Ancient-wall find delays construction of Tesco outlet

10 August 2008 - Construction of a Tesco-Lotus Express retail outlet could be prohibited on a site where the remains of an ancient wall are being
excavated, said Anek Sihamart, director of the Fine Arts Department office in Ayutthaya province. Mr Anek said the excavation will continue for
three days. A report on the ancient wall found underground will then be submitted to a committee working on the preservation and development of
the ancient city of Ayutthaya. … Methadol Wichakkana, director of the Ayutthaya Historic Park Office, said the construction of the Tesco-Lotus
Express branch has been suspended until the committee makes a decision. He said many buildings have been erected in the area and it is believed
other parts of the ancient wall are buried beneath them. [Source: Bangkok Post]

Restoration work posing threat to historical sites

08 August 2008 - Ancient historical sites in the old capital city of Ayutthaya are under threat not only from tourism, theft, and natural disasters but
also restoration conducted on the wrong principles. We have more details in this report from Thai News Agency. The bell-shaped chedi surrounded
by elephant figures at
Maheyong temple in Ayutthaya was restored a few years ago. Historians have widely criticized that the restoration work
changed the stupa’s architectural design from more than 300 years ago. Only half of the original Chedi’s body was left before restoration began and
after completion, the chedi was bigger than the original. This temple was the center of the monks’ education. It was surrounded by a moat,
connecting to the water route, used by kings to travel to the temple to conduct religious ceremonies, presenting robes to monks. In the restoration,
the landscape around the temple was not rebuilt to maintain the meaning of the temple. Srisak Wanlipodom, a historian said “The meaning of a
historical site is related to how it was important to people of that period, who built it, and when it was built. Restoration of an historical site should be
based on these relations. It’s not right to see only ruins without knowing their real meaning.” [Source: MCOT]

Ancient cultural melting pot. Foreigners thrived in Old Ayutthaya

05 April 2008 - Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, is not only important as a World Heritage listed by Unesco but is also a testament of old Siam’s
rich cultural diversity. “Ayutthaya was full of cultural blends among people of many nations and races,” Anek Sihamat, director of the Third Regional
Office of Fine Arts, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, said. According to the director, Ayutthaya was mentioned in Dutch, French and Chinese documents
as an inland port city where foreigners could trade with Ayutthaya’s kings via the Phra Khlang department. Its important exports included forest and
wild animal products, deer skins in particular. Outstanding foreign traders included the Dutch United East India Company, or VOC for Verenigde
Oost-Indische Compagnie in Dutch. It brought into Ayutthaya goods, especially pottery, from Japan, China and Europe, and exported Siamese
goods from Ayutthaya to Japan, Europe and Batavia. All foreign settlements, except for some Chinese ones, were situated outside the city walls to
the south. The Japanese and Dutch communities were located not far from each other. Opposite the Japanese area stood the Portuguese settlement,
which consisted of three churches. In the north were the Chinese, Makassarese, French and Vietnamese settlements, while the Laotian community
was situated in the northeast and the Muslim settlement near the Takhian canal. However, a number of Chinese were allowed to live inside the city
walls near the Makham Riang canal. The Chinese mostly earned their living from selling pork, running liquor factories and making furniture and
housewares, the director added. According to Charnvit Kasetsiri and Michael Wright’s Discovering Ayutthaya, Simon de La Loubere, a French
envoy to the Kingdom in the reign of King Narai, recorded, relying on oral accounts, that there were as many as 40 ethnic groups under the
Ayutthayan king’s sovereignty. Dhiravat na Pombejra, leading historian and former history lecturer at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Arts,
said the nihon-machi (Japanese village) dates to the late 16th to early 17th centuries. Surrounded by canals on three sides, it ran one kilometre along
the river and extended 500 metres inland.

The first Japanese who came to settle in Siam were either Roman Catholics fleeing persecution, or so-called ronin, samurai who had lost their
masters during the civil wars that ended in victory for the Tokugawa family at the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). Like other foreign settlements in and
around Ayutthaya,
the Japanese settlement was a separate village governed by its own leader (or nai). Many Japanese became mercenaries in the
service of the kings of Siam. The most famous of the Japanese mercenary leaders in Ayutthaya was Yamada Nagamasa, who received the rank and
title of Okya Senaphimuk from the Siamese king. He and his followers played a crucial role in the fierce succession conflicts that took place from
1628 to 1629 and led to the usurpation of the throne by Okya Kalahom, or King Prasat Thong, who reigned from 1629 to 1656.
In his Diary of the Picnic Incident, Jeremias van Vliet, then director of VOC’s Siam factory, wrote about “pressure from these bald-headed villains”,
referring to the Japanese samurai. According to van Vliet’s Description of the Kingdom of Siam 1638, King Prasat Thong, who once cracked down
on the Japanese community in Ayutthaya, called those who had fled away back again after a short time in fear of their revenge. And when their
number rose to between 70 and 80, the king gave them a fine tract of land to live on and bestowed titles of honour on the three most prominent
Japanese, appointed these men as chiefs over the others, and placed them under one of his mandarins. In late 1636, there were still about 70 to 80
samurai, whom the king employed as mercenaries, living in Ayutthaya’s Japanese quarter, which adjoined the VOC compound. Most of the samurai
had Siamese wives, with whom they had children. And since there were also some Japanese merchants residing in Ayutthaya, the total population of
the Japanese quarter may have been about 400 to 550 (see van Vliet’s Siam by Chris Baker, Dhiravat na Pombejra, Alfons van der Kraan and
David K. Wyatt). Dhiravat added that the Japanese intermarried with locals, and soon the community was predominantly mestizo. A famous Luso-
Japanese mestizo was Maria Pina de Guimar, who married Greek adventurer Constantine Phaulkon in the 1680s.

