Malay-Muslim residents in Thailand's Deep South are celebrating a pilot programme that has paved the way for officially recognising Pattani Malay names of ten regional villages.
Southern Border Provinces Administration Centre (SBPAC) Director Tawee Sodsong chaired a February 8th ceremony marking the occasion at Prince of Songkla University's Pattani campus.
The following day, he travelled to Mengabang Pantai village in Pattani's Sai Buri district to present its residents with the new sign bearing its official name in three languages: Thai, Pattani Malay and English.
"Language is the lifeblood of ethnicity, our link to our ancestors and the root of all knowledge passed down from our ancestors to the present day," Tawee told Khabar Southeast Asia. "This project, which will also include names of major roads and other geographical entities, was authorised by cabinet in order to recognise the Pattani Malay language of the local people."
"(This) event is one of historical significance," Tawee said. "Changing the names of these ten villages marks a major change in thinking and recognises in a creative way, the importance of the Pattani Malay identity."
The pilot programme stems from a cabinet decision in 2011 aimed at officially recognising Pattani Malay and English village names, as well as Thai-language names already in use.
Introduced by SBPAC following more than two years of academic research, the programme intends to better recognise the unique Pattani dialect (also known as Yawi or Jawi) of Malay used by the majority of local residents.
Many Deep South villages had their original Pattani Malay names replaced with Thai names decades ago as a way to assimilate the region with the rest of Thailand, according to the Asia Foundation, which supported the 15-month pilot programme.
"The name change is important because it meets the needs and desires of local residents," said Mohammad Yuseng, chairman of the Bang Kao Tambon Administration Organisation in Pattani's Saiburi district, home to three of the pilot villages.
"The name on the new signs is the original name of the village. It dates back to long ago and is still used by local residents here. Using the local name is also an important way of preserving our language. It allows us to take pride in our cultural heritage," Yuseng added.
English is also included in the project in order to prepare the region for integration into the ASEAN Economic Community, terms of which are scheduled to take effect next year.
Of the ten pilot villages, eight are in Pattani province and one each in Yala and Narathiwat.
"It allows local people to learn about the history of the village and the cultural roots of our ancestors," Yala Provincial Islamic Culture Development Council chairman Mamud Bersa told Khabar. "I think everyone should respect the importance of language, our cultural identity and local way of life, and strive to preserve them for as long as possible."