Phu Loi, March 2012
The content of this paper will
be presented (in Thai) at the Phu Tai World Day in Renu
Nakhon 11 March 2012
The ethnic Phu Tai designates a specific ethnic group closely
related to Tai Phuan, Tai Nyo and Lao Nuea; not Tai Dam and Tai
Khao. The Phu Tai are probably one of Khun Bulom's seven 'sons' (ethnic
groups), who settled in Lak Xao area of Khammouane Province,
Laos P.D.R., when the Tai Phuan settled in nearby Xieang Khouang and
the Tai Dam settled at Dien Bien Phu, Northern Vietnam, in the
latter part of the 1st millennium.
In the decline of the Khmer
and Cham Empires the Phu Tai migrated further south and
conquered the upper valleys of the Xe Bang Fai and Xe Noi Rivers of present day Savannakhet
and Khammouane provinces. After the fall of Chao Anou Siamese troops relocated
as many Phu Tai and other ethnic groups as possible from the
eastern side of the Mekong River to the western side,
present-day North-eastern Thailand.
The Phu Tais inhabit the
hinterlands east and west of the Mekong River in present-day
Mid-Laos and NE-Thailand and have their own distinct language,
which is mutually intelligible with Tai Nyo, Phuan and Lao Nuea.
Phu Tai is not mutually intelligible with Thai and Lao; neither
is it closely related to Tai Dam as often stated on Internet
sources as for example Wikipedia.
''Phu Tai'' is an ambiguous term, and may refer to either
one specific ethnic group or designate a family-group.
This confusion likely started with the French explorers of the
late 19th century: Pavie used the term ''Phu Tai'' in the sense of
''Mountain Tais'' - a family group including all Tai groups in Laos and
Vietnam, with the exception of the ethnic Lao and the Phuan
groups: Tai Khao, Tai Dam, Tai
Daeng, Tai Nuea, etc. - and 'our' Phu Tai as well. This despite
that earlier French explorers as Harmand and Lagrée used
the term Phu Tai solely as an ethnonym to describe the Tais they visited
in Mueang Lahanam, Mueang Phin and Mueang Xepon in present-day
Savannakhet Province some 10-12 years before the arrival of the Pavie
Mission in the 1890's.
The ambiguous use of the term Phu Tai has caused
several misunderstandings. One is that the Phu Tais of the
Mid-Mekong fled the invading Chinese Ho (Haw) bandits in the 1880's at a point
of history, when the Phu Tais of north-eastern Thailand (Isan)
had already been re-settled to Isan for 40 years. Another that the
Tai Dam of north-western Vietnam and the Phu Tai of the
Mid-Mekong is the same ethnic group (1) - and that the Phu Tai
therefore (also!) origin from the fabled Mueang Thaen (believed
to be located in the vicinity of Dien Bien Phu, northern
Vietnam). Linguistic research has revealed,
that while the Tai Song Dam of Thailand descents from the Tai
Dam of the Dien Bien Phu area (Burusphat), then Phu Tai contributes another
language closely related to Tai Phuan, Nyo and Lao Nuea (Chamberlain,
1975, p. 63).
Chamberlain suggests that the various Tai groups
migrated towards west and south-west in the 7-9th centuries, an
era corresponding to - and probably inspired by - the Khun Bulom
legend(s), in which Bulom (Borom in Thai) sent his seven sons to
rule various mueangs (polities) in SE-Asia.
When the Phuan settled in the wide valleys of Xieang
Khouang in the latter part of the first millennium, the numerous
Phu Tai group migrated southwards as well and settled east of
Xieang Khouang - eventually in Khammouane, an area by some Bulom
legends ascribed to have been ruled by one of Bulom's sons: Chao
Nowadays the majority of the Phu Tais in Laos live
between the Xe Bang Fai and Xe Bang Hian Rivers - from Mueang Mahaxai
to Mueang Lahanam, but in the end of the first millennium they could
not have migrated south of the Khammouane-Nakai plateau: The two
tributaries of the Mekong were inhabited by ethnic Bru and Suai groups, vassals of either the Khmer Empire to the south
and/or the Champa Empire to the east. Champa was located along
the coast on the eastern side of the Annamite Mountains, on
which western side we find the gold-mine area of Mueang Vang -
Mueang Ang Kham, the significance of which on-going archaeological
excavations hopefully will reveal soon. In the lower end of the
tributaries the 12th century Khmer temples in the lower Xe Bang
Hian area and the 5-7th century Mon (?) settlements in the lower
part of the Xe Bang Fai testify about civilizations
powerful enough to have prevented Phu Tai intrusion. Only after
the decline of the Khmer Empire and its vassals in the 14th
century, the Phu Tais could have conquered the land of the Bru, Suai and other Mon-Khmer groups.
