Chapter 10: Lao Epistolary Chronicles

 

Introduction

ັຟັງເຍອ ໂສມສະອາດເນື້ອນງຖ່າວ ສາວຮາມ    ເຮີຍມເອີຍ
  ຄຳພີ່ທູນແທບຕີນ ຕາງຫນ້າ  
ເຊຶນຫມ່ອມ ຕອງຕາແຈ້ງຄຳຄະດ ໂດຍເລດ  
ຄຳພີ່ ທູນແທບພື້ນຖະວາຍໄວ້   ຮ່ຳຄະນິງ   ແດ່ທ້ອນ1
fang yoe som sa-ahd nue nong thao    sao haam hiam oey
  kham phii tuun taeb tiin    taang naa  
soen mom tong taa chaeng kham khadii  doey led  
kham phii   tuun taeb pheun thawai wai  ham khaning  dae thon
Listen, dear  pure and beautiful woman of mine,
To my words, at your feet, which represent me.
Please dear, with your clear perception, try to understand 
These puzzling words I send to you to contemplate thoroughly.

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Epistolary chronicles are significant folk narratives which have been neglected by most people for a few reasons.  First, they are written in a form of letters whose writers intended to send messages to unspecific receivers or readers.  Second, they are not fictional.  Finally, the narratives are highly metaphorical and not easily understood without making many layers of associations and connections.   Contents of this type of narrative are controversial.   Jaruwan Thammawat simply explains that "this type of narrative refers to letters in verse of young people writing back and forth to express their passionate love towards each other.  It is not a popular genre, as the target audience is limited to young and unmarried people." 2   Jaruwan Thammawat gives the above verse to substantiate her idea. 

However, most Lao scholars like Somsii Dechakamphuu, Maha Sila Viravongs, and an editor of the Lao Textbook on Lao language and literature for the ninth grade students agree that the epistolary chronicle, especially Saan luep suun (the Sun-blocking Message) is a political message from the composer.    Somsii Dechakamphuu, citing the same source as Jaruwan Thammawat, asserts clearly that "The Sun-blocking Message is political and it shades light on Lao history.  It is definitely not a love or passionate message between boys and girls."  He further explains that the above quotation may sound like a passionate verse between a boy and a girl, but passionate love message is not a major focus of the narrative.  The composer may use those few passionate lines as camouflage or as a tension relief.  It is believed that the Sun-blocking Message was written in 1804 by Chao Anuwong, the Lao king under the control of the Siamese king.  Somsii Dechakamphuu points out that there are almost forty verses that can be associated with the history of Chao Anu's attempts to revolt against the Siamese kingdom.4  For example,

    

  ອາທິດທຽວລ່ວງຟ້າ ເງື້ອນແງ່ຜະໂຍມບົນ  
  ລາຫູບັງ ເລື່ອມລັງສີເສ້າ  
  ອັນວ່າຈັນທະລັງເຫລື້ອມ ບໍ່ມີເພັງແຣມຄ່ຳ ອວນເອີຍ!
  ອາທິດບໍ່ເບັ່ງບ້າ   ເພັງແຈ້ງດັ່ງພະຈັນ  
  aa-thid thiew luang faa nguenngae pha yom bon  
  laa huu bang luem lang see sao  
  an waa chanthalang luem bo mii pheng haem kham oun oey
  aa-thid bo beng baa     phen chaeng dang phachan  
When the sun travels across the sky, he may find clouds in his way; 
Laahuu, the demon, may overshadow the sun's light; that's why it is dim.
Even the moon can have bright and dark nights, my dear;
If the sun is not blocking the moon, it will soon become brilliant again.

