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  •   Background and Rationale

    To develop the ethnic groups database where systematized research data are available online and can be made use of by interested parties or individuals, following the subjects or topics of their interests, and thus making it easier for them to sum up the essential points necessary for further in-depth studies. 

    S'gaw youth at Mowakee Chaingmai

    Less savings. Much to share.

    S'gaw's proverb
    Mowakee Chaingmai

    Salak Yom Festival
    Pratupha Temple

    Sea as Home of Urak Lawoi, Moken, Moklen

    Rawai beach Phuket Thailand


    Computer class of S'gaw students
    Mae La Noi , Maehongson

    Khaw Rai (Rice)
    produced from rotational farming
    Li Wo, Kanchanaburi


    S'gaw woman at Hin Lad Nai village

    Fermented Beans

    Important ingredient of Tai


    Phlong(Pwo) woman

    Li Wo village

    Boon Khaw Mai rite

    Phlong at Li Wo


    Little Prince of Tai

    Ordination in Summer of Tai boys


    Boys are ordained as novice monks

     Poi Sang Long is the tradition of the Tai. 

    Be novice monk to learn Buddhism


    Tai-art  mural painting of  Buddha 
    at Wat Chong Kam Chong Klang
    Maehongson Thailand

    Wat Chong-Kam, Chong Klang

    Hmong childs at Ban Kewkarn
  •   Smile

    Smile in problems
    Urak  Lawai at Rawai Phuket
  •   Hybrid




  Important Information on “Ethnic Group”: Definition and Names
  Assist. Prof. Chavivan Prachuabmoh
Definition of an Ethnic Group  

   The concept of “ethnic group,” which has been a preoccupation in anthropology since 1947, is an attempt to classify groups of ethnic people. Previously, anthropologists had put an emphasis on the classification of ethnic members’ habitual behaviors or “cultures,” as called by anthropologists, rather than on ethnic categories.

   In England, certain groups of anthropologists were the first who started to be interested in classifying ethnic groups, as evidenced in the conceptualization of the term “tribe.” It was, then, followed by the conceptualization of the terms “band” and “peasant” by American anthropologists to point out cultural differences between ethnic groups in terms of development.

   Although the emergence and the prevalence of the concept of “ethnic group” are still unclear in explanation, it could be assumed that the concept is related to the Human Rights Movement among anthropologists and sociologists from other disciplines. Particularly, Ashley Montague, a biological anthropologist, was one of the chief leaders of the movement.

   Montague, together with other leading researchers of the time, drafted four UNESCO statements on the issue of race criticizing the conceptualization of the term “race” as a means of classifying groups of people. In 1950, the first statement or “The Race Question,” (A. Montague 1972, Chavivan Prachuabmoh 2008:6) proposing and recommending the use of the term “ethnic group” instead of “race,” was issued.

   In fact, he opinioned that “ethnic group” was a more accurate term to be used in classifying ethnicities since it was newly introduced thus making it less confusing than the term “race.”

   In Montague’s opinion, “ethnic group” refers to a group of people regarded by others as physically and culturally different. In this case, the emphasis was placed on giving examples of the anthropological classification of groups mainly based on their physical traits (A. Montague 1972).

   Since 1947, the concept of “ethnic group” has become prevalent in ethnology, social and cultural anthropology as well as other disciplines of social science, such as sociology, psychology and political science. According to Walter P. Zenner’s observation (1996), other previous concepts are still adopted but not so popular for many reasons. For example, “tribe” has become a term signifying barbarism and reflecting the western imperialistic bias as the word is originated from “tribu” meaning a group of barbarians who live outside a Christian civilization (Sahlin 1998).

   On the contrary, the term “ ethnic group” has a relatively unbiased meaning. That is, it is not likely to suggest any cultural superiorities and inferiorities but cultural diversities. Ethnicities were classified by anthropologists or linguists in the beginning. For instance, in LeBar, Hickey and Musgrave’s Ethnic Groups of Mainland Southeast Asia (1960), ethnic groups in Southeast Asia are classified with regard to language contact and linguistic diversity.

   However, since 1957, those objective classifications have been widely criticized by anthropologists working in different regions of the world, especially in Southeast Asia, such as by Edmund Leach in 1964 and by Michael Moerman in 1967.

   Edmund Leach, a British anthropologist, made an observation from his fieldwork study of the Kachin, an ethnic group in Burma that each group of the Kachin had its own system of language thus leading to an incomprehensible communication although each identified and accepted each other as Kachin.