Contemporary historical recordings of the presence of Phu
Tais in Savannakhet and Khammouane only goes back to the fall of
Prince Chao Anou in 1829, the oldest reports being Siamese
records of how many people were resettled from which mueangs
east of the Mekong to newly established mueangs west of
migration patterns of some of the Tai groups of the south-western
branch of the Tai-Kadai language stock.
CHRONICLES, LEGENDS AND MYTHS
The Khun Borom Chronicle(s) - and the 'lost son'.
The Tai Dam version of the Borom myth (Chamberlain,
1992. See also Hartmann, 1981) starts with the descend from the
Sky of various ethnic groups, who first arrived at Mueang Om and
Mueang Ai, from where they were distributed to different
Lao and Thai word mueang can be translated as either
'city', 'town'; 'administrative district', 'polity'; or
'country'). One of the 'ancestors' went to Mueang Lo,
from where his grandchildren were dispersed to govern. The last
grand-child got no mueang so he went on a long odyssey
until he and his followers finally arrived at Mueang Thaeng and
established his rule at Ban Pe.
In Wyatt's version Khun Chu Song went to rule at Tung
Kea, which he locates in the area between Muang Hua Phanh and
Tonkin. Jana quotes the Xieang Khouang version and informs us
that ''Khun Chu Song ruled at Müang Chulanii or Plakan'',
without suggesting the location. Maha Sila Viravong (1964, p.
31), referring to the ''story book of Muong Lan-Xang'' informs
us, that ''Thao Chu-Song [ruled] over Muang Chulni or Vietnam'' and ''Thao
Kom [ruled] over Muong La-Khamuane''. Manich (1967, p. 31) gives no
reference for that ''Prince Krom was sent to rule at Kammuon''.
In Tossa's listing of the seven sons Lokkom (= Lok Kom = Thao
Kom = Prince Krom) went to rule at "Xiangkhom, Khamkao, or
Khamkoed" (the latter location being located some 20 km west of
Ban Khammouane at Lak Xao).
Above: Khun Borom
Palm leaf manuscript, Source and courtesy to:
All versions of the Khun Borom myth starts with the
creation of man and beast coming from the Sky (China) and
describes migration of Tai groups who settled in various parts
of SE-Asia in the latter part of the first millennium.
One of Khun Borom's seven sons spoke Tai Dam and
settled in Mueang Thaen; another son spoke Tai Phuan and settled
in Xieang Khouang. Some habitats of the sons of Borom are
unidentified, but in three of the Borom versions above a ruler
named Kom and the location Khammouane is repeated.
The Phu Tai contributes a relative numerous ethnic
group and is therefore an obvious candidate for this 'lost son'
(Thao Kom?), whom we suggest could have dwelled in the
easternmost of the Sipsong Chut Tai: Hoa Phanh or Nge An ,
before settling east of the Phuan in Khammouane centered about
Ban Khammouane at Lak Xao.
The Archery Legend
Phu Tai oral tradition refers to a myth, where
the Phu Tais in request for new land competes with the
indigenous "Kha'' (ethnic Bru): The group which arrow stuck to a
cliff was the winning part. The Bru chose giant bows held by six
men - with no success. The Phu Tai archer applied glue to the
tip of his arrow and won - after which the Bru left their
The essence of this story is that the Phu Tai took over
land from an indigenous population as the migrating Tais have
done elsewhere. And they likely did it by ''competing on
arrow'', but in a more war-like scenario.
The location of the ''Merit Competition'' (การแข่งขันเสี่ยงบุญวาสนา) is given to
be in Mueang Vang (polity) and has recently been identified (!) as
''The Cliff of Merit'' (ผาบุญ) next to the
stupa at That Ban That at the
upper stretches of the Xe Noi River in eastern Savannakhet.
