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The seal of Pattani district, Thailand, featuring the Patani cannon

Of all the politically opaque, confusing, interesting, dangerous and naturally beautiful places in Southeast Asia, the deep South of Thailand would have to win on almost every measure. I have long been fascinated by the region and its people, and I anticipate this blog repeatedly visiting the region.

One place to begin is in introducing the Patani Cannon (Seri Patani in Malay or Phraya Tani in Thai), a historical relic that is profoundly symbolic of the relationship between the Thai central government in Bangkok and the deep South.

Measuring over twenty feet and made of brass, it is the largest cannon ever cast in Thailand. The cannon’s history dates back to 1571, when the then Patani Kingdom was a renowned centre for the creation of such weapons, and represents an imagined golden era for the Kingdom’s independence, respect and wealth. This idealisation has led to the cannon symbolising the history modern day Pattani province in the deep South of Thailand, and featuring in the seal depicted above.

The cannon’s origins can be traced back to a Sultan of Pattani, Raja Biru, who decreed that weapons be constructed of such magnificence and firepower that they would repel any attack from marauding Siamese (pre-Thai) forces. A Chinese craftsman named Tok Kayan was the most talented available, and he set to work casting three cannons. There were two large cannons named Seri Patani and Seri Negara, and a smaller one named Mahalela.

Despite being used successfully a number of times the cannons were ultimately insufficient, and in 1785 the Siamese Army conquered Patani. The two large cannons were seized as the glittering spoils of war and were prepared for transport back to Bangkok, but Seri Negara fell into the sea while being loaded onto the transporting ship.

Seri Patani now stands guard in front of the Defence Ministry in Bangkok, on the opposite side of the river to the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha, and remainss a mute testimony to Thai imperial ambitions and limitations.