Thai people, Central Thai ( th|ชาวไทย) or Siamese ( th|ชาวสยาม; historically and sometimes domestically), in a narrow sense, are a Tai ethnic group
dominant in Central
and Southern Thailand
Part of the larger Tai ethno-linguistic group native to Southeast Asia
as well as Southern China
and Northeast India
, Thais speak the Central Thai language
, which is classified as part of the Kra–Dai family of languages
. The majority of Thais are followers of Theravada Buddhism
As a result of government policy
during the 1930s and 1940s resulting in successful forced assimilation
of many the various ethno-linguistic groups in the country into the dominant Thai language and culture, the term ''Thai people'' has come to refer to the population of Thailand
in general. This includes other subgroups of the Tai ethno-linguistic group, such as the Yuan people
and the Isan people
, as well as non-Tai groups, the largest of which is that of the ethnic Chinese
According to Michel Ferlus
, the ethnonyms Thai/Tai (or Thay/Tay) would have evolved from the etymon *k(ə)ri: 'human being' through the following chain: *kəri: > *kəli: > *kədi:/*kədaj > *di:/*daj > *dajA
(Proto-Southwestern Tai) > tʰajA2
) or > tajA2
(in the other Southwestern
and Central Tai languages
classified by Li Fangkuei
[Ferlus, Michel (2009). Formation of Ethnonyms in Southeast Asia](_blank) Michel Ferlus
''42nd International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics, Nov 2009, Chiang Mai, Thailand. 2009'', p.3.
' work is based on some simple rules of phonetic change observable in the Sinosphere and studied for the most part by William H. Baxter
[Pain, Frédéric (2008). An Introduction to Thai Ethnonymy: Examples from Shan and Northern Thai](_blank)
''Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 128, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 2008)'', p.646.
notes that a deeply rooted belief in Thailand has it that the term ‘Thai’ derives from the last syllables -daya in Sukhodaya/ Sukhothay (สุโขทัย), the name of the first Thai Kingdom
The spelling emphasizes this prestigious etymology by writing ไทย (transliterated ai-d-y) to designate the Thai/ Siamese people, while the form ไท (transliterated ai-d) is occasionally used to refer to Tai speaking ethnic groups.
Lao writes ໄທ (transliterated ai-d) in both cases.
The French diplomat Simon de la Loubère
, mentioned that, “The Siamese give to themselves the Name of Tai, or Free, and those that understand the Language of Pegu
, affirm that Siam in that Tongue signifies Free. 'Tis from thence perhaps that the Portugues have derived this word, having probably known the Siamese by the Peguan
. Nevertheless Navarete
in his Historical Treatises of the Kingdom of China, relates that the Name of Siam, which he writes Sian, comes from these two words Sien lo, without adding their signification, or of what Language they are; altho' it may be presumed he gives them for Chinese, Meuang
Tai is therefore the Siamese Name of the Kingdom of Siam (for Meuang signifies Kingdom) and this word wrote simply Muantay, is found in Vincent le Blanc, and in several Geographical Maps, as the Name of a Kingdom adjoining to Pegu
: But Vincent le Blanc apprehended not that this was the Kingdom of Siam, not imagining perhaps that Siam and Tai were two different Names of the same People. In a word, the Siamese, of whom I treat, do call themselves Tai Noe,*little Siams. There are others, as I was informed, altogether savage, which are called Tai yai
, great Siams, and which do live in the Northern Mountains.”
Based on Chinese source, Ming Shilu
, in 1375 Zhao Bo-luo-ju "the heir to the old Ming-tai prince of the country of
Xian-luo-hu" () sent envoy to China. Geoff Wade suggested that Ming Tai ( zh|t=明台) might represent the word “Muang
Tai” while the word Jiu () means old.
There have been many theories proposing the origin of the Tai peoples
— of which the Thai are a subgroup — including an association of the Tai people with the Kingdom of Nanzhao
that has been proven to be invalid. A linguistic study has suggested
that the origin of the Tai people may lie around Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
of southern China
, where the Zhuang people
currently account for approximately one third of the total population. The ancient Tai people are theorized to have founded the kingdom of ''Nanyue
'', referred to by Han
leaders as a "foreign servant" (), synecdoche
for a vassal state
. The Qin dynasty
in 214 BC, initiating the successive waves of Chinese migrations from the north for hundreds of years to come.
With the political and cultural pressures from the north, some Tai peoples
where they met the classical Indianized civilizations of Southeast Asia
. According to linguistic and other historical evidence, the southwestward migration of Tai-speaking tribes from Guangxi took place sometime between the 8th-10th centuries.
[Pittayaporn, Pittayawat (2014). Layers of Chinese Loanwords in Proto-Southwestern Tai as Evidence for the Dating of the Spread of Southwestern Tai](_blank)
''MANUSYA: Journal of Humanities,'' Special Issue No 20: 47-64.