If the myth is related to the paddy fields of Xe Bang
Fai River and its tributary, the Xe Noi, then the ethnic
confrontation must be dated to after the decline of the Khmer
Empire; if related to their suggested former habitat, the Ban
Khammouane area around Lak Xao, the confrontation could go as
far back as to the 8-9th century.
This myth is a Phu Tai myth and told by the Phu Tais to
legitimize their suzerainty over its vassal with the ''merit''
aspect indicating their superior moral right over the
'un-civilized Kha'. Future research should focus on recording
old legends told by the indigenous Mon-Khmer groups.
|Above: One of many vertical
||Above: "Pha Bun", the "Cliff
||Above: ... another cliff
The Nang Lao (Lady Lao) Legend
In the Lady Lao Legend the Archery Myth forms a
prelude as the reason why a high-ranking Lao Vientiane lady,
Nang Kham Phao, went
to Mueang Vang together with a group of Buddhist monks to
introduce Buddhism to the Phu Tai. The legend also tells how her
elephant stopped at an auspicious place, where Lady Lao chose to
build That Ban That.
The Nang Xofa (Lady Xofa) legend
An apparently older version of the Lady Lao Legend is
mentioned by Surachit (2000, p. 91), who refers to Lao
Traditions written by a daughter of Rama IV and a descendant of
Chao Anou and printed in 1936. In this legend (according to Surachit's
extracts) a Phu Tai leader assisted Setthatirath II (Ong
Lo, who ruled from 1698 to 1730) of Vientiane in quelling a
rebellion, and as a reward was given the king's daughter, Nang Xofa, in marriage. Their four sons went to rule Mueang Sop Ek,
Mueang Chiang Kho, Mueang Vang and Mueang Xepon. Also mentioned
is, that ''Phu
Tais migrated to the southern part of the Kingdom of
Vientiane'', without mentioning from where (Khammouane or Dien
Bien Phu?). Neither the Archery legend nor the introduction of
Buddhism forms parts of this oral tradition.
The myth is written by an ethnic Lao aristocrat
legitimizing Lao suzerainty over its vassal. And the Nang Lao
Legend is a similar legitimatization.
Phu Tais from Thailand visiting Phu Tais in Ban Na Gnom,
Laos, February 2012: thot pha pa merit (ทำบุญทอดผ้าป่า)
History or legends about Mueang Vang
Maha Sila Viravong's accounts are some times difficult to
classify as being historical facts or legends, but two episodes,
with no sources given, deserve to be mentioned as they are
related to Phu Tai history: During the rule of Ong Bun, son of
Ong Lo, the rebellious Thao Kukeo "left Champassak, went up
along the Sebang-Fai [Xe Bang Fai] river and incited the people
of Muong Se-Katark, Se-Kabong, Muong Vang, Xieng-Hou, Pha-Bang,
Khamkeut, and Kammuane to join his ranks and staged a rebellion
to regain the power due him." (Viravong, 1964, p. 85). In the
listing above Mueang Vang, Khamkeut and Khammouane are all
Phutai mueangs. The rebellion against Thao Khamsing of
Tha Khaek, opposite Nakon Phanom, took place somewhere between
1730 and 1764.
The earliest reference to Mueang Vang and Mueang Xepon
given by Viravong dates back to mid 14th century, when Fa Ngum
ascending the Mekong River from Angkor conquered Mueang Kabong
(Sikhottabong south of Tha Khaek) as well as many other mueangs
in nowadays Savannakhet and Khammouan provinces. (Viravong,
1964, p. 28). If Viravong's information is historically solid,
then Mueang Vang existed already in the beginning if the 14th
Where is/was Mueang Vang located?
The location of the Mueang Vang is disputed. In the
last years many Phu Tai groups from Isan have pilgrimaged
Ban Na Gnom (Ban Na Nyom) in eastern Savannakhet Province. A
village called Ban Vang and the presence of the That Ban That
Stupa (dubbed as "That Nang Lao") some 10 km north of Ban Na
Gnom, a nearby located hill dubbed "Pha Bun" (the Cliff of
Merit), has all together with the Nang Lao Legend been taken as
a proof of, that the location is the fabled homeland of the Phu
Above: Small ceremonial sand-stupas at That Ban That
Above: That Ban That ('That Nang Lao')
Above: Local Phu Tai Woman doing merit
Ban That Stupa apparently surrounded by 'heart-shaped'
dikes: The 'heart' of Mueang Vang, the centre of the
ancient Mueang Vang?
