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The Last Elephant Catchers? The (In)Visible Indigenous Heritage of the Kui in Thailand

The Kui Ajiang (ชาวกวยอาเจียง) in Thailand are an Indigenous community living in the Northeast, along the border with Cambodia. Known as the ‘elephant people’, the Kui Ajiang are named for their history of catching wild elephants – a practice that came to an end sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. This talk takes the case study of the Kui people of Surin and their elephant heritage as a means of exploring issues of agency, authority, authenticity, and loss. This is done by looking at how different definitions of heritage (both natural and acultural) by the Thai state work exclude Indigenous Peoples from defining, managing, and protecting their heritage. The talk will begin with a wider-scale view of Thailand – the historical development of its heritage policies and approaches to culture and the environment and Indigenous rights from the colonial period up to the present, as well as a more in-depth view of Kui culture in Surin province. Over the course of fieldwork, I identified three Kui traditions that became ‘endangered’ following the end of elephant catching. In this talk, I will follow this endangerment, from why elephant catching ended to the community’s responses to this cultural threat.

About the speaker

Dr Alisa Santikarn is an Economic and Social Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in the Archaeology Department at the University of Cambridge. She also holds a PhD in Cultural Heritage Studies/Archaeology, an MPhil in Archaeological Heritage and Museums, and a BA (Hons) in Human, Social and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on intersections of natural and cultural heritage in Thailand, with a particular interest in Indigenous rights. This talk is based on the results of her PhD research, where she worked with members of the Kui community in Surin between 2018 and 2021. She is also currently working on her first monograph on this subject, which will be published by Amsterdam University Press in 2024.


Thursday, 25 April 2024 at 19:00


Lecture Room, 4/Floor, The Siam Society


Members and Students (to undergraduate level) — Free of charge
Non-Members — THB 300

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To book your place, please contact Khun Pinthip at 02 661 6470-3 ext 203 or

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