The provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, where the majority of the residents are Muslims, were annexed by Thailand over a century ago and the Thai government had been trying to make them accept the rule coming from Bangkok to override the provinces’ own culture. And since 2004, residents in the area had been resisting this attempt drastically.
There’s unrest in this southern part of Thailand and it seems that the revival of the old Jawi script is one of the things that could lead to peace in the area.
Jawi or Yawi, as the Thais pronounce it, is an Arabic alphabet. It is used in writing the Patani Malay language. It is currently being taught to young schoolchildren at private Muslim schools in the said three provinces.
It is an official script in Brunei, an alternate script in Malaysia and used to be the standard script when writing the Malay language. Its usage had declined and the language has been replaced by Rumi, a Latin alphabet, which relegated Jawi as a script reserved for some administrative, cultural and religious purposes. There is an existing Jawi keyboard and the script is still taught in the primary schools in Brunei and used daily in Pattani in Thailand and Kelantan in Malaysia.
Situation in Thailand
While Jawi is taught in private schools in the southern provinces, it is not included in the state school curriculum. In the provinces, the village names that were once written in Jawi are now written in Thai. Locals are desperate to have their old script revived and are thus putting up a fight. Ismail Ishaq Benjasmith, a local historian said that they must preserve the uniqueness of their culture. He teaches at a religious school (tadika) in the district of Saiburi, which is located in Pattani.
The historian is currently the leader of a group of campaigners lobbying to use Jawi names for the signposts in villages. Their campaign had some small successes. In a small fishing village, the signpost, which bears the words Mengabang in Romanized Rumi script (Malay) is also written in Thai and in Jawi.
He had the support of a civilian government official, Tawee Sodsong. However, Ismail’s supporter was removed from office during the recent military takeover, which dashed the hope of Ismail to have all 2,000 villages in the provinces in getting their Jawi names back.
All is not lost
Hope remains alive however. There had been several peace talks that were held since last year but these were overshadowed by the turmoil happening in Bangkok. But now the government is ready to talk peace again, according to Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the junta leader. As of last week, broadcasters have started adding Jawi subtitles to the weekly televised address of Prayut, which can be seen in seven southern provinces in Thailand. These weekly broadcasts used to have English subtitles only. There’s still a long way to go before peace is achieved in this region, but this is a positive beginning.