Pattani with two t’s or one? The politics of naming

“Patani” is now a very controversial term used to refer to the area encompassing the provinces of Pattani (with 2 t’s,), Yala, Narathiwat, and 4 provinces of Songkhla, mostly inhabited by Malay Muslims and infamous in the news for being a space of conflict. The term arguably carries a strong sense of separatism. The increasing use of the term by CSO, media and the separatists themselves raises concerns among the non-Malay Muslim whether they are included as Patani people and if they will have a say in the right to determine the future of the region.
“Patani” is now a very controversial term used to refer to the area encompassing the provinces of Pattani (with 2 t’s,), Yala, Narathiwat, and four provinces of Songkhla, mostly inhabited by Malay Muslims and infamous in the news for being a space of conflict. 
When written in Thai, “Patani” (ปาตานี) sounds markedly different from “Pattani,” (ปัตตานี) with the former pronounced as “Paa-ta-ni” and the latter pronounced as “Pat-ta-ni”. In fact, in Malay, they say P’tani (ปตานี), pronounced as “Pa-ta-ni” with a very brief first syllables with stress in the second syllable. "P'tani," the original Malay word for the region has been used for a long time and is usually never written in Thai. So while technically being the same word as "P'tani," "Patani" has a certain newness and political connotations to it that is specific to recent creation and use. 
Historically, the Patani Kingdom was a prosperous maritime empire four centuries ago, before being conquered by Siam in the 1800s. Siam then divided the Deep South area into seven autonomous states and into the three present provinces.
To the security authorities and a certain number of Thais, the term “Patani” is a thorn in their side because they feel that it carries political connotations of separatism. In the past few years, the Muslim Malay civil society community has been using “Patani” to name many of their organizations and events, causing the term to become widely accepted.
Recently “Patani” appeared in the news as part of the group MARA Patani, the umbrella organization for the separatist movement that held their very first press conference on 27 September 2015. Some Thai media refused to call the organization by their name, instead referring to them as “MARA Pattani.” In fact, Channel 3 news reporter Thapanee Ietsrichai was criticized by Internet users for using the phrase “Patani people,” saying that it was inappropriate, saying that there is no such entity called Patani and she should have used the term “Thai citizens” instead.
Some say P’tani has its roots in the Malay word “petani,” which according to the Kamus Dewan Keempai edition of the Malay dictionary, means “agriculturalist” or “farmer.” “Petanian” means “of or relating to agriculture.”
Slide from the Deep South Watch on how residents of the Deep South refer to their area. 63.3 per cent say “southernmost provinces,” 15 per cent say Fatoni (the Arabic name for Patani), 11.4 per cent say Patani, 7.3 per cent say Langkasuka after the ancient kingdom, while three per cent call it other names. 
Nevertheless, the current trend of using the term Patani in civil society and in the media contradicts the Deep South Watch’s investigation. In their survey of 2,104 Deep South residents, they found that 63.3 per cent use the term “southernmost provinces,” 15 per cent choose Fatoni (the Arabic name for Patani), while only 11.4 per cent agree with the use of Patani. The results of this survey incited much debate in civil society in the Deep South.
Prachatai interviewed three individuals on their views of the use of “Patani”: Abu Hafez Al-Hakim, a MARA Patani delegate, Zakariya Amataya, a poet and SEA write award winner from Narathiwat, Najib Arwaebuesa, an expert in Melayu culture, and Rukchart Suwan, leader of the Network of Thai Buddhists for Peace. Prachatai also includes comments by the Deep South Watch editor Romadon Panjor from the seminar “Patani: What’s in a Name?” held on 14 September 2015, at Haji Sulong Residence, Pattani. They explain about what they think “Patani” means, who Patanians are, why there is a trend to use this term, and why this term does not sit well with the Thai state.

