Celebrating the Warriors in all of you!
Join us this month as we celebrate the first animated Southeast Asian warrior princess and highlight some of the warriors from our diaspora, including both historical and modern-day heroes (and sheroes).
Southeast Asian Early Empires and Kingdoms
10 Southeast Asian Kingdoms: Southeast Asia finds itself surrounded by India, Australia, China, and the Pacific Ocean. Always at the influence of other cultures in search of workers, goods, and power. Often overlooked is the powerful influence from within Southeast Asia in various previous kingdoms.
Southeast Asian rulers and the elite class saw themselves as god-kings. For example, Srivijayan monarch's capital city of Palembang, in modern day Indonesia, was truly cosmopolitan. It was claimed that even the parrots spoke four languages! The local rulers combined indigenous beliefs of magical powers with Indian political ideas and Buddhist religious concepts. Srivijaya became the center for Buddhist observances and teachings that attracted thousands of monks and students from around the Buddhist world.
Khmer Empire (800-1430) Vast, powerful empire known for its Hindu and Buddhist influences and openness to foreigners, esp. Traders, whose capital city rested in present day Cambodia. Large Japanese and Chinese communities existed within Khmer. Little is known about its collapse.
Kingdom of Pagan (850-1300) Responsible for the spread of Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia in the 9th century. Fell to the Mongol invasions. Predecessor of Toungoo.
Kingdom of Champa (875-1832) Hindu kingdom in now southern Vietnam, they reigned for almost 1000 years. Ultimately falling victim to an overpowering rival, many were forced to flee into what is now Cambodia. The surviving culture is one of only two societies in Southeast Asia to retain its Hinduism.
Rajahnate of Butuan (1001-1756) Could have been around for longer, but was first recorded by China in 1001. Also a Hindu dominated kingdom. Hinduism and India were the first global powers in the region to influence Southeast Asia.
Kingdom of Ayutthaya (1352-1767) Reigned over most of what is now Thailand. A Buddhist monarchy which survived off of trading with the Chinese, the Japanese, Europeans, Persians, Ottomans, and the Indians. Avoided Chinese conquest by using their rival Burmese kingdom as a buffer. This strategy led to their downfall, as the Burmese captured their capital and laid it to waste.
Le Dynasty (1427-1789) The longest ruling dynasty in Vietnam's history that was responsible for kicking out the Chinese and reestablishing an independent kingdom. Also responsible for conquering the Hindu Champa people and introducing Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
Aceh Sultanate (1496-1903) Powerful commercial empire located below Thailand and above the island of Java. The first Muslim empire that gained most of its infamy by resisting Dutch efforts to conquer and incorporate it into “Dutch East India.”
Toungoo Empire (1501-1752) A Buddhist empire (and largest in Southeast Asia’s history) that included Burma, Thailand, Laos, and parts of Cambodia. Ultimately the French convinced an influential vassal to rebel, bringing it tumbling down.
Mataram Sultanate (1587-1755) dominated Java in the beginning of the Dutch and Portuguese’s power grab in Asia. The kingdom employed its vassal states in Java to deal with the Europeans. This led to the kingdom’s destruction. Now Mataram was to fight its former vassal states and the Dutch. A brutal loss led to the divisive split of Mataram into two smaller kingdoms, Surakarta and Yogyakarta. However, both kingdoms eventually became hotbeds of resistance to Dutch influence.
Rattanakosin Empire (1782-1932) Arose after the Kingdom of Ayutthaya and was largely responsible for keeping Thailand unoccupied by European powers in the late 19th century. Rattanakosin countered European influence by abolishing slavery, building schools, and ushering in a constitutional order that replaced Rattanakosin with Thailand (modernized nation state with constitution).
The Role of Women in Ancient Southeast Asia
Southeast Asian women led a different lifestyle than those in India or China. Women in Southeast Asia had fewer restrictions and led a greater role in public life, often owning property jointly with their husbands and were allowed to initiate divorces. Women in Angkor, for example, were involved in the commerce and trade industries. They were also able to serve as gladiators, warriors, members of the palace staff, poets, artists, and religious teachers. In the 13th century, Queen Pwa Saw, ruled for forty years and donated some of her lands and wealth to build a large Buddhist temple.
It is only right to start by talking about two strong and resourceful Thai sisters, Than Phu Ying Chan and Khun Mook, who saved the Kingdom of Siam from the Burmese. They were outnumbered, but the sisters quickly and without hesitation prepared for battle. They disguised the women in their state as soldiers in order to appear stronger and bigger. (Sound familiar? Hint: Mulan) The sisters fought off any Burmese soldiers who were not scared by the size of their army, ultimately causing the Burmese to retreat.