      

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From the above stanza, Somsii Dechakhampuu interpreted in his own words: "The above verse means that during that time, Laos lost its country as well as moral standpoint.  Laos is compared to the waning moon.  She has lost her honor and pride.  Soon Laos will be changed to an independent country like the waxing moon.  Here is Somsii Dechakamphuu's own verse showing his interpretation of the above stanza:

  ຫມາຍເຖິງຄາວກ່ອນນັ້                       ປະເທດຊາດແລະສີນທຳ
ຕກຕ່ຳສຽຍສັກສີ                                ບໍ່ສ່ອງແສງໃສແຈ້ງ
ສັດຕູຟັນແທງຂ້າ                                 ທາລຸນກົດຂີ່
ຂູດຮີດທັງບີບບີ້                                  ບໍ່ມີເວ້ນຫວ່າງວັນ
ແຕ່ລາວຍັງເຊື່ອມັ້ນ                              ອະນາຄດສດໃສ
  ແສງຕາໄກແວວໄວ                              ສ່ອງທາງຍາວກວ້າງ
ມະຫາຊນສັນສ້າງ                                ປຸນແປງປະຫວັດສາດ
ນັບມື້ອວຽນວົກລຽວ                            ຫັນກ້າວປຽ່ນແປງ
ສັດຈະທຳນັບມື້ອແຈ້ງ                           ແສງສ່ອງໃສເຮືອງ  
mai thoeng khao kon nii                    pathet saad lae sin tham
tok tam sia sak sii                             bo song saeng sai chaeng
sattuu fan thaeng khaa                     thaa lun khot khii
khuud heed thang biip bii                  bo mii wen waang wan
tae lao yang seua man                      a-naa-khot sod sai
  saeng taa kai waew wai                  song thaang yao khwaang
mahachon san saang                         pun paeng pawatsaat
nap mue wian wok liew                    han kaaw pian paeng
satchatham nap mue chaeng            saeng song sai hueang
The verse means," in the old times the country and moral standpoint
Have fallen, losing honor and pride; our country cannot shine brightly now. 
The enemy has stabbed, slain, slaughtered, and oppressed us in every way.
They mistreated and tortured us endlessly without rest;.
But we, the Lao people, are confident that we will have a better future.
If we only extend our eyesight far ahead to the bright and shining future,
We will see that the mass will endure, create, and change our own history.
These hopeful approaching days will bring changes for the better.
And that is the real truth that will shine brightly on us all."

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Maha Sila Viravongs gives historical background of the Sun-blocking Message in his book,  The Benefits of Literature, which explains why the narrative is political.

After the reign of King Suliyawongsathammikkaraj (1637-1694),  Lao confronted political turmoil and  in 1707 the kingdom split into three kingdoms: Lan Xang-Vientiane; Lan Xang-Luang Phra Bang; and Champasak.  Each kingdom became disunited and fought against each other all the time and finally they fell under the control of the Siamese kingdom in 1779.  No recognized Lao literature had been produced during these difficult years until the reign of Phachao Anu, the youngest son of King Silibunyasaan.  During his reign of twenty-two years, Phachao Anu, restored many things in Laos.  And in this period a great work of literature appeared, Leup pa suun or Lueu pha suun (the Sun-Blocking Message).  . . .

I believe that Phachao Anuwong wrote the above work of literature because of the following reasons:

First, there are three sections in the Sun-blocking Message: section one called Ban bang la hut (the section of secret code) reveals the author's secret thoughts; section two called Ban som thi khued (the message of wishes); and the final section called Ban sud thi ao (the final determination).  These three sections in one piece of literature are like a trident.

Second, during the time that Phachao Anu wrote the message, he felt great oppression that the country was not independent.  He was determined to recover freedom at all cost.  This is clearly expressed in the first lines:

 

  ດວງນີ້     ຊື່ວ່າບຸແຜ່ນທໍລະນີດັ້ນກຸມພະກອນ ກຳໂຮບ ໃ ໃ ໃ
  ຄຸດທະ  ອ້າປີກຂຶ້ນຂຳເມກ ເຮືອງລິດ
  ຈັນໂທ ມົວເມົາມຸດມືດແສງ   ສູນອ້ຳ 7
duang nii sue waa bu phaen tholanii dan kumphakon kam hoab
khuttha aa piik khuen kham mek heuang lid
chanto mua mao mud mued saeng suun am
This section is called penetrating the earth to write this poem in hiding. . . .
The garuda spread its wings like dark clouds, manifesting his power;
The moon, hidden under the shadow, fell into deep darkness.
 

