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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




  About Us
Project information  |  The use of information


1. Contents of the ethnic groups research stored in the database
The project working team started by studying some other relevant databases including the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) of Yale University where, for over 5 years, ethnographical research compiling had been done before they presently have been stored online. The team has learned that each particular database has its own data analysis objectives and scopes. Therefore, it is essential that our database, similarly, must have our own as well. So our objective is to provide our users with preliminary background knowledge of each ethnological research so that if they desire to read any particular original work, it would be possible to search for and to read it independently3 , thus further researches could be done more quickly so.


The Project Committee therefore, renders the service of having text analysts for a number of subject categories as follows :



Subject Categories



Text Analyst

Give name – last name of text analyst



Give key words of overall essentials of research pieces, books, or articles, in sequence of importance : ethnic groups, main issues, secondary issues, provinces/regions



Give name of author, or editor, as appears in books or articles. Documents in Thai – give first name - last name of writer (followed by title conferred by the King, ranks, positions); English documents – give last name, middle name, first name



Title of work (if in other languages, not in Thai – give title in the language used in that work, followed by its Thai translation. If in English, no translation is needed).


Document Type

Give document type (books, articles, research reports, dissertations)


Total Pages

Give number of pages or excerpts



Source of articles/researches Give name of book/magazine, as is in a bibliography (book title, “article title”, publisher, publishing place, number of pages)



Year of publication


Location of Document

Location where papers/research works/articles are found or stored. (Photocopies of papers/articles are marked as from the Centre).



Summarized focuses of research study


Theoretical Issues

Proposal or concept presented in the study Affiliations of different academic phenomena


Ethnic Group(s) in the Study

Name ethnic group(s) that is/are the main objective(s) in the study


Language and Linguistic Affiliation

Explain and give information on language systems and family categorization in the study


Community Site and Environment

Research location. Give name of community/tambon/ amphur/province/country/continent (Mark latitudes and longitudes if mentioned in the study)


Study Period

Duration of study time (Also state time duration of each field work data collection)


History of the Group and Community

General background of the community in the 
1. Historical study – give dates related to 
community history
2. Community study – indicate time duration 
of the study
3. Study involving 1 and 2 above – give 
information on both


Settlement Pattern

Give information on settlement pattern, housing pattern, of the community in the study


Demography (population number and structure, migration, birth and death)

Give demographic statistics (population density/birth rate and mortality rate/population number). Give data levels, if there are.


Economy (natural resources, resource utilization, technology, production,
exchange, and consumption

Give information on production system, economic exchange and consumption in the study


Social Organization (marriage, family structure types, kinship including
descent groups, other kinds of
grouping such as client-patron
relationship, classes, interested groups and socialization

Give information on social structure in the study


Political Organization (power 
structure and relations, leadership, factions, conflicts, relationship to state, social control, laws)

Give information on political and administrative structures in the study


Belief Systems (beliefs, values, ideology, religious rites and practices)

Give details on religions, religious rites, beliefs


Education and Socialization

Give details on education, knowledge perpetuation, and affiliation with social reformation


Health and Medicine (sanity, beliefs related to health and healing)

Explain public health and disease treatment systems (local wisdom in medicine) in the study


Folklore (myths, legends, stories and play)

Give information on words of mouth, tales, legends, in the study


Arts and Crafts (architecture, 
clothing, literature, andicrafts, 
songs, dances, etc.)

Give information on architecture, performing arts, handicrafts, clothing, costumes, in the study


Ethnicity (ethnic identity,
identification, ethnic maintenance, boundaries and relation)

Give details of ethnic relations with other ethnic groups, or of ethnic maintenance
Give specifications of ethnic groups’ names of unequal relation significance


Socio-Cultural Change

Explain socio-cultural changes


Other issue

Explain main issues or emphases in the study



Summarize main points in the study


Map & illustrate

Give names of maps and illustrations in the study


Date of Report

Give date the report is submitted for contents accuracy and completion check


2. Ethnic groups and boundaries to be summarized and stored in the database


This database, in the long run, is supposed to cover overall Thai and Southeast Asia ethnic groups. However, at the present preliminary stage the emphasis is mainly on the ethnic works done in Thailand only. Our next objective is to expand the work scope in compiling all ethnic researches of other Southeast Asian countries.