far from being
convinced that Ban Vang was the administrative centre of Mueang
Vang. When I visited the area in February 2012, I
accommodated in a nearby village, where the village head called
Ban Vang for Ban Vang Noi ("Little Ban Vang"). When passing ''Pha
Bun'', the "Cliff of Merit", I stopped and asked for its name,
but the local villagers did not say ''Pha Bun''. The That Ban That Stupa is without
doubt old. I tentatively assumed it to from the Era of Chao
Anou, who built or restored many Buddhist temples and stupas
in the area. An associated sim appeared to me to be
older, but that is up to archaeologists to determine. I was
unfortunately not aware of the "Nang Lao Legend", so I
made no attempts to get it confirmed by elder locals.
I found the That Ban That Stupa by chance: My GPS
informed me about a Ban That (the "Village of the Stupa"), so I
stopped in the village and asked, where the stupa was
located. Later studies of satellite images indicate that the
stupa was surrounded by a circular habitation - eventually
with a surrounding dike system (see map above). These supposed
old dikes will be examined on a coming field trip. The stupa
is now located isolated in serene surroundings behind the
village, but when it was build, it would have been located
within a settlement, the dominant mueang of the area.
There are many villages in the area containing the word
vang as a part of it's name, especially in the mountain
valleys some 40 km east of Ban That. Also the word vang
has several meaning: In Phu Tai 'deep water' (in a river),
'reservoir', 'pond' and 'thriving',
'being prosperous; in Lao: 'to 'protect', 'to enclose
(with a hedge)'.
The first contemporarily written reports referring to
Mueang Vang were done by the 19th century French explorers. When
Harmand in 1877 AD (2420 BE) visited Mueang Phin some 60 km
south of Ban That, the chao mueang (governor)
informed him that the area housed ''three Pou Thay provinces:
that of Phin, and ascending the Se Bang Hieng, that of Tchepon
[Xepon] on the left bank, and that of Vang on the right bank.''
The chao mueang also informed Harmand that the Phu Tai
''have come from the north, from a place they call Nam Noi
['little river']'' (Harmand, 1997, p. 218).
Above: Malglaive's map from 1890, part of a U.S. military
map from the Vietnam War and a 5 years old satellite
The first Farang
(Lao: Frenchman) to visit and map Mueang Vang (village) was
Malglaive in 1890. He also described a connection between the
chao mueang of Mueang Vang and Mueang Ve (Renu Nakhon).
On Malglaive's map (above) I have inserted a fragment
of a map used during the Vietnam War, where Mueang Vang is given
as Mueangvangkao, meaning the 'Old Mueang Vang'. Northeast
hereof there is another village named Oun Kham, which is Ban Ang
Kham or Mueang Ang Kham, meaning the 'Golden Bowl'. Note that Mueang Vang and
Mueang Ang Kham are two different villages; many refer to Mueang
Vang Ang Kham as if it was one destination.
Based on these information I found Ban Mueang Vang Kao on Google
Earth and visited it in February 2012. The villagers had been
relocated to the main road some five years before, but some
farmers were working at their old habitat. I asked them for the
location of the former village temple (wat) hoping to
find remnants of a brick structure, but they showed me the ruins
of a wooden structure. On the way back the Phu Tai farmer asked
me, if I was interested in the residence of the former chao
mueang, which I certainly was, as this was a final
confirmation of that I had reached the old Mueang Vang (see
''Chao M.'' on the
inserted satellite image above).
I am therefore convinced that the provincial centre of
Mueang Vang - Ban Mueang Vang Villlage - where the chao mueang
resided, was located in the valleys 16 km SE of the
administrative centre of Vilaboury District; and not being the
Ban Vang Noi next to Ban Na Gnom. This does not exclude that Ban
Na Gnom and the Ban That stupa was located in Mueang Vang
district: On another of Malglaive's maps Ban Na Gnom is located
9 km east of a small river, which formed the border between Mueang Mahaxai and
Mueang Vang in 1890. And
it does not exclude, that an even older Ban Mueang Vang was
located at and surrounding the Ban That stupa, from where the
chao mueang and the left-over of his followers fled the
Siamese troops trying to resettle the Phu Tais in the 1830s. I
tentatively suggest that the heart of Mueang Vang was located at
and surrounding the Ban That Stupa (see satellite image above),
but further field research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.
