Border in Transitions: The Dynamic of Mae Hong Son Highlands

Faculty of Archaeology, Silapakorn University, Thailand

Archaeological explorations and excavations in the Mae Hong Son Highlands (Thailand) in the past 20 years have produced a considerable number of archaeological artifacts, including chipped and polished stone tools, earthenware fragments, and wooden coffins in different caves. The existence of these artifacts, together with other evidence such as folklore and local documents, confirm human habitation in Mae Hong Son from the prehistoric to Lan Na period in the 13th Century CE. These communities gradually developed a regional trade hub that was recognized for its economic importance, thanks to their rich natural resources and prime location. In the 18th Century CE, when the Burmese economy had become part of the vast export-oriented enterprise of British colonialism, the British started to look further east to the forests of northern Siam for resources. The expansion of the teak trade not only brought about an economic boom, but also lured people from neighbouring areas, mostly Tai Yai, into Mae Hong Son, resulting in rapid population growth. This influenced the Siam government’s decision to officially establish Mae Hong Son as a major Northern border town. However, the blurred boundaries and ambiguous bordering practices allowed continuing cross border migration between Burma and Thailand. Right after the Greater East Asian War finished, there was a surge in ethnic migrants (Lahu, Lishu, Hmong, Tai Yai, Paka-Kyaw Karen and Lua, etc.) as well as war- displaced settlers. With a diverse population, Mae Hong Son gradually became a multicultural society. In recent decades, improvement in route 1095 from Chiang Mai – Mae Hong Son has helped accelerate provincial economic growth, the locals have responded to state policy by offering their natural resources, cultural heritage, and archaeological sites, for tourism.