Rights of the Thai People to the Land Ownership During the Reign of King Rama II-V

Kanitha Chitchang


Since the late Ayutthaya to the early years of King Rama V, Thai people had the rights to own land. It reveals that any people in the Phrai system, either phrai som [male commoner with group-leader or nai/master], or phrai luang [the King’s man]; whether they were phrai [commoner], that [slave], Chinese immigrants, or the alien captives from wars such as Mon, Laos, Cambodian, and Cham from Vietnam; all were allowed to have rights on land ownership under the conditions that they had to exploit their labours to develop the land until it became productive.

The said rights, for those who fell down the trees and cleared the forest, to turn an area into paddy fields, and dwelling or building village and town in the olden days, occurred not in the same manner as in the western world for they did not concern any kind of supporting papers. The rights which the state made available to the people at that time such as “permit to develop an area” or bai-yieb-yam, “certificate of initial ownership” or bai-jông; and “certificate bearing the red seal” or tra-daeng [issued to those who made use of the land and paid tax each year]. These papers were the instruments which enabled to state to keep account of the people who were making use of and took over which part of the land and to what extent, including the amount and rates of taxes to be paid.

In the event that a person happened to lose the papers signifying his ownership, he could still claim his rights by producing witness in persons to testify that the area has continuously been utilized by that particular person. At the same time the ownership over that said land property could be passed on to the heirs of the owner after his death**.

Moreover, the rights over the land ownership of the Thai people was somewhat inter-related to the nai/phrai system, due to the fact that the phrai always has to share the yield out of the land property to his nai [master] and/or the King as may be applicable.

The conditions leading to the acquisition of land ownership by the Thai people, however, had changed as clearly been noticed since King Rama IV, namely: the state had introduced the method of land acquisition principally by the purchase and sales of the property.

Should the people wish to develop any area, he shall buy, from the respective official, the permit to develop the land at the beginning. Once the land had been developed and became productive it could then be exchanged with the title deed bearing the red-seal.

Such changes were the consequence resulting from the expansion of trading economy prior to the year 1855 (B.E. 2398), making the land property to become an item bearing high values during that span of the time, namely: the area could be used as sugar factories, rice mills, saw-mills; and in the growing of economic crops for export such as sugarcane and pepper (After the year 1855 (B.E. 2398) the demand of rice for export were higher than sugar and pepper, so the plantation of such crops became paddy fields) as well as the developed area into important business center after the construction of roads and railway lines during King Rama V.

As the prices of the land property kept going up higher as such, it became more and more important that the elite began to stockpile land as being a kind the property of easy access instead of keeping labour forces to work on the land as before.

Once purchases and sales of land becoming more tense since the time of King Rama IV, the idea on the acquisition of ownership rights was somewhat effected, i.e., only the person who exploited his labours in developing such land became the lawful owner of the said land has been changed to the fact that those who invested the money to buy the land could also become the lawful owner of such land.

This constituted the conflict between the parties of the elite--as the investor but not directly spent man-power to exploit in the development of the said land--and of the people who only exploited his energy in the development. In order to solve the said conflicts, the state therefore employed the use of a new instrument in accordance with western standard, called the title deed or cha-note, in which the exact mapping location was shown. The document specified that only the person with name shown on the title deed was the legal owner of the land regardless of the method of its acquisition, if by the purchase or by exploitation.

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