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Teary farewell as residents evacuate Mahakan Fort

Teary farewell as residents evacuate Mahakan Fort

SUNDAY, April 22, 2018
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MANY RESIDENTS of centuries-old Mahakan Fort Community shed tears yesterday as they were forced to bid their last farewell to the place they and their ancestors had long called “home”.

Regardless of the development proposals they have put forward and volunteer services they have offered, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has stood firm by its decision that the community must leave so that a new public park can be developed. 
As residents are evicted, their old wooden houses are being demolished. 
BMA said that the plan to develop the park had not yet been finalised, but it was quite certain that a community historic park will not be included in the plan and there will be an open lawn with trees.
The community has survived several eviction deadlines, but the last of the community’s members will meet the final one this Wednesday, said Pornthep Buranaburidet, former deputy leader of the community.
In the final hours of the Mahakan Fort community yesterday, only eight houses still remained, clustered around the main alleyway of the community. The rest of the once-bustling residential area is now just empty land with rocky ruins scattered on the ground.
According to prominent historian Sujit Wongthet, the small patch of land between Bangkok’s old city wall and Khlong Rop Krung has never been without habitation in at least 200 years, as this land was home to generation after generation of people. “People come and go. It is the nature of communities like this, but this community has never lacked for residents,” Sujit once remarked.
Former community head Thawatchai Voramahakun recalled that the Mahakan Fort enclave had once been a warm and lively community with more than 50 houses, with people from various backgrounds and places of origin living together on the relatively small plot of land on the edge of Bangkok’s old town.
“From the diversity of the people in the community, we once had a rich cultural heritage. For example, my family used to build traditional Thai musical instruments, while there were the families who crafted bird cages or pottery,” Thawatchai said.
“Even the houses represent our identities. Every wooden plank of these houses has a story to tell. For us, history, heritage and home cannot be separated.”
However, BMA deputy permanent secretary Suwanna Jungrungrueng said that under the BMA’s latest development decision for the Mahakan Fort Community area, no houses would be spared and the entire land area will be developed as a public park. “We will keep the old trees, as long as they are safe and do not harm the historic site of Mahakan Fort, but we will have to discuss among the related official agencies any further plans for the design of Mahakan Fort Park,” Suwanna said.
Even as the last remnants of the ancient Mahakan Fort Community are rooted out and their lives and buildings are transformed from living history to archived records, Thawatchai pledged to keep preserving and transplanting the living heritage of his community and growing them elsewhere. The true heritage of the community lives on in all its members, he said.
“These are our last tears and Mahakan Fort Community will be reborn with the remaining old souls of the community members and we will eternally prevail,” he insisted.