SEACOM Research Projects

Tai textiles: Yesterday and Today
Tai/Thai Women in Asian Context
Müang luang Tai
Traditional Law and Values in Tai States
baan-müang: Administration and Ritual
Community Rights in Thailand and Southeast Asia
Japanese Anthropologists and Tai Culture

Tai textiles: Yesterday and today (exhibition)
(Project 2012)

A short-term project was dedicated to the description and analysis of designs of Tai/Lao textiles in preparation of an exhibition at the "3. Thai-Tag" at Hamburg University on 12-13 May, 2012. The focus of this exhibition was on textiles from the collections of SEACOM.
(Jana Igunma, Curator)

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Tai/Thai Women in Asian Context
(Project 2005-2010)

This research project was carried out in collaboration with Walailak University in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Researches on the roles of women, heroines and ideologies of feminity, gender and gender relations in history and present times were presented in two publications:
Tai Culture Vol. 19 ("Women and Gender in Tai Societies") and Tai Culture Vol. 22 ("Tai/Thai Women in Asian Context").
(Cholthira Satyawadhna, Project Leader)

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Müang luang Tai (Tai capitals)
(Project 2002-2004)

The research project "Müang luang Tai" was based on the former SEACOM projects concerning traditional law and values, and ritual and administration in Tai baan-müang polities. The aim of the project was to shed more light on traditional Tai polities and their capitals by analysing the social and political structures, socio-economic as well as political and religious relations between these capitals in a historical perspective. The research was based on analysis of written sources, oral history, and literature/art interpretation. As a result of the project and collaboration with researchers from Vietnam, Thailand and Germany (Westfalian Wilhelms-University Münster) a special Issue of Tai Culture was issued with the title
"baan-müang: Towards integrated Tai Studies". In addition, we aim to curate an exhibition of photographs which were taken by the project leader during several research trips to former capitals of Tai polities.
(Oliver Raendchen, project leader)

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Traditional Law and Values in Tai States (baan-müang)
(Project 1999-2001)

