The Major Role of the Mons in Southeast Asia

by Nai Pan Hla

Mon and Mon-Khmer tribes came from the North, not from the South: new insights on an old controversy among linguists and historians.

Nai Pan Hla

Publication: The Journal of Siam Society, Vol. 79, Part I, pp 13-21

Published: 1991

Author: Nai Pan Hla

Pages: 8

Language : English

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The working assumption of the author is that the origin of the Mon and Mon-Khmer languages and civilizations has to be traced to the Yangtze Kiang (Chiang) valley, and not to the Mekong delta as it had been asserted for a long time.

Migrating from North to South, these earlier tribes started to coalesce and form polities and kingdoms, keeping their different languages and cultures, but also absorbing influences from India, Sri Lanka and the Malay Peninsula. The Dvaravati Kingdom, in Northern and Central Thailand, was probably the earliest of these kingdoms.

Quoting Reginald le May's The Culture of South-East Asia, the author remarks that "the Buddhist art of Funan (or at least of pre-Angkor Cambodia) is similar to the art of Dvaravati,as the old kingdom of Central Siam occupied by the Mon people was called, and it is possible that this early style of Buddhist art was brought to Funan through the intermediary of Dvaravati. From the history of Funan it does not seem likely that that country was often in direct contact with India, but rather that it received its Indian character through the Indian states of the Malay Peninsula and, as far as this type of art is concerned, from the Mon state of Dvaravati." Furthermore, the author mentions Prof. George Luce's theory according to which "for most of 500 years the Dvaravati culture dominated the western half of Fu-nan's territory, as Kambuja people are probably the direct descendants of Dvaravati society

Interpreting several Mon inscriptions, the author shows how Mon languages, belonging to the Austroasiatic linguistical sub-family and to the Munda group, evolved into the 'national' languages of modern Southeast Asia.

Photo: The author with a Nyab Kur lady, descendant of the Dvaravati Mons.

Tags: inscriptions, epigraphy, Laos, Burma, Siam, Sri Lanka, China, India, linguistics, Vietnam

About the Author

Nai Pan Hla

Nai Pan Hla

Dr.Nai Pan Hla is a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

He is the author of A short Mon History (Myanmar Knowledge Society, Yangon, 2013). Dr. Pan Hla has also published Eleven Mon Dhammasāt Texts (collected and translated in collaboration with Ryuji Okudaira, Tokyo: The Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for Unesco, Bibliotheca Codicum Asiaticorum 6., 1992).