Abu Hafez Al-Hakim

MARA Patani delegate


What does Patani in MARA Patani mean?
Patani was a region where once stood the Malay Kingdom of Patani Darussalam before the Siamese occupation in 1786. The geographical area comprised the current provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and some parts of Songkhla (the districts of Thepha, Chana, Saba Yoi, Na Thawi and Sadao - where there are majority Muslim populations) and also the States of Kelantan and Terengganu in certain periods. By the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 the States of Kelantan and Terengganu were taken by the British and later became independent under Malaysia in 1957.
So, today when we mention Patani in any discussion or documentation it means the geographical area comprised of the current provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and some parts of Songkhla (the districts of Thepha, Chana, Saba Yoi, Na Thawi and Sadao - where there are majority Muslim populations)
Who are 'Patanians" or Patani people?
Patanians are citizens of Patani regardless of their ethnicity or religion. During the era of the Malay Kingdom of Patani Darussalam there were Chinese, Siamese, Europeans, Japanese, Javanese, Arabs and Indians, apart from the majority Malay Muslims. In fact it was a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.
So, today when we say we want to fight for the people of Patani we mean we fight for ALL people who are living there who are the victims of the conflict. But it is the Malay people who have suffered most in this conflict. So, it is only natural that we give them some priority without neglecting the rights and the existence of other groups who live in Patani.
In your opinion, why do some Thais not accept this word?
The fact that Some Thais cannot accept this word comes from a denial syndrome and ignorance of history. They think that Patani previously belonged to Siam/Thailand. They forgot to ask how Siam got Patani in the first place. It was through an expansionary policy since King Ramkhamhaeng’s time where neighbouring peoples were conquered, like the Lao in the northeast, the Lanna in the north , the Khmer in the east, the Mon in the west, and the Patani Malays in the south.
The original history of Patani started with the Langkasuka Kingdom in 500 AD, long before the existence of the Sukhothai Kingdom. The city was around the area of Yarang District today where you can still find some old ruins of Hindu-Buddhist temples because that was the religion of the people at that time.
When the city was moved to Krisek for some reason, the name was changed to Patani. Later on when the Kings and people accepted Islam, all the Buddhist temples were left unattended. Islamic law was put in place, many mosques and pondok were built and people of various ethnicities and religions coexisted together.
In the 16th century, the Siam of Ayutthaya again began an expansionary policy and attacked Patani but always failed.
Only during the Chakri Dynasty did King Rama I succeed in subjugating Patani in 1786. Since then the Patani people, especially the Malays, have been fighting for freedom to this day.
For more than 200 years only the Malays were victims of conflict. But in the past 10-11 years things have changed. The Thais and Chinese are becoming victims as well. Why?
Previously the Thai people (not the state) and the Chinese were neutral. They did not take sides. Only in the last 10-11 years has the Thai State tried to bring them onto its side. So, teachers, monks, Buddhists and Chinese are no longer seen as neutral. They are on the Thai state’s side and some are trained and given arms. This is how it came about that these people later become the target of attacks.

Rukchart Suwan

Network of Thai Buddhists for Peace


What do Thai Buddhists in the area think about calling the region “Patani?”
Thai Buddhists in the area don’t know this term very much at all. I think that Malay Muslims know this word from studying history and through oral traditions. But whenever violent events happen in the area, there’s always this wall put up between Thai Buddhists and Muslim Malay. So when Thai Buddhists hear the word “Patani,” they put up even more walls. They’re prejudiced against this word because they think it implies sovereignty, and therefore denotes separatism. 
Personally, do you accept the term “Patani?”
When I first started doing civil society work, I would hear terms like “Patani” and “Siamese colonialism” and I would be completely against it. I couldn’t accept those words at all. After some time passed, I saw that they were historical facts. If anyone wanted to use terms like that, it was their business. Sovereignty, however, is another business. For me, it’s okay if you say “Patani Thailand,” but if you say “the country of Patani,” I won’t be able to accept it for sure. If this term is used for issues of sovereignty, Thai Buddhists will not stand by. 
Once I asked in a meeting whether “Patanians” included Thai Buddhists. If Thai Buddhists aren’t included, then how will their needs be met? I said that these questions had to be answered before the term “Patani” could be used. Civil society groups are really starting to use this term, and the media, too. When Thai Buddhists hear the word “Patani,” they get concerned, and say “Look, even the media is accepting and using this term.” I think the issue of words is an old one, since our Malay brothers and sisters have been using it for a long time. But for Thai Buddhists, it’s a new issue.
Some Thai Buddhists have asked why there is even this issue, why “Patani” has to be used when the name of the provinces are already set out for us: Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat. So I ask them if they would be okay with Yala being changed to Yalo, the former name of Yala. They replied, “Why would we need to change? We already have a name.”
Do Thai Buddhists associate the use of “Patani” with the separatist movement?
Most Thai Buddhists view that “Patani” is a word invented by the insurgency in order to divvy up the land. If any Muslims use this word a lot, people will assume they’re part of the movement. 
What should be done to make Thai Buddhists accept the word “Patani?”
I think there should be a channel to inform Buddhists here about the historical origins and events in the region. At least, it would resolve some of the conflict. When we understand history of the area, then we are able to understand our Muslim brothers and sisters better.
What is “Patani-ness?”
We would have to look to history for that. We shouldn’t focus on the painful history of Patani Malay people, but the history of coexistence of people of various ethnicities and religions.