The mountain valleys where Ban Mueang Vang (Kao), Ban
Ang Kham and Mueang Luang ('capital city') are located, could
not have housed a large population. The wide valley where the
Ban That stupa is located is an ideal location for a
rice-growing population large enough to have sufficient surplus
to construct larger monuments. I therefore call the wide valley
for the '''Rice-Bowl" (Ang Khao) and the valleys for the
"Rice-Bowl" (Ang Kham).
The valleys of Ang Kham do contain gold, and gold
was indeed washed in the river connecting Ban Mueang Vang and
Ban Ang Kham before the Siamese arrived, according to Malglaive.
Nowadays a huge gold mine project is conducted east of Vilaboury
and next to Ban Mueang Luang.
New to me, when I visited Vilaboury, is that the area
has a 2000 years old history. Recent archaeological
excavations have among other artefacts revealed several Dong
Song drums, which have also been found at many other locations
throughout SE-Asia, and more interesting is that they apparently
have been cast in the Ang Kham Valleys. This sets Mueang Vang
and neighbouring mueangs in a new historical perspective
considering its closeness to the ancient Champa Empire on the
other side of the Annamite mountains and the area formerly being a
Mon-Khmer area, probably dominated by the ethnic Bru and Suai.
It will be interesting to read future reports made by the
archaeologists presently excavating in the Ang Kham area. From a Phu Tai point of view it is
important to know for long a period and to which extend gold,
copper and iron was extracted from the ''Golden Bowl''.
Above: Dong Song ritual drums (top left and
mid), stone axes, gold-cobber ingots, iron-tools (top right) and
holes related to casting cobber-wares (bottom left). The photos
were taken at the administrative centre of Vilaboury and at the
Cultural Centre of Vilaboury. All items are excavated in the
mountain valleys of Vilaboury district and dates app. 2000 years
When did Mueang Vang not exist?
Archaeology in Laos is still in its initial phase.
In the lower Xe Bang Fai River area - opposite That Phanom -
archaeologists are presently (spring 2012) excavating ancient
dikes, the brick structures of which they tentatively suggest
dates to 5-7th centuries. A Mon Dvaravati culture? I found
another - probably related - dike/canal structure in the same
area, when visiting a Phu Tai village, and reported it to the
Of Khmer settlements in mid-Laos only Huean Hin south
of Savannakhet is known to the general public. Harmand did
report about a Khmer pedestal he passed on his way to
Mueang Phong north of the Xe Bang Hian river, where he observed
more Khmer artefacts. His Lao escort and guides denied any
presence of any ancient sites in the neighbourhood. Harmand's
ethno-chauvinistic attitudes towards all locals resulted in a
total lack of corporation and this to an extend that he was
misguided around the area instead of being let directly to his
destination, Hue on the Vietnamese coast.
Above: Mueang Phong surrounded by
rectangular dikes. The reservoir (baray) 2 km west of is
in typical Khmer 1:2 ratio. Prasat Phong (my coining) is
a-typically located east of the baray (marked by a red
When Harmand was reporting that he was convinced that
there was a Khmer Prasat close by, he was right; he was actually
sitting in the midst of what seems to be an ancient diked Khmer
settlement, clearly visible on the satellite image above. Also
visible only 2 km west hereof is the shape of a Khmer style
baray (water-reservoir). Normally an associated prasat
(temple) will be located west of the baray, but here the
prasat is located east of. A pile of bricks indicate a
brick-structure, most likely with door frames of sand-stone. The
site is highly revered by the local ethnic Suai population, who
camped around the brick-pile during a Buddhist retreat. An elder
local informed me that there inside the rubbles was buried a 1
by 1 m sandstone with a hole in the middle: A pedestal
with a hole for fastening a deity - eventually a linga!
At another site in the vicinity I found a more solid
proof of former Khmer presence, a singha, a lion
door-guardian. Locals informed me that I was not the first
farang visiting the site.
These - and probably another two - Khmer sites north of
the Xe Bang Hian River are most likely related to Prasat Huean
Hin on the banks of the Mekong, the area being its 'rice-bowl'.
