Frontiers within frontiers. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Louis Golomb   


 Kershaw, Roger. Frontiers within frontiers. JSS. Vol.68 (pt.1) 1980. p.145-158.



                                                        FRONTIERS WITHIN FRONTIERS:


                                                THE PERSISTENCE OF THAI ETHNICITY IN

                                                                 KELANTAN, MALAYSIA*

       Brokers of Morality: Thai Ethnic Adaptation in a Rural Malaysian Setting

by Louis Golomb

Asian Studies at Hawaii No. 23

Honolulu, Hawaii; the University Press of Hawaii, 1978; xiv + 240 pp., ill.

The   conditions   for   a  successful  integration  of  ethnic  minorities into 'new  nations' — or
rapidly developing but long-established nations like Thailand—have been one of  the  characteris-
tic concerns of contemporary political science, and  it  will  be  part  of  my  concern  in  this  article
to illustrate the relevance of political science in this respect. But  the  traditional  preoccupation of
political scientists with the'state', and our seduction more  recently  by  the  easy  opportunities of
international relations, seem to have left us with little research on the critical  rural  sphere  to our
credit.Perhaps some political scientists have a sense of the futility of  competing  with  the  social
anthropologists,whose institutionally inherited techniques and  ever  more  sophisticated  metho-
dology constitute in themselves a most remarkable case of  human  adaptation. Both  by  training
and,in many cases thanks to innate linguistic and cross-cultural aptitudes,social anthropologists
seem to have a head start. They combine a traditional  disciplinary  orientation  to  rural  societies
with a thoroughly up-to-date interest in  modernization, viewed typically  as  a  process  of  culture
contact   and   cultural   change. Taken  together   with  the  relative  inactivity  of  other  disciplines,
such factors have enabled social anthropologists to produce  some of the most exciting and rele-
vant research on ethnic contact and assimilation in modern southeast Asia.

For Thailand and the Thai-speaking peoples there are the essays in Kunstadter's collection
(Kunstadter   1967), or   Moerman's   work  on   the   Thai  Lue  (Moerman  1965;  1967a;  1967b).
Conceptual convergence in south Thailand was the subject of a suggestive paper in this journal
a few years ago (Burr   1972). And  for  the  Thai-speaking  valley  people  of  upland  Burma  and
their   symbiotic   relationship   with   the   hill   people, there   is  Edmund  Leach's  classic  study
(Leach 1954) — through  which, as  through  his  own (Leach  1960) and  others' later work, runs
the theme that processes of adaptation and integration as such, between indigenous minorities
and   majority   groups, are   of   extremely  ancient  standing (cf.  Kunstadter  1967:42). However,
'many   of    the   minority   peoples  in  southeast  Asian  countries  were, and  still  are, internally
organized  on  a  level  which  necessarily brings them into structural opposition with the "central
government"'  (Kunstadter   1967:41)  with   its   battery    of   new   normative   concepts,  ranging
from  'economic  development'  through  'the  nation'  to  'imperatives  of  national  security'.  Even


        *The author acknowledges the generous support of the London-Cornell Project and the Nuffield Foundation

 for his earlier field research in Kelantan, in 1966-67 and 1974 respectively.


                                                                            145                                                        JSS 68.1 (Jan. 1980)





146                                                                    Roger Kershaw


where 'structural opposition' is not  present — as  I  have  argued  for  the  Thais  of  northeast
Malaya   that   it   is   not   (Kershaw  1968; 1969: 28, 168-173)1 — there   is   fertile  theoretical
territory to be explored, both from  political  science  and  social  anthropological  perspectives.
But in relation to the 7,000-odd Kelantan Thais it is once again social anthropology which has
made the running with Dr Louis Golomb's outstandingly professional monograph,  based  on
a Stanford University thesis.2




          It   is   a   central   tenet   of  Malay  nationalism  that  the  former  colonial  power  drew  its
frontier with Thailand with such  restraint  and  imperial  modesty  in  order to divide the Malays,
the   more   easily   to   subjugate   them. Seen   from   Bangkok,  however, the   British  forward
movement encroached all too persistently on the old Siamese domain, by absorbing Kelantan
and Kedah. And it needs only  a  passing  awareness  of  the  ethnic  patchwork of  indigenous
southeast Asia for one to anticipate the presence of Thais  south  of  the  border — albeit  a  far
smaller and more docile minority than Malaysia  would  have  to  handle  if  it  had  inherited, or
should ever presume to annex, the 'four southern provinces'.

          At   first   sight the  Thais  of  Kelantan  and  Kedah  might  seem  to  fit  rather  imperfectly
Leach's model of an ethnic  group  whose  language 'has  no  necessary  implications  for  the
historical antecedents  of  the  individuals  concerned' (Leach 1960: 51), for  their  presence  in
present-day Malaysia must owe something — at least indirectly — to the southward expansion
of   the  Thai  state  in  the  pre-colonial  epoch. Yet  notwithstanding  the  proximity  and  appeal
of modern Thailand, the capacity of the Malaysian Thais to  adapt  to  their  social  environment
is still mainly determined (and ensured) by their ancestral ecological position as  rice  farmers
in   a   Malay   society (cf. Kershaw  1969: 81-94;  Golomb: 20). Where   Leach's   discussion  is
especially   helpful   is   in   reminding  us  not  so  much  of  the  well-advertised  'artificiality'  of
colonial boundaries in cutting off  minorities  like  the  Malaysian  Thais  from  their  'homeland'
(given   ethnic   intermingling, could   there   ever   be   a  'non-artificial'  boundary  in  southeast
Asia?), but rather, of the  shifting  and  imprecise  nature  of  traditional  boundaries. The  point,
for  our  present  context, is  that  Siamese  power  in  the  Malay culture area (including Pattani


    1.Nor did I imply that there was in any really meaningful sense 'structural'  opposition  between  the  Kelantan

 Thai and Kelantan Malay spirit worlds, as Burr (1972:192) believes. I wrote rather of two parallel or counterpart

 segments of one universe (Kershaw 1969: 165).

