, the Indonesian government was open to accepting the assistance of the international community. This showed the other ASEAN member states that there was no reason for them to be suspicious of ASEAN’s capability. Meanwhile, Cyclone Nargis in 2008 provided the motive for the AADMER to be put in force in 2009. ASEAN successfully deployed the humanitarian operation and facilitated the cooperation of the Myanmar government and international community. This success raised the confidence of ASEAN member states to further develop disaster management cooperation. Nevertheless, without the international dynamics of norms that illustrate the transfer of disaster management norms from entrepreneurs to the world and then to ASEAN, such a phenomenon cannot be clearly explained.

Accepted: March 7, 2016


My gratitude to Prof. Yuzuru Shimada for his invaluable advice in writing this article. I would like to appreciate the ASEAN Secretariat and AHA Centre for allowing me conducting research in their institutions.


Aritonang, Margareth S. 2014. RI Ratifies Haze Treaty. Jakarta Post Online. September 17. ASEAN, accessed on February 10, 2016.

ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response. 2012. Jakarta: ASEAN Secretariat.

Bildan, Lolita. 2003. Disaster Management in Southeast Asia: An Overview. Asian Disaster Preparedness Center.

Coppola, Damon P. 2011. Introduction to International Disaster Management. 2nd ed. Burlington: Elsevier.

Ferris, Elizabeth; and Petz, Daniel. 2013. In the Neighborhood: The Growing Role of Regional Organizations in Disaster Risk Management. Washington: The Brookings Institution, London School of Economics Project on Internal Displacement.

Finnemore, Martha; and Sikkink, Kathryn. 2001. Taking Stock: The Constructivist Research Program in International Relations and Comparative Politics. Annual Review of Political Science 4: 391–416.

―. 1998. International Norm Dynamics and Political Change. International Organization 52(4): 887–917.

Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko; and Hulme, David. 2011. International Norm Dynamics and the “End of Poverty”: Understanding the Millennium Development Goals. Global Governance 17(1): 17–36.

Haze Action Online. 2015. Status of Ratification. January 20., accessed on February 10, 2016.

Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters (HFA). 2005. Geneva: United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction., accessed on February 10, 2016.

Katanyuu, Ruukun. 2006. Beyond Non-interference in ASEAN: The Association’s Role in Myanmar’s Reconciliation and Democratization. Asian Survey 46(6): 825–845.

Katsumata, Hiro. 2004. Why Is ASEAN Diplomacy Changing? From “Non-Interference” to “Open and Frank Discussions.” Asian Survey 44(2): 237–254.

Keohane, Robert; and Nye, Joseph. 1989. Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Locher, Birgit. 2003. International Norms and European Policy Making: Trafficking in Women in the EU. Paper presented at Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, February 26–March 1, 2003 at Centre for European Studies, Institute for Political Science, University of Bremen, Portland.

National Environment Agency, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Singapore. 2016. Factsheet on Measures against Haze. April 4.–updated—cos-2016-media-factsheet—thpa-and-green-procurement.pdf, accessed on February 10, 2016.

Quarantelli, Enrico L. 1995. Disaster Planning, Emergency Management, and Civil Protection: The Historical Development and Current Characteristics of Organized Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Disaster. Newark: University of Delaware Disaster Research Center.

Rum, Muhammad. 2009. ASEAN and the Environment Issues: Enhancing Regional Environmental Regime. Master Thesis at the Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya.

Sabandar, William. 2010. Cyclone Nargis and ASEAN: A Window for More Meaningful Development Cooperation in Myanmar. In Ruling Myanmar: From Cyclone Nargis to National Election, edited by Nick Cheesman, Monique Skidmore, and Trevor Wilson, pp. 107–207. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Sawada, Yasuyuki; and Zen, Fauziah. 2014. Disaster Management in ASEAN. ERIA Discussion Paper Series. Jakarta: Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.

Sikkink, Kathryn. 1998. Transnational Politics, International Relations Theory, and Human Rights. Political Science and Politics 31(3): 516–523.

Tan, Alan Khee-Jin. 2005. The ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution: Prospect for Compliance and Effectiveness in Post-Suharto Indonesia. New York University Environmental Law Journal 13 (3): 647–722

Waltz, Kenneth. 1988. The Origin of War in Neorealist Theory. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18(4): 615–628.

Yuniarti, Anik. 2011. Penanganan bencana alam dalam wacana pembangunan komunitas ASEAN 2015 [Natural disaster response in the discourse of establishing ASEAN community 2015]. Bencana dalam perspektif hubungan internasional [International relations perspective on disasters], pp. 13–32. Yogyakarta: Jurusan Ilmu Hubungan Internasional, Universitas Pembangunan Nasional “Veteran” Yogyakarta.

1) Collected from direct interviews with ASEAN officers and official news disseminated by the AHA Centre.

2) Their dialogue partners are Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, and the United States.

3) The members were Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the eight Plus countries: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States.