Again we have to wait for the archaeologists to publish
their findings, but the very presence of ancient Mon and Khmer
structures along the lover stretches of both the Xe Bang Fai and
the Xe Bang Hian rivers - and the gold excavations in the area
of the upper stretches - tells us that the Phu Tai could not
have migrated into this area and 'competed on arrow' with the
'primitive Kha' when the other 'sons' of Khun Borum settled
elsewhere in the 8-9th centuries. The Phu Tai had to wait on the
Khammouane plateau until the Khmer empire to the south and the
Champa Empire to the west were in their decline. It is therefore
unlikely that the Phu Tai started occupying the Xe Bang Fai much
before the era of Chao Fa Ngum in the 14th century.
|Site I: Ancient Mon (?) dike and
||Site I: Spirit house on small hillock
||Site II: Ancient dike and baray.
|Site III: Baray Prasat Phong
||Site III: Prasat Phong (below tree).
||Site IV: Wat Mueang Phong
|Site VI: Ancient dike
||Site VI: Remnant of singha
||Site VI: Laterite foundation of sanctuary
We have contemporarily written historical records about
the Phu Tais dating only back to Chao Anou in the beginning of
the 19th century and historical indications that they could not
have settled at their present habitats before the 14th century,
so where were they located in the gap between? Historical
linguistic research, mainly done by Charles Chamberlain, give
some framework for theorizing about their whereabouts in this
Chamberlain bases his historical analysis mainly on
tonal determination of the Tai languages and how proto-Tai
developed into two different main groups, the PH-group and the
P-Group, characterized by two different pronunciations of
initial consonants: Aspirated or un-aspirated. In one area
(mainly in the wide low-land river valleys of the Mekong and the
Chao Phraya Rivers and their adjacent uplands towards Xam Neua)
พ is pronounced as /ph/: aspirated, and north hereof as /p/:
un-aspirated. In the latter area /phu/ is therefore /pu/ and /khon/
(human) would be /kon/ - as for example in Tai Dam.
The distribution of this aspirated / un-aspirated
pronunciation is sketched on the map below using he Lao letters
ທ /ph/ for aspirated and ຕ /p/ for un-aspirated. Phu Tai
belongs to the th-group (PH-group) and so do the other closely
related Tai-groups in what Chamberlain has coined the Old Neua
group. He also tentatively suggests that the split took place in
the 8th century - the century when the 'sons' of Khun Borom (=
the SW-branch of the Tai-Kadai languages) migrated towards west
and south-west ultimately from the Cao Bang area near the
The four closely related PH-group languages of
Chamberlain's 'Old Neua Group' (Phu Tai, Phuan, Nyo, and Neua)
split from the P-Group (for example Tai Dam, Tai Khao and Thai
Daeng) and must have lived, developed and influenced one another
for more than a millennium in the geographical environment marked by Xieng
Khouang, Xam Neua, Nge An and Khammouane. I therefore object
local Phu Tai statements that the Phu Tai origins from the Tai
Dam area Dien Bien Phu (claimed to be identical to the fabled Na
Noi Oi Nu), a statement also based on the misunderstanding that
Phu Tai and Tai Dam belongs to the same group. The Phu Tai forms
a unique ethnic group and have their own unique language. And
they most likely migrated to Khammouane - on the border of the
Khmer and Cham power spheres, in the same period when the Phuan
settled in Xieang Khouang some 1200 years ago.
showing the approximate distribution of what Chamberlain
calls "PH- and P-languages" marked by a blue border
The green border marks the mainly mountainous area where
the Lao and Thai letter sara-ai-mai-muan (ໃ)
is pronounced with its original sound: oe /ɤ/.
In Lao and Thai ໄ and
ໃ are both pronounced
Left: Chamberlain, 1975, pgs.
62-63. (edited and underlined by me)
stressed twenty years ago that his theory is tentative,
but efficient, and that further research is needed and
should be conducted by a team of specialists in Tai
linguistics and Vietnamese history and that further Tai
field research is needed in the area of the Old Neua
branch of the Tai languages and in the adjacent mountain
valleys in Vietnam. If not, then we will not be able to
fully understand Tai migrations and history - including
the history of the national languages: Lao and Thai.
But only limited field research has been
conducted since then and the prime 'objects' of the
research, the elder Tai speakers are dying out, and with
them the possibility to understand our history.
PHU TAI LANGUAGE
Two of the
most important indicators for determining ethnic
affiliation are: 1. Which ethnonym do the members of the
group apply to themselves, and 2. Language.
