I wrote this small text about 15 years ago when I settled on Koh Yao Noi. By this time, I was conducting historical and ethnographic research about southern Thailand, peoples and cultures, in partnership with Sorbonne University, the french Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Songkla Nakarin, Patani.
I was particularly interested in the way the Malay Peninsula had been along the 2 last milleniums a crossroad of cultures, a hub for trades between India and China, and later on the western world, and how aborigines and local civilisations did interact and exchanged together, culturally and economically. Well, there would be a lot to tell, but it will take many more papers.
So, having quite a good knowledge of the historical background of the region, I wrote this introductory page, and shared some paragraphs of it on Wikipedia, a few blogs and other websites. The page has been moved since onto wikitravel (link).
The funny thing is that now, this text is partially and sometimes mistakenly reproduced on many hotels’ web sites… of course, never quoting who wrote it at first :-).
In a way it is cool, at least it gives an almost correct idea about the place travellers are coming to when landing on Koh Yao. On another hand it is a little bit frustrating, but not surprising at all, to see how businesses grab from others, and to see that no one else ever tried to push the topic a little bit further…
Here is the original paper :
“Koh Yao Noi is one of the larger islands in Phang Nga Bay, an archipelago of 44 islands. It is easily accessible from both Phuket and Krabi Provinces and sports some of the most beautiful sea scenery in South East Asia.
Sea Gypsies (Moken people) where inhabiting the Bay before anybody else, except maybe other nomadic people like forest hunters and collectors (Sakai, Negritos).
The 3,500 or so inhabitants of Koh Yao Noi are thought to be recent migrants from the Malay Peninsula (Satun, Trang). The Mon population, linguistically and culturally belonging to the Khmer ethnolinguistic group, did settled in peninsular Thailand since ever, ruling maritime states like the one of Ligor (Nakhon Sri Thamarat). They melt continuously with Southern migrants from Malaysia and with Northen rulers (Thai), over centuries of commercial exchanges and political conflicts. Most probably the Mon stock remains prevalent for most of the people living nowadays in Southern Thailand, includoing people of Koh Yao.
Numerous cave paintings hidden in the many islands of the bay, extending from 2000 years ago to last century, attest the influence of distinct communities in the emergence of a mixed origin population, living now in the provinces of Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi and Satun.
The most recent migrations (17th-18th century) from Satun and Trang to Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi is attested by the fact that the particular dialect spoken on the island still bear obvious Malaysian lexical traces, particularely regarding toponyms and vernacular names of the flora species.
The main industries on the island are fishing and rubber planting. A little rice farming and some fruit, palm and coconut plantations are evident. Boat building and farming techniques here have been passed from father to son and, while some of the youngsters leave Koh Yao to seek the bright lights of Phuket, most return to their tight knit community.” G. C, 2000.
Illustration : an old map from Francois Valentijn, who was employed by the Dutch V.O.C, published in 1724 in Oud en nieuw Oost-Indiën, vervattende een naaukeurige en uitvoerige verhandelinge van Nederlands mogentheyd in die gewesten, benevens eene wydluftige beschryvige der Moluccos … en alle de eylanden onder dezelve landbestieringen behoorende; het Nederlands comptoir op Suratte, en de levens der Groote Mogols…
Thanks to Christopher Joll, Social Anthropologist at Chiang Mai University, for giving me a copy of this map.