The Project, moreover, has defined very broadly the meaning of ethnic groups, thus making it applicable for many types of ethnic works. This is due to the fact that the meaning of ethnic groups has changed over the years. For example, the term “ethnic groups” in anthropology, during the decades of 1947-1967, was used to refer to the groups that were different from the other groups culturally. This type of categorization, a materialistic one, was done by anthropologists who were interested in human and cultural subjects. But in the later 70’s, the meaning of “ethnic groups” emphasized the awareness in categorization based on cultural differences determined by the ethnic members themselves of each particular group. This explains why ethnic groups researches of different times each reflected different meanings, and which is true even in the present time.


The fact that the Project makes use of the broader meanings has made it possible for our database boundary to cover all ethnic groups characterized by themselves or by the others to be different culturally from the other groups. But at this early stage the framework and the boundaries still have to be narrowed down by compiling only the subjects on those ethnic groups regarded as the “minorities” in Thailand. There have not yet been researches on the Thai groups in the Central, the North, the Northeast, and the South of the country. Excluded also are the works on the “overseas” Chinese in Thailand, as some other academic institutes such as the Asian Studies Institute of Chulalongkorn University have shown interest and already collected some data on these people.


3. Types of data


The project implementation involves 2 types of data as follows :


1.       Contents (according to Subject Categories)


2.       Maps




4. Ethnic Classification and Ethnic Group Names in the Database


Since the information at hand is not yet enough for systematic categorization by ethnic characteristics, ethnic groups in the database are classified by their names instead. As mentioned previously, the working team has made a decision to use the ethnic self-identified names as  for these following reasons.


Firstly, those names identified by others are likely to suggest an insulting implication making the ethnic members prefer their self-identified names. A privilege to identify oneself is regarded as fundamental rights of all human beings.


Secondly, using self-identified names attributes to a more precision in the identification of ethnic groups regarding their ethnic origins, ethnic cultural identities and areas of habitation whereas names identified by others are relatively ambiguous. For example, the term “Lua” refers to some ethnic groups with different ethnic identities, histories and cultures. That is, “Lavu’a” “Lua” and “Plang” are all broadly labeled as “Lua”.  


Since self-identified names of ethnic groups are not well-known, the table comparing the names, self-identified and identified by others, is designed to facilitate the searching. Moreover, the project provides some information of the ethnic language families according to the language family classification by Prof. Dr. Suwilai Premsrirat (2006) in order to point out the relationship between ethnic groups in the linguistic aspect.


Initially, the table lists only the names of ethnic groups in Thailand as there are very few summarized records of the neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.


However, users should realize that the names of ethnic groups and the ethnic classification are subject to change. In fact, they are characterized by dynamics in accordance with historical, social, and political contexts as well as intentions and the purposes of the classification. Also it should be noted that members of each ethnic groups may identify themselves differently. For instance, the senior generation of the “Lao Song” does not have problems calling themselves “Lao Song” whereas the younger generations are more satisfied when identified as “Thai Song” (Chavivan Prachuabmoh and Waranun Worawit 2000). Therefore, it is possible that it will be changing in the future.




5. 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.


6. 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.


          A case study of the “Lua”


          The project has found that the name “Lua” of an ethnic group in Nan province, Thailand, is used to identify these following ethnic groups which identify themselves variously as follow:


Lua (Mal-Phrai)


Areas of Habitation


Several villages, such as Ban Bo Luang and Ban Chom Chaeng in Mae Sariang district,  Nan province



Ban La Up


Ban Bo Luang




Ban Ho, Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province



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.




Names identified by Others

Self-Identified Names





Tai Lue in China




Lanna Thai




Central Thai








Tai/ Thai Yay



Lawa (Buddhist)









Residents of         Kanchanaburi province






          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.




7. 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).


8. 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.




  Thai Museums Database
The Inscriptions in Thailand Database
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