   In 1967 Michael Moerman, an American anthropologist who conducted research on the Tai Lue in northern Thailand, proposed that when classifying ethnic groups, one should be conscious of ethnic members’ self-ascription. He remarked that the Tai Lue had very little differences in their cultural traits, in terms of their styles of production, beliefs, languages and costumes, from the Khon Mueang or the Tai Yuan, which were the northern Thai. However, these seemingly insignificant differences had entailed the Lue’s exclusion from the Khon Mueang.

   In addition to cultural and language differences, his other remark was that the origin and history did matter in the identification and self-ascription of ethnicities.

   These objective classifications of ethnic groups have been widely criticized by many anthropologists though in certain similar ways. To elaborate, LeVine and Campbell (1972) made an observation that most anthropologists of the time had the tendency to focus only on cultural traits. For this reason, it was loosely understood that an ethnic group was a group of people who shared a particular culture. However, in reality, ethnic classification could be hardly done with precision (Chavivan Prachuabmoh, 2004). Later, those critiques have gained more and more attention from anthropologists and sociologists, especially from those who questioned “ethnicity,” focusing on these following issues.

   1. Ethnic self-ascription

   2. Learning processes and ethnic identity exhibitions in different contexts

   3. Feelings and relationships among ethnic groups

   4. Interaction between individual members from different ethnic groups

   5. Ethnic boundary maintenance

   6. Ethnic changes

   Fredrik Barth was a prominent social anthropologist who played an influential role in encouraging the usage of certain ethnic concepts, namely “ethnic identity” and “ethnic boundary,” which were newly introduced subjective concepts putting an emphasis on ethnic self-identification, self-ascription, self- identity and significant cultural traits.

   Barth’s proposition (1969) is that rather than seeing ethnic groups as “cultural-bearing units,” they should be seen as “a form of social organization” which possesses the similar sense of meaning as “social status” in the interaction between members of the same ethnic groups or between members from different groups. According to this idea, cultural identities are important in ethnic ascription and are used as “an emblem of differences” to classify oneself and others. In this sense, belonging to an ethnic group could be compared to other social statuses, such as gender, classes, seniorities or living places, which are the standards of interaction between ethnic groups. In fact, what should be the focuses of ethnological studies are probably ethnic identities, ethnic categories and the boundaries of ethnic groups when individual members of an ethnic group interact with others.

   Barth also remarks that the ethnic boundary is still maintained although there are always interactions between groups and similar cultural changes. His emphasis is on how members exhibit their ethnic identities when interact with others rather than on ethnicity, as in Moerman’s case.

   Other than those proposed by Barth, different concepts have been introduced by many anthropologists and sociologists, such as Abner Cohen (1974), whose attempt is to make a more succinct meaning of “ethnic group.” In detail, Cohen identifies “ethnic group”as “a collectivity of people who share some patterns of normative behavior, or culture, and who form a part of a larger population, interacting within the framework of a common social system like the state.” The significance of this definition is that ethnic groups must share a “common social system” and it should be noted that Cohen’s ideas about ethnic classification are still based on objective criteria (Chavivan Prachuabmoh, 1982).

    In other words, although Cohen also focuses on the interaction between ethnic groups like Barth does, he places less attentionon individual ethnic members. At the same time, he lays stress upon the analysis of the ethnic collectivity and the organizing system (Chavivan Prachuabmoh, 2004).

   As can be seen, the term “ethnic group” has been defined very differently thus making various definitions. In essence, the fact that the term could not be concisely defined is indeed a result of different considerations from various perspectives on different phenomena.

Difficulties about Ethnic Group Names and Ethnic Classification in Ethnological Research

   Ethnic group name and ethnic classification are related with each other since the general principles of any types of classification comprise these following key elements:
   1. The name of the subject being classified
   2. The name of the subject category
   3. Classification criteria or characteristics
   4. Sentiments and attitudes adherent to the subject or category being classified (Chavivan Prachuabmoh, 2008)

   However, the classification of groups of people significantly differs from other types of classification. That is because human beings can think, feel and use languages to express their thoughts and feelings that “who they are.” It should be noted that how ethnic people identify themselves could be different from how others identify them. With this in mind, anthropologists need to be aware of ethic self-ascription and self-identification in their studies of ethnology. For this reason, the names of ethnic groups are inconsistent. In fact, this inconsistency leads to some difficulties involved in the database management system. This article is presenting the inconsistencies of ethnic identifying names since the issue is probably more significant than the classification since the names of ethnicities are directly related with data browsing system.

Difficulties about Ethnic Group Names in Ethnological Research
   The fact that ethnic names in ethnological research are inconsistent and lack of clarity that “who is who” results in difficulties in the data browsing system which is a prior concern of the database. Any confusion and ambiguity of the identifying names of ethnic groups may lead to troubles with the research organizing system and data browsing system since inconsistency is found in every ethnic group. The following case study is an example.