The lines mean the Siamese took control over Laos, so the Lao people became oppressed.  The garuda represents the powerful Siamese kingdom; the naga and the moon symbolize Laos.  When the garuda becomes powerful, it overshadows the moon and makes it dim.

Apart from Phachao Anu's bitterness over the loss of independence, he was also humiliated by the Siamese king who seized his beloved Princess Duangkham.  Phachao Anu submitted a request for her return to Vientiane, but his request was denied. 8

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The editor of  Baebhian phasa lae wannakhadee san matthayom pithi song (A Textbook on Lao Language and Literature for the Eighth Grade Students) 9 shares the same interpretation with Maha Sila Viravongs and further explains the meaning of each of the three sections.

We can sum up the contents of the three sections from the Sun-blocking Message in the following:
The secret code section refers to the patriotism and the resentment of the author towards the enemy.  Once he saw that the country lost its independence, he attempted to find ways to solve the problem.  The author resented that the feudal Siamese army invaded and took over the Lao kingdom.   Thus he decided to fight for freedom which is evident in the following lines:
 
  ຕາບໄປ່໗ອງ໗ະນັດເອື້ອມ    ສະເຫມນທອງທຽວທ້ອງ ຍາມນັ້ນ
ຈັກໃຄ່ຕອຍຍາດຍື້ ຍຽວຫ້ອມຫອບພະຈັນ10  
taab pai thong thanat oem samen thong thiew thong yaam nan
chak khai khoi yaad yue yiew hom hob phachan  
We will wait patiently until we can reach and visit Mount Sumeru;
When it is reachable and obtainable, we will surely seize the moon back.
 
The second section, the message of wishes, expresses the author's concerns over the Lao people's well-being and cooperation.  The author proposes that every one unite and fight for freedom by using force and weapons.
 
The third section, the final determination, tells of the strong determination of the author, who is ready to sacrifice his own life for freedom.  Such strong determination makes the author become restless and feverish which is clear from the following lines:
 
  ມັນຫາກເຄົຍຕາຍມຽ້ນ   ດອມຂັນເດືອນແປດ  
ພີ່ບໍ່ແຫນງຫນ່າຍເອື້ອ ຊີວັງໄວ້ທໍ່ໃຍ  
ເພິ່ນຫາກລືວ່າຮ້າຍ ໃຈອ້າຍຫາກປະສງ  
ມັນຫາກຂີນຂັດເວົ້າ ໃນທວງສຸດທີ່ອ່າວ ຜຸ້ເດີຍວແລ້ວ
ເຮຮນເລີຍຄັ່ງແຄ້ນ ຫານ້ອງບໍ່ວັ່ງເວ  
ຜັດແຕ່ເດືອນຫ້າຂື້ນ ຖືຕີງໄຂ້ບໍ່ສວ່າງ  
ເດືອນຫົກມາຮອດແລ້ວ ຫນາວຊ້ຳຕື່ມຝົນຢຢ  
man haak khoey tai mian dom khan duan paed  
phii bo naeng nai oeu siwang wai tho yai  
phoen haak lue waa hai chai ay haak pasong  
man haak khiin khat wao nai thuang sud thi ao  
hehon loey dang taem haa nong bo wang we  
phad tae duean haa khuen thue khiing khai bo swaang  
duen hok maa hod laew nao sam tuem phon  
If I have to die this coming eighth lunar month,                                              
I will not feel sorry for my own life, not even as much as a filament.
It is said that this endeavor is dangerous, but I am determined to do it.
My strong determination is overwhelming in my heart alone.
My heart is restless, desiring my beloved (country).
When the fifth lunar month comes, I feel feverish.
When the sixth lunar month arrives, my fever worsens because of the rain.