Zakariya Amataya

Poet, 2014 SEA write award winner from Narathiwat


How do you feel about the term “Patani”?
I’ve only seen the term “Patani” being used widely in these past couple of years. Before, it was a forbidden word, but now it’s common. From “Patani,” the word “Patanian” has also emerged, making the character of Patani clearer. Locals in the region, especially activists and the media, are also unafraid to use this term. Some media don’t use it, though. I think it’s a good sign that this term is more widespread, since it shows that the situation here is more relaxed.
Nevertheless, “Patani” is a political term, not one used by actual locals. “Patani” connotes a sense of territory, ethnic specificity, and individuality of those in the region as being different from the rest of Thailand or even other Malays. 
I feel that the use of “Patani” has spread very rapidly, with groups in the three southernmost provinces using it without obstruction. Lack of obstruction is acceptance by omission. However, I still feel that most people do not use this word, largely only activists and campaigners.
Have you used the term “Patani” in any of your projects?
I have used “P'tani” (ปตานี) to refer to farmers, orchard workers and field workers. However, I’ve never used it in terms of territory. I feel like it’s not an original term (although some comrades have told me that Patani is an original term that has been forgotten, or whose use was forcibly ended). To me it feels like this term popped up quite suddenly. Usually I use the term “Fatoni.” I don’t feel connected to “Patani” enough to use it in my works; it’s a very new term that’s usually used by educated academia. So, it’s up to them as to how they want to use it.
For me, I feel like “Patani” is not a term I will use. I feel like there’s some deep backstory to it. When I write my works, I am very detailed and meticulous about what words I choose to use. Each word I use has to be accepted and understood. As of now, I have many questions about “Patani.” I’m not saying that I don’t want others to use it, it’s just that I’m not completely comfortable using it. A part of that might be due to the fact that I wasn’t part of the process in creating this term. I wasn’t here when they made the term. If one day, I really feel connected to the term, I might use it in my works.
Do you view the term “Patani” as being part of the separatist movement?
It is common knowledge that it is. “Patani” is actually an original Malay word, but when you write it out in Thai as “Patani,” it directly conflicts with “Pattani,” in my point of view. Ever since I was a kid I felt weird when writing out “Patani” in Thai, but it wasn’t weird in Jawi. If villagers want to specify about where they come from, they just say the name of their general area. “Patani” seems to be used in a solely political context. You wouldn’t use it in everyday conversation. 

