Distribution of opium weights
Animal-shaped standard Opium Weights are of Burmese origin but were cast in Laos as well. However the weights were not only used in these two countries but also in neighbouring provinces. Lannathai, situated in the North of Thailand, was conquered in 1556 and remained under Burmese power for more then two centuries. This period was not always peaceful but Thai art and workmanship was influenced by the highly developed Burmese culture.
The fate of Luang Prabang (Phra Bang signifying ‘Golden Buddha’, devine protector of the Kingdom of Laos) was similar to that of Lannathai, conquered in the 16th century. It was a Burmese dominion up into the middle of the 17th century. It is probable that the Burmese administration introduced their standard opium weights to the occupied territories.
In Laos, the idea of producing animal shaped weights was copied and the elephant became the motif of the Laotian standard weights.
It is not certain whether the standard animal-shaped opium weights have ever been manufactured in the north of Thailand.
On reading Ehlers’ report on his travels, published in 1894, we see that they were indeed in use at that time. This is what Ehlers observed at Chiengmai: “The weights used to measure merchandise are made of brass and most of them are shaped like geese or elephants.”
Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos have not lived in peace together for several hundred years, each one conquering and being conquered. The results were plundering and destruction on the one hand and an exchange and mixing of different civilizations on the other. Siam, the mighty Kingdom of Ayudhya, was found in 1350. An expansive kingdom itself, it was conquered by the Burmese in 1564. It is not certain whether the Burmese standard weights were introduced in Siam during the 15 years of occupation that followed the conquest, but this is quite unlikely.
In 1767, Ayudhya (a population of one million) was finally defeated by the Burmese and totally destroyed after having been besieged for a total of two years. The conquerors lined the golden stupas with wooden planks. Setting all alight they succeeded in melting the fold which was taken in triumph to Burma.
The archives of the court being destroyed as well – no written records exist to rely for detailed and authentic information concerning the history, literature and workmanship of Siam.
Nor do we know whether the Siamese did actually cast animal-shaped standard opium weights and if they did so where were they manufactured and what motifs preferred. However it is very likely that animal-shaped weights were used in Siam at that time, as well as in Cambodia, in South China (Yunnan) and in the countries on the western border of Burma and in Malaysia.