The bravery of two sisters who led an army of local people against Burmese invaders remains an important part of Phuket’s culture and history today.
Anyone who has ever visited Phuket may have heard the story behind the Heroines Monument, a landmark statue and roundabout located on the island’s Thepkasattri Road in Thalang.
On Phuket, the moving tale behind the statue of Lady Chan and Lady Mook continues to inspire locals and visitors year after year, and their spirit has ensured a place for these brave ladies in the island’s history.
Over two centuries ago, Lady Chan and Lady Mook were at the head of an army of locals who bravely defended their island from Burmese invaders. In fact, many members of the army were women and this is their fascinating tale…
In early 1785, Lady Chan and her younger sister, Lady Mook led a group of villagers against a Burmese invasion. Even though they were outnumbered by the Burmese army, smart battle strategies, including dressing woman and children as men, helped Phuket’s village army to outwit the Burmese troops. Following the conflict, King Rama I (1736 – 1809) honoured the bravery of the sisters by bestowing on them the honourary titles of Thao Thepkasattri and Thao Sri Sunthorn.
We are Family
Born into Phuket’s Baan Kien Village family, Chan and Mook were sisters. Sadly, Chan was a two-time widow, and her second husband, the governor of Thalang Town, died after a long period illness just before the 1785 Burmese invasion. However, Chan did not let the tragic circumstances get the better of her, and with the help of her sister gathered a local army to fight back against the Burmese. Following the victory, which took it’s toll on the island, historical reports suggest that Lady Chan worked hard to help local people rebuild their lives. She even played a major role in encouraging the growth of the local tin trade, which was an extremely unusual role for a Thai woman of in the late 1700s. Lady Chan passed away in 1703, although there is no record of when Lady Mook died.
Remembrance of Spirit
The inspiring story of the sisters and their bravery has always been an important part of Phuket’s collective psyche. In 1909, King Rama VI (1881 – 1925) suggested the idea of building a monument to commemorate the sisters’ bravery. Thailand’s current monarch, King Rama IX built the monument and attended its grand opening in 1967.
A Place in Tradition
Today, the sisters are commonly known as Ya Chan and Ya Mook – “Ya” means “grandmother” in Thai. Many Thai visitors still make a stop at the sisters’ monument before entering Thalang in order to pay their respects. It is traditional for them to leave small offerings at the monument, including marigolds, incense sticks and gold leaf. The monument is also an important part of local life. In fact, it has become traditional for local travellers to say goodbye to the sisters and ask for their protection whenever they leave the island. It is also common practice for students leaving the island to study higher education in the Thai capital to stop by the monument to ask the sisters for good luck.
The brave acts of the sisters are commemorated during an annual celebration known as the “Thao Thepkasattri-Thao Sri Suntorn” Festival, which takes place in mid-March. The festival offers a vibrant cultural experience for overseas visitors, and this year’s festivities even included a light and sound show describing the colourful history of Thalang. The festival was attended by the media, locals and overseas visitors alike, who all came together to celebrate the bravery of those women who fought against the Burmese. According to Khun Paiboon Upattising, Chief Executive of Phuket’s Provincial Administration, the festival offers visitors a “unique window into the culture of the island”.
by Wayne Hue