Phuket's Old Town Movement
The Halal Festival
here for full story
here for full story of the tragic princess from Phuket, and
Festival In Kamala
government head Khun Anchalee Wanich Thepabutr wants to tell the
world that Phuket is a safe place to visit. 'We want to show how
the Muslims in Phuket live in harmony with Thai Buddhists and
foreign nationalities,' she said, officiating the opening of the
'Halal Food, Hilal Town' festival in Kamala beach, just north
of Patong. On stage, children released 39 doves, representing
the hope for peace in Southern Thailand.
Muslims make up about 30 percent of Phuket's population. In contrast
to the Thai Muslims who live in Pattani, Yalla and Narathiwat,
the Phuket Muslims speak Thai, not Malay. Many of them were originally
fishermen and orchard gardeners, living around the beaches which
are now international tourism resorts. The host of Phuket's first
large-scale Thai Muslim festival was the Kamala community, but
Muslims from all over the province pitched in to make it a success.
held from 28 July to 1 August, was targeted at attracting Middle
Eastern tourists to boost Phuket businesses during the low-season.
The festival grounds was a large coconut grove belonging to CocoHut,
whose Bangkok owner sponsored the site in the hope that the festival
will help bring tourists back to Kamala beach after the tsunami.
halal food on offer ranged from Thai Muslim fare and skewered
kebabs to Chinese dim-sum and Japanese sushi. Crowds stopped to
marvel at a showy demonstration of 'teh tarik' which the Thais
call 'teh Pattani'. Participating non-Muslim stalls were required
to have existing Halal certification, while Muslim vendors had
to undergo a one-day training programme conducted by the newly-established
Halal Science Centre of the Chulalongkorn University.
Said one of the
organisers Charoen Thinkohkeaw, whose Muslim name is Kamarrudin
Yahya, 'Arab tourists tend to doubt whether halal food in Phuket
is really halal or mashbooh (questionable), so we are upgrading
the food industry with technical expertise from the Halal Science
holders were almost equally both Muslims and Buddhists. The organisers
did a magnificent job of bringing together a wide range of foods,
Thai crafts, textiles, eco-products and OTOP (one tambun one product)
award-winners from 14 Southern Thai provinces. Handicrafts included
Phuket's unique beaded embroidery on batik sarong. For many bird-lovers,
the most exciting event was the bulbul singing contests. A children's
Qur'an reading competition was also held.
But the rarest
treat of all was to see various Muslim and Malay performing arts
of Southern Thailand gathered in Phuket. The Kempulan Bungayaran
from Pattani performed the Likay Ulu, a Thai version of Dhikir
Barat. Graceful veterans from Krabi performed the martial arts
Silat Gayong. The shadow play Wayang Kulit came from Nakhon Si
is not only Arabic, we have our own traditional Thai Muslim culture,'
said Thinkohkeow, a radio broadcaster and advisor of Phuket's
Muslim Wittaya School.
Some of these
performing arts are endangered. Ronggeng, which originated from
Penang's entertainment world, was performed by the mature Orang
Laut women from the sea gypsy community of Koh Sirey, Phuket.
A traditional blessing for month-old infants was enacted by the
last of Phuket's Lekia groups, composed of elderly men from the
neighbouring village of Bangtao.
The young musicians
from Phuket's Islam Phattanah have been nurtured by Malaysia's
music academy, Mawaddah, a subsidiary of Rufaqa. The boys played
a kompang welcome to the VIPs, while the girls sang Nasyid to
a modern beat. The highlight of the festival was an original 'light-and-sound'
staging of 'Mahsuri', a legend which links the people of Kamala
with Malaysia's Langkawi.
The festival budget
of five million baht (about RM 500,000) came from the Phuket provincial
government. Pamphlets were produced in Thai, English, Arabic and
Chinese but the number of foreign tourists fell below expectation.
Although food sales were brisk, handicrafts sales suffered. According
to a stall-holder, several flights from Dubai and Malaysia had
been cancelled last minute due it a tsunami warning the week before.
Still, the Tourism
Authority of Thailand has pledged its support to make the festival
an annual affair. Haji Saad, who sold Islamic wear at the fair,
was educated in Penang and spoke excellent English. 'I want to
welcome more Malaysians to Phuket,' he grinned. With so much to
see, and such a warm reception, it is a pity that few Malaysians
made it to the fair. But there is always next year.
day the sea rose in Kamala
Thai Muslims of Kamala see themselves as having an open
attitude. Said 'The Muslims and Buddhists live peacefully
together for a long time. The farang (Thai term for foreigner)
can come and stay at our village, no problem. But if they
want to marry a Muslim girl then they have to convert.'
of Kamala inhabitants are employed in tourism-related jobs,
whether driving the tut-tut, taking the farang out on long-tailed
boats, or working in hotels and restaurants. The folk of
Kamala, 80% Muslim, were thrust into big-time tourism when
a multi-million dollar theme park called 'Fantasea' was
built in their midst about ten years ago. The easy money
from tourism was difficult to resist. Then came the tsunami.
better known as 'Sit', who lost his job, car and motorcycle,
remembers how it happened. 'There was no big wave like in
Khao Lak. The water in Kamala just kept on rising until
about two metres high. Believe it or not,' said Sit, 'the
houses were destroyed, but the mosques and cemetery on the
beach stood firm. Just like in Aceh.' 'The foreigners were
still sleeping, but many Muslims woke up early to go to
the mosque, so they were warned by others. A few Buddhists
drowned because they went to the temple near the sea. The
kindergarten is also near the sea, if happened on Monday
morning, many of our children would have been lost.'
of eight locals who perished in Kamala on that fateful Sunday
morning after Christmas. Out of the thousands of tsunami
deaths in Thailand, most occurred in Phang-nga and the outer
islands. Phuket itself recorded only 279 casualties, mainly
in the Patong and Kamala beaches.
donations poured in to help rebuild the Buddhist Wat in
Kamala and to replace the fishermen's long-tailed boats,
but to help the private properties. Said Sit, 'Most of the
resorts around Patong are foreign-owned, they have money
to rebuild. But the Thai owners of the Kamala properties
invested everything. The bank will not give them another
'Halal Food' event was in full swing, many guesthouses were
in still shambles or undergoing repair. A signboard at Ban
Na Nok, a village in Kamala next to the festival site, welcomed
donations of building materials. 'Before the tsunami, everyone
in Kamala wanted to build a new guesthouse or sell their
land. But the tsunami washed everything away, now everything
is quiet,' said Sit.
and photos copyright Khoo Salma Nasution