Time to return the Phaya Tani cannon

Time to return the Phaya Tani cannon

The destruction of the recently installed replica of the Phaya Tani cannon by Pattani militants was not totally surprising. It was derided as a "fake" by many locals and viewed as a symbol of shame and subjugation.

How would we Thais have reacted had a replica of the Phra Narai lintel been palmed off on Thailand by the Art Institute of Chicago back in 1988 and then installed at Khao Phnom Rung ancient temple in southern Buri Ram, while the original remained in the United States?

We would have felt insulted, angry, and would have staged more protests to demand the return of the authentic lintel.

The Phaya Tani cannon outside the Defence Ministry in Bangkok (Bangkok Post file photo)

So, understandably, when a replica of the Phaya Tani cannon was made and then taken to Pattani and installed in front of the historical Krue Se mosque on June 2 it received a mixed reaction from local people, even though many showed up to see it.

Local officials, of course, were pleased that the Phaya Tani cannon – a symbol of the prosperity and greatness of the Sultanate of Patani about 400 years ago – was returned to its legitimate home, albeit in the form of a replica. They believe the replica cannon would be a new landmark for the area and attract more visitors to this restive province.

Many local residents, too, were happy. But there were others who were disappointed, because the replica cannon was a reminder of a painful past, when the Malay speaking sultanate was conquered by Siam during the reign of King Rama I.

The bombing of the replica cannon by militants on Tuesday, June 11 – only nine days after it was installed – was therefore not completely surprising.

It was yet another show of defiance against the Thai state by the insurgents. It was also meant as a no-nonsense message -- that they would settle only for the real Phaya Tani cannon, that has been sitting largely unnoticed in front of the Defence Ministry in Bangkok for many years.

The broken Phaya Tani cannon replica being loaded onto an 18-wheeler for transport from Krue Se Mosque to Nakhon Pathom for repairs. (Bangkok Post file photo).

If the replica cannon is repaired and re-installed in Pattani it will most certainly be bombed again, because its mere presence there stirs up bitter memories of the past.

Ten years ago, a Pattani MP asked the House committee on art, religous and cultural affairs for the return of the real cannon to Pattani. It was rejected out of hand by the Fine Arts Department on the grounds that the cannon was national property and could not be returned.

So, instead, a replica was cast at a cost of about three million baht.

For most of us, the Phaya Tani cannon is just one of the spoils of war and a symbol of our conquest of the southern sultanate and of the past greatness of the empire of Siam.

But for the Malay-speaking Muslims in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, the 17th century siege cannon represents the past glory and prosperity of the sultanate and should be returned to its rightful place. Its presence in Bangkok is seen as a sign of subjugation by the Thai state, a resentment strengthened by the return of a replica.

And for the Internal Security Operations Command to use the bombing of the cannon to try and drum up national unity against the separatists is yet one more indication of the security agency’s lack of sensitivity towards the feelings of the local people, in this case regarding the Phaya Tani cannon.

If the real cannon is not returned to Pattani, then the damaged replica should never be reinstalled. In fact, it should never have been installed there in the first place.

I wonder, honestly, how many of us appreciate the presence of the cannon at the Defence Ministry in Bangkok. How many of us who happen to walk past the ministry pause to look at it and cherish its historical significance? How many even notice it at all?

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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