Lua (Mal-Phrai) Areas of Habitation
Lavu’a Several villages, such as Ban Bo Luang and Ban Chom Chaeng in Mae Sariang district, Nan province
Lawa Ban La Up
Lavua Ban Bo Luang
Lawia Ban Ho, Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province
Plang Ban Huai Nam Khun at Doi Tung, Chiang Rai province

   In addition, the names have become more sophisticated and more confusing when identified by others and officially identified by the government.

Identifiers Names identified by Others Self-Identified Names
Government T’in Lua
Tai Lue in China Hkawa Lavu’a
Lanna Thai Lua Lavu’a
Central Thai Lawa Lavu’a
Burmese Palaung Lawa
Tai/ Thai Yay Tailoi Lawa (Buddhist)
Government Lua Plang
Government Lua Ugong
Residents of Kanchanaburi province Lawa Ugong

   These inconsistencies are attributed to, firstly, an influence of the conceptualization and identification of the term “ethnic group.” Many research and studies are likely to take the matter of ethnic self-ascription for granted and use the names identified by outsiders or the government. For example, an ethnic group living in the northern provinces of Thailand, near Myanmar border and identifying themselves as “Paganyaw,” is identified as “Yang Phueak” by the Thai Yay, “Yang Kaloe” by the northern or Lan Na Thai, “Paki” by the Kayah, “Karang” by the residents of certain provinces in central Thailand, namely Ratchaburi, Petchaburi and Kanchanaburi, “Sgaw Karen” by western academicians and “Kayin” by Burmese.

   Secondly, it is probably involved with the fact that some of the ethnic members or subgroups have more than one ethnic identity depending on contexts and situations (Chavivan Prachuabmoh 1980).

   Thirdly, each ethnic group has a long history of its own including immigrations and interactions between ethnic groups through its immigration route. Accordingly, an ethnic group may have several ethnic group names and, in many cases, it has assimilated others’ as its own. For example, the term “Phutai” has become “Lao-Song” as a result of the assimilation. This results in the difficulties in classifying ethnic groups since the ethnic dynamics do exist. That means, it could not be concluded that the present-day “Lao-Song” is the very same group of people as the “Phutai” or “Tai Dam” as called in Northern Vietnam (Chavivan Prachuabmoh 2006). Another example is according to a field survey conducted in Hang Dong district, Chiang Mai province. In detail, the “Lua” people call themselves “Tai Yuan” though they are ever aware that they are of the “Lua” descent. Moreover, many of them are unhappy to be called “Lua.” In short, the sophistication and confusion of ethnic group names are also problems even within the ethnic communities.

Complications on the Classification of Ethnic Groups


   There are three different types of ethnic classification in Anthropology:

   1. The classification of groups of people framed by different concepts explaining human beings and their cultures, such as nomadic group, tribe, race, peasant society and ethnic group
   2. The classification of ethnic groups, such as Hmong, Mien, Lua and Lavu’a based on academic classification criteria and purposes of the classification
   3. The category of related ethnic groups especially in terms of language, culture, history and politics.

   One of the most important difficulties is that most researchers tend to mark ethnic groups by the names identified by others and are not likely to pay much attention to the classification of the studied groups leading to the lack of necessary information. As can be seen, there are some complications on the ethnic classification and categorization, academically. In addition, several ethnic groups do not fully accept the names identified by others as well as ethnic categorization done by researchers.

   For instance, researchers regard “Thong Su” as a group of Karen. However, in some research, “Thong Su” is indicated as “not Karen.” Moreover, during an academic talk on the issue of the name of the ethnic group “Karen” (2008), a participant identifying himself as both “Plong” and “Panganyaw” provoked the discussion about whether “Plong” and “Panganyaw” should also be identified as “Karen” and whether those other groups already identified as “Karen” by academicians are really “Karen” since some groups are hardly familiar and even incapable of communicating with each other.

   Furthermore, the anthropological study of ethnic self-classification has not yet been theorized. The present-day classifications are mainly based on linguistic criteria which are still controversial (David D. Thomas 1964, David Bradley 1994).

Ethnic Classification Difficulties in the Database Management System

   In the collecting of ethnological research work, the project working team has been facing several difficulties regarding the meanings of ethnic group names as well as the diversities of ethnic classifications in research work. Several cases have led to confusion and ambiguity thus making it difficult to systemize the records. The team has been finding the solutions by presenting the studies of self-identified ethnic group names which found in research work in the form of tables comparing ethnic group names based on present-day information at hand. More information in the future will be continuously updated into the database.



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