Readers' Submissions

One Opinion On The Origin Of The Word “Farang”




Many of us who basically are not of Asian descent or from this part of the world and I mean the whole of Asia, will have heard this word at least a dozen times during your stay in LOS and possibly Laos or Cambodia. Of course those who have lived in Thailand had even got used to it and even grew affection to the word like Farang Dave for example. As for myself, having Thai friends that explain the word to me in advance when I arrived for the first time to LOS I found it quite interesting. For me it was the Thai equivalent of “Gaijin” in Japan or “Gringo” in most Latin American countries, but some people basically find the word offensive and get mad when they are called it. I think it all depends on the context this word is used towards you. I know this subject has been written about a lot in this site but recently while I was doing some investigation for my thesis I found a bunch of secondary data about this and I was not even looking for it so I dug a little bit more and this is what I find out. Please note that this is just my personal investigation and opinion and it can be objected I just want to contribute my 2 cents!

Origin number one: The normal Thai, at least to my experience, will tell you a bunch of explanations. My Thai friends in particular will say that "Farang" comes from the name of a fruit (I sincerely do not know which fruit) <GuavaStick> which is white; most farangs are Caucasians or are of Caucasian descent and they are blond so there you have it.

Origin number Two: This one you can even find in a famous traveling guide for backpackers. According to them this word came while the French where in Indochina, natives find it difficult to pronounce French or Francais and they came out with Farangset.

Origin Number three: A quick search through the internet will give you different answers, some will be the ones I mention while others will be that it comes from the Persian word farangi, “foreigners” or in Tamil parangiar because in this language the f letter does not exist.

So all these reasons are really good but the one I found comes from a really respectable source, particularly from a book about Asia and its first Europeans visitors by Charles Boxer, a well respected professor from London University and King’s College. If you have time and you are really into this subject you should check some of his books.

Well back to the subject, so the author argues that the first European visitors after of course Marco Polo and here my apologies to all British readers were in fact Portuguese.

So among all the Portuguese adventurers a particular one was Affonso de Albuquerque. This famous general captured present day Malacca or Melaka in Malaysia back in 1509. The locals put up an amazing fight but at the end Alburqueque was helped by Chinese captains in Chinese junks who helped the landing parties to row safely and also carried Albuquerque’s envoys to and from Siam.

The Chinese remained on excellent terms with the Conquistadores and on returning to China they reported so favorably of the treatment they received from the Portuguese that the Ming Emperor rejected the appeal of the fugitive Malay for assistance against the “Folangski” or Frankish invaders.

He also adds that the term Folangki was evidently derived by the Chinese and Siam inhabitants (Thai) from the Arab “Firingi” or “Firinghee” meaning again “Franks”. The Franks from the Latin “Francorum” were a West Germanic Tribe that conquered all Gaul (present day France) raided the Roman Empire, mix with the Romans, then spread through the Iberian Peninsula and finally ended up in Portugal. There you are “Folangski”, that was back in 1509 so it appears that from this word farang was born and it can be attributed to the Portuguese rather than the Dutch, German, French or other Europeans.

At the end I think that whatever reason you can come out with, if you think it is the right one then that will be the official one for you. One thing I am really sure is that we will still hear this word whether we like it or not and perhaps knowing a little bit about its origin can help you next time you have a chat with your regular Thai friends or your regular bargirl. Up to you!

Like I said before this is just my research and opinion and if you have any comments or disagree with this please feel free to write me. Thank you very much and see you all Farangs!

Stickman's thoughts:

The word "farang" seems to really bother some Westerners. Personally, it doesn't bother me in the least.