The formation of identity in Thailand

Identity

 

This will be a short presentation on the formation if identity in Thailand. The presentation will look at how not only identity has been developed, but also how it has been maintained throughout history. The focus will not, however, be solely on a National level but also from an ethnic identity viewpoint.

 

 

Thai National Identity

 

Thailand can be broken into four main regions. The North with its mountainous and fertile lands viable for growing rice and teak. Central Thailand home to Bangkok”City of Angels” and the fertile Chao Phraya basin. The North East (Essan) the driest, least productive and least modern place in Thailand. The South with its moist atmosphere where many produce rubber, tropical crops and tin. Thailand “Land of the free” In the past was a country living in the ideal of attaining a virtuous life by shaping their character to Buddhist principles where goodness was prized over personal wealth. Thailand has now changed from an absolute monarchy rule to one of self-sustained Democracy. Buddhism has supplied cognitive and evaluative elements that have been integrated into every aspect of Thai identity, even If the individual is Thai or part of a Thai ethnic minority. For example, many of the “hill tribes” in Thailand may be Christian or follow traditional religious practices. They do however pay respect to monks and often offer alms during ceremonies. Buddhism in Thailand is practised very differently compared to how Buddhism is practised in other many other countries such as in Japan, China and Vietnam. Each country practices Buddhism but in a very different way. For example, if the Dalai Lama came to Thailand he would have to sit down with the lay people as his position is not recognised in Theravada Buddhism.  In Japan there are not nearly as many images of Buddha compared to Thailand and if there are they are often quite plain and not extravagant and often painted and jewelled as they are in Thailand. As is shown it is distinctly Thai Buddhism that contributes to Thai people’s identity not the Buddhist faith itself with 95% following Theravada Buddhism. Thailand is a very Hierarchal society, If you are born into a  “High-so”  family as they are typically referred to her you, your sense of identity is of course very different than if you are born into a “Low-so” family. Being in a “High-so” family often individuals may have a feeling that they are held above ” Low-so” families. This is not through that particular person’s fault but rather how society has helped shape their identity. An individuals Identity as we know does often change in adolescence as people are exposed to new groups of individuals. When they leave the “bubble” of the social class and meet people from different backgrounds, religions and classes. This change happens not only throughout High School but all the way through to young adulthood.  Steinberg sums up the adolescence journey to identity perfectly by saying:”The development of a strong and stable sense of self is widely considered to be one of the central tasks of adolescence. Despite the fact that identity development occurs throughout one’s lifetime, adolescence is the first time that individuals begin to think about how our identity may affect our lives. During adolescence, we are much more self-conscious about our changing identities than at any other stage in our lives” Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill. Families are close in Thailand and are often held above all else, maintaining strong relationships throughout their entire lives.

 

Ethnic Identity

 

There are numerous Ethnic groups in Thailand  according to Reach To Teach” Of Thailand’s nearly 70 million people, roughly two-thirds are from Thai ethnic groups. Although the ethnic Thai people can be divided into dozens of different subgroups, their traditions, languages, and cultures differ only slightly. This leads to a population with a strong sense of shared traditions and cultural identity. The remaining third of the population is made up primarily of Chinese, as well as various minorities including Vietnamese, Khmer, Hmong, and Mein. Even among these diverse ethnic groups, the Thai language is widely spoken and understood, and the Thai script is often used in place of traditional writing styles.[Reachtoteachrecruiting.com,2016].There is also many much smaller ethnic groups throughout Thailand, many who may not even be citizens but have lived in Thailand for hundreds of years. The Karen people for example ” Current debates on Karen identity have tended to focus on the development of a nationalist construct of a pan-Karen community”[Rachel Sharpes,2015]. Many Karen people are Thai and are citizens but identify as Karen more than being Thai. Many ethnic groups such as the Karen live in the mountainous North of Thailand.  As the Thai government started cracking down on the growing of poppies(for opium and heroin production) many had to move further down the mountains Now the majority of Karen people still live in the mountains but do however go to lowland cities for work or grow cash crops in the hills. There has been in the past some problems of course between different groups Although the population of Thailand is relatively homogeneous—regionalism and ethnic differences are issues that are socially and politically significant. Moreover, these differences affect the access of specific groups and regions to economic and other resources, which in turn heightened ethnic or regional consciousness”[Library of congress]. Through all of this, the Karen and others have still kept a  strong sense of cultural identity. Many Karen people are Buddhist, but the majority are Christian and follow animistic beliefs. Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa’o on top of this, almost everyone speaks Thai. If there is a temple or a monk near a village they are still paid a high level of respect, given alms and offerings. This shows how the identity of many ethnic groups has changed since they first arrived in Thailand several hundred years ago.It is true each has their own customs and beliefs but are still very much living in Thailand and follow at least some of the Thai traditions. This is not characteristic for Karen people in other parts of the world. Karen people in America do not pay respect to Buddhist monks in America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