      2. Among Golomb's particular advantages in approaching a study  of  the    Kelantan  Thais  was  his  facility

 in standard Thai, acquired on US Peace Corps service. It is not clear whether during 15 months in  Kelantan  he

 actually switched to using the local Thai dialect but as a speaker of the standard language he was much  better

 equipped than I during my research at Ban Semerak in 1966-67 and 1974 to spot convergences of the cognitive

 and syntactical structure of Kelantan Thai with Kelantan Malay. It  is   locally  reported  that  his  Kelantan  Malay

 reached an impressive standard of credibility—perhaps as a consequence of not having lived or worked previously

 in Malaysia in the thrall of the standard language. That he did not take up residence in the Thai  village which  he

 studied is at first sight surprising but it may conceivably have facilitated his access  to  the  neighbouring  Malay

 village as a 'neutral observer'.






                      REVIEW ARTICLE : FRONTIERS WITHIN FRONTIERS                               147


until quite recently in time) was exercised indirectly, as elsewhere on the Thai periphery, and
alternated  between  periods of  greater and  lesser  control. Thus the entry of Thai peasants
was  no  doubt  facilitated, if  not  promoted, at  times of expansion and tightened control, but
they  were  left  to  their  own  devices  and  had  to  make   their   own   political  and   cultural
adjustments to the host society most of the time.


        My  own interest as  a  political scientist has  been  partly  in  the  effect  of  these   historica
realities on the Kelantan Thais' response to pressures and opportunities to  identify   politically
with Malaysia. I have conceived historical experience  as a process by which  groups  learn    to
interpret and evaluate their political environment. The  ancient Kelantan Thai values of  political
passivity and willing clientship to Malay patrons are of great integrative significance so long  as
the contemporary environment accommodates and rewards such values (the tendency  in   the
present decade has been for political party development to build on that kind of political culture
and social structure; cf. Kershaw 1975).The experience of British rule generally reinforced   the
political culture in question but at the same time  implanted  a  destabilizing, even slightly  'sub-
versive', notion of a complex and correct hierarchy of the races. This hierarchy was  headed  by
the benevolent British, who afforded a place  of  influence  and  honour  to  the  urban  Chinese
as the most meritorious Asian  category, but  gave  the  law  impartially  to  all. The  'subversive'
effect of this simultaneously 'ideological' and 'home-made' model (Ward 1965) of  the colonial
political structure derives partly from the  high  status  which  it   attributes  (wrongly, of   course,
in a Malay Protectorate) to  the  Chinese; for  many  Kelantan  Chinese  are  linked to the Thais
by kinship, and their putatively favoured position  in  colonial  society  was  vicariously  enjoyed
by the Thais themselves. A second and more important reason  why  the  Thais' model  of   the
colonial political structure may be characterised as 'subversive' is that Malays  and   Thais  are
recorded, in that model, as enjoying completely equal status, as  the humble  but   honourable
cultivators at the base of the structure.3 The Malays' pretensions to replace the  British  as  the
superordinate ethnic category after independence were contrary to the Thais' new expectations
of  corporate  equality  in  rural  society. The  British  had  provided  a  degree  of  security  from
banditry and Islamic encroachment which was beyond  the  capacity  of  Malay  patrons  in  the
past. With independence, in 1957, the old  spectres  of  material  dispossession (cf. Kershaw
1977) and the advance of Islam came together and were instantly identified in  the  rise of  the
Pan-Malayan Islamic Party as the dominant political force in Kelantan State. In the absence of
an independent political structure the Thais' reaction was passive as in times past,but it was a
passivity  leaning  towards  alienation. It  is  mainly  economic  prosperity, the  reviving  possibi-
lities of dependence on Malay patrons, and the continuing, relatively high status of the Chinese


      3. They were not in fact equal as to access to land under British Malay Reservation Law but the absence of
population pressure on land before World War II, and the  flexible  administration of  the  law  by   British  District
Officers, prevented the Thais from becoming aware of the new position. Golomb commits a minor  error  where
he states (p 32; p 205, n 5) that Siamese land was excluded from Malay Reservation until sold to a Malay.In fact
it was always under Malay Reservation but heritable by Thais until sold  to  a  Malay. It   is  also  worth  pointing
out that the law does not, technically, prohibit land purchase by non-Malays but makes it  conditional  on  permis-
sion granted by the Ruler in Council. Although not nearly as  generous  and  flexible  as  the  British, Malay  DOs
have sometimes recommended the repurchase of land within Thai villages by  Thais. At  the  same  time, I  must
correct an error of my own (Kershaw 1968: 11 ; 1969: 123) where I have stated that Malaysian citizenship is a
necessary condition of inheriting land. This is not so — although some elements in  political  parties  and  district
administration believe or have pretended that it is.