The Tais from the north gradually settled in the Chao Phraya valley
from the tenth century onwards, in lands of the Dvaravati
culture, assimilating the earlier Austroasiatic Mon
and Khmer people
, as well as coming into contact with the Khmer Empire
. The Tais who came to the area of present-day Thailand were engulfed into the Theravada Buddhism of the Mon and the Hindu-Khmer culture and statecraft
. Therefore, the Thai culture is a mixture of Tai traditions with Indic, Mon, and Khmer influences.
Early Thai chiefdoms included the Sukhothai Kingdom
and Suphan Buri Province
. The Lavo Kingdom
, which was the center of Khmer culture in Chao Phraya valley, was also the rallying point for the Thais. The Thai were called "Siam" by the Angkorians and they appeared on the bas relief at Angkor Wat
as a part of the army of Lavo Kingdom. Sometimes the Thai chiefdoms in the Chao Phraya valley were put under the Angkorian control under strong monarchs (including Suryavarman II
and Jayavarman VII
) but they were mostly independent.
A new city-state known as Ayutthaya
Covering the areas of central and southern Thailand, named after the India
n city of Ayodhya
, was founded by Ramathibodi
and emerged as the center of the growing Thai empire starting in 1350. Inspired by the then Hindu-based Khmer Empire
, the Ayutthayan empire's continued conquests led to more Thai settlements as the Khmer empire weakened after their defeat at Angkor
in 1431. During this period, the Ayutthayans developed a feudal system as various vassal states paid homage to the Ayutthayans kings. Even as Thai power expanded at the expense of the Mon and Khmer, the Thai Ayutthayans faced setbacks at the hands of the Malays
and were checked by the Toungoo
Though sporadic wars continued with the Burmese and other neighbors, Chinese wars with Burma and European intervention elsewhere in Southeast Asia allowed the Thai to develop an independent course by trading with the Europeans as well as playing the major powers against each other in order to remain independent. The Chakkri
dynasty under Rama I
held the Burmese at bay, while Rama II
and Rama III
helped to shape much of Thai society, but also led to Thai setbacks as the Europeans moved into areas surrounding modern Thailand and curtailed any claims the Thai had over Cambodia
, in dispute with Burma
. The Thai learned from European traders and diplomats, while maintaining an independent course. Chinese, Malay, and British influences helped to further shape the Thai people who often assimilated foreign ideas, but managed to preserve much of their culture and resisted the European colonization that engulfed their neighbors. Thailand is also the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized by European powers in modern history.
The concept of a Thai nation was not developed until the beginning of the 20th century, under Prince Damrong
and then King Rama VI
Before this era, Thai did not even have a word for 'nation'. King Rama VI
also imposed the idea of "Thai-ness" ''(khwam-pen-thai)'' on his subjects and strictly defined what was "Thai" and "un-Thai". Authors of this period re-wrote Thai history from an ethno-nationalist
viewpoint, disregarding the fact that the concept of ethnicity had not played an important role in Southeast Asia until the 19th century. This newly developed nationalism was the base of the policy of "Thaification
" of Thailand which was intensified after the end of absolute monarchy in 1932
and especially under the rule of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram
(1938–1944). Minorities were forced to assimilate and the regional differences of northern, northeastern and southern Thailand were repressed in favour of one homogenous "Thai" culture. As a result, many citizens of Thailand cannot differentiate between their nationality ''(san-chat)'' and ethnic origin ''(chuea-chat)''.
It is very easy for ''Jek'' เจ๊ก (Chinese) and ''Khaek'' แขก (Indian, Arab, Muslim), after several generations in Thailand, to declare themselves "''chuea-chat Thai''" (ethnic Thai) and to ignore or conveniently set aside their ethnic identity.
Other peoples living under Thai rule, mainly Mon, Khmer, and Lao, as well as Chinese, Indian or Muslim immigrants continued to be assimilated by Thais, but at the same time they influenced Thai culture, philosophy, economy and politics. In his paper ''Jek pon Lao'' (1987) (เจ้กปนลาว—Chinese mixed with Lao), Sujit Wongthet
, who describes himself in the paper as a Chinese mixed with Lao (''Jek pon Lao''), claims that the present-day Thai are really Chinese mixed with Lao.
[Thak Chaloemtiarana. Are We Them? Textual and Literary Representations of the Chinese in Twentieth-Century Thailand](_blank)
''CHINESE SOUTHERN DIASPORA STUDIES, VOLUME SEVEN, 2014–15'', p. 186.
[Baker, Chris; Phongpaichit, Pasuk. A History of Thailand](_blank)
''Cambridge University Press (2009)'', p. 206. .
He insinuates that the Thai are no longer a well-defined race but an ethnicity composed of many races and cultures.
