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The Land and Its People Thailand Part 2

A natural, self-contained geopolitical unit, this river basin was destined to play a central role in Thailands development becoming historically and agriculturally as important to the Thais as the Nile is to the Egyptians. Later, it would become the Thai heartland and contain future Thai capitals and for centuries, remain the major means of transport and communications. Eventually, it would be transformed into an intricately terraced, irrigated rice bowl figuring among the most fertile areas on earth.

The influx of immigrants into the area took hundreds of years. They came in successive waves, each moving slowly along paradisical river valleys content to settle rather than move on. Those following moved past them to hew out homes and fields from virgin forest. Travelling in compact groups, under separate chieftains, escaping famine, despotism or misfortune, all sought a degree of autonomy and shared a common desire for a better, independent life.

The earliest immigrants were a proto-Malay people from southern China who settled in the mountainous, heavily-jungled Kanchanaburi area 100 kilometres due west of Bangkok. Archaeological evidence suggests that there was a Neolithic culture of some advancement, dating from approximately 2,500 B.C.

Next came the bearers of the Lung-shan culture with its sophisticated methods of rice cultivation. At its height is stretched from the Lopburi area north of Bangkok down to the Malay peninsula. Immigrants are believed to have arrived it Thailand around 1770  140 B.C., either by south-ward overland migration from southern Yunnan or by sea from China to the south of Thailand, and thence by northward land migration to Lopburi, where they settled and farmed.

Two of the most important immigrant groups were Khmers and Mons who arrived around the first century B.C., also from southern China. Their culture. The Khmers came over the rugged, mist-shrouded Burmese mountains, crossed the Menam Chao Phya valley and settled an area south of the northeast plateau deep into present-day Cambodia where their culture culminated in the magnificent 11th and 12th century Angkorian civilization.

The Mons settled the westem half of the lush Chao Phya river valley and founded the Dvaravati kingdom which, besides being a major producer of rice, became an important religious centre. The Mon seat of power was at Lopburi and, like the Khmers, Mon rulers modeled palace life on Indias complex Brahmanic courts. Lopburi would remain a religious centre after Thai kingdoms became Buddhist during the 13th century. Another migration wave during the Dvaravati period brought Tibeto-Burmese people into the area where, today, they form the itinerant hilltribes inhabiting the northern Thai mountains.

In the 11th and 12th centuries the people who would eventually create the Thai nation began arriving in northern Thailand. The actual background of the Thai people themselves is a subject of academic dispute. One theory holds that the Thais originated in China and moved south-wards. According to this theory, the Thais, had for centuries engaged principally in rice farming and silk textile manufacture. In 651 A.D. they united their tribes and lived together in the independent kingdom of Nanchao in the southernmost Chinese province of Yunnan. Mainly an agrarian kingdom, Nanchaos relationship with China lurched from crisis to crisis, from extreme amity to equally extreme enmity.
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