148                                                               Roger Kershaw


in   Thai  perceptions  (Kershaw  1973) that  have   kept   incipient  political   alienation   within

         Nevertheless,it is also true — and necessary — to point  out that the blusterings of the Pan -
Malayan Islamic Party in the independence period did   not  lead  in  practice  to  any  assault  on
the Thais' most precious institution, their Buddhist religion, nor on such symbols of Thai identity
as pig-rearing. Security for the more conspicuous items of  Thai  culture  provided  a  framework
within which assimilation and political  integration  could  proceed partly unawares (cf. Kershaw
1969: 166-167). I have even toyed with the idea that abrasive and menacing  behavioural  forms
of   the  kind  that  is  typified  in  Thai  perceptions  by  Malay  male  circumcision  may  indirectly
assist integration by helping to maintain ethnic solidarity and  hence  the  underlying  subjective
security of the minority group (Kershaw 1979).






        The foregoing conducted tour  through  my  own  modest  contributions  on   the  Kelantan
Thais will only be justified if it has set the stage in general terms for a summary   of  Golomb's
book and has  provided  a  standard  by  which  to  appreciate  the  qualities  of   an  alternative,
modern   social   anthropological   approach   skilfully   handled.  Golomb's   work   is  situated
squarely  in  that  current  of  studies  for  which   a   well-known   collection   of   ten  years  ago
(Barth 1969) is simultaneously a milestone of distance covered and signpost  to  subsequent
development.  This   current   of   studies   is   concerned  with  the  cultural   'boundaries'   that
demarcate and help to perpetuate ethnic units in poly-ethnic social systems.

        The critical focus from this point of view becomes the ethnic boundary  that  defines  the  group, not the
cultural stuff that it encloses. The boundaries to  which  we  must  give  our  attention  are  of  course  social
boundaries, though they may have territorial counterparts. If a group maintains  its  identity   when   members
interact with  others, this  entails  criteria  for  determining membership and  ways  of  signalling  membership
and exclusion. Ethnic  groups  are not merely or necessarily based on the occupation of exclusive territories;
and the different ways  in  which  they  are  maintained, not only  by a  once-and-for-all  recruitment  but  by
continual expression and validation, need to be analysed.

        What is more, the ethnic boundary canalizes social life—it entails a frequently  quite  complex  organiza-
tion of behaviour and social relations.The identification of another person as a fellow  member  of  an  ethnic
group implies a sharing of criteria for evaluation and judgement. It   thus   entails   the   assumption   that   the


        4. Golomb (p 106)  has   cited  this  article  in  support  of  the  proposition  that  as  rather  powerless  minority

groups in an overwhelmingly Malay State the Thais and Chinese have  been  drawn  together  in  mutual   antipathy
to   the  dominant  group  In  fact, while  admitting  that  Chinese  power  is  illusory, I  tried  to  make  the  point   that
the Thais' assumption that the Chinese had not suffered as much from Independence as they themselves had done
was a factor reconciling the Thais to modern Malay government at first. (The article in question has also  appeared
in: 1976 Denys   Lombard,  éd., Chinois   d'Outre-Mer; Paris, l'Asiatheque: 83-96. This  printing   is   more   accurate
than the 1973 version, which lacked inter alia the fourth line in n 13, p 6.) In further connection  with  the   Kelantan
Chinese, Golomb (p 211, n 41) generously attributes to me the  insight  that  Thai  Buddhism  has  been  able  to  fill
a need for literacy among the local  Chinese. My  recollection  of  our   conversation (in  Kota  Bharu, 1974) is  that
Golomb's thoughts were developing along the same lines as my own at the time, and it was certainly he who  first
referred to the Thais as the 'priestly caste'  of  the  Chinese. At  any  rate  the  underlying  implication  in  Kershaw
1973 of a diachronic exchange (the Chinese today repaying the Thais for their assistance towards  integration  in
ehtpast) needs to give way to the idea of a living transaction, constantly renewed on both sides.






                                                 REVIEW ARTICLE : FRONTIERS WITHIN FRONTIERS                                        149


two are fundamentally "playing the same game", and this means that there is  between  them  a  potential  for
diversification and expansion of their social relationship to cover eventually all different sectors and domains
of activity. On the other  hand, a   dichotomization  of  others  as  strangers, as  members  of  another  ethnic
group, implies a recognition of limitations  on  shared  understandings, differences  in  criteria  for  judgement
of value and performance, and a restriction of  interaction  to  sectors  of  assumed  common  understanding
and mutual interest. (Barth 1969 : 15.)

Discussing    the   options   open,  specifically,  to   agents  of  change  in  minority  groups  which  face
pressures   for   assimilation   or   rapid   modernization, Barth   suggests   a   choice   of   three   basic


(i) they may attempt to pass and become incorporated in the pre-established industrial society and cultural
group; (ii) they may accept a "minority" status, accommodate to and seek to reduc e their  minority  disabili-
ties by encapsulating all cultural differentiae in sectors of non-articulation, while participating in  the  larger
system of the industrialized group in the other sectors of activity;(iii) they may choose to emphasize ethnic
identity, using it to develop new positions and patterns to organize activities in those sectors formerly  not
found in their society, or inadequately developed for the new purposes. (Barth 1969: 33.)