The Phu Tai in NE-Thailand and Mid-Laos all refer to
themselves as Phu Tai, but the ethnonym can in Thai and
Lao scripts be written in two different ways and thereby
having two different meanings:
- in English transcription either way will be Phu Tai.
In Laos P.D.R. only
is used; the meaning in Lao and Phu Tai being
'human-people'; not 'free-people'. In NE-Thailand both
are used, the latter meaning
'mountain-people' (for a more comprehensive discussion
about how to write Phu Tai, see Phu Tai for Medicals
- in print).
Phu Tai have their own distinct language, which is only
reported existing in NE-Thailand and Mid-Laos. Phu Tai
language is also reported existing in a few isolated
villages on the Vietnamese side of the Annamite
Mountains neighbouring Mid-Laos, which is most likely,
but has not been confirmed by linguistic research (for
details about Phu Tai language, see
Phu Tai for
Health). Different Tai languages have
their own specific tonal systems (see below). If
Phu Tai is spoken in Mid-or Northern-Vietnam, then their
tonal systems will not differ essentially from what is
Above: Tonal systems of Phu Tai speakers from
Atsaphone, Savannakhet, Laos P.D.R. and Khao Wong,
Source: Phu Tai for Medicals by Thanyalux
Chaiyasook Mollerup and Asger Mollerup.
This paper is based
on initial historical research on
Phu Tai history conducted over the last six months and
mainly based on non-Thai and non-Lao references. An
outline hereof will be presented for the public at an
'expert-panel' on the Phu Tai World Day 11 March 2012 in
Renu Nakhon. A more comprehensive version will hopefully be
reached before the next Phu Tai World Day and the next
International Phu Tai Day in Khao Wong.
We therefore hope that the general public as well as
scholars will give
constructive feed-back on these lines, make suggestions,
point out errors, and add relevant references.
APPENDIX: Pictures from Laos
|Phu Tai wedding in Mahaxai
||Phu Tai weaving
||Young weaver and elder Phu Tai
|That Lahanam at Xe Bang Hian. Age
||That Ban Na Khue. Age unknown
||Wat Mahaxai, Xe Bang Fai.
Archaeologists have many sites to excavate in mid Laos - all
with relevance to Phu Tai history. Until archaeologists,
linguists, historians, ethnographers, and other specialists have
done more in-depth studies, we can only make tentative sketches
of Phu Tai history.
The Phu Tai area is far wider than the Mueang Vang
area. The latter should not be over emphasized; not all Phu Tai
in Isan origin from Mueang Vang.
|The 'gate' of Mueang Vang (Kao)
||Wat Mueang Vang (Kao)
||No road to Mueang Vang (Kao)
|Xe Bang Fai
||Xe Bang Hian
||Xe Noi (= Nam Noi = 'little river').
Xe is pronounced as 'Se'
and means 'river' and is
normally nam ('water') in all Tai languages, but the
rivers in the Phu Tai area have kept their Bru (?) prefixes.
(1) See website of Sakon Nakhon Rajabhat
University, where the Tai Dam and Tai Khao mistakenly are
presented as Phutai:
http://dbsp.snru.ac.th/knowlege_2.php. Also Khon Kaen
Tai Studies, Kalasin University:
- all without references.
The ambiguous use of the term ''Phu Tai'' and the
resulting confusion about the geographic extend of the
ethnic Phu Tai was evident at the International Phu
Tai Day in Khao Wong, Kalasin Province, 10 March
2012, as well as at the Phu Tai World Day in Renu
Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom Province, 11 April 2012. At both
occasions the public was presented with mis-leading information
about ''Phu Tais'' living in Northern Vietnam, Southern
China and even as far away as Japan and the United
At the International Phu
Tai Day in Khao Wong, Kalasin Province, 9-10 March
2013, the misinformation was repeated: The local Phu Tai
speaker announced from stage: ''We in Khao Wong are Phu
Tai Dam'' (sic.), a term also used when presenting the
attending Tai Dam of Dien Dien Phu, Vietnam. The local
Phu Tai are thus informed that The Phu Tai in Khao Wong
and the Tai Dam are the same group.
misunderstand is caused by Bangkok based Phu Tais, who
have forgotten that 'phu' means 'man, human, group' in
Phu Tai and other Tai languages. In Bangkok Thai 'phu'
is equivalent to 'phu-khon' or just 'khon' and that the
proper naming of the Tai Dam should be 'khon Tai Dam' -
Tai Dam People.
