The inhabitants of the Deep South would like you to know that they are not so different from the inhabitants of other parts of Thailand.
They care about their family, their faith and their culture. And they want to live a dignified and peaceful life.
The Deep South is a region along the Thai-Malaysian border comprising the provinces of Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala, and four districts of Songkhla province. It is notable for poverty, a decades-long separatist insurgency, and the Melayu culture, of which Islam is a central component.
Here, a dozen inhabitants of the southern border region recount their struggles and their aspirations. A BenarNews correspondent from Bangkok interviewed them from August 29 to September 2, during a trip to the Deep South.
The 23-year-old recently graduated from vocational school, where she was studying Chinese.
“I would like to speak several languages,” says Nureta Mani.
She works in a cooperative in the Barahom community in Maung, a district of Pattani province.
Her dream is to become a tour guide in southern Thailand.
Mohammad Marangoa, 35, listens to music on his phone as he walks to the morning market near his home.
He says he has mental health issues so he couldn’t find a job. But the music and the morning walks help him.
The Deep South provinces are among the poorest in the country, with poverty rates of 34% in Pattani and Narathiwat, according to a 2019 World Bank report. The national poverty rate is 6%.
Every morning before dawn, 27-year-old Samuni Meandi works on a rubber plantation in the insurgency-ridden province of Narathiwat.
“But I barely make a living,” she says, adding that her income is uncertain due to rising and falling prices for rubber products.
Buho Maming says she likes to chew beetle nuts every morning.
At 86, she does not follow the news of the insurrection.
“I don’t know about any of that,” she replies, shaking her head gently when asked about recent coordinated attacks by suspected insurgents in the Deep South.
She was over 20 when BRN, the region’s most powerful separatist group, emerged in the early 1960s.
Prapat Chindanusan, a chief temple supervisor, advises visitors on how to pay homage to Chinese gods and goddesses at Lim Ko Niew shrine in Pattani city.
“People of all faiths live in peace and harmony in Pattani. Differences are not the reasons for acts of violence,” says the 63-year-old. There is also a small Chinese-Thai population, which settled here hundreds of years ago, with its own culture.
Yateng Waehama, 64, owns a small community grocery store outside Pattani town.
He says he is not interested in politics.
“Politics? Don’t get me started,” he said, shaking his head.
Asmawati Mabae, 34, works in a local government administrative office in Narathiwat.
She says it is difficult for young people in the Deep South to be secure in their future due to the lack of opportunities in the region, so many travel to neighboring Malaysia in search of employment.
Youth unemployment is high in the southern region of Thailand compared to the north, although there are no government figures.
First Lieutenant Chamnan Sengtub commands the 4305th Ranger Company in Koke Po, a district of Pattani.
“Our job is to protect people in this region. The insurgents are not from this neighborhood. We make friends with local residents and have a good understanding with them,” he says.
One of his men was killed in a roadside bomb attack in 2020. Since the insurgency resumed in 2004, more than 7,000 people have been killed and 13,500 injured in violence across the region , according to Deep South Watch, a local think tank.
Hassan Tetae, 26, is enrolled in Islamic studies at Ululumul Islamiyah Pondok, a school in Nong Chik district that teaches the Quran and Melayu culture. He started studying there at the age of 16 to “learn the way of Allah”.
He says he wants to have “a job, any general job would do” in the near future.
Koreyo Latae, 41, comes to pray at the historic Krue Se Mosque after selling chicken satay at the local market.
“Sales have halved since the violence last month. It was already bad since the COVID outbreak,” she says.
In mid-August 2022, insurgents targeted 17 points in a coordinated attack in which one person was killed. No one claimed responsibility for the attack.
Charif Sobhanalle, 27, a student at Prince of Songkla University, helped organize the Deep Salt exhibition in the historic Chinatown of Pattani to portray the “other side” of the province.
The exhibition includes arts, cultural heritage and sea salt, a local product that many farmers depend on for their income.
“Deep inside us, there is beauty in all cultures and peoples, including Buddhists, Muslims and Chinese,” he says.
Ni-ae Tuwaegaji, 26, is a third-generation salt farmer.
The salt farms in Pattani province are smaller than those in central Thailand, but the salt has a unique “sweet” taste due to the region’s geography.
“I’m afraid that one day the cultivation of salt here will disappear due to climate change and other problems,” he says.
Pattani-based BenarNews correspondent Mariyam Ahmad contributed to this report.