Thursday, February 21, 2013

1902 Shan Rebellion in Northern Thailand (4)

Later it was found to be effective as planned. All was quiet on both banks of the river for a long while. Then the sound of gongs and long drums burst forth, "Mong, sae mong!" The chief of the Shan forces shouted, "Pakamoong! Hey! Jee Hey! Pao Hey!? He was calling the gang in the city under the leader Pakamoong to set fire to the city of Chiangrai. Unfortunately for him this gang was being held in custody in the temple of Wat Phra Singh.

So nothing happened as planned by the Shans. Simultaneously gun-fire began at the bridgehead mixed with the sound of drums and gongs and Shans shouting "Wat Lae! Wat Lae!" which was similar in meaning to the cry of dacoits farther south who would shout, "Ai sua aow wah!" when making an attack. Apart from firing their rifles the Shans shot off fire crackers to frighten people in the city.

Then the robbers who thought themselves invulnerable because they were tattooed all over, marched with swords in both hands to the bridgehead and came within the firing of the big gun hidden on the city side. When the robbers came near the middle of the bridge, the ruling prince himself pulled the trigger of the big gun and the vanguard of the enemy disappeared into the river.

The followers, very angry, rushed over the bridge to invade the city despite the rain of bullets from the city side. Many of them fell and disappeared into the current because the false floor in the middle of the bridge did not bear their weight. The rearguard, seeing the failure to cross the river, retreated and encamped about six kilometers from the city.

1902 Chiang Rai.
Suddenly the Thai soldiers from Chiangmai arrived and at once crossed the bridge in pursuit of the enemy. The robbers put up a severe resistance at Santakook village because they were entrenched in a well-fortified position. At last the Shan force was driven out of the kingdom.

By mistake the Thai soldiers thought that all the houses on the other bank of Mae Kok River belonged to Shans so they burned all of them down. They beheaded two Shan rebels and put the heads up for public view in front of the present government office just opposite to the officials' club.

Later investigations showed that old people, and women and children had been badly treated by the Shans. During the fighting people gathered up bundles of clothes and food in order to flee into the jungle.

In the city many houses were hit by bullets from the muskets of the enemy, especially the house of Phya Pakdirajakit. In the bedroom near the river, which happened to be the bedroom of the writer of this sketch, there were many holes caused by the bullets. The owner of the house kept them as they were until recently.

Dr. Boriboon Pakdi (the nephew of Phya Pakdi) was obliged to demolish that old house in order to build the classrooms of the present <1962> Daroon Suksa School in its place. No life was lost in the city. It is not certain whether the Shans intended to rule the city or merely to plunder it. During that time the city of Prae also had a severe battle with the Shan invaders (1905).

Shortly after the repulse of the Shans, an army barracks was set up in Chiangrai for the first time. It was erected on the tops of the hills along the bank of the river from the house of Dr. Briggs to Doi Tong. The barracks offered a fine view of the landscape and meant security to the people.

After that Dr. Briggs was made a medical officer attached to the Chiangrai Regiment and he was commissioned a captain in the army. Every week both Dr. Briggs and the colonel in command would inspect the health of all soldiers in each company and give treatment to those who were sick. All the privates and officers would salute Dr. Briggs whenever they met him.

Vengeance by Siamese troops under Field Marshall Surasak was ruthless; many innocents were punished. The rebellion had lasted 14 months. In December 1905, Prince Vajiravudh, who became Rama VI, visited ChiangRai, solidifying royal authority. As King, Rama VI required surnames for all; “sometimes whole villages were given the same last name”!

When the northern rail route reached the Lanna area (Pitsanulok in 1907, Lampang in 1916 and Chiang Mai variously reported as 1919 or 1922), control from Bangkok became quite fully, and firmly, set. Dr Briggs, though, had already left... unfortunately, never to return.

Siamese Atrocities in Chiang Kham

Working through French colonial archives from northern Laos and Siam I have found a fascinating account of repressive Siamese action against the Shan rebellion which broke out in Phrae in July 1902. Some of the French officials had quiet sympathies for the Shan, and little sympathy for the Siamese who were rapidly expanding their administrative hold in the northern province.

French attitudes towards the Siamese hardened when reports started coming in of “unspeakable atrocities” committed by Siamese troops in their repression of the rebellion. An account of an incident in late October 1902, was provided by the French Consul in Nan.

After some confrontations with rebels around near the village of Ta Pha (near Chiang Kham),  Siamese troops marched into the village. They arrived at a house belonging to the Bombay Burma Company, a British trading and timber business. Here is an edited translation of the Consul’s account (with most of the original spelling, which is sometimes very difficult to decipher):

In a nutshell this is what happened: Tapha is a small village, at the junction of the roads, which lead from Nan and Pré. It is inhabited by Luus and Khamous people, it is a forestry station where the Bombay Burmah Company has a house, a shop and a rice granary. The rebels based in Xieng Kham had sent a vanguard on the 24th October to Tapha to try to stop the troops coming from Pré to cross the ford of Nam Méyon.

In the morning of the 26th they learnt that a second column was coming from Penh-Yao to take them from the rear and decided to go towards it. They met at five or six kilometres from Tapha, when the column had just left Muong Sa.

Since they only had flintlocks they could only hold for a few moments and fled through the forest, towards Muong-Song, without entering into Tapha. This took place at 11am. Instead of following the rebels, the column kept marching on Tapha, which it reached at two o’clock in the afternoon. As soon as they came in sight of the houses, and although there was not a single rebel left, they fired several  salvos and came to the Bombay Burmah land.

They removed the flag of the company, destroyed the fence and riddled the house with bullets before going in. Inside they found three Khamous, a Lao, a Luu and an eight-year-old child; and two Burmese hired as guards. 

The soldiers chased these poor unfortunates who had taken refuge in the kitchen; one of the Khamous, the Lao and the Luu were killed at close range, the two other Khamous and the eight-year-old child were seriously wounded.  The two Burmese were chained. The private house, the shop and the rice granary were vandalised and looted.

After that they saw a big hut which belongs to the indigenous wife of the of the Company agent. There they massacred two women in their sleep, including a sixty year old and wounded two more.

Once these summary executions over, the crazed gunmen spread through the village to take people from their houses and move them to the pagoda where they were kept until nightfall. Meanwhile the plunder of the village took place in a systematic fashion by the soldiers, the partisans and the coolies of the column.

The morning after the Phaya Datzakone, who styles himself “Commander in Chief of the vanguard army”, arrived at Tapha were the whole army was now gathered. For five days, 600 regulars and as many coolies finished ruining the village before leaving for Xieng Kham. 

The day they left, the two Burmese of the Bombay Burma Company were taken five kilometres away, were tied to a big tree each, facing the tree, and decapitated.

What is important/what we should keep in mind is that all the victims were in houses belonging to foreigners; and that all of them are, with no exception, English and French protégés and either employed or relatives of employees in the service of Foreigners. I met with my English colleague at Tapha who had also come to investigate; he is as upset as me. What will be done? It would seem improbable that both governments would leave such crimes unpunished. As to the rebels, they seem to have scattered for the time being.

[The image is an extract from a petition presented by the heads of villages near Chiang Kham seeking protection from the French.]

(Shans were the predominant inhabitants in the northern part of Thailand - then known as Siam – till the very end of nineteenth century. In July 1902 Shans dreaming of establishing an independent state in northern Thailand rebelled against the ruling Thais. But the Thais - then known as Siamese - ruthlessly crushed the rebellion and brutally slaughtered the Shans there and by September 1903 the now-completely-forgotten Shan Rebellion was over.)