History of Phuket
History of Phuket
Phuket Island has a lengthy history dating back to 1025 AD. The first inhabitants were probably the Negrito, and sea gypsy tribes, or Mon migrants from the Pegu area. Originally known as Junk Ceylon, the name found on old Portuguese navigation maps, it eventually became known as Phuket, which is derived from the Malay word 'Bukit' meaning hill.
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In the 15th to 16th centuries Phuket became renowned for its tin production and became a centre of trade and commerce among Europeans who were granted permission to trade on the island. The King at that time appointed a French medical missionary named Rene Charbonneau to be the Governor of the island from 1681 to 1685 A.D.
The island served as a way station on the route between India and China and was, at one point, part of the Shivite empire that established itself on the Malay Peninsula during the first millennium.
After Ayuthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767 there was a short gap in Thailand's reign, ended by King Taksin, who drove the Burmese out and re-unified the country. The Burmese, however, weren't happy about this at all and outfitted a fleet to raid the southern provinces intending to capture the people of Phuket and put them into slavery in Burma. This led to Phuket's most memorable historic event.
A passing sea captain, Francis Light, sent word that the Burmese were en-route to attack. Forces in Phuket were assembled led by two heroines, Kunying Jan, wife of Phuket's governor and her sister Mook. Masquerading as men, they along with thousands of other women in similar garb marched up and down Phuket's beaches wielding makeshift arms. This resulted in the Burmese thinking that Phuket's 'army' was much larger than it actually was. After a month long siege the Burmese were forced to depart on 13 March, 1785.
The sisters were credited with the successful defence and in recognition of their bravery King Rama I gave the two sisters honourable titles normally reserved for royalty.
During the 19th century, Chinese immigrants arrived in such numbers to work the tin mines that the ethnic character of the island's interior changed to become predominantly Chinese, while the coastal settlements remained populated by Muslim fishermen. In Rama V's reign, Phuket became the tin mining administration centre and in 1933, with the change in government from absolute monarchy to a parliamentary system; the island was established as a province in its own right.
It was around this time that the second important industry on the island became established, that of rubber farming. Praya Rasda ('Kawsimbi') a Chinese grandee who governed Phuket from 1890 to 1909 is accredited with introducing the first rubber tree into Thailand in 1901; this became such a successful industry that Thailand is now the largest exporter of rubber in the world.
With the opening of an international airport in 1976, Phuket saw a new industry emerge, tourism. It is this latest influx of foreigners that has helped make Phuket the wealthiest province in the country and it continues to prosper.
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