          It is the third strategy which Golomb identifies, in effect, as the typical, almost the defining,
response of one Kelantan Thai village community of 41 households, isolated  from  other  Thai
villages and forced by proximity and  economic  dependence  into  daily  interaction  with  Malay
neighbours.5  To   be   precise  in  anthropological  terms, it  is  not, of  course, 'the  community'
which   'responds'  to  its   situation   by   some  collective,  conscious  decision  to  adjust  in  a
particular  way. Nor  is  Golomb  concerned  solely  with  the  roles  of  conspicuous  agents  of
change   in   the   defensive   modification  of  identity—not  all  the  modifications  observed   at
Ban Sadang can be traced  to  innovator  types, whose  interactions with  Malay  society  would
sometimes   seem   to   fall  into  the  more  assimilative, second  strategy  in  Barth's  typology.
Golomb is concerned, rather, with the less tangible subject matter of  group  cultural  evolution
over   a   period   of   generations, a   product   of   'mechanisms'  of   adjustment   which  social
anthropology must assume to exist, not  simply  in  order  to  be  able  to  talk  about  them, but
because their 'effects' in present cultural patterns are plain enough to see. Generalizing about
Kelantan Thai villages as a whole, the author writes:


one finds individual villages evolving their own microethnic identities based on local  cultural  contrasts  with
their  immediate  Malay  outgroup   neighbours. Sometimes   neighbouring   Thai   and   Malay   villages   have
dichotomized,so it seems,the production of certain goods and services along ethnic lines, thereby stimulating
a healthy economic interdependence  while  revitalizing  ethnic distinctiveness. In  time, these  complementari-
ties  have  become  ingrained  local traditions. The  overall  picture  becomes  one  of  remarkable  cultural  di-
versification, linked   to   the   preservation   of ... the  "ethnic  category". Faced  with  menacing   assimilative
pressures,each Kelantanese Thai village is left to negotiate its own definition of "Thainess",which it presents
as a united front to its Malay neighbours. In some cases the elaboration of this ethnic distinctiveness  figures
as an excellent strategy for exploiting otherwise implausible ecological niches. (Golomb: 12-13.)


          5. In the interests of the villagers' privacy the author never identifies the village  in  which  he  worked. Nor
does the book include a map showing the location of the various Thai settlements  in  Kelantan  and  the  20  wat,
or any reference to Thai village names (though three Thai-Chinese villages which have established or share Thai
wat are frequently referred to by name). Yet Golomb's 'Siam Village' is known even beyond  the  borders  of  Ke-
lantan by virtue of its late abbot's fame as a healer (his cremation was even reported  in  the  Malaysian national
media ; Khoo 1978). As the village's exploitation of its abbot's fame was an important  aspect  of  its  'articulation'
with Kelantan society and as such a  central  theme  in  Golomb's  book, no  knowledgeable  reader  in  Kelantan
could be unaware of which village the study refers to. Moreover the Chinese son-in-law of the late Nai Ban and
well-known contestant for the political leadership of  the Kelantan Thais  is  clearly  identifiable  in  a  photograph
of his wife's and daughter's ordination (to do merit for the late Nai Ban, if I recall correctly). I  shall  thus  respect
the village's 'anonymity' only to the extent of calling it by its Thai name, Ban Sadang.






150                                                                  Roger Kershaw


It is as  if  these  Thai  villagers  have  unconsciously 'politicized' their  ethnicity: that  is, they  do
not organize themselves as a formal interest group but use cultural mechanisms to  'articulate'
on favoured terms with  the  other  Kelantan  races, while  reinforcing, their  identity  not  only  in
those sectors  of  their  culture  which  are  insulated  from  confrontation  and  modification, but
most  characteristically, even  precisely, in  domains  of  activity  which  presuppose  interaction
with out-groups. In short, specific cultural  dichotomies  are  singled  out  and  standardized  as
bases for structuring social  and  economic  interactions. At  all  events, I  think  the  point  to  be
stressed is the extremely dynamic, out-going nature of this 'defensive' operation (here I eschew
all   pretence   of   anthropological   terminology). Identity   and   the  continuity  of  the  group  are
secured by positive and constructive means, notwithstanding the unconscious  element  in  the
process. It must also be made clear — and it is at least implicit in  Golomb's  words  about  'the
symbolic reinforcement of Thai identity along a  highly  penetrable  ethnic  boundary'  (p. 118) —
that the better the 'defences' seem, the more accessible does the community become,in reality,
to a long-term acceptance of  identification  with  the  modern  Malaysian  socio-political system,
a process, ultimately if not simultaneously, of disincorporation as Thais.6 My own research  has
focused on the continuity of familiar, responsive  structures  and  the  possibilities  of  defensive
alliances as factors for the persistence of  such  integrative  tendencies  in  the  minority group's
political culture. I have  also (Kershaw  1979)  suggested  the  paradox  that   the  very  obstacles
to cultural crossing raised by Islamic culture may be a factor enhancing  the  subjective  security
of a minority group  and  thus  its  propensity  for  political  integration. In  its  examination  of  the
Thais' response to  their  Malay  environment, Brokers  of  Morality  offers  a  complementary  but
much more subtle perspective,in that it pin-points and analyses dynamic changes in the'moving
frontier' of Kelantan Thai culture itself.7







           I propose to summarize Golomb's findings under three themes which run intermingled
through his book. I shall classify the examples of cultural adaptation somewhat more method-


                   6. This may also be the ultimate significance of the observation that conservative practices in some spheres

'contribute to the continuity and stability of the Siam  Villagers'  ethnic  identity. In    so  doing, they  release  the

villagers from conservative commitments in at least some other realms of cultural activity.In particular, villagers

become more receptive to behavioral modifications which do lead to increased  cultural  complementarity  with

local Malay  communities' (p 162); or  even  more  to  the  point: ' "diversionary    boundary  markers". .. can be

said to function as cognitive "defense mechanisms" which permit cultural minorities like the Siam  Villagers   to

preserve  their  distinctive  cultural  identities  while  undergoing  incorporation  into  a  larger  pluralistic  socio-

culturel system' (p 182).

