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  1. #1
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    Mon Cultural Festival 2008

    On 2-3 February 2008, the local Mon community in Samut Sakhon will be holding their annual cultural festival. This takes place at Wat Ban Rai Charoen Phon. If you are coming from Bangkok on Highway 35, look for Wat Phan Thai Norasing temple on your left just after Marker 16 km. The temple is down there just on the other side of the bridge for Klong Sanam Chai.

    I have hardly any information at all. As usual, the TAT are hopeless at promoting any local festivals in Thailand. All I can find is this website in Thai:

    http://www.monstudies.com/

    They have a map in Thai.

    I am not sure if it is worth a trip but I am heading down there this weekend and will be posting a report at www.thai-blogs.com. Hopefully it won't rain as the weather has certainly changed this week.

  2. #2
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    Re: Mon Cultural Festival 2008

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Barrow View Post
    I have hardly any information at all. As usual, the TAT are hopeless at promoting any local festivals in Thailand.
    Judging by the number of events, festivals etc posted on the forum this week, we are taking over TAT's job!!

  3. #3
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    Re: Mon Cultural Festival 2008

    I have asked them so many times to send us updates. They just ignore our letters. They prefer spending millions on press junkets for foreign press rather than helping us help them for free.

  4. #4
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    Re: Mon Cultural Festival 2008

    Armed officials marred the joyful mood of the recent Mon festival in Samut Sakhon.
    Bangkok Post - 9th February 2008

    The culture of tolerance
    The ethnic Mons in Thailand are emphasizing the need to protectand honour their traditions and customs

    Thailand has always been a country filled with cultural diversity and Thais tend to embrace almost all festivals regardless of their origins, like the recent Chinese New Year festivities and Christmas, which are both celebrated every year. However, contrary to the Thai's self-image of cultural tolerance, their openness is selective because it is not extended to the many ethnic groups in the country. An example of this fact are the ethnic Mons.

    It is traditional for the descendants of ethnic Mons across Thailand to come together annually to pay tribute to their ancestors and to keep their cultural identity and customs alive.

    This year, the Mon festival was held at Ban Rai Charoenpol temple in Samut Sakhon, where there are a large number of ethnic Mon descendants, as the fishery industries in the coastal province of Samut Sakhon hire a large number of migrant workers from Burma, a majority of whom are Mons.

    The festive mood was destroyed, however, when security officials issued a letter to the organisers, ordering them to refrain from singing and dancing, to limit the festival to only one day, to specify who are the organisers and to ban the participation of unregistered Mon workers from Burma.

    This order followed a Samut Sakhon public notice on October 26 last year, urging the public and private sectors not to support cultural events held by Burmese migrant workers because such gatherings will strengthen the migrants's sense of community, which would be a political act.

    ''This is a big misunderstanding,'' said Sukanya Baonoed, researcher and Fine Arts Department archaeologist, also an ethnic Mon descendant. ''A cultural gathering is how we express our cultural identity. It has nothing to do with politics or national security.''

    The governor's letter does not only exhibit the state authorities' violation of freedom of expression, it also reflects public prejudice towards Burma as a result of narrow-minded nationalism, she added.

    This is because Burma is often portrayed in Thai history as an invader, the destroyer of the glorious Ayutthaya kingdom. With a large number of migrant Burmese workers flooding Thailand, fear easily arises among the Thai public and state authorities.

    According to Sukanya, few Thais realise that there are over 200 ethnic groups in Burma, and many are in conflict with the Burmese junta and are victims of persecution in their own country.

    The Mons, a large ethnic group in Burma, are often mistaken for being Burmese when they flee the harsh poverty, extortion and political persecution to find work in Thailand, reported Sukanya in her research paper, ''Identity Creation of the Migrant Mons: Case Study: The Migrant Mon Workers in Samut Sakhon Province''.

    The Mons once ruled what is now Burma. The Mon and the Burmese fought over a long period of time until the Burmese seized and destroyed the Mon city of Pegu (Hongsavadee).

    The Mons also had a pivotal role in bringing Buddhism and Indian civilisation to Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries.

    That is also why the Mons are no strangers to old Siam. As neighbours who share cultural and religious traits, there have been many waves of migrations over several centuries into what is now Thailand.

    The first significant migration began during the Ayutthaya period, with the next migration taking place during the Thon Buri and early Rattanakosin eras. Most of the Mons were war prisoners or fleeing the wars in Burma to find peace here. They were warmly welcomed and usually settled along the rivers.

    ''This is because they used to live near deltas and rivers in their original hometowns,'' explained Sukanya.

    The areas best known for being ''Little Mon'' are Samut Prakan's Phra Pradaeng district, Pak Kret district in Nonthaburi and Samut Sakhon province. Their descendants have now become a part of Thai society, including Sukanya's family who lives in Samut Sakhon's Ban Kor district, home to one of Thailand's most populated Mon communities.