Opposite the Japanese village stood
the Portuguese settlement, overlooking the Chao Phraya River on the west and having canals on the other three
sides. Covering an area of over half a square kilometre, the settlement had three churches of three Catholic orders: The Franciscans in the north of
the settlement, the Dominicans in the centre and the Jesuits to the south. Dhiravat said that the Portuguese settled in Siam in the first half of the 16th
century, not long after first arriving to trade with Siam from 1510 to 1511. The Portuguese not only traded there but also became much in demand as
mercenaries, thanks to their knowledge of firearms and modern warfare. Apparently, the land of the Portuguese settlement was granted to the
Portuguese as a reward for their help for King Chairacha, who reigned from 1534 to 1547, in the battle of Chiang Kran. During that campaign,
according to Portuguese traveller Fernao Mendes Pinto, 120 Portuguese fought for the Siamese king.
In the mid-16th century, there were around 130 Portuguese in Ayutthaya. However, the population of the Portuguese settlement must have grown as
more mestizo children were born. By the late 17th century Nicolas Gervaise, a French priest, reported that there were 700 to 800 households in the
Portuguese camp, and Father Tachard was told by Constantine Phaulkon that there were in 1685 a little over 4,000 people in the Portuguese
settlement. In Thai history, the Portuguese are famous not only for their ships, guns and soldiers but also for their introduction into Siamese cuisine
egg-based desserts such as foi thong by Maria Guimar. The ruins of the Dominican church of St Peter and St Paul, also called Sao Domingos, were
excavated by the Fine Arts Department in the mid-1980s with funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. Many skeletons, coins,
rosaries, crucifixes and Dutch clay pipes were found during the excavations. There used to be three churches in all in the Portuguese village, but the
Dominican church is the only one that has been excavated. The skeletons uncovered were mostly those of mestizos from intermarriages. The
Portuguese stayed long in Siam, from the early 16th century until the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. Some Portuguese were even taken to Burma as
hostages by the Burmese invaders. The rest followed King Taksin the Great to settle down in Thon Buri, Dhiravat added. Historian Bulong Srikanok
of the Fine Arts Department said that the Portuguese language was used as the official language for trade and diplomacy by the Siamese from the
reign of King Ramathibodi II (1491 to 1529) until Siam signed the Burney Treaty with Britain in 1826. That treaty was in three languages –
Portuguese, Chinese and English. According to her, all high-level officials in Ayutthaya could use the Portuguese language fluently. Father Tachard,
who came with the French mission, reported that Siamese nobles were able to converse in Portuguese. During their voyage to Siam, the French
Jesuits spent eight months learning Portuguese so that they could communicate directly with the Siamese nobles. As Portugal was believed to have
adopted a policy to convert the Siamese through intermarriages, there were many mestizos born to Portuguese fathers and Mon, Siamese or Chinese
mothers in Ayutthaya. After the fall of Ayutthaya, many of their descendants settled in an area of Thon Buri called Kudijeen and worked as Thai-
Portuguese translators for the state until the Bangkok period. These translators were called Lam Kudijeen, Bulong added.

By the river on a private-owned dockyard in Tambon Klong Suan Phlu, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya district, once stood
the Dutch settlement. As
part of the celebrations marking 400 years of Dutch-Thai relations (1604 to 2004), the Fine Arts Department began an archaeological excavation in
the area in October 2003, and found traces of the main building, ceramic shards (Chinese, Vietnamese, Siamese), glassware, Dutch pipes, Chinese
coins, cowrie shells and many other items. Dhiravat said that this site was the Dutch United East India Company’s trading agency from around 1635
to 1765. The land was given to the Dutch in 1634 by King Prasat Thong as a reward for having helped Ayutthaya fight Pattani.