A sense of Identity is formed throughout our entire lives, always changing and adapting. We are born into an identity in some ways, some people with opportunities that people are not. This does not define us however as we are exposed to new groups and cultures our own identity changes, especially as young adults. For example, the Karen people as were shown, very much have their own identity. They are also Thai however. Karen people in America and Karen people in Thailand are as different in many ways as American and Thais are. Our identity is formed by those around us and our social environment, always changing, growing and adapting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultural Expectations In Thailand

Thailand can be broken into four main regions. The North with its mountainous and fertile lands viable for growing rice and teak. Central Thailand home to Bangkok ”City of Angels” and the fertile Chao Phraya basin. The North East (Essan) the driest, least productive and least modern place in Thailand. The South with its moist atmosphere where many produce rubber, tropical crops and tin. Thailand “Land of the free” In the past was a country living in the ideal of attaining a virtuous life by shaping their character to Buddhist principles where goodness was prized over personal wealth. Thailand has now changed from an absolute monarchy rule to one of self-sustained Democracy. The first school was opened by King Rama V, and since then Thailand has flourished. Before this act by King Rama V, it was only those of royalty or in monkhood that could study.

 

Cultural expectations vary widely in Thailand and are different based on social class, ethnicity and most importantly, gender. There is an old Thai s; men are the front legs and women are the back. As was mentioned before in the discussion forum, weddings vary vastly between all of our cultures, and in Thailand, the husband still has to pay the “Bride price” which varies for every woman. A tradition that is still practised n Thailand today is that of Thai men having multiple wives his chief wife(Mia Luang) and him having other wives(Mia not). This was more common in the past but is still practised; it was a good indicator of a man’s socioeconomic status for a woman. However, this would be totally unacceptable as even remarrying after divorce is very unusual. This is just one of the ways of gender inequality that still exists in Thailand today.

 

Men-

Men in Thailand are expected to provide and take care of their family; this includes their mother and father to some degree. Many Thai men I know here work in low paid jobs yet still have to give a significant portion of their salary to their parents, this is expected. This is true even if they no longer live with their family, as many do they may move to a big city such as Bangkok and would still have to send money back to their family. This is faithful to the fact that Thai men make up over 60% of the labour force, as well as taking the majority of senior positions throughout the country.I personally travel around many areas to other schools as part of my job, the directors are always men, as are the vice-directors and heads of departments.

 

Women-

Thai women generally are well-mannered, love to take care of their families and are followers of their husbands. In modern Thailand, women are more self-confident individuals who hold positions of power. Women are still however typically expected to take on the majority of household duties, Thailand has come far but perhaps not far enough. There is a Thai saying ” the charm at the tip of a ladle makes a husband love his wife”, this Is still said today. Thailand had moved on from the days when men studied, and women served, attitudes one approach people of former times held towards a man and a woman is that when a baby was born, if it were a male, a slate and a pencil would be placed beside the baby, but if a female, a needle and thread would be put there instead. This reflects the different expected roles of a man and a woman. The former was expected to become a man of knowledge and the latter a good housewife. Women are like men also expected to take care of their parents and grandparents by giving a portion of their salary to them, how much difference completely by location, wage, age and many other factors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khatoeys-

Khatoeys is the ambiguous name given to transgendered individuals in Thailand. I chose to write another small section on Khatoeys as they play such a large part in Thai society.Generally accepted khatoeys can live their lives mostly in peace. This was not always so and was not until the 1950’s that Khatoeys had any real acceptance as that was when they were starting to be shown in mainstream media. Being a Khatoey can start from a very young age as I personally have taught khatoeys as young as six years old.Their family accept them for who they are and allow them to start hormone treatments often before or around the time of puberty. Khatoeys however are not often seen in positions of power , perhaps  they accept a lower level of work so that they can live their lives in the open ?

 

“You might be surprised to learn that all babies start life in the womb as girls. Then, if there is a Y chromosome present in the embryo, it activates the male hormone,testerone, and the baby starts to become a boy. However, in some cases, the male hormone fails to activate the standard development of the external genitalia.The baby appears to be a girl and is raised as such, but it will become clear at puberty that it is a boy.”