Through the course of history, the Tai speaking groups which form the main ethnic group of Mainland Southeast Asia, and the second largest ethnic groups in China and Vietnam had constituted their own principalities and states (müang), as well as monarchies and modern nation states, whose legal and administrative systems integrated both Buddhist/Hinduistic and traditional (pre-Buddhist) Tai concepts of government policy, administration and jurisdiction. Specific concepts of law were developed in these Tai societies, and these concepts to date form an important part of the indigenous knowledge system, especially concerning social behaviour, property rights, community management, administration practice, and conflict solving. Tai perceptions of rights and justice - even in modern times - are strongly connected to traditional cosmology, Buddhist morality, the traditional values system and the community, and rights and responsibilities are determined mostly by the needs of the community. The latter plays a central role in the traditional (pre-Buddhist as well as Buddhist) law systems, but was much neglected when introducing modern law in the states of Southeast and East Asia, in some of which the Tai are only ethnic minorities. The sometimes contradictory relation between popular traditional perceptions of justice and rights on the one side, and modern state law on the other side results in conflicts not only between the state (administrators) and the population, but also within families (caused by differences in modern and traditional inheritance law, marriage and divorce law etc.) and communities (caused by differences in modern and traditional irrigation law, administration law, religious affairs, rural development regulations etc.)
Seemingly, there appears a certain antagonism between traditional perceptions of justice, rights and responsibilities on the one side, and modern state law and international law on the other side, which officially in some occassions is used to legitimate a so-called “Asianisation” of law, democracy and human rights. But in fact, the so-called “Asianisation” holds a great potential for undermining democracy and human rights, and for discrimination of certain communities and social, religious as well as ethnic minorities. However, the “Asianisation” of law and human rights cannot be legitimate as long as the traditional concepts of law and the popular perceptions of rights and justice are not studied, analysed and evaluated from an objective academic perspective. A first step is the systematic study of the traditional perceptions of law, rights and justice in the traditional Asian cultures.
Academic research on legal traditions in Tai societies until now emphasised several Buddhist law codes in Thailand and Laos, as the Traiphum code of Sukhothai, the Phosarat code and Nidan Khun Borom of Lan Sang, and the Mangraisart of Lan Na. Buddhist law codes were of a special juridical significance in religious and urban centres, where Buddhist kings or noblemen resided. At the village level, especially at the outer periphery where the influence and control of central rulers was not as strong as in the administrative centres, traditional codes such as hiit khoong and khoo haam codes were of great importance. These codes regulating especially social relations and inter-personal behaviour as well as intra- and inter-community relations in the traditional Tai hierarchical societies supposedly were of pre-Buddhist origin, though partially influenced by Buddhist thought and morality.
Such traditional Tai law codes were collected and transcribed from historical manuscripts into modern scripts by Thai, Lao and Vietnamese scholars. Thanks to their work we have access to the hiit khoong codes of the Black Tai (Tai Dam) in Vietnam and the Lao in Laos and Thailand, and partially to the khüt and khoo haam codes of former Lan Na (Northern Thailand). But systematic analyses of these codes are still lacking.
From a first study of the traditional law codes of the Tai one can say that the community was strongly emphasised. Law was constituted for the sake of communities within the traditional baan-müang system, such as the community of the extended family, of the village, or whole müang polities (chiefdoms, small states, kingdoms). Law codes defined rights, but also responsibilities of the individual within a community, and of sub-communities within extended communities. On the other side, rights and responsibilities of major communities towards sub-communities and individuals were formulated in traditional law codes. Buddhist and traditional pre-Buddhist law were strongly based on traditional values and aimed to prevent social and political conflicts, and to protect the human communities. Thus, harmony and conflict-free social interaction are highly appreciated by all Tai to date. The preventive community-oriented character of the traditional codes might be an important difference to western law concepts, which accept the conflict as a social reality and which are more oriented to solve existing conflicts than to prevent them.
A special issue of the TAI CULTURE International Review on Tai Cultural Studies with the title "Law and Values in Tai baan-müang" is the outcome of a 2-year research project that brought together scholars from different countries and from different disciplines, who did research on traditional law concepts and traditional perceptions of justice, rights and responsibilities in Tai societies. The aim of the project was to provide fundamental knowledge which is needed for comparison with other Asian societies, and to conceptualise traditional Tai perceptions of law, rights and justice. Starting from the point that traditional concepts of law basically influence the actual perceptions of rights and responsibilities, the project also aimed to analyse and to compare the regulations concerning individual-community interaction in Tai societies, and to re-conceptualise Tai perspectives on rights and responsibilities as expressed in traditional law codes.
The contributions in this special issue, on the one side, provide an „inside“ Tai perspective by using original sources and by paying attention to the specific Tai terminology. Researchers and specialists from different countries and from a variety of disciplines, such as specialists in the study of law and law history in Southeast Asia, philologers, linguists and anthropologists were brought together to compare and to discuss several traditional Tai law codes from the viewpoint of the complex study of the Tai baan-mü,ang knowledge systems. On the other side, the modernisation of traditional Tai law systems and changes in the perceptions of law due to external influences (Buddhism, sinicisation, colonialism, interaction with non-Tai ethnic groups) are examined in this special issue.
The research project was initiated and organised by SEACOM southeast asia communication centre Berlin in 1998. Scholars and young researchers from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Germany were involved in several workshops and round table discussions in Thailand and Germany as well. After the project was announced officially in 1997, several other initiatives and projects dealing with traditional forms of law in Southeast Asia and their actual role started in Vietnam (Conference on “Customary Law and Rural Development in Contemporary Vietnam”, Buon Ma Thuot, November 1999), Thailand (Thai Research Fund Project: “Community Rights in Southeast Asia”, Bangkok 1999-2001), and the USA (Tamara Loos, Cornell University: panel proposal to AAS 2001 “Comparative Colonial Jurisprudence in Southeast Asia”). The increase of research activities having traditional forms of law in their focus without doubt proves that the significance of traditional law is going to be recognised more and more not only in historical and anthropological research on SEA, but also in comparative legal and political studies at an international level.

(Jana Raendchen and Oliver Raendchen)

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baan-müang: Administration and ritual
(Project 1996-1998)