The biggest and most influential group are the Thai Chinese
. Theraphan Luangthongkum
, a Thai linguist of Chinese extraction, claims that 40% of the Thai population are descendants of former Chinese immigrants. A recent study shows that there is a close genetic relationship between central Thai and Mon people
in Thailand, who migrated from southern Myanmar
Geography and demographics
The vast majority of the Thai people live in Thailand, although some Thais can also be found in other parts of Southeast Asia
. About 51–57 million live in Thailand alone,
while large communities can also be found in the United States
, South Korea
, the United Kingdom
, and the United Arab Emirates
Culture and society
The Thais can be broken down into various regional groups with their own regional varieties of Thai
. These groups include the Central Thai
(also the standard variety of the language and Culture), the Southern Thai
, the Isan
(more closely related to the standard Lao
of Laos than to standard Thai), the Lanna Thai
, and Yawi/Malay-speaking Thai Malays
. Within each regions exist multiple ethnic groups
. Modern Central Thai culture has become more dominant due to official government policy, which was designed to assimilate and unify the disparate Thai in spite of ethnolinguistic and cultural ties between the non-Standard-Thai-speaking people and their communities.
Indigenous arts include ''muay Thai
'' (kick boxing), Thai dance
'' (Thai Chess), and ''nang yai
'' (shadow play
Thai form the second largest ethno-linguistic group among Buddhists
in the world.
The modern Thai are predominantly Theravada
Buddhist and strongly identify their ethnic identity with their religious practices that include aspects of ancestor worship, among other beliefs of the ancient folklore of Thailand
. Thais predominantly (more than 90%) avow themselves Buddhists. Since the rule of King Ramkhamhaeng
of Sukhothai and again since the "orthodox reformation" of King Mongkut
in the 19th century, it is modeled on the "original" Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism
. The Thais' folk belief however is a syncretic
blend of the official Buddhist teachings, animistic
elements that trace back to the original beliefs of Tai peoples, and Brahmin
elements from India, partly inherited from the Hindu Khmer Empire of Angkor.
The belief in local, nature and household spirits, that influence secular issues like health or prosperity, as well as ghost
s ( th|phi
, ผี) is widespread. It is visible, for example, in so-called spirit house
s ''(san phra phum)'' that may be found near many homes. ''Phi'' play an important role in local folklore, but also in modern popular culture
, like television series and films. "Ghost films" ''(nang phi)'' are a distinct, important genre
of Thai cinema
Hinduism has left substantial and present marks on Thai culture. Some Thais worship Hindu gods like Ganesha
, or Brahma
(e.g., at Bangkok's well-known Erawan Shrine
). They do not see a contradiction between this practice and their primary Buddhist faith. The Thai national epic Ramakien
is an adaption of the Hindu Ramayana
. Hindu mythological figures like Devas
, gods and their mounts ''(vahana
)'' characterise the mythology of Thais and are often depicted in Thai art, even as decoration of Buddhist temples. Thailand's national symbol Garuda
is taken from Hindu mythology as well.
A characteristic feature of Thai Buddhism is the practice of ''tham bun'' (ทำบุญ) ("merit-making
"). This can be done mainly by food and in-kind donations to monks, contributions to the renovation and adornment of temples, releasing captive creatures (fish, birds), etc. Moreover, many Thais idolise famous and charismatic monks, who may be credited with thaumaturgy
or with the status of a perfected Buddhist saint ''(Arahant
)''. Other significant features of Thai popular belief are astrology
s and amulet
s (often images of the revered monks)
Besides Thailand's two million Muslim Malays
, there are an additional two million ethnic Thais who profess Islam
, especially in the south, but also in greater Bangkok. As a result of missionary work
, there is also a minority of approximately 500,000 Christian Thais
: Catholics and various Protestant denominations. Thai people also practice Taoism
There is a statistically significant
difference in the craniometric data between Thai skulls from Northeast Thailand
when compared to Thai skulls from Central Thailand
, in that the former are slightly larger.
[Rooppakhun, Supakit et al. (2010). Craniometric Study of Thai Skull Based on Three-Dimensional Computed Tomography (CT) Data. ''Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 93''(1). Pages 91 & 96. Retrieved January 25, 2018, fro]
* Ethnic groups in Thailand
* List of Thai actresses
* List of Thai actors
* List of Thai people
* Overseas Thai
* Peopling of Thailand
* Thai American
* Thai British
* Thai culture
* Thai folklore
* Thais in Hong Kong
* Thai marriage
*Girsling, John L.S., ''Thailand: Society and Politics'' (Cornell University Press, 1981).
*Terwiel, B.J., ''A History of Modern Thailand'' (Univ. of Queensland Press, 1984).
*Wyatt, D.K., ''Thailand: A Short History'' (Yale University Press, 1986).
US Library of Congress Country Studies, Thailand, The Thai and Other Tai-Speaking Peoples
Category:Ethnic groups in Thailand