          7. Perhaps the nearest I have come to this kind of insight is in the observation (Kershaw 1969: 160, 166)

that in a polity where a Malay is defined pre-eminently by his religion, Thai identity redefines  itself  with  similar

emphasis on Buddhism. There is also the intriguing case of the partial nakedness  of  Thai  women, ignored  by

Golomb (Kershaw 1969: 264-265). But such cultural differentiae are located in spheres of non-articulation and

as such need little ingenuity to identify! A reference to economic interdependence and mutual regard (Kershaw

1969: 77) is   not  followed  up, while  my  discussion  of  Thai  medicine  and  nora (op. cit.: 286-288) in  Malay

society emphasizes Malay co-option of Thai cultural assets as  opposed  to  their  controlled, voluntary  adapta-

tion. I will recur later in this article  to  the  question  of  differential  assimilation  between  Thai  villages  and  its

implications for and relationship to 'political integration'.






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ically and explicitly than  Golomb  has   done  himself, leaning  perhaps  towards  oversimplifica-
tion in  the  interests  of  brevity. In  one  case  I  shall  take  the  liberty  of  questioning  Golomb's
own classification of a behavioural item.

           For our first theme or category of adaptation  let  us consider  what  amounts  to  Golomb's
major and most exciting category: the use of new cultural contrasts as the basis for the organiza-
tion of complementary economic roles between groups. Almost by definition— since these roles
relate to spheres of evolving articulation — these cultural contrasts constitute fairly  conspicuous
departures  from 'traditional' Thai  culture; but  if  they  receive  the  predictable  positive feedback
from   the   environment, again   almost  by  definition  'Thai'  identity  is  reinforced. At  the bottom
of a quite profound series of cultural changes  is  found  the  land  shortage, which  afflicts many
Kelantanese8 but is felt more keenly by Thai communities like Ban Sadang because  of  the  dis-
criminatory land laws.9 The Thais of Ban Sadang have fashioned for  themselves  a  number  of
alternative economic niches which, in  combination, compensate  amply  for  the  lack  of  a   rice
surplus, while removing points of potential  competition  with  out-groups. As 'brokers  of  morali-
ty'   the  Thais  provide  sundry  opportunities  for  deviant  Malays  to  gamble  and  drink  on  non-
Muslim territory  out  of  Islamic  sight  and  sound;10 and  a  range  of  religious  services  to  the
Kelantan Chinese, with whom and  for  whom  Buddhism  is, of  course, a  permissible  ground
of interaction.11 The provision of such religious services has involved a  shift  towards  religious
pragmatism, expressed not least in a declining fear of, and belief in, ghosts. Similarly there is a
tangible scepticism about the efficacy of the  charms  dispensed  so  profitably  to  Malay  clients.
(I feel, though, that a reference to the far more profound rejection of animist  belief  and  practice
among Kelantan Malays younger than about 40 would have given  a more  realistic  perspective
to this aspect of change at Ban Sadang.) The most numerous  type  of  'medical' specialism  at
the village turns out to be that of  the  love-charm  doctors  (mor saneh) : specialists  who  all  in
some degree have capitalized on the erotic element in the racial stereotype of the Thais in Kelan-
tan society, derived in turn from the Siamese  nora-man. The  provision  of  love-medicine   also
supplies a need in a Malay society in which divorce is rife; but   the  Thais'  ability  to  act  in  this
capacity owes not a little to the convergence of Thai to  Malay  magical  beliefs  and  moral  cate-

            Despite an adequate income  from  this  kind  of  service, the  Thais  of  Ban  Sadang  scorn
the Malays' love  of  displaying  wealth  in  the  form  of  modern  consumer  goods, and  recognise
no special merit in the actions of rich Chinese who endow the wat with fine buildings and modern


            8. An interesting possible parallel may be sought in Kessler 1978, where the thesis  is  put  forward  that

land   shortage   and  economic  competition (an  incipient  class  conflict  situation)  in  Malay   villages  gave  an
indirect   stimulus   to  Muslim  identity, expressed   through  support  for  the  Pan-Malayan  Islamic  Party  (PMIP).
But it must be understood that Kessler, in  emphasizing  class  conflict,  is  denying  that  Islamic  sentiment  is  in
any way a response to ethnic pluralism.

            9. Cf. note 3 above.

          10. It might have done more than just add a touch of local colour if Golomb had pointed out that the species

of palm (the sugar palm) from which the Thais make fermented toddy is itself something of a physical  'boundary-

marker' in Kelantan. The Malays make unfermented toddy from the coconut palm as a 'health drink'.

           11. Cf. notes 4 and 5 above. The Thais have also enjoyed favoured access to urban employment through

Chinese  patrons, and  Thai  women  have  married  into  Chinese  society  on  a  remarkable  scale  for  several

generations (Kershaw 1973). Recently a further distinct phenomenon  of  Thai  urbanization  has  begun — I am

familiar with centres at Kota Bharu and Pasir Puteh—but Golomb (p 12) insists there is no such thing.






152                                                                Roger Kershaw


facilities.12 In fact the Thais cultivate an image of distinct indigence — a   behaviour  trait  which
is   not   just  another  marker  of  ethnic  identity, Golomb  points  out, but  reinforces  economic
complementarity by persuading out-groups that the Thais deserve to be pitied  for  their  poverty,
not feared as an economic threat. The cultivation of a  strong  tobacco  variety  for  village-based
shredding and sale on the local self-rolled cigarette market is another  non-competitive  feature
in the Thais' economy. Further, the development  of  outside  sources  of  income  has  enabled
the Thai to give up the breeding of  water  buffaloes, those  indispensable  providers  of  plough
power in deep mud where even a  tractor  cannot  venture. Whether  ploughing  with  tractors  or
a   buffalo   the  Thais  turn   to  Malays  for  their  hire. The  notion  that  'Thais  don't  keep  water
buffaloes'  is  now  strongly  entrenched  as  an  ethnic boundary marker at Ban Sadang, though
clearly  contradicted  as  an  objective  proposition  in  other  Kelantan  Thai  villages. The  Thais
of Sadang are not without some reciprocal  recompense, however, for   since  the  local  Malays
have moved over to  double-cropping  (thanks  to  the  Kemubu  Irrigation  Scheme), the  buffalo-
owners must perforce graze their beasts on the  Thais'  fallow  fields, which  gain  from  the  rich