Inspired is all we can say when we talk about Indradevi, the Angkor poet whose words are inscribed on Angkor Wat. This formidable royal Queen had shared visions; by combining feminine and masculine forces and intelligence her kingdom achieved milestones of social evolution by giving equal rights and opportunities to pave the road to a civilized nation. Read more here.
Followed by a powerful leader of the Acehnese guerrilla, Cut Nyek Dhien. Now recognized as a national hero of Indonesia, she fought until the bitter end. Her legacy as one of the fiercest female fighters for independence continues to live on.
We can't forget to recognize one of the few who fought for the Philippines against all of the country’s main aggressors (Spain, the United States, and Japan) - Teresa Magbanua. She persuaded her way into the Katipunan’s women’s chapter in Panay as an experienced horse rider and marksman. Soon after becoming the first and only woman to lead troops in the Visayas during the revolution. She continued her fight for her country’s independence up until the Japanese occupation.
Ancient Male Warriors In Southeast Asia
Chief Lapu Lapu is ultimately known as the Philippines warrior who killed Magellan at the Battle of Mactan during Magellan's quest to expand western powers in Asia. His triumph over explorer Magellan marks the first resistance against Spanish colonization. 400 years later, warrior by pen and paper, José Rizal led the revolution against the Spanish.
José Rizal was a Filipino polymath, patriot, and the most prominent advocate for reforms in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. He is considered a national hero of the Philippines, and the anniversary of Rizal’s death is commemorated as a Philippine holiday called Rizal Day. Rizal’s 1896 military trial and execution made him a martyr of the Philippine Revolution.
Modern Day Southeast Asian Warriors
In case you have yet to hear, we finally have our very own Southeast Asian Disney Princess with the release of Raya and the Last Dragon. Our Southeast Asian girl team is celebrating this amazing representation so loud that our ancestors can hear us! Southeast Asian women have always been and continue to be powerful leaders, warriors, and poets. The character of Raya amplifies and solidifies the true power Southeast Asian women hold, inspiring younger generations to come.
Raya and the Last Dragon is set in a fantasy world where dragons once roamed, but is also realistically grounded in elements of Southeast Asian culture and geography. The filmmakers had artists take trips throughout Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam in order to capture all of the cultural and geographical components.
In creating Raya, the Malaysian screenwriter, Adele Lim, drew on the history of strong female leaders and warriors in her region. She made sure that Raya’s attitude and actions embody that same spirit of leadership and fearlessness. We’re not only celebrating the fact that we finally have a Disney character that looks like us, but also Adele’s talents as a screenwriter and bad ass Asian American woman in a white male dominated industry.
Culinary mastermind, Southeast Asian history buff, beloved friend, and Tuk Tuk Box mentor, Tu David Phu is a Vietnamese American Chef born and raised in Oakland, California. Growing up in a food desert, he became obsessed with the herbs in his mothers garden. In his words,
“Fresh food was seldom found in my youth. However as I got older, my mom made a commitment to manage a small garden in our apartment building. The first thing she planted (because it was easy) was mint. Instantly, I became obsessed with mint because it was epitome of ‘fresh.’ My youth was troubled, but it was in the kitchen where I felt safe. And it was food that gave me pleasure. My mother is a refugee and has PTSD as a result. It was only naturally for her to use silence as a coping mechanism. As the years progressed, my relationship with my mom would bloom as I would learn about her life story through food. The kitchen was a ‘safe haven’ for her as well. Food has helped me understand myself and the world in a way I can understand. And I hope to do the same for others.”
We admire Chef Tu not only for his expertise, but his words of wisdom and the passion he shares in and out of the kitchen. His heart has led him to meaningful work: from cooking with incarcerated men in San Quentin, to being a community ambassador in Oakland working with Asian Health Services and the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.
Lastly, a hero of the arts, Bryan Thao Worra. A Laotian American writer and poet, he is the first Asian American president of the international Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association and the first Laotian American member of the professional Horror Writers Association. We’ve been fan-girls of Mr. Worra’s for a long time, and are continually in awe of the legacy he’s building for future generations.
In recognizing all of these heroes and the upcoming Southeast Asian Disney princess, we are inspired and remind ourselves of the very essence that makes us proud to be powerful Southeast Asians.
Don’t forget to enjoy the release of Raya and the Last Dragon and indulge all of your senses with your very own Southeast Asian Snack Box. In honor of this monumental month, we’re offering our monthly subscribers some warrior fuel with ube star candies from Mama's Lumpia, Vitano pineapple chips from our friends at Son Fish Sauce, and handmade bamboo straws from Passa Paa.
Visit here and stay tuned to find out more about Southeast Asian ancient civilizations and some of the remarkable leaders who helped shape our fight for our freedoms today. Remember all of our strength lies within each and every one of us!
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