Asian Review


Edward Van Roy

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Thailand's present-day population of "Thai of Portuguese descent," concentrated at Bangkok, represents a scarcely discernible remnant of Portugal's erstwhile Asian empire, created between 1507 and 1527 via a chain of strongpoints stretching from Muscat, Ormuz, and Goa to Malacca, Macao, and the Spice Islands. Along that route the Portuguese Crown in 1516 established diplomatic relations with the kingdom of Siam, and Portuguese settlements emerged at Ayutthaya and other Thai ports soon thereafter. The quinquacentennial anniversary of that historic watershed presents an opportune moment to reflect on the distinctive contribution made by Portuguese merchants, mercenaries, missionaries, and mestizos to Thai history and the means whereby the Portuguese communities at Ayutthaya, Thonburi, and Bangkok managed to retain their ethnic identity for some five centuries half a world removed from their cultural roots.



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