           Also in this review of adaptive cultural contrasts in the service of economic complementari-
ty, mention  must  be  made  of  the  southern  Thai  dramatic  art  form, the  nora, whose  appeal
to the Malays reputedly gave rise to the original  invitation  to the  ancestors  of  the  Ban  Sadang
Thais to go and settle there. The survival of nora in Kelantan  in  contrast  to Tak  Bai  across  the
frontier in Thailand is attributable in Golomb's assessment to  its  successful  absorption  of  ele-
ments of the Malay makyong, the use  of  Malay  even  for  the  traditional  dialogues  of  the  story,
and the  augmentation  of  the  nora  troupes with Malay actors  and  instrumentalists. So long as
nora does survive it provides a basis not only of complementarity but also  of  valuable  personal
interactions with the Malay community.


           At this point we may consider what I would  regard  as  a  separate  category  of  adaptation
or at least as a subcategory of cultural contrasts having relevance for economic complementarity.
The contrasts examined thus far have all involved change in or from  an  original  cultural  feature.
In my judgement Golomb makes too little distinction between  his  nora-men  and  the  wild-boar
hunters in  this  respect. True, they  are  both  characterised  by  a  love  of  roving  and  adventure;
it seems to make good sense to identify them both as representatives of the nak leng culture-hero
type and no doubt as innovators in the linguistic  sphere  at  least. It  also  seems  extraordinarily
valuable on Golomb's part to have pointed out that they  both  consort  with  Malay  friends  drawn
from distant places and of similar personality type, and that  these  friendships  in  consequence
are not subject to the restraints on  commensalism  and  curiosity  about  each  other's  religious
practices which operate in the neighbourhood of Ban Sadang. But if this is a case  of  adaptation
in any sense, is it not  a  case  of  breaking  through  the  Thais'  recent, adaptational  boundaries,


        12. But it seems a little risky to claim that the Kelantan Thais' emphasis on social action in preference to wat

construction as a means of gaining merit is unique in Thai Buddhism, a product   of  the  peculiar  circumstances

of Kelantan.

                   13. Although a perceptive reporter of agricultural practices  in  so  many  ways, Golomb  might  have  done

           well, I feel, to inform us of the actual months  in  which  the  Malays  transplant  their  two  crops, and  the  Thais
           their   single   crop.  Being   unfamiliar   with   double-cropping   schedules   myself, I  can  only  supply  October-
           November   as   the   traditional  Thai  period. An  anomaly  of  Buddhist  life  in  Kelantan  which  I  have  always
           found entertaining is that Lent ends just as the east monsoon brings in the rainy season.






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back to a notional status quo ante in which Thais  had  nothing  to  fear  from  Malay  assimilation,
oppression   or   exploitation? Within   this   context  the  nora-men  have  'Malayized'  their  art, but
in  what  way  have   the  boar-hunters  Malayized  their  boar-hunting? On  the  contrary  they  hunt
uninhibitedly as their ancestors did. Is   it  not  rather  their  Malay  collaborators  who  have  made
subtle cultural compromises ? I feel that the same observation could be made about the removal
of dead Malay domestic animals (i.e. unslaughtered, taboo   meat)  by  the  Thais. This  particular,
highly  complementary    function  involved   no  adaptation  on  the  Thais'  part  and  is  practised
completely openly.

          Let us now turn to  a  third  category  of  adaptation  in  Golomb's  study, one  that  is  strictly
non-articulating and thus non-functional except for the  reinforcement  of  identity: the  cons olida-
tion  or  revival  of  symbolic  ethnic  traits. A  prominent  feature  here  is  the  persistent  keeping
of domestic pigs at Ban Sadang,even though it has revealed itself (to the anthropologist at least)
to be hopelessly uneconomic. My  own  observations  at  Ban  Semerak  confirm  the  appallingly
bad investment that pigs can be  in  times  of  raging  disease.14 Correspondingly, beef  with  its
powerfully Islamic connotations is effectively excluded from  the  Thai  diet — a feature  found  at
Semerak too. In the  religious  sphere  the  Kelantan  Thai  community evinces  a  very  high  rate
of both male and female ordination  compared  to  Thailand. Golomb  records  for  Ban  Sadang
specifically the holding of Buddhist retreats, and  I  recall  several  instances  of  Kelantan  Thais
claiming that their community are better Thais than the Thais of Thailand, because more  sober
and devout. All these are examples of  boundary  consolidation  with  no  relevance  for  comple-
mentarity, and related to spheres where assimilation is most feared — not bceause the danger
there is objectively more real but perhaps because it  is  more  easily  conceptualized. Probably
language is one such sphere where apprehension comes easily. In this connection  Golomb's
versatile analysis includes one especially telling point. The  Thais  exercise  great  ingenuity  in
transforming lexical  borrowings  phonologically  so  that  the  language  remains  unintelligible
to Malays (and where Kelantan Malay and Kelantan Thai are phonemically compatible and  the
loan word may still be recognizable, the  Ban  Sadang  Thais  draw  on  their  latent  vocabulary
of central or southern  Thai  words  when  Malays  are  present). But  their  own   self-conscious
ingenuity provides such reassurance that a profound revolution in the syntactical surface  struc-
ture and underlying semantic categories of Kelantan Thai is enabled to  pursue  its  inexorable
course unnoticed.15


       14. But I am surprised that Golomb should quote the high price of bran as  a    rational  deterrent. I  have

 had the impression that the price of bran is lower  to  the  farmer  who  brings  his  own  paddy  to  the  mill.

