Event: Siam Society Lecture
When: 14-Mar-2013 7:30pm
Where: Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Road, Sukhumvit 21, Bangkok 10110
Trade and diplomacy across the Bay of Bengal:
Siamese elephants as gifts and merchandise in the seventeenth century
A talk by Dr. Dhiravat na Pombejra
During the seventeenth century thousands of elephants were shipped across the Bay of Bengal from Siam to the Coromandel Coast, Orissa and Bengal as merchandise and as gifts to Indian grandees. Every year traders from ports such as Masulipatnam, Hugli and Balasore brought textiles to sell in Mergui and Ayutthaya in exchange for goods such as tin, but during the middle decades of the seventeenth century the Siamese elephant became the most coveted commodity in this trade.
Diplomatic missions were exchanged, notably with Golconda and Bengal. Envoys came to Siam from India with valuable gifts, even “tribute”, hoping to facilitate their purchase of elephants. The traders from India often acted as envoys or conducted trade on behalf of grander figures, such as Shah Shuja, Governor of Bengal and son of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Trade and diplomacy were more clearly than ever intertwined. The Ayutthaya monarchs also played an active role in the export of these pachyderms, King Narai (1656-1688) sending crown ships laden with elephants to India. Although primarily considered as commercial commodities at this stage, elephants had always been very important animals in court life. They were thus often used as gifts in Siamese diplomacy.
This talk presents the results of ongoing research into the trade in Siamese elephants across the Bay of Bengal in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The rise and decline of the trade in Siamese elephants during the seventeenth century will be outlined. Other issues connected with the trade in elephants, such as the Siamese monarchs’ elephant-hunting activities and the flourishing of the “Moor” faction in the Ayutthaya royal court, will also be touched upon.
Dr. Dhiravat na Pombejra taught history at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University, from 1985 till 2006, and is now an independent researcher on Thai history of the 17th and 18th centuries
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