The Dutch first came to Ayutthaya in 1604, hoping for passage to China on a Siamese ship. Although disappointed in this matter, the Dutch stayed
on in Ayutthaya, opening a factorij (trading company) in 1608. Importing silver, Indian textiles and other goods, the Dutch United East India
Company, or VOC, exported from Siam forest produce, such as deer skins, sapan wood (a dyewood), eagle wood (an aromatic wood), ivory, wax
and benzoin, along with rice, tin and ray skins. According to a journal kept by Dutch doctor Gijsbert Heecq (or Heeck), in 1655 the Dutch lodge or
factorij comprised several buildings, storehouses or godowns, a garden and a graveyard. The head of the Dutch settlement at any given time was of
course the head merchant, or opperhoofd, of the VOC trading office in Ayutthaya.
The employees of the VOC lived with local women (mainly Mons), and the Dutch settlement, like other foreign communities in Ayutthaya, came to
have a strong mestizo element. Problems concerning mestizo children turned into legal problems in Ayutthaya, leading to the Tra Sam Duang (Three
Seals) Law which banned Siamese Buddhist, Laotian and Mon women from marrying Westerners, Muslims and Malaccans. However, enforcement
was ineffective. No women were punished for violating the law, Dhiravat said. According to Dirk van der Cruysse’s Siam & The West 1500-1700,
King Narai refused to consent to the departure of children born of Dutch fathers and Siamese mothers, holding that they were his subjects; he only
allowed the departure of children under seven years of age. Dhiravat added that the Dutch stayed longer than the French and other foreigners since
they focused on trade. They even offered space on their ships to send Siamese monks to help ease the Buddhist crisis in Sri Lanka. This was
recorded in some Dutch papers. However, there was a scandal involving the Dutch in Ayutthaya. It was called the Picnic Incident. According to van
Vliet’s Report and Historical Account of the Events, on December 16, 1636, a group of Dutchmen sailed past the king’s palace and breached the
palace’s safety rules. They continued to party at the sacred Wat Boeretiet (
Vorachet). Some of them later scolded and hit a servant of the prince,
and entered a house of sick Siamese and stole their food. When King Prasat Thong learned about the incident, he was outraged and ordered all
those Dutchmen arrested and stomped to death by elephants. Thereafter, trading activities between Ayutthaya and the VOC became restricted.

On the bank of the Chao Phraya River outside the city walls to the south stood the French settlement. It was bordered by Khlong Takhian on the
west and
Wat Phutthaisawan on the east. Dhiravat said that the first Roman Catholic church on this site was built in the 1660s, on land given to the
French Society of Foreign Missions (Societe des Missions Etrangeres) by King Narai (1656 to 1688). According to him, the Paris-based Society’s
vicars-apostolic Bishops Pierre Lambert de la Motte and Francois Pallu arrived in Siam in 1662 and 1664 respectively. They were warmly
welcomed by King Narai, who wanted to learn about France, European politics, the court of King Louis XIV and the Christian religion. They
therefore decided to stay on and found a mission in Siam with the aim of educating Asians so that they could be ordained and thus work. The
community of French priests was small, but their parishioners and students were Tonkin and Cochinchinese Vietnamese, Chinese, Mons and a few
Siamese. During the Burmese invasion of 1765 to 1767, this area (also called Ban or Bang Plahet) was used as a camp, and was destroyed by the
invaders even before the fall of Ayutthaya itself. The church was rebuilt in the reign of King Mongkut in the mid-19th century. The present Victorian-
style building dates from the reign of King Chulalongkorn, when St Joseph’s was rebuilt again on the initiative of the French vicar apostolic at that
time, Bishop Jean-Louis Vey, and consecrated in 1891. There is still an important Roman Catholic school on the site.

According to Discovering Ayutthaya, there was an English settlement in Ayutthaya. In 1612, King Song Tham granted officers of the British East
India Company a large building on the bank of the Chao Phraya River south of the Dutch settlement. Despite support from the king, the company
eventually suffered great losses and finally had to withdraw since some British agents tended to trade on their own account.
In Ayutthaya, there were accounts of different groups of Muslims, namely, Moors, Arabs, Persians, Indians, Chams, Makassarese, Malays,
Javanese and people from Pattani in the South. They were under the Phra Khlang department that dealt with traders from the “Indic” world. The
Muslims were collectively referred to as khaek. Around
Wat Phananchoeng, one of the oldest temples in Ayutthaya, there used to be a large Chinese
settlement. It is where the Pak Sak and Chao Phraya rivers join. In the Ayutthaya period, Chinese junks usually anchored in front of this temple. In
the 17th century, many Chinese settled around this temple. Like many other foreigners, they married Mon women in Ayutthaya, who were rather
strong and independent, said Dhiravat. Anek Sihamat, director of the Third Regional Office of Fine Arts, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, believed that
many foreigners settled down in Ayutthaya due to the Ayutthayan kings’ open-door policy to promote trade. Certain pieces of art in Ayutthaya
reflect foreign influence, such as murals depicting the Chinese in Wat Rajaburana, some Buddha statues with Chinese inscriptions and some Western
and Persian-style buildings dating to the reign of King Narai (1656 to 1688), he added. Anuje Sirikit, a member of the National Museum Volunteers
group, said during the recent NMV excursion to foreign settlements in Ayutthaya, “The more I learn about the foreign settlements in Ayutthaya, the
more my heart is open to cultural diversity.” [Source: Bangkok Post]