        15. Stimulated by Golomb's challenging example I hope   to  publish, before  long, evidence  of  an  even

 more radical development in the dialect of Semerak and Malai — this apart from  its  tone  system, which, as

 Golomb correctly notes, is distinct from th e main    Kelantan/Tak Bai    dialect. (It  is  necessary,  though,  to

 point out that Semerak/Malai is spoken in two other locations, not just one. Golomb — p 12 — probably   has

 in mind Ligi in the Padang Pa'Amat area of Pasir Puteh District. Besides this there is Pok Kiang in   Trengganu,

 one of the two — not one, as in Golomb p 11 — Thai settlements in that State. I also feel there may be some

 point in recognizing, within the main Kelantan/Tak Bai dialect, a distinct   status  for  Bangsae'/Khaw  Yohn.)






154                                                                     Roger Kershaw


          Golomb is careful to say — indeed it  is  crucial  to  his  argument  about  micro-cultural  dif-
ferentiation — that the adaptations of Ban Sadang must not be assumed to be found duplicated
in the other Thai  villages  of  Kelantan. However, it  may  not  be  contrary  to  his  intentions  that
the book  conveys  the  impression  that  there  are  broadly two  types  of  Kelantan  Thai  village:
those isolated from other Thai settlements, and those near  the  international  border  which are
far less isolated and thus less assimilated. Ban Sadang falls into the former class,of which it is
implicitly representative in the general nature of its adaptation if not  in  the  precise detail  of  its
micro-cultural differentiae. I   should  like  now  to  point  out  the  possibility  of  another  form of
response to an encircling Malay  environment, basing  my  remarks on  some, though  certainly
not all, of my data from southeast Kelantan.

          Ban Semerak in Pasir Puteh district is not only highly isolated from other Thai settlements —
much more so than  Ban  Sadang — but  also, until  quite  recently, from  Malay  habitation, by
virtue  of  its  location  in  a  loop  of  the  Semerak  River  with  an  infertile  sandy  heath  to  its
immediate south. Historically, therefore, daily  contact  with  the  Malay  community  has  been
very limited, and the community has seemed to lack an intuitive sense  of  the  need  to  avoid
competition  by  developing  new  economic  niches   which   simultaneously   redefine,  while
reinforcing,  identity  (the  only  exception  may  be  the  practice  of  the  adapted  nora  drama).
Besides, pressure on land has been relatively slight. Thus as Thai males today seek  regular
employment for the first time  in  the  modern  Malaysian  economy, they  are  competitors   for
jobs   which, while   lacking   a   cultural   connotation  as 'typically  Malay', are  already   in  fact
something of  a  Malay  preserve  with  heavy  political  backing. These  Thais  of  the  younger
generation   who   work  outside   the  village  are  peculiarly  exposed  to  the  dilemmas  of  a
competitive market which offers no specialist niches and thus  no  refuges  from  assimilative
pressures. Meanwhile   the   majority  of  villagers  have  received  an  abrupt  awakening  with
the arrival of bilingualism among  the  young, for  previously  even  the  Semerak  nora-master
could   not    speak   Malay   with   great   facility   or   without   a   distinctive  Thai   accent.   The
encroachment of new Malay settlement close to the village boundary and the brazen  curiosity
of the  modern  Malay  crowds  which  converge  on  the  wat  compound  for  temple  fairs, are
watched with timidity and foreboding. In order not to displease the large Malay element in  the
audience, the Kelantan nora is now performed with its  full  complement  of  Malay  accretions,
even at the wat.This has prompted the opinion at Semerak that the Thais have 'lost their nora
to the Malays'.16

          Comparing this kind of evidence with the  situation  at  Sadang, one  may  wonder  whether
assimilatory  pressures  in  isolated  locations  need  always  give  rise  to  a  side-stepping  but
ultimately positive and assimilating response.The point is that isolation can give rise to a sense
of exposure which is too  strong  to  be  absorbed  or  abated  by  the  cultural  mechanism  of  a
flexible  'ethnic  boundary'. Rather, identity  may  be  reinforced  in  a  spirit  of  resistance  in   the
surviving spheres  of  non-articulation  and  in  primary  institutions. This  is  not  to  say  that  the
concept of 'political integration' has no place in   the  analysis  of  the  relations  of  a  village  like


         16. The reader must not take this as a mere expression of exclusivism towards an inherited cultural asset,
but try to imagine the  feelings  of  village  folk, especially  women, who  simply  cannot  understand  the  vulgar
Malay of the new dialogues and are  easily   intimidated  by  the  jostling,  sometimes  rowdy  groups  of Malays
in the darkness around  the  nora  stage. All  this  takes  place,  significantly,  on  holy  ground, during  religious
festivals such as ordination, threatening the privacy even of the religious sphere.






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Ban   Semerak  with  its  social  environment. On  the  basis  of  a  reinforced  and  unassailable
identity   in   the   religious   sector,  for   instance,  such   a   community   may   certainly  become
accessible   to    the   more   reassuring   kinds   of   opportunity   for   political   participation  and
political   identification   as   'Malaysians'.  But   this   would   be   essentially   on   the    basis   of
separateness in a system whose political dynamics and terms of reference are anyway defined
by   'universal   ethnic   incorporation' : the   allocation   of  political  statuses  and  national  mem-
bership by prior reference to ethnic group.

