Design & Creativity

Pattani: Reawakening the Faded City

Published Date : 3 Sep 2019

Resource : Creative Thailand


The city of Atlantis had disappeared for centuries, yet still retains the image of a great metropolis. On the other hand, some living cities are being stereotyped as “red area” in place of their own names “Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat”.

The news and search results keep reiterating the image of violence, so much so that they drown out the area’s history as an important port city along with its prosperity as a hometown and civilised wisdoms that still persist in the local way of living. If “the sea” draws in people from different countries to create access, exchange and spread of prosperity to other areas, “the land” supplies the resources where minerals, food crops and craftsmanship skills can be turned into commerce. “Pattani” is situated in that strategic point with excellent potential.

The Capital Awaiting Revival
The geological abundance of Pattani was clearly evident through many surveys. According to James McCarthy’s record in 1883, “We sail on from Songkhla to Pattani. We drop anchor some distance from the shore and take a flat bottom canoe along the Pattani River to an area of Chinese settlement. Houses are built as a complex surrounded by high brick walls…The King’s palace is situated around one and a half mile up north along the river. There is a large area that used to be a rice paddy…All trades are in the hands of the Chinese. The main commodities are lead, tin, elephant tusks, leather and rubber.” Moreover, Henry Luise Arsm. conducted a survey and drew a map during the period before the Anglo-Siamese Treaty. His survey focused on natural resource locations and marine navigation routes. It included Pattani River and Saiburi River as well as some overland routes which assumedly were access to inland resource spots especially tin and gold.

The Mineral Production on the East Coast of Malaya in the Nineteenth Century Report also states that Pattani was known for mineral export and commercial mining. The city was bustling with commerce, particularly gold and tin exports. The gold mines in Saiburi were the most important. Some miners became famous wealthy men of Pattani and Yala at that time. In the beginning, the mining business was run by the Malayu and the Chinese. Luang Samrejkijkorn Jangwang was one of the key players and change-makers who brought in new knowledge to Pattani. He ran the mining operation in Talu valley in Yala province and was subsequently appointed as Luang Suntornsitloha. After the Malayu and the Chinese had revoked the mine concession, Australian capitalists took over until 1992.

Turning Assets into Craftsmanship
Pattani was an important port city and trading hub as well as a receiving, distributing and exchanging point of various commodities. Combining that with its cultural assets and we can trace its commercial ties and body of knowledge all the way to Europe, Arab and Indonesia. And those assets have been passed on from generation to generation. Even now, the city’s traditional businesses are being built on and added value by the new generation. 

There was a saying in Saiburi of “70 goldsmith tables” which means 70 out of 100 households in this district are goldsmiths. Back then, goldsmith was an honourable career. Even though there are now fewer numbers of them, Hadi’s Jewelry never ceases to carry on the craftsmanship. At present, the brand is run by third-generation goldsmiths and still focuses on creating body patterns with traditional methods such as pulling wires with Mava (torch for welding gold) and polishing the body with bamboo fibre. The brand’s patterns are influenced by Java while the ring shapes are in Mon style. It also draws inspiration from daggers, the name of the prophet, Baitullah and Malayu patterns. Hadi’s Jewelry is thus a fusion of different cultures to create products for diverse market. Another notable example is Perlangee, a kind of batik textile originated from Indonesia. Perlangee features beautiful drawing patterns, meticulous stitching and layers of its namesake rainbow colours derived from endlessly repeating the dying process. The textile shows a link to its origin in Java, a former trading hub of silk from China and the Sabarang District in Pattani, once a major manufacturing and dyeing centre in the region. Today, there is the effort to revive Perlangee patterns and craftsmanship by Piya Suwanpruek, founder of Sriyala Batik Group, along with textile collector and seller Dulfirtri Jehma who is studying and publicising information about it. Furthermore, the 200-year legend of the Raman King who invited a metalsmith from Indonesia called Bandaisara to craft daggers still lives on in the skills that have been passed down through generations. Over time, the timelessly dignified weapon is now redesigned into an elegant accessory.

New-gen in every generation
For sociologist Muhammad Arafat Bin Mohamad, this is the age of Pattani Renaissance. And it’s no different to other cities where the new generations are looking to come home and carry on the frozen local wisdoms as they question the concept of globalization and metropolis. The de-globalization trend which focuses more on secondary cities or rural areas put the importance on the small spots within sight rather than driving the progress with directionless city expansion.

