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I am not a number, I am a free man

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  Quote Paul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: I am not a number, I am a free man
    Posted: 07-Oct-2006 at 11:42

In an old British sit com, Citizen Smith, the eponymous character once stated that when he rules the country everyone will be equal. Hell abolish names and everyone will have a number instead. For 6 centuries, Thailand actually did this.

In the 15th century King Borommatrailokkanat (1448-1488) brought the loose Thai kingdoms under a strong centralising authority. To seal his authority he formally introduced what was already a loosely practiced system. Often called Thai feudalism, Sakdina (field power), is actually anything but that. Under the system every Thai in the country was assigned a status number called a na (the modern Thai word for field). The na ranged from 5 - 50,000, or nothing at all.

Thais were initially ranked into four classes, each with an eligibility for a certain amount of na. These ranks were,

Royals: 500-50,000 na

Nobles: 100-30,000 na

Commoners: 5-25 na

Slaves: 5-25 na

For each na a person had, he was then assigned 1 rai (2/5s of an acre) of paddy fields.

Being as all the land was owned by the monarch and land was granted by royal decree it provided a powerful tool for monarchs to increase and decrease privilege by modifying individual na.

A sizable proportion of the population however had the ignominious status of having no na. Women who were not of noble birth were not eligible to be granted na, along with the sizable number of Chinese labourers. Common women who had initially had no na gained na through the man they married. Noble women who had na could also gain or lose na dependant upon the fortunes of their husband.

While na determined how many rai of land a man had, it didnt determine how successfully he managed it and it was quite possible for a person with less land to become richer. The consequence of this being social mobility was possible and an individual increase could his na. The most common way to do this was by marriage. Wealthy a man could marry the daughter of a noble with higher na and increase his.

There was also a method for non-wealthy to do it too. A father blessed with a beautiful daughter may try to marry his daughter to someone of high na and receive an increase in rank in return. When a woman married she received a portion of his na relative to her rank as a wife. The 1st and 2nd wife would receive more na than the 3rd and 4th wife and so on.

Unlike in the west, Thai Feudalism didnt die. As the country progressed Sakdina became more formalised. In the reign of King Chulalok (1782-1809) the system was codified as a legal system in the 3-Seal Code.

Na was used in legal disputes to determine how much weight a persons testimony carried. The higher the na, the more believable the witness. On top of this when two people of differing na were in court. If the case went against the person of higher na, they received a lighter sentence because they had lost to a person of lower na. On the other hand if it went against the person of lower na, they received a harsher sentence because they lost to a person of higher na.


The system of Sakdina went into decline as Thailand fell under western influence and began to capitalise in the latter half of the 19th century. Sakdina was finally abolished in the 1932 coup.

Six centuries of Sakdina has had powerful impact on the Thai psyche and its legacy lasts to this day. Thailands sex industry, so un-understandable to outsiders troubles the Thai mind little, as the peasant girls who are employed by it, would have been of no na in past times.

In 2001 Duangchalerm the son of a minister drinking in a bar, drew a pistol and gunned down a police sergeant-major for accidentally treading on his foot as he passed. It was no surprise he was acquitted on grounds the 3 other low ranking policemen drinking with their friend were considered unreliable witnesses to the murder in comparison to Duangchalerms testimony.

 



Edited by Paul - 07-Oct-2006 at 11:46
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Omar al Hashim View Drop Down
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  Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Oct-2006 at 01:48
wow, thats such a different system. Its like quantifing social injustice.
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  Quote flyingzone Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Oct-2006 at 10:31

Of course from today's perspective, such system is horrible. Like Omar says, it is nothing but a means to quantify social injustice.

It was nevertheless a very "rational" way to enforce social and economic order (albeit terribly unjust) relative to its time. Social injustice has been a major theme in the history of all human societies. HOW it was being implemented and rationalized, of course, differs from one case to another. The "beauty" (if social injustice can be described as "beautiful" at all) of this na system is that, it is surprisingly transparent. Yes, human value was being quantified. Yes, discrimination was blatant. But at least they were honest about it rather than hiding it under other more insidious means which may have a more "benign" appearance or title but no less vicious.

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  Quote Paul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Oct-2006 at 10:54
It also makes you wonder if any other east asian society had something similar. It seems very in line with the culture of the region.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-Oct-2006 at 12:35
Malaysia.. dont have that... kind of 'Na' thing... we dont have caste system and all.. but we in Malaysia.. we have  these malaysian title given by Sultan of a state or Federal govt which is from Yang Di pertuan Agong.. Previously, it's only entitle for Malays but now it also give to non-Malays even to some western people.. who work in Malaysia and have been serving and contributing to the society plus with lots of money in their savingsLOL
 
So these people who have these titles or anybody who have parents with these titles.. then they will have influence in many things.. they will get allowances due to the title frm government (i dont knw whether true or not.. but one of my friend told me before and these never been inform publicly) 
 
and guess where the money come? from the public... the tax payers.. like me. and sometimes.. they will have their things easy and make others in trouble.. admission to universities.. job opportunities and etc...
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  Quote Omar al Hashim Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Oct-2006 at 06:58
Random off-topic question, but how did malaysia get so many royal families?
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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Oct-2006 at 07:13
That system is awful. Interesting, but just bloody awful.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Oct-2006 at 16:32
why malaysia has many royal families because different ancestors and history backgrounds...
 
Example like Malacca Sultanete had led to Johor Sultanete kingdom..
Selangor derived from the invasion of Bugis people from Sulawesi...
Negeri Sembilan is based from Minangkabau in Sumatra..
Kedah is from Old Kedah and Langkasuka empire.. which link to Perlis..
Perak also from Malacca...
i only not to sure about kelantan and terengganu...
nowadays, states in malaysia, which dont have any Sultan are Penang, Malacca, Sabah, Sarawak and WP Kuala Lumpur and Labuan.
 
I wish i have answered ur question Omar...
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  Quote Gun Powder Ma Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Oct-2006 at 17:15
Chinese call their brothers or sisters "brother 1", "brother 2", "brother 3", etc. To give a person a number is totally offensive for a Western mind. When we were beatniks, we used to call elderly people "granny A", "granny B", etc. to express our opinion that they all look the same and that it isn't actually worth remember their name. I think people in the East might have found us very polite young guys. Wink
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