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Lessons From The Mon and Khmer!

How Centuries Old Austro-Asiatic Farming Culture Can Save New England Farms!

Typhoons and floods are becoming more intense and frequent as Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia bear the brunt of climate change. Long coastlines and heavily populated low-lying areas make the region of more than 600 million people one of the world’s most vulnerable to weather extremes and rising sea levels associated with global warming. Governments are under pressure to act quickly or risk giving up improvements in living standards achieved through decades of export-driven growth.

Southeast Asia faces a dual challenge. It not only must adapt to climate change caused largely by greenhouse gasses emitted over decades by advanced economies—and more recently by developing economies such as China and India—it also must alter development strategies that are increasingly contributing to global warming. The region’s growing reliance on coal and oil, along with deforestation, are undermining national pledges to curb emissions and embrace cleaner energy sources. The answer is a return to indigenous practices that sustain the environment.

As the Tai moved into mainland Southeast Asia, they came in contact with peoples speaking Mon-Khmer languages who had long inhabited the region.

Indian traders traveling to China during the early centuries of the 1st millennium CE had carried Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and practices to some of those peoples, including the Mon. Rice and teak wood are the most important agricultural products; mangoes and durians are cultivated as well. Tea, sugar, tobacco, rubber, salt, and bamboo products are exported from Mawlamyine (formerly Moulmein). Other cities and towns of agricultural import in the region include Thaton, Ye, and Martaban. Thaton, the former capital of the Mon kingdom, was once a significant port but has lost its position because of silting. Siltation is water pollution caused by particulate terrestrial clastic material, with a particle size dominated by silt or clay. This stopped water from reaching crops as waterways became choked or obstructed with silt or mud.

This caused floodplains but the Mon and the Khmer were forced to become experts in their management to grow and eventually prosper! Storms will likely become more intense,due to climate change increasing the frequency of flooding. This leaves many of today’s agricultural lands, especially those in floodplains, at risk. Floodplain management strategies in agricultural areas can take many forms. Practices to reduce risks affect the local river ecosystem but can also impact environments downstream. For example, farmers can protect their land from floods by planting trees, changing their crop types, or restoring riparian vegetation. Such measures can help lessen flooding impacts on farmlands as well as downstream areas.

Other strategies such as dredging or straightening the river, stabilizing the streambank, constructing a levee, or enhancing drainage may help only the very localized area. Sadly these modern practices may actually increase the intensity of water flow. This can exacerbate flooding downstream and degrade river ecosystems.

As the climate changes, farmers and community stakeholders in New England will need to adapt to changing rainfall patterns. This area has experienced significant flooding in recent years. Some residents proposed that all the land bordering rivers should be restored to natural forests. The forests would increase water infiltration, protect banks from erosion and reduce flooding. This practice, however, would also have negative impacts on farmers profits and the local economy but it would keep them from catastrophic losses in the long run.

The problems did not occur overnight so neither will solving them. Like the ancient Mon and Khmer, the focus must be on socio-environmental tradeoffs. Participants need to consider complex social, economic, and environmental aspects to address the issue. The goal is to balance an increasingly damaged ecosystem, resource conservation, agricultural production, and most importantly future community needs.

The Mon were one of the earliest to reside in Southeast Asia, and were responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism in Mainland Southeast Asia. The civilizations founded by the Mon were some of the earliest in Thailand as well as Myanmar and Laos. The Mon are regarded as a large exporter of Southeast Asian culture. Historically, many cities in Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos today, including Yangon, Pathum Thani, and Vientiane were founded either by the Mon people or Mon rulers.

Nowadays, the Mon are a major ethnic group in Myanmar and a minor ethnic group in Thailand. The Mons from Myanmar are called Burmese Mon or Myanmar Mon. The Mons from Thailand are referred as Thai Raman or Thai Mon. The Mon dialects of Thailand and Myanmar are mutually intelligible. Ban Non Wat is a village in Thailand, in the Non Sung district, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, located near the small city of Phimai more than 150 miles from Angkor Wat lies this innocuous but significantly important Thai village called Ban Non Wat which means "Village of the Temple Mound". Standing on the edge of a vast 13- by 66-foot trench which has been the subject of excavation since 2002.