The abovementioned new-gens are the products of the older generations. The first power plant in Pattani was launched in 1931 by Khun Thamrongpanpakdee and the electricity brought development into the city. The banking system arrived in the next generation. The Siam City Bank was Pattani’s first bank and ushered in commerce in Hua Talad district, particularly shipping companies; many of which opened along the Pattani riverbanks. The Pithan Company, for instance, operated as an agent who received the goods shipped in from overseas. In conjunction with the school renovation after World War, the Hua Talad district or Pattani’s old quarter came to flourish again. It was also expanded to connect with the new Radee Road which was lined with hotels, shops and printing houses. Hotels such as Banhengloon and Kyodo offered accommodation for merchants and travelers on the way to Malaya countries. There were 3 printing houses on this road: Pattani Place which was the first Arab language printing house in Pattani, Mittraparp and Nahdee which still opens until today.

One of Pattani’s important sectors is rubber, one of the region’s top economic crops since 1957. And if we are to say that innovation means seeing the opportunity to sustainably drive business forward and having Plan B to prepare for changes at all times.

In that case, the key innovator is Khun Temsit Nithi-Uthai who first initiated the production of doll-like balloons. Besides latex products, he also produced Plastisol, a type of PVC plastic; erasers made from 100% natural rubber; and seat cushions developed from sponge. Those products were further developed and distributed in Bangkok. From a small Teksun Shop, his factory was expanded to Preeda Road and then became Pattani Industry Part., Ltd., Thailand’s first latex trader. Its highest-priced product at that time was mine rubber which helped preventing the erosion of aluminium pump parts for Khun Thamrongpanpakdee’s Labu Mine. Today, his legacy is carried on by one of his grandchildren Dr. Nathapong Nithi-Uthai under the brands Patex and Original by Patex. In collaboration with a team of physicians from Siriraj Hospital, they produce the original health-oriented rubber pillows and bedding products made from 100% natural rubber. Their rubber pillows divide the area to support the body into 7 parts according to the specific weight distribution of each part. The wave shape is an innovation that helps reduce pressure point on contact areas, allowing for a long comfortable sleep. Dr. Nathapong also founded Tlejourn, a social enterprise that focuses on restoring the environment and building awareness by recycling ocean debris. Its most recent project is Khya where it works together with the shoe brand Nanyang to produce Changdao slippers from trash. 

The Aesthetic under the Shadow
For Emsophian of Benjametha Ceramic, “Come from the earth, live with the earth and return to the earth” is his philosophy of strength and delicacy. It expresses and reinforces the story of religious faith where God creates human beings out of clay. And when we die, we must return to the earth. Everything naturally deteriorates and turns into dust once defunct. Benjametha Ceramic uses creativity to elevate cheap bricks into meaningful objects. It has also built a community network and an endless stream of ideas coupled with an understanding of its root to develop a strong immunity. Every piece of its creation is meticulously crafted from start to finish. Indigenous “Jueng-nga soil” which is rich in calcium is used to bring out the metallic colour in its products while its water colours are coated with green crystals the colour of Kaka Sea. Moreover, the brand has built on the local traditional skills such as redesigning the hardwoods typically used to make birdcage tops into spinning tops and knife handles. Its network reflects the saying “I grew up from your house’s rice, you grew up from my house’s rice”. The rice paddies in Panarae area shows the relationship and cooperation between people without religious borders. They develop archery targets out of rice straw in order to sharpen their focus and accuracy. There is also an effort to restore and build awareness through Kain Lepas, the Malayu-styled textile depicting stories that link to all routines of people throughout life. Its patterns reflect the spirit of Anokareng or Pattani’s wild fighting fish. The peaceful Anokareng is a brave fighter despite its small size and becomes known as the peace-loving warrior.

Patani Artspace welcomes artists who wish to present their works. Its founder and artist, Ajarn Jeh Abdulloh, offers an open space for artists to exchange with and learn from one another. Most importantly, Patani Artspace is an incubator of the local new-gen artists to further develop themselves into professional artists. This space is therefore a showcase arena for artworks that reflect the Malayu identity before they go out to the wider public.

Meanwhile, De’ L apae Art Space is the first studio in Narathivas that provides a space for exhibiting artworks. It was converted from Pimanman’s family home by Prat Pimanman and Kita Isran. The studio co-creates artworks with the new generation of local and non-local artists to tell the stories of art, beauty, knowledge, dream and sharing so that the community can learn together. 

The Power of Local New-gens
The Pattani Decoded Festival that took place during 29 August - 1 September 2019 was the latest effort by Melayu Living and its affiliates to hold creative activities in this area. It featured the stories of existing local creative economy—cultural assets, art and visual, modern media and design works—and decode and reinterpret them through key activities such as exhibition, showcase, lecture, workshop and knowledge exchange stage. Covering the three streets abbreviated as Aromdee (Anoru, Pattani Pirom and Rudee), the festival focused on transforming old buildings and abandoned spaces into exhibiting spots. It aimed to promote local creative businesses and help the later generations to understand and be proud of their existing knowledge depository and capital. Eventually, it is hoped that all the knowledge will be passed on and developed further so that this once faded city will truly shine once again.

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เรื่อง : kariya_bil

ภาพ : Pattani Decoded