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Geographic or cultural?
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  1. #1
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    Geographic or cultural?

    So we have read that there are 19 provinces that make up Isaan. But is it just a geographical region? I am aware of what wikipedia says but I am looking for a human reply on the matter. There are certainly things done and said by all Thai people that have roots in Isaan, so what are the lines if there are any at all? Is it simply a cultural thing?

    With the provinces of Isaan being well defined, what of the bordering provinces, certainly there are cultural things coming from Isaan found on these outskirts? Is what we might quickly label as Isaan really Isaan? Is there a real definition?

    An example of my point, someone from one of the Isaan provinces may have a particular way of preparing a dish or making a rice basket. If their cousin from 100km to the West and not in an 'Isaan province' does the same way, is that not also Isaan?

    So it is not strictly geographical? What is it then? If it is geographical who is to say what is Isaan and what is Cambodian or Lao or of Chinese origin for that matter? I mean no disrespect toward anyone, but certainly there are many regions of the world not well defined in this likeness.

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    Re: Geographic or cultural?

    Quote Originally Posted by iGotNoTime View Post
    So we have read that there are 19 provinces that make up Isaan. But is it just a geographical region? I am aware of what wikipedia says but I am looking for a human reply on the matter. There are certainly things done and said by all Thai people that have roots in Isaan, so what are the lines if there are any at all? Is it simply a cultural thing?

    With the provinces of Isaan being well defined, what of the bordering provinces, certainly there are cultural things coming from Isaan found on these outskirts? Is what we might quickly label as Isaan really Isaan? Is there a real definition?

    An example of my point, someone from one of the Isaan provinces may have a particular way of preparing a dish or making a rice basket. If their cousin from 100km to the West and not in an 'Isaan province' does the same way, is that not also Isaan?

    So it is not strictly geographical? What is it then? If it is geographical who is to say what is Isaan and what is Cambodian or Lao or of Chinese origin for that matter? I mean no disrespect toward anyone, but certainly there are many regions of the world not well defined in this likeness.
    An incredibly interesting question.

    I don't pretend to have the definitive answer, but I tentatively suggest that the only thing that defines Isaan as a single entity culturally is the often negative perception other Thais have of people from the area.

    To put it another way, Isaan does not have the discernable vestiges of a single uniform culture, beyond other Thai's constructs of stereotypes of the people that come from the area, unlike, for example, Lanna -Northern Thailand-which has for the most part a single discernable culture heavily influenced historically by Burma.
    Last edited by iGotNoTime; 22-01-08 at 07:23 AM. Reason: spelling

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    Re: Geographic or cultural?

    My response may not be as eloquently phrased but I think it lines up with the general thought.

    Isaan's collective unity may simply go back to the time-honored tale of an underdog that scratches and claws a degree of relevance where historically there has been none.

    Isaan has been disregarded to the point that people from the region will lie about their heritage if they move to Central Thailand (and especially the South). Many will not admit they can speak Khmer or Lao and will work twice as hard to gain a lighter shade to their skin. People from Isaan are finally coming to a place where they can say: "I am from Issan."

    Ask people in other parts of Thailand where are the "Hillbillies" are located in the country and they will tell you it is Isaan. What has changed is they speak the words with a little more discomfort and a lot less glee than in the past. Emotions like that are not rocket science.
    The Heart determines what is Possible by the Mind

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    Re: Geographic or cultural?

    Quote Originally Posted by iGotNoTime View Post
    So we have read that there are 15 provinces that make up Isaan.
    I haven't, my list is 19 provinces that make up Isaan.
    1. Amnat Charoen
    2. Buriram
    3. Chaiyaphum
    4. Kalasin
    5. Khon Kaen
    6. Loei
    7. Maha Sarakham
    8. Mukdahan
    9. Nakhon Phanom
    10. Nakhon Ratchasima
    11. Nongbua Lamphu
    12. Nong Khai
    13. Roi Et
    14. Sakon Nakhon
    15. Sisaket
    16. Surin
    17. Ubon Ratchathani
    18. Udon Thani
    19. Yasothon


    David
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    Re: Geographic or cultural?

    Apologies for the error in exact figure, thank you for the reply though, will edit my post David.

    Hoping for the thread to get a bit deeper yet.

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    Re: Geographic or cultural?

    I wasn't sure if it was a typo or you had a different list.

    But to the question I think one of the defining factors of Isaan is probably that it has physical borders on many sides of the Khorat plateau, such as the mountain range to the west (Phetchabun mountains?) and the Mekhong to the north and east. So in days past, before modern communications you wouldn't have had so great an inward or outward migration as in places without these physical borders. With these factors people have more of a common history which therefore gives them a greater identity.

    David
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    Re: Geographic or cultural?

    So in your opinion then David to be Isaan is strictly defined by your geographical location solely?

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    Re: Geographic or cultural?

    No so much your location as your origins from that location. Like for someone from Isaan it will say on their passport they are Thai my passport says British but I know wherever I am I will be Welsh not British.

    David
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    Re: Geographic or cultural?

    For me, Isaan is first and foremost a geographical region. There is no getting around the human and cultural factors, but those were also shaped by the geography. If you take a look at the watershed areas for the Mun, Chi, and Mekong River (the part in Thailand south of Ampur Chiang Khan, Loei province), you essentially have the entire region we call Isaan today. This a rather important fact on its own, as the river systems, the main method of transportation and defense throughout most of the early history of the country, do not connect with the central hub of Bangkok, but instead flow out to Cambodia and Vietnam into the sea.

    Isaan was mostly empty at the beginning of the Rattanakosin era. After the defeat of Vientiane, many Lao people were forcibly relocated as the first citizens of many of the northern and central Isaan provinces, to form Meuang or communities for the expansion and protection of central Siam. Some of these same people were the labor used to build and expand the canal system in Bangkok.

    A curious assertion given by a cultural anthropologist who gave a talk to our group about Siamese history is the following: Isaan is derived from the Sanskrit word for "northeast", and in many Asian cultures the northeast is a problematic direction. Examples he gave are Kyoto in Japan, which has powerful monestaries built to the northeast, the direction from which trouble may arise, and Mandalay in Burma, which was purposefully built on a spot which has a hill to northeast, therefore allowing protection.

    It's rather hard to define an Isaan culture at all the encompasses the entire region. People in Southern Isaan speak Khmer, and in Northern Isaan speak so-called Isaan language, a mix between Lao an Thai. Even in that case, the language differs by location. There is a Pasa Korat version of Isaan, and in Loei they had their own local dialect. Parts of Isaan have areas that speak Vietnamese predominantly (about 20,000 people, if I recall correctly). Obvious other factor besides language will differ as well, and there are differences between urban and rural Isaan people.

    After our lecture, I actually talked to this anthropologist about the question in the title of this thread, and he pretty well disagreed with my thesis that Isaan is primarily a geographical region, which I found intriguing. I still think I am right and he is wrong , but there is room for disagreement, and as I stated before, the human factors cannot be ignored as well, so it's impossible to cleanly separate the culture from the geography.

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    Re: Geographic or cultural?

    Tim this is was one of the best replies I have seen to such a deep and difficult question. Well done and thank you. Thanks to your anthropologist too.

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