          This line of thinking stems of course from two sources. On the one  hand  there  is  my  ex-
perience of an isolated Thai community  which, while  profoundly  assimilated  in   many  uncon-
scious ways, is ill-equipped to handle the  new, sudden  pressures  of  economic  and  political
modernization, and thus  responds  with  relatively  pronounced  defensiveness  and  alienation.
On the other hand, I am simply looking at the data  as  a  political  scientist. It  is  clear   that   the
'ethnic boundary'  approach  and  Golomb's  findings  at  Ban  Sadang  combine  to  produce   a
challenging standpoint from which to re-examine (as I have just done) the situation at Semerak,
or any Kelantan T hai  village  for  that  matter; but  at  the  same  time, attention to  the  Semerak
example, combined with a more  political  perspective  than  Golomb  has  employed, may  help
to pick out and illuminate unsuspected strands in the social web  of  Ban  Sadang. Even  in  the
midst of a high degree of economic complementarity, cultural  security  and  underlying  assimi-
latory   trends, political  integration   is   not  guaranteed. On  the  other  hand  if  directly  political
pressures become too menacing—if politics threatens culture—the fine cultural and  economic
symbiosis evolved over generations could founder.17

          In this light the possible disadvantage of an  exclusively  social  anthropological  approach

becomes apparent. I do not suggest that Golomb should  have  doubled  the  length  of  a  book
whose strength consists not least in its compactness and precision, just in order to write about
Kelantan politics as well! But it  is  a  really  remarkable  Kelantan  book  which  contrives  never
once to mention the  Pan-Malayan  Islamic  Party  (PMIP)  and  the  Malaysian  federal  structure
in which that party has flourished on a regional basis.18


          17. Thus I question whether assimilation is necessarily a unilinear process.Golomb himself claims (p 115)

 that there were many more Thai marriages with Malays over 40 years ago than in the last  40  years. If  that  is

 true, the Thais would seem to be less convergent with the Malays now, in one sense, than in the past;  though

 admittedly the essence of Golomb's thesis (with which I agree) is that good  boundaries  are  not  incompatible

 with underlying  assimilation. It  may  not  be  a  point  worth  pursuing  because  Golomb's  only  evidence   for

 frequent intermarriage in the distant past is the occurrence of the patrilineal prefix 'che' in the next-door  Malay

 village. (I must confess to being unaware that this denotes descent from a convert, as Golomb states, and am

 not able either to contradict or confirm it.)

            18. It is a pity, too, that in mentioning the portraits of the 'Malay King and Queen' hung side by side  with

 the portraits of Thai royalty in Thai houses (p 28), Golomb should employ such an opaque usage and not  say

 whether he means the Sultan of Kelantan or the King of Malaysia, or both, and if both, what proportion of the

 portraits fell to either monarch. This lack of alertness to political  nuances  comes  out  again, more  seriously,

 where it is suggested (p 211, n 29) that the Thais may have failed to obtain gun licences because the 'Malaysian

 authorities may still doubt their loyalty to the Malaysian nation'. The difficulty  about  gun  licences  is  general,

 I agree, throughout the community (though I do know of  a  licence  held  formerly  at  Yung  Kaw), but  does

 it not arise rather from the Thais' close  alignment  with  the  United  Malays  National  Organisation    (UMNO)

 and their consequent exclusion from the patronage of the PMIP-dominated administration? (In this connection

 I must take my distance from the statement — p 13 — that only a handful of Thais align with UMNO!  But I  do

 concur  with   the    well-substantiated  judgement  that  modern Thailand  has, at  the  moment, little  political

 relevance at least to the more isolated Kelantan Thais.)






156                                                                   Roger Kershaw


            As it happens, the  PMIP, latterly  known  as Partai  Islam, has  been  'tamed' in   recent
years by incorporation into the ruling National Front  of  Malaysia, but  now  it  is  in  opposition
again (though not in power in the Kelantan State government) and Malaysian politics remains
unstable. The Malays of Malaysia  are  involved  in  their  own  profound  crisis  of  culture  and
identity, as they weigh the rival options  of  Western-style  secularization  and  're-Islamization'.
Social and economic modernization seem imperative  as  a  basis  of  secure  Malay  political
power against the  Chinese, and  to  forestall  a  general  crisis  of  poverty  among  the  Malay
masses. The Malays reject the strategy of the economic niche. But if it is  not  stoutly  resisted,
the revolution of values which modernization brings in its  tow  would  undermine  the  Islamic
commitment which provides the Malays with their most potent  ethnic  boundary-markers  and
instruments of social control and general solidarity-making. There is much scope  here  for  a
PMIP revival and an acceleration of political alienation among the Malaysian  Chinese  due  to
economic  discrimination  as  well  as  cultural  pressures. Some  reverberations  of  national
political developments will reach the  Kelantan  Thais  through  their  Chinese  co-religionists,
patrons and  kinsmen. Others  will  be  felt  directly  at  the  village  level  in  relations  with  the
Kelantan   Malay   community.  For   a   political   scientist   to   sketch   a  broadly  pessimistic
scenario for the future  might  be an act of  self-indulgence, yet  as  national  communications
and national   conflicts  impinge  increasingly  on  rural  society  it  is  well  to  remember  that
Malaysia's politics, like its cultures, is in flux.





                                                                                                                    Roger Kershaw


 University of Kent at Canterbury






                                REVIEW ARTICLE : FRONTIERS WITHIN FRONTIERS                                    157




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158                                                                       Roger Kershaw


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