Northern Thai People
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Northern Thai People
Tai Yuan
Thai dancer Chiang Mai 2005 045.jpg
Young dancer, Chiang Mai
Total population
6 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
Thailand, Laos (Ban Houayxay, Bokeo Province, Sainyabuli Province, and Luang Namtha Province)
Lanna (often bilingual with Central Thai)
Dharma Wheel.svg Theravada Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Tai peoples

The Northern Thai people or Tai Yuan (, [taj? ?u:?n?]), self-designation khon mu(e)ang (?, [xon? m?:], meaning "people of the (cultivated) land" or "people of our community") or Kalom[2] () are a Tai ethnic group of eight provinces in Northern Thailand, principally in the area of the former kingdom of Lan Na.[3] As a Tai group, they are closely related to Tai Lü and Tai Khün with regards to common culture, language and history as well as to Thailand's dominant Thai ethnic group (in contrast referred to as Siamese or Central Thai). There are approximately 6 million Tai Yuan. Most of them live in Northern Thailand, with a small minority 29,442 (2005 census) living across the border in Bokeo Province and Sainyabuli Province and Luang Namtha Province of Laos. Their language is called Northern Thai, Lanna or Kham Mueang.

Exonym and endonym

Central Thai may call northern Thai people and their language Thai Yuan, probably derived from Sanskrit yavana meaning "stranger".[4] In everyday speech, "Tai" prefixed to some location is understood as meaning "Tai person" of that place.[5] The British colonial rulers in neighbouring Burma referred to them as Siamese Shan, to distinguish them from the Shan proper, whom they called Burmese Shan.[6]

The people of this ethnicity refer to themselves as khon muang, meaning "people of the (cultivated) land", "people of our community" or "society" (mueang is a central term in Tai languages having a broad meaning, essential to the social structure of Tai peoples). With this name, they historically identified themselves as the inhabitants of the alluvial plains, river valleys, and plateaus of their native area, where they lived in local communities called muang and cultivated rice on paddy fields. This distinguished them from the indigenous peoples of the area ("hill tribes"), like the Lua', who lived in the wooded mountains practicing slash-and-burn agriculture. Membership of the ethnicity was therefore defined by lifestyle rather than by genetics. At the same time, it was a term of dissociation from the Burmese and Siamese, who held suzerainty over the Lanna Kingdom for centuries and who were not "people of our muang".[7][8]

For the same reasons, the own name of the khon muang for their language is kammuang or kham muang, in which kam means language or word; muang town, hence the meaning "town language," in contrast to those of the many hill tribe peoples in the surrounding mountainous areas.[9]

After the integration of Lanna into Thailand

During the Monthon reforms of the north region at the turn of the 20th century, the region of Lanna was assigned to Monthon Phayap () from the Sanskrit word for "northwest".[10] The Tai Tham alphabet formerly in use by northern Thai people is also called Lanna script. Due to the effects of Thaification in the wake of Monthon reforms, few northern Thai can read or write it, as it no longer represents accurately the orthography of the spoken form.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Entry for Northern Thai Dallas, Tex.: SIL International.
  2. ^ "Kalom People". Luang Namtha Town and Environs.
  3. ^ See: Forbes, Andrew, 'The Peoples of Chiang Mai', in: Penth, Hans, and Forbes, Andrew, A Brief History of Lan Na (Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre, Chiang Mai, 2004), pp. 221-256.
  4. ^ Frederic Pain (2008), "An introduction to Thai ethnonymy: examples from Shan and Northern Thai", The Journal of the American Oriental Society
  5. ^ Jana Raendchen (10 Oct 2005). "The socio-political and administrative organisation of müang in the light of Lao historical manuscripts" (PDF 316 KB). In paper 31 (ed.). The Literary Heritage of Laos: Preservation, Dissemination and Research Perspectives, Vientiane: National Library of Laos. The Literary Heritage of Laos Conference, 2005. Website content written by Harald Hundius and David Wharton, Lao translation by Oudomphone Bounyavong, edited by Harald Hundius. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz: Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts. image 4, page 404. Retrieved 2013. Traditionally, these people called themselves according to the place of their settlement, combining the term "Tai" (man) with the place name, as for example Tai Müang Phuan, Tai Müang Swa (Luang Phabang).
  6. ^ Andrew Turton (2004), "Violent Capture of People for Exchange on Karen-Tai borders in the 1830s", Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia, London: Frank Cass, p. 73
  7. ^ Andrew Turton (2000), "Introduction", Civility and Savagery: Social Identity in Tai States, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, p. 11
  8. ^ Cholthira Satyawadhna (1990), "A Comparative Study of Structure and Contradiction in the Austro-Asiatic System of the Thai-Yunnan Periphery", in Gehan Wijeyewardene (ed.), Ethnic Groups Across National Boundaries in Mainland Southeast Asia, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 76, ISBN 981-3035-57-9, There is a well-known Northern Thai saying: Lua yea' hai The Lua work swiddens Tai het na The Tai work paddy fields.
  9. ^ a b Natnapang Burutphakdee (October 2004). Khon Muang Neu Kap Phasa Muang [Attitudes of Northern Thai Youth towards Kammuang and the Lanna Script] (PDF) (M.A. Thesis). Presented at 4th National Symposium on Graduate Research, Chiang Mai, Thailand, August 10-11, 2004. Asst. Prof. Dr. Kirk R. Person, adviser. Chiang Mai: Payap University. P. 7, digital image 30. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-09. Retrieved 2013. The reason why they called this language "Kammuang" is because they used this language in the towns where they lived together, which were surrounded by mountainous areas where there were many hill tribe people.
  10. ^ Glenn Slayden, ed. (29 Sep 2013). "" (Dictionary). Royal Institute Dictionary - 1982. Retrieved . Royal Institute - 1982 /-/ {Sanskrit: ?} [] .

Further reading

  • Andrew Forbes; David Henley (1997). Khon Muang: People and Principalities of North Thailand. Bangkok and Chiang Mai: Teak House Books.
  • Volker Grabowsky, ed. (1995). Regions and National Integration in Thailand 1892-1992. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 3-447-03608-7.
  • Akiko Iijima (2003). The Nyuan in Xayabury and Cross-border Links to Nan. Contesting Visions of the Lao Past. Laos Historiography at the Crossroads. Copenhagen: NIAS Press. pp. 165-180. ISBN 87-91114-02-0.
  • Andrew C. Shahriari (2007). Khon Muang Music and Dance Traditions in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai: White Lotus.

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