    The year 1990 saw another major migration when the Mons in Burma sought job opportunities in Thailand. It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 migrant workers from Burma in Samut Sakhon and 70 to 80 per cent of them are ethnic Mons, said Sukanya.

    Geography is another main factor that attracts Mons to the coastal provinces of Thailand. Since the Burmese provinces along the Thai-Burma border are mainly occupied by Mons, such as Thaton (Satherm) and Moulmein (Malamaeng), they enjoy easy pathways to Thailand.

    Most of the ethnic Mon migrant workers are in the fishery-related industry, the biggest business sector in Samut Sakhon, though a few women work as maids and construction workers. Businessmen prefer hiring Mons because they are hard workers and expect lower wages than Thais, who also do not like to do jobs that are risky and dirty.

    ''This migration of labour is driven by unstable politics and economics in their homeland caused by the junta's ruling since 1960,'' said Sukanya. ''Meanwhile, Thailand's industrial sector also lacks unskilled labourers. So demand matches supply.''

    In Samut Sakhon's Muang district, there are about 60 pockets of ethnic Mon migrant workers. Some accommodate 3,000 to 4,000 people, said Sukanya.

    These communities may be mistaken for a foreign country as they are filled with signs in unfamiliar alphabets and people speaking a foreign language. Shops and stalls selling Burmese dried food and products are abundant. Burmese food, especially a snack of tea leaves mixed with peanuts, and Mon dishes, krajeab (okra) spicy soup, or Thai rice flour noodles with banana stalks are easily found in these communities.

    All this has made government officials nervous. But Sukanya stressed that it is very natural for any cultural group to keep their identity in a foreign land.

    For the Mons, their fight to retain their cultural identity is particularly strong due to the long suppression from the Burmese and a need to distinguish themselves from the Burmese, said Sukanya.

    For example, their sarong usually has a white line across the cloth and they frequently use the swan symbol to represent themselves.

    Interestingly, the ethnic Mon migrant workers' constant need to remind themselves who they are, has helped strengthen the Mon culture and language in Samut Sakhon, which was gradually disappeared among the younger generation of Mon-descent Thais.

    ''We used to speak Mon at home or in a closed community. But now it is spoken widely in Mahachai. Though we have a different nationality, our common culture is the bond that links us together,'' said Sukanya.

    Samut Sakhon authorities, however, still view this cultural phenomenon as a political movement in disguise due to political instability in Burma, the overwhelming number of ethnic Mons in the province and their need to retain their culture.

    This is why their annual gathering was viewed with distrust.

    ''The festival has long been part of our customs. Everything was fine until this year,'' said Sukanya.

    Prior to the festival, which is held on February 2 and 3 by the Mon Youth Community Bangkok and Ban Rai Charoenphol Community, the Internal Security Operations Command issued a notice prohibiting any activities that promote national sentiment.

    Calling the event ''Mon National Day'' is a no-no. So is the use of Mon language and alphabets, as well as Mon cultural performances.

    ''Legally, the Internal Security Operations Command does not have the power to prohibit such things,'' said Surapong Kongchantuk, vice-chairman of the Human Rights Sub-Committee on Ethnic Minorities, the Stateless, Migrant Workers and Displaced Persons, which is under the Lawyers' Council of Thailand's umbrella.

    ''Organising cultural events and the use of any language is freedom of expression. What they are trying to do is definitely not for national security reasons. This country won't be safe if the authorities exploit the law,'' he said.

    When the annual festival began at Wat Ban Rai Charoenpol, hundreds of policemen set up check points near the temple in an attempt to arrest illegal Mon workers.

    The prejudice, the hatred and the paranoia during the clampdown stem from the authorities' lack of understanding of their own culture, said Surapong.

    ''Clearly, many Thais still do not understand that the Mon heritage and language are the basic fundamentals for our culture. The ethnic Mon descendants are now as much Thai as they are.''

  5. #5
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    Re: Mon Cultural Festival 2008

    Here is a video I shot during the Mon Cultural Festival recently in Samut Sakhon.

    [ame="http://www.viddler.com/sawatdee/videos/30/"]Viddler.com -Mon Festival - Uploaded by sawatdee@@AMEPARAM@@http://www.viddler.com/player/1114570e/@@AMEPARAM@@1114570e/[/ame]

  6. #6
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    Re: Mon Cultural Festival 2008

    this is pathetic.
    the Shan's Poi Sang Long festival came to my mind immediately, because there is lots of singing, dancing, Shan food, market with the banned Shan flag for sale, karaoke cd's, you name it, and not much in Thai script around at all.


  7. #7
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    Re: Mon Cultural Festival 2008

    A few months back, ethnic minorities came together for a cultural event. It turned out to be a trick and the police swooped on the site arresting many.

    I have just posted a blog about this Mon festival at thai-blogs.com. You can also see some pictures I took.

  8. #8
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    Re: Mon Cultural Festival 2008

    For those that wish to know a little more about Mon history.

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