It was evident for the local audience that the Tai Dam
spoke another language.
It is therefore most relevant to organize a seminar
with scholars trained in linguistics, ethnography and
history to present and discuss up-to-date research
related to Phu Tai language, ethnicity and history.
The outcome of such a seminar will benefit the general
public as well as the ethnic Phu Tai - and hopefully be
held before an eventual Universal Phu Tai Day, or
better: International Tai Day in
Asger Mollerup, 16 March 2013.
|Breazeale, Kennon and Snit Smuskarn
Culture in Search of Survival: The Phuan of
Thailand and Laos. Monograph Series 31 /
Yale Uni. S.E.Asian Studies. Yale Center for
International and Area Studies. New Haven,
Chamberlain, James, R.
1975. A New
Look at the History and Classification of
the Tai Dialects. In Studies in Tai
Linguistics in Honor of William J. Gedney.
Ed. by Harris and Chamberlain, Bangkok, CIEL.
Tai Dialects of Khammouan Province: Their
Diversity and Origins, 16th
International Conference on Sino-Tibetan
Language and Linguistics, 16-18 September
(Seattle, Washington, 1983)
Thao Hung or Cheuang: a Tai epic poem,
in The Mon-Khmer Studies Journal, vol.
18-19, pp. 14-34.
A Tai Dialect Spoken Originally Spoken in
Nghê An (Nghê Tinh), Viêtnam.
Preliminary Linguistic Observations and
Historical Implications. in The Journal of
the Siam Society, vol. 79, no. 2, pgs.
Black Tai Chronicle of Muang Mouay. Part I.
Mythology. In in The Mon-Khmer Studies
Journal, vol. 21, pp. 19-55.
origin of Sek: implications for Tai and
Vietnamese history", in The
International Conference on Tai Studies, ed.
S. Burusphat, Bangkok, Thailand, pp. 97-128.
Institute of Language and Culture for Rural
Development, Mahidol University. available
Travels in Laos and among the Tribes of
Southeast Indochina. The Pavie Mission
Indochina Papers (1879-1895)—Volume 6. White
Lotus, Bangkok, 2000. The original French
version from 1900 is accessible on-line via:
Cambodia and Part of Laos. The Mekong
Exploration Commission Report
(1866-68)—Volume 1. The original French
version from 1873 is accessible on-line via:
Laos and the
Hilltribes of Indochina. White Lotus,
Bangkok, 1997. The original French version
from 1877 is accessible on-line via:
|Hartmann, John F.
Computations on a Tai Dam Origin Myth.
Reprinted from Anthropological Linguistics,
May, 1981 and online via SEAsite:
Other Topics: Tai Dam).
Socio-political and Administrative
Organisation of Müang in the Light of Lao
|Malglaive, Joseph. de
and Rivière A.-J.
centre de l'Annam et du Laos et dans les
regions sauvages de l'est de l'Indo-Chine.
Ithaca, New York: Cornell University
Library' Paris: E. Leroux, 1902. (The Pavie
Mission, Vol. IV). Available at
History of Laos. Chalermnit, 1-2 Erawan
Arcade, Bangkok, 1967.
|Mollerup, Asger, and Chaiyasook
phasa phuthai samrap bukkhalakon
thang kan phet, (English version: Phu Tai
In print and later available at:
variation of Thai Song Dam, Research
Institute for Languages and Cultures of
Asia, Madihol University, Thailand:
|Viravong, Maha Sila
History of Laos, Paragon Book Reprint
Corporation, New York.
Bulomrajathirat or Lord Bulomrajathirat,
|Wyatt, David K.
Thailand: A Short History, New Haven
(Yale University Press).
กรุงเทพ ฯ 2543
Mueang Mukdahan, Bangkok, 2000
ທິບມຸນຕາລີ ຄຳໝ້ນ ສີພັນໄຊ
Findings About About Ethnic Groups
in Laos. National Institute for Social
Science and Institute for Research on
Ethnicity and Religion. Vientiane, 2009. By
Dr. Khamphaeng Hinmountaly and team. (My
translation and transcription).
10 March 2012