April 6, 2012 - Chakri Day in Thailand

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand's head of state, also known as Rama IX, will lead his family to the royal chapel today. There they will pay their respects to the eight earlier kings of the dynasty (a line of rulers who inherit the crown from family connections, usually father-to-son). They will lay a wreath at the statue of King Rama I, the first Chakri ruler, who became king on this day in 1782. This is also the year that Bangkok became the capital of the nation.

By the way, Rama IX took the throne on June 9, 1949. He is the world's longest-serving head of state who is still in power today. And he is also the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history!

Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation that has never been colonized. When Vietnam and the rest of Indochina were colonized by the French; Filipino revolutionaries were fighting off rule by Spain, only to be awarded to the U.S.; the Netherlands East Indies were ruled by the Dutch; and Burma and Malaya were colonies of Great Britain—during all that colonization, Thailand was able to maintain its independence!

However, Thailand did lose some of its territory to Britain and France. And certainly the Thai people felt the influence of the European people who fought and traded and lived all around them.

What's in a name?

For many, many years, people called Thailand Siam. It is thought that this name came from the Malay word for “dark brown people,” and it was probably a term meant to be a bit insulting to the Thai people. The Thais called their own nation “Meuang Thai,” or “Land of the Free.” That makes sense for the only country in the area that was able to stay free of European masters!

In 1939, the name was officially changed from Siam to Thailand. (Actually, “Thailand” is an English translation of the name!)

It's always interesting to me to learn about exonyms, which are names given to places or people by foreigners—but that are not used by the people themselves. Some examples include the cities of Florence in Italy and Moscow in Russia—which are called Firenze in Italian and Moskva in Russian—and the term Eskimo for the group of northern Amerindians who call themselves Inuit.

For more about Thailand, including some interesting (and one odd) videos, check out this earlier post. (Scroll down.)

Also on this date:

Be sure to check out the story of Robert Garrett, pictured here. It's pretty strange and cool!

Plan ahead for International Pillow Fight Day on Saturday, April 7!

There's a plan for a huge pillow fight near me. Maybe there will be one near you, too! Check it out here.

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