Sunday, December 23, 2012

Militant dreams of restoring lost glory

In Prachinburi, Pitsanulok, Ayudtaya, Petchabun, Muang Nong Bua Lam Phu and MaeSuay, ChiangRai (surely among other places too), are “San” shrines (spirit residences) for King Naresuan the Great (Somdet Pra Naresuan Maharat; สมเด็จพระนเรศวรมหาราช or Somdet Phra Sanphet II, สมเด็จพระสรรเพชญ์ที่ 2). From the age of 20, Naresuan (then Pra Naret) participated in 29 military campaigns with major battles between large armies. Altogether, as King he spent only 2 years in his capital. A map at the MaeSuay shrine shows Naresuan to have controlled all of Cambodia and Laos, parts of Western Vietnam, southern Burma to the Irrawaddi and most of the Shan States, west past the Salween and north to Hsenwi, where the Shawbwa was a friend from childhood. This is fabrication.
In a time of great martial instability, Pra Naret was able to quickly raise armies and defeat other armies. This had nothing to do with administering a country, but everything to do with re-establishing one of the greatest port-trading communities on the world. Trade made might, Lanna was no more, and mainland Southeast Asia was becoming a busier, more international area. The idea of a country had only started to take root; the idea of Siam, as opposed to Ayudtaya, was equally new. At the time, international borders simply did not exist (feudal obligations did). The idea of restoring some former Siamese glory from that time is but myth, wishful thinking, or delusion, but the existence of these shrines testifies to its active continuance. At the shrines are lots and lots of plaster roosters, in memory of a story of Pra Naret beating the Burmese Crown Prince at a contest of fighting cocks: "Not only can this cock champion a money bet, it can also fight for kingdoms" Pra Naret is said to have said.
Naresuan (the ‘Black Prince, พระองค์ดำ) is said to have started rebuilding Ayudthaya about 1580, 10 years before the beginning of his reign. With powerful Dutch and British traders (in addition to Arabs, Indians, Persians, Japanese, Chinese, Spaniards and French ones) coming, it had been an important entrepot; it was soon to be the busiest port in Southeast Asia. A century away from being the world's largest city at over a million inhabitants, Ayudtayaq needed more than city walls; it needed the buffering territory of surrounding tributary states. It needed to not be just a city-state, but the center of Siam. Naresuan captured Siamreap, Battambang and other important Cambodian cities (the Angkor Thom area had already degenerated and become uninhabitable), as King Boromoraja of Cambodia had invaded Siam a year after Bayinnaung (Burengnong) sacked Ayudtaya (he’d annexed ChiangMai and Lanna in 1556, invaded Ayudtaya in 1563, took most of it 1564, and finally sacked the city in 1569). In 1594, and Cambodia became a vassal state of Siam, ruled by its own prince, Soryopor, who became Barom Reachea IV. Naresuan left an army in Cambodia, but it was driven out by Rama Chungprey the very next year. Cambodia hadn't been annexed, only paralyzed, so that Naresuan could deal with his Burmese arch-enemies without danger at his back. Siam needed ports on the Indian Ocean, so in 1593, Naresuan took Tavoy and Tenasserim. He then aided a successful Mon rebellion from Moulmein, took Martaban, and marched on Toungoo. But his successes ended there. A pustule, most likely of smallpox, suppurated, and he died in 1605. His successor Egatosrost (Ekat’otsarat, aka Ekathotsarot the White, Naret’s younger brother) abandoned Siamese efforts in the Shan States. In 1610 Ekat’otsarat was succeeded by Int’araja (“The Just”). Local Japanese rose up and sacked Ayudtaya, while the King of LuangPrabang attempted to come to their aid. Peace was restored in 1612, but the Burmese soon recovered Moulmein and Tavoy. Laotian kings had continued to rule throughout. The map of a gigantic Siam is but wishful thinking, like the plaster chickens purchased to bring to the purchaser wealth, gold and good fortune.