The cultural sequence encompasses 11 prehistoric phases, which include 640 burials.[1] The site is associated with consistent occupation, and in modern-day Ban Non Wat the occupied village is located closer to the Mun River. Mon, also spelled Mun, Burmese Talaing, people primarily live in Mon State, the Southern part of Myanmar and borders with Bago Region, Tanintharyi Region and Kayan State. The Mon are one of the first people in southeast Asia and the earliest one to settle in Myanmar. They founded an empire, and introduced both writing and Buddhism into Burma.

The earliest chickens domesticated came from Ban Non Wat, in Central Thailand, known to be inhabited since the Neolithic Age.

The earliest cooked chicken remains came from the Mon who domesticated the chicken between 1650 B.C. and 1250 B.C. Thousands of Years before Eurasia knew of the bird species although it was the chickens unique unlimited egg laying ability that made it so prized, not the meat!

The Mon currently are mainly concentrated along Thailand’s northern border with Burma (Myanmar) and around Bangkok, while the Khmer live primarily in the eastern provinces of Surin and Srisaket along the Cambodian border. Together they are estimated to number around 1.2 million. The languages of both groups are from the Mon-Khmer group of Aboriginal Austro-Asiatic languages, meaning these languages originated from the South though many of them today appear to have adopted the Thai language and intermarried with Thais.

Both are also predominantly Buddhists. Estimates of speakers of Mon (as opposed to individuals who recognize themselves as Mon) are of perhaps 100,000 people, while Khmer-speakers are much more numerous at over 1 million. These languages are natively spoken by the majority of the population in Vietnam and Cambodia, and by minority populations scattered throughout parts of Thailand, Laos, India, Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nepal, and southern China. Approximately 117 million people speak an Austroasiatic language, of which more than two-thirds are Vietnamese speakers.

Of the Austroasiatic languages, only Vietnamese, Khmer, and Mon have lengthy, established presences in the historical record. Giving more credence to their Afro Asiatic roots rather than Mongolian. This southern origin and northward migration were confirmed by a recent analysis of genome-wide sequence variation in Nature Journal, in which the Austro-Asiatic southern origin of the Mon language supports why it is a recognized ”indigenous' ' language in Myanmar and Thailand. Moreover, through a study of mitochondrial DNA we have observed a close relationship between Cambodians, Mon, Khmer and populations from the Indian subcontinent, supporting the earliest coastal route of migration of modern humans from Africa into mainland Southeast Asia by way of the Indian subcontinent some 60,000 years ago.

The Mon subsequently became absorbed into the Thai population, though there were to be additional influxes of ethnic Mon fleeing Burmese oppression from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, as well as in more recent decades after the military takeover of Burma and the repression of many of that country’s ethnic minorities. The ancient Mon-Khmer people were not necessarily black in the sense of having African ancestry but the ancient Mon did have black and dark brown skin. Today ethnic groups within the Mon-Khmer family have diverse physical appearances, including a range of skin tones.

While some Mon-Khmer groups may have darker skin tones, skin color varies widely within any ethnic group and is influenced by factors such as regional geography. The builders of Angkor were the Khmers. The Khmer men were described by the Chinese as “small and Black.” In modern times, as early as 1923, Harvard University anthropologist Roland Burrage Dixon noted that the ancient Khmers were physically described as having “distinctly short stature, dark skin, curly or frizzy hair, broad noses and thick Negroid lips.” With the advent of global warming nature will no doubt be a catalyst for a larger segment of Mon population to arise more complexionally identifiable to that of their ancestors.

Mon and Khmer both belong to Austroasiatic people just like English and French belong to Indo-European people. The majority ancestry of Mon, both Ancient and Modern ones (presumably the majority population, of the Khmer as well), and other Southeast Asians, derive most of their modern ancestry from the East/Southeast Asian ancestral component ( ESEA). Yet, they do show a significant South Asian Negrito (Black) admixture, itself being a mix of South Asian hunter-gatherers (AASI/SAHG) or Andamanese (The Original Black People of India also called Onge), and ancient West-Eurasian sources.

Note: The word Negrito's literal translation is “little black man.” But generally, Negrito is not considered a racial slur “Negritos” are not a single population. The Andamanese for example, are divergent from other East-Eurasians and closer to the darker complexioned Indigenous South Asians.


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