by KURODA Keiko

Kagoshima University

In the Malay Peninsula are many port-polities that have played important roles in mediating trade between the West and China since ancient times. Patani on the east side and Kedah on the west side of the peninsula were famous port-polities in the bordering area between present day Southern Thai and Northern Malaysia. Although both had been Islamized since the 15th century, under the Buddhist government of Siam, they had been treated as tributary states and incorporated into the trade network of the country.

During pre-modern times, however, Southeast Asian port-polities were multi-ethnic, and there were extensive frontier areas without fixed borders. In these frontier areas, the Mon-Buddhist and Malay-Islamic cultures co-existed alongside each other, merging at times.

However, the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 established the Siam-Malay "border" in our modern definition of the term. According to this treaty, Patani was integrated into Siam, and kedah into British Malaya. As a result, this intercultural region was divided in two.

Both Siam (later, Thailand) and the Malay Union (later, Malaysia) quickly developed modern nation-state systems. The governments pressed the people living on the Thai-Malaysian border to choose between assimilation or rejection of the national identities espoused by the nation-states they now belonged to.

Thai-Speaking Muslims in Malaysia

Some people had immigrated to Malaysia from Southern Thailand before the 18th century. Most of them were Thai-speaking Muslims known as the SamSams, whose cultural heritage was a unique mixture of the Siamese and Malay. However, during the establishment of the modern nation-state of Malaysia, most Sam Sams have chosen a Malay-Muslim identity and abandoned their own culture and customs, which had also included non-Islamic aspects. By 1992, almost all traces of their former culture had disappeared, except for the Thai language. Another Thai-speaking ethnic group in Malaysia are not Muslims, but Buddhist-Siamese. Being a minority, their political status is lower than that of the Chinese and Indians.

Malay- Speaking Muslims in Southern Thailand

The public and administrative systems in Thailand, on the other hand, do include predominant aspects of Buddhism, the Buddhist king being a fundamental element of nation-building in that country. In this system, it is the Muslim people who have become a minority . Patani and two other prefectures in Southern Thailand are the only regions in the country with a Muslim majority. Most of these residents are Malay-speakers, having refused "Thai-ness" as their national ideology. Following their movement of separatism from Thailand, the former Sultanate of Patani has become a symbolic image of Muslim independence.

During the long struggle for separatism, there has often been resistance in this region, sometimes taking the form of terrorist action. In the 1990s, however, when the economic development of the region is directly contingent on the power of the central government, most of these people are making the practical decision to declare their position as Muslim citizens of Thailand.