Dealing with Tai peoples, scholars often have been confronted with the baan-müang concept and several hypotheses had been developed. (Cam Trong 1978, 1987, 1995, 1998; Chatthip Nartsupha 1984; Hirsch & Kemp 1993; Chayan Vaddhanaphuti 1993; Vanpen Surarerks 1986; Cohen & Wijeyewardene 1984; Taillard 1972, 1992; Lemoine 1998, etc.). These studies show that Tai baan-müang systems cannot be looked at from only one point of view. Baan-müang are well structured systems of social, political and economic organisation, and it is not possible to separate social life from religion, policy, economy, agriculture etc. It is important to have a many-sided, interdisciplinary perspective on baan-müang to understand the structural complexity of the whole system. Another important aspect is to have an historical perspective. Actual socoetal trends are only explainable if one knows their historical backgrounds. For this, the study and translation of Tai original sources is of the same importance as the analysis of the developments in the last two centuries as well as actual matters and transformations.
The study of baan-müang is a problem which cannot be solved by one single researcher or research group. It needs the collaboration of scholars of different disciplines. Therefore the project for an interdisciplinary study of baan-müang systems was initiated by SEACOM in 1996. The focus of the project was on four thematical aspects:
1) Irrigation works and law
2) Administration and political history
3) Cosmology and ritual
4) Ethnic perspectives and intercultural relations
The phenomena discussed in the four sections are strongly interrelated. Irrigation and administration, for example, are interdependent. But also many communal cults have their roots in wetrice production and are directly connected to irrigation. Sometimes, communal cults function as factors stregnthening communal identity and therefore are indirectly connected to administration and policy. The results of the project and many additional contributions to the theme and were published in a special issue of TAI CULTURE (Volume III No. 2) in December 1998.

(Jana Raendchen and Oliver Raendchen)

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Community Rights in Thailand and Southeast Asia
(Project 1999-2000)
"Community Rights in Thailand and Southeast Asia" originated from a research project funded by the Thailand Research Fund, namely, "Local Community Rights - From Traditions to Present-day Situation: A Study of Local Community Rights Policy Formulation in Thailand", an on-going research program (1999-2001). It is an extensive network project dealing with problems of local community rights in Thailand in comparison and in the context of Southeast Asia. A set of sub-researches, covering seven sub-projects, are grounded and designed to build up such a network. The aim is to gain an integrated research co-operation among local communities, local intellectuals, and Thai together with international academics, who share interests in the issue of community rights. There are approximately 40 researchers working together within this network under the structure of a research program, namely "Thai Human Rights in the Globalized Situation", directed by Prof. Saneh Chamarik.
The seventh part of this research program had community rights of particular ethnic groups in thailand and Southeast Asia in its focus. Case studies and research field-sites have been well-chosen throughout the four regions of Thailand and in the Thai-Yunnan periphery. The major objective was to synthesize an overview of the overall picture of the problems of local community rights abuses existing in the whole country, including Bangkok. It was also to provide a summary of requests and needs of local communities in order to find out and propose a state policy on local communities at a macro level according to the Provision on Local Community Rights stated in the Constitution of the Thai Kingdom (latest version of B.E. 2540 / AD 1997). As a matter of fact, the majority of case studies reflect the general problem of human rights violations and local community rights abuses caused by the state power and state mechanism in Thailand. At present, such situations have become a common phenomenon and people are familiar with encountering those existing problems and take it as something "normal". This project presents the aforesaid by utilizing the "local community" as a research field and the actual problems of human rights violation and community rights invasion of such a community as a "case study".
The results of this seventh project of the research program have been published in the TAI CULTURE journal, Vol. V, No. 2 in December 2000.

(Cholthira Satyawadhna, Project Leader)

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Japanese Anthropologists and Tai Culture
(Project 1998-1999)

The project "Japanese Anthropologists and Tai Culture" under direction of Prof. Shigeharu Tanabe, aimed to present some selected studies of Tai culture amongst Japanese anthropologists. Not least due to language barriers, in the past the works of Japanese scholars have not been very well known to the international academic community. The translation of original Japanese works into the English aimed on outlining a research programme whose results are based on lengthy research and solid fieldwork.
The Japanese scholars explore responses of Tai people to the forces of modernisation and homogenisation. Thus, while any claim to a total concept of Tai culture is avoided, the generation of cultural constructs is highlighted. Another purpose was to show and illustrate approaches to the study of Tai culture: all the scholars in the project share a strong confidence in ethnographic, qualitative methodology. The researches, which were translated and published with the support of the TOYOTA Foundation in the TAI CULTURE journal Vol. IV, No. 1 (June 1999), while diverse in subject and region, are very much concerned with Tai culture as modernity and contested space which is characterised by the confrontation of different and often competing systems of knowledge. Cultures of local people (which are recorded in social memory) are being transformed by dominant knowledge; however, the researches of Japanese scholars show how local people as social actors who participate and are involved in the negotiation of culture as knowledge.

(Alexander Horstmann, Project Leader)

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