MRI Forum 81

A Borderless Village: Binding / Bounding Spiritual Ties among Phlong Migrants in Greater Bangkok

Date:

  • 11 December 2014

Location:

  • Macau Ricci Institue

Time:

  • 18:00 to 21:30

Cost:

  • Free

Languages:

  • English

Audio Record of this Forum

Speaker

Workshop

Ms Indrė Balčaitė

Ms Indrė Balčaitė is a SOAS Politics PhD student specialising in Thailand and Burma/Myanmar. As fieldwork for her doctoral research project, she has spent over one year in South East Asia interviewing Karen migrants from Myanmar. She holds a BA in Political Science from Vilnius University in her native Lithuania and an MA in Political Theory from the University of Nottingham. Before embarking on a PhD, she has worked in the public service, for NGOs, conducted policy analysis for European Union institutions and freelance translation.

Introduction

The presentation will show the ways by which the Phlong (Pwo) Karen migrants, reproducing their spiritual loyalties in Bangkok, Thailand, create imagined communities spanning the Thai-Burmese border. Originating from rural or semi-urban areas of Hpa-an Township, Myanmar, the villagers – turned into residents of the sprawling and congested Thai capital – seek to retain their membership in their home village community. The perceived distance between Bangkok and their home village in the Kayin (Karen) State in Myanmar has recently shrunk as a result of modern technology and more frequent visits, giving the Phlong migrants more opportunities for continuing practicing Buddhism as they know it. Although Buddhism both in Thailand and Myanmar is of the Theravada variety, Burmese migrants do not generally participate in the Thai religious practices and networks. By retaining their spiritual loyalties brought from their home, the Phlong in Bangkok make an identity statement differentiating them from the Thais. This creates a cross-border spiritual community bound by reverence to the moral authority of influential Karen monks and contrasts the experience of the Christian Phlong migrants who knit separate religious networks in the Burmese churches in Thailand.