Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Contesting Law and Order: Legal and Judicial Reform in Southern Thailand in the Late Nineteenth to Early Twentieth Century

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Contesting Law and Order: Legal and Judicial Reform in Southern Thailand in the Late Nineteenth to Early Twentieth Century

Article excerpt

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I Introduction

The nineteenth century was a period of transition in most parts of the world in a move from the traditional state to a modern nation-state under a clearly defined territory. Thailand, then Siam,1) was no exception. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially the "long decade of the 1890s," Siam had experienced a series of political reforms and modernization as an attempt to resist the European colonialism that was sweeping across Southeast Asia. This also brought about tremendous changes to Siam's southernmost region where the majority of the people were Malay-speaking Muslims.

Situated in the south of Thailand and northeast of the Malay Peninsula, Pattani, or Patani in Malay spelling, has long been an area bridging the Buddhist-nominated Thai and Malay-dominated Muslim worlds. It was once an autonomous sultanate state, prospering from maritime trade in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, until it was incorporated into Siam in the early twentieth century. The kingdom covered the area of three of the southernmost provinces of present-day Thailand: Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, where violence by Muslim insurgents has escalated since 2004.

Historically, Pattani and nearby Malay states such as Kedah and Kelantan were in a loose suzerain relationship with Siam since around the sixteenth century, symbolized by a triennial tribute of the bunga mas or ornamental tree and flower made of gold and silver.2) When Siam's power was contested, these vassal states often revolted and asserted their independence from Siam. After a series of rebellions by Malay rulers near the turn of the nineteenth century, Pattani was defeated by a resurgent Siamese state and in 1810 was subdivided into seven provinces. It was renamed "the seven Malay provinces" (hereafter "the seven provinces"), comprising of Tani (capital of the former Pattani kingdom) as the headquarters, and Nong Chik, Saiburi, Yaring, Yala, Raman, and Ra-Ngae (Phan-ngam 1976; Koch 1977, 70) (see Map 1). Each province had its own ruler who was allowed to exercise his authority under the supervision of Siam.3) Siam, however, asserted indirect control through the recognition and sometimes appointment of local rulers; this area was also placed under the supervision of Songkla, a provincial headquarters of Siamese government in the south.

The political situation in and around the seven provinces became more intense when the British expanded their influence over the Malay Peninsula in the late nineteenth century. As part of a provincial administrative reform initiated nationwide in 1892, Siam saw the need to impose reforms in the Malay region as well. In 1901, the seven provinces were regrouped into one administrative unit called the "Area of Seven Provinces" and placed under the control of an Area Commissioner who resided in Tani and who came under the supervision of the Superintendent-Commissioner of Nakornsrithammarat (see Fig. 1).

In the same year, Siam issued a set of "Regulations concerning the Administration of the Area of Seven Provinces," which aimed at increasing centralized Siamese control over the region. Judges (who were mostly Siamese), deputy governors, and revenue officers were appointed to assist local rulers. Treasuries of the Area were handled by the Revenue Department in the same way as the rest of Siam. As compensation, the rulers and Malay nobilities were given fixed but adequate pensions (Nantawan 1976, 201-203). Needless to say, Siamese reform bred resentment and resistance among the Malay rulers.

In 1906, the position of sultan was abolished and the seven states were reorganized as Monthon Pattani (Pattani Circle). Triennial tribute to Bangkok being abolished, the seven provinces were amalgamated into four provinces: Pattani, Yala, Ra-Ngae, and Saiburi, each with its own commissioner instead of an imposed sultan. This reorganization finally put an end to the position of Pattani as a sultanate state, marking the beginning of the integration of the Malay states into Siam. …

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