Part 8.                                             

An English mans story while traveling through Thailand..

The Siamese And The Haws:

It was reported that the Haw were at M. Yiw, so we could not return to Bangkok, as a move in that direction would make the fellows imagine we were afraid of them, and our action would certainly provoke an attack on Luang Phrabang . We had to do the best we could, and immediately set about having a hospital constructed, as nothing could save the men from getting ill. As there was nothing special to be done during the rains, I persuaded Leonowens to return to Bangkok. Bush wished to remain, and I sent seventy soldiers down to Nawng Kai , a comparatively healthy place, to be at the disposal of Phya Rat , the General, who after the rainy season sent them back to Bangkok, although he was marching to fight and dislodge the Haw, such was his confidence in the men given to us as soldiers.

 Not long afterwards Bush got fever and died. He was only twenty years of age, and a young man of great promise. At this time the Governor of Pichai was very kind; as we all had fever, he made all the arrangements for the burial on the grounds of Wat Luang, and built over the grave a brick-and-mortar tomb. Phya Pichai, in his turn, became a victim to fever, and died in Luang Phrabang, but he was one of a host of Siamese who lost their lives in their efforts to drive off the Haw and restore order in the distracted districts over which the depredations of those marauders extended.

Who and what were these Haw that brought so much misery on large tracts of country, and established such a name for cruelty as to terrorize a whole population? They were, in a word, Chinese brigands. The term Haw originally meant any Chinaman who appeared from the north, and at one time they came down in great numbers, trading with Luang Phrabang, and about twenty years ago, the Chao Luang tells me, in the winter the banks of the Nam Kan were crowded with Chinese who had come down to trade. The term Haw in these parts has come to mean the brigands, and since their appearance all these countries have been thrown into confusion, and communications and trade have ceased to exist. Their robberies have been on such an extensive acle that it is more than likely they were acting as an irregular advance of some great movement, and in fact the information I was able to pick up showed that Chao Fa Wong, as he is called, the Governor of Yiwnan, was head and center of the scandalous movement. 

When the French were at war in Tonquin he sent orders to the band of ruffians wandering over the Luang Phrabang division, to attack the French, saying, if they failed to do so, it would be at their peril. Tonquin was tributary to China when the bands of Haw were let loose on it, so that whatever authority Annam held disappeared. As China was about to complete the game by changing Tonquin from a tributary to a province, France stepped in and annexed it. When the Haw were ravaging Tonquin they overflowed into the out lying provinces of Luang Phrabang , Sipsawng Chua Tai (twelve provinces of Tais or Siamese), and Hua Punntang Ha Tang Hok (the five divisions, to which a sixth was added), and also into Chieng Kwang or M. Puann; this was about the year 1870. Up to this time these provinces were fairly peaceful, and the taxes were regularly collected by an official, who is still living.

 The Haw started on their depredations, and the whole scene was changed. Then began a period of misery for the people of these countries, for which it will take years of good government to make amends. The pillaging march of the Haw was rapid and without interruption. They ravaged and destroyed the whole of Sipsawng Chua Tai, Hua Punn Tang, Ha Tang Hok, then passed over Chieng Kawng and reached Wieng Chan on the Nam Kawng, where they received a wholesome check, but not before they had effected an immense amount of mischief.

Their progress could be traced by the ashes of villages, and by temples and pagodas of which the ground had been dug up. The temples and pagodas were rifled for treasure, and so clever had the thieves become at knowing in what places to look for it, that in many of the temples (Wats), only the few places where treasure was likely to be found were dug up, the rest being left strictly untouched. Most temples had the original sitting figure of Gautama, some of brick and mortar heavily gilded, others of copper, while others again were of a composition of gold and copper.

It is the custom of Buddhists when building Wats and pagodas to make offerings of jewelry and money to propitiate the deity. These offerings were placed usually under the sitting figure of Buddha, in its breast, and in the floors of the Wat, exactly where the line of sight of the figure strikes the floor. The places were dug up by the unfortunate inhabitants, the Haw meanwhile standing by, sword in hand, directing the proceedings. Near Wieng Chan is a very interesting pagoda called Wat Luang. Religion and war are there combined; the lower part is a perfect fortress riddled with loop-holes.

The Haw took possession of it without any opposition, and by means of ropes pulled off the spire in the search for treasure. It is built of blocks of laterite rudely squared. They then marched on the defenseless people of Wieng Chan and had a good time of it at the miserable natives expense. At this period there was a Siamese Commissioner, Phaya Mahamat, at Ubon. Hearing of the doings of the Haw, on his own responsibility he came up, got the people together, and fought the Haw, who were about eight hundred strong, totally defeating them.

The last of the party took refuge in a Wat, and were not long in barricading it and making a few loop-holes in the walls. They were captured and executed. This band in their lust for murder and loot had gone out of their depth, and were completely cut off from their communications. The Commissioner beheaded the unfortunate chief official of Wieng Chan for surrendering to the Haw. Siam awoke to the gravity of the occasion and equipped an army to drive out the Haw neck and crop. 

They had entrenched themselves at Tung Chieng Kumm, from whence they were quickly dislodged and nearly all slain by Phya Ratanarakun. Here Phya Rat lost a great opportunity. He had recourse to the practice of primitive times, receiving orders from the Minister of the Interior to drive away the population, thus laying the country waste and bare, and as they thought, making it difficult for the Haw to re-settle, should they return in great numbers. When the old Governor of Pichai heard the orders, he knelt at the feet of the Minister of the Interior who came as far as Paklai on the Nam Kawng, and begged that the people should not be banished; but, as in other countries that boast a superior morality, the good of a small and necessarily weak portion of a community is not considered, and they have to suffer on account of political exigencies, so here the people had to go. 

The nemesis that must sooner or later overtake these actions in great countries shows itself in small ones more quickly; it came on Siam. The Haw returned in great force and established control over M. Puann, denuded as it was of its population. Many of the people who escaped the exodus attached themselves to the Haw. Others, including the best of the men, took to the mountains. Nothing could induce them to leave their beautiful country, nor would they consent to acknowledge the Haw. In 1883, Dr. Neis, a plucky and energetic French traveller, began that series of French explorations in Siam, which since has led to such deplorable results for the country, culminating in the so-called "Rights" of Annam. Provided with passports from the Siamese Government, Dr. Neis found his way to Nawng Kai, from which place he moved on to M. Ngan . 

       

Copyright 1998 USMTA Inc.   All rights reserved. Revised: October 16, 2004.