Romadon Panjor

Editor at the Deep South Watch


“Patani” is undeniably a problematic political term. It could refer to either the land or the people. The terms “Patani,” “Fatoni,” and “Pattani” are being used interchangeably and in various contexts in the area, without much stability. Sometimes, even separatist movements use “Pattani” themselves. 
However, some say “Fatoni” is most often used in academic contexts, referring to the history and culture of the region, while “Patani” is most used in political contexts, referring to separatist sentiments and movements. They have distinctly different feels. 
The debate about the distinction in the use of these terms started on 23 March 2013, when the Federation of Patani Students and Youth (PERMAS), formerly known as The Federation of Students and Youth in Three Southernmost Provinces, used “Patanian” in English as a term to refer to the people of the area, for the first time. Previously, the term Melayu had always been used. You can see that the term ‘Patanian’ is very new -- only two years old. 
The official, state-used term is usually the “three southernmost provinces”, which is also a relatively new term too. The area has been called other names, like the “five southernmost provinces.” During the period of Haji Sulong about 60 years ago, the Thai authorities called the area “the four southernmost provinces.” 
This naming conflict is a self-determination conflict that stems from different views of historical events. Regional minority views of history often differ from the official historical narrative from the capital. Thongchai Winichakul has proposed the term “Dangerous History” to mean a situation in which the state’s official, nationalist version conflicts with minorities’ versions of history. This contrast is what creates a justification for the use of violence and inciting hatred by both sides. This pattern is seen all over Southeast Asia. Thongchai proposed that forcing only one version of history should be avoided because it could lead to more conflict. The new generations should instead learn conflicting versions of history simultaneously and be able to accept the competing nature of historical versions. 
Therefore, when speaking about the area’s peace process, the Deep South Watch suggests using the term “Pa(t)tani” so that upon seeing the term, people will be informed about the conflicts and have a similar idea of what this conflict is about. Moreover, “Pa(t)tani” symbolizes the conflict of the region, and how locals are able to live with contradiction and conflict in their everyday lives. Some groups may suggest going one way or the other, either settling with “Patani” or “Pattani,” but we believe that talking about the “Pa(t)tani peace process” with the parentheses brings up the issues that need to be resolved in a smoother, more resolution-oriented way.

Najib Arwaebuesa

Expert on Melayu culture


What does “Patani” mean? 
We can deduce that “Patani” refers to the three southernmost provinces, although its boundaries are not as exact as the province lines. It’s an older word that doesn’t draw exact borders, so “Patani” can even extend into Malaysia. For me, how far Patani extends is up to the people. The word “Orgae taning,” or Taning people (Orang Patani or Orang Tani in Malay) refers to Patani people. 
However, when I write the word “Patani” in Thai, it feels like a new Thai word. If I say it in Malay, it doesn’t seem like a new word at all. In Malay there’s actually no long ‘aa’ vowel sound, but in Thai there is. This word existed in Malay long before borders were drawn. The word “Patanian” is also a subset of Malay people. It’s the same as saying Lanna people (people of the former Lanna Kingdom in the North) or Khorat people (natives of northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima Province).Some people are concerned that the use of “Patani” denotes separatism or autonomy, but I don’t think we should focus solely on issues of security.
For me, Patanians include not just people who have their houses registered here. They also include aborigines and local ethnicities, regardless of citizenship or religious beliefs.
How can we determine who is an aborigine? Can we determine it by looking at how long a person’s family or a group has shared a history and memory with the region?
It probably can’t be determined in an exact way, but for me I think we should look at the 1932 Revolution as a historical turning point. After 1932, governance was more centralized, and many outsiders moved into the region in larger numbers than any previous movements. The state created settlements for outsiders who moved in, so the people who moved in stayed in those settlements and did not mingle with the original locals. Therefore, I don’t consider these people who moved in as aborigines, even if they’ve lived here for 30 years. They don’t have a shared history. This includes Muslims who have moved in from other areas.
What is “Patani-ness”? 
I don’t view the Patani identity as being so narrow as to be confined to kites, daggers, or ko-lae fishing boats. It is a taste common to people in Patani, such as how we like to hang our laundry in a haphazard way, how we don’t decorate our houses but dress up well. These sort of things show the Patani taste, and our preferences differ from other Malays’.

Translated into English by Asaree Thaitrakulpanich

Read related stories:

Interrupted normalcy of everyday lives in Thailand’s restive Deep South

Exclusive: Key insurgent clarifies demands, stance on Thailand’s Deep South


Since 2007, Prachatai English has been covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite the risk and pressure from the law and the authorities. However, with only 2 full-time reporters and increasing annual operating costs, keeping our work going is a challenge. Your support will ensure we stay a professional media source and be able to expand our team to meet the challenges and deliver timely and in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: [email protected], please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”