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This chapter presents excerpts from four different texts of Lao epistolary chronicles--Saan som thi khud (the message of wishes), Saan nok sarika kaew (the message from the precious mynah bird), Saan rak samoenet (the message of love which is as much as one's eyes) and the controversial Saan luep suun (the Sun-blocking Message).    Students are to read and interpret each excerpt in terms of its contents to see whether the excerpt is passionate love or political message.

1.

  ຫລາຍສ່ຳໄມ້ໃນປ່າ ອະນັນຫນັກ
ຫາລຳ ເປັນຂອງຫອມແກ່ນຈັນ ບໍ່ມີໄດ້
  ຄນເຕັມບ້ານຄາເມ ມີມາກ
  ຫາຜູ້ຕ້ອງມະໂນໄທ້ ໄປ່ມີ 12
  lai sam mai nai paa a-nan-naa
haa lam pen khong hom kaen chan bo mii dai
  khon tem baan khaame mii maak
  haa phuu tong mano tai pai mii
  Of these many trees in the forest, dense and thick,
There is no  fragrant sandal wood tree at all.
  Of these many people in the city, crowded and dense,
  No one is my kindred spirit at all.

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2.

ເຮີຍມຢາກ ໄປວານຝູງພີ່ນ້ອງ ວງວານໃຫ້ມາຊ່ວຍ ຊິຄືລື
  ທັງຫມູ່ຫໍ້ ກະເລິງພ້ອມພ່ຳແກວ  
ເຊິນແມ ມາຊ່ວຍຜັດສີແກ້ວ ທຳມະໂລງໃຫ້ແຈ້ງຮຸ່ງ ແດ່ທ້ອນ
ຫລອນວ່າ ບຸນສ່ງໃຫ້ ແສງເທົ້າທົ່ວເມືອງ ບໍ່ຮູ້ 13
hiam yaak pai waan fung phii nong wong waan hai maa chuay si khue lue
  thang muu ho kaloeng phom phum kaew  
soen mae maa chuay phat sii kaew thammalong hai chaeng hung dae thon
lon waa bun song hai saeng thao thuo muang bo huu
I wished I could ask my siblings and relatives to come help if it's proper:
The Ho (from Yunan), the Lao Song tribe, together with the Vietnamese.
Please come to help me polish this precious ring so it could be shining brightly;
We never know that our merit may help make the light shine throughout the entire kingdom.

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3.

ນອນຫລັບ ຝັນເຫັນແກ້ວ ພິລາແດງດວງຍອດ ເຮີຍມພຸ້ນ
  ສະເດັດສູ່ຫ້ອງ ໂຮງແຈ້ງສ່ອງໃສ  
  ຝັນວ່າຈັນທະຈອນເຂົ້າ ມາເຮີຍງຫັດທະບາດ  
  ແລ້ວເລົ່ານ້າວແຜ່ນຜ້າ ສະແຄງຕຸ້ມຫົ່ມນອນ14  
non lap fan hen kaew philaa daeng duang yod hiam phun
  sadet suu hong hong chaeng song sai  
  fan waa chanthajon khao maa hiang hat tha baat  
  laew lao nao phaen phaa sakhaeng tum hom non  
As I was sleeping, I dreamed that a gem, red ruby of supreme quality, truly,
Came flying to my chamber, illuminating everything in my hall.
I also dreamed that the beautiful Chanthachon15 came to sleep by my side;
Turning sideways I reached for a blanket to make me fall asleep again.

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4.

ຈຶງໄດ້ຂຽນສານສ້ອຍໄປສະນີນຳຮອດ
ຫວັງຈັກຖາມຂ່າວຂ້ອຂອຊ້ອນຮ່ວມພະທັຍ
ເພາະອາລັຍຖຶງນ້ອງແສນລະທມທນໂສກ
ແມ່ນຈັກຕາຍຟາກຟ້າບໍ່ລາຂ້າງຫ່າງນາງ 16
chueng dai khian saan soi paisanii nam hod
wang chak thaam khao kho kho son huam phathai
po aa-lai thueng nong saen lathom thon sok
maen chak tai faak faa bo laa khaang haang naang
So I wrote a letter in verse to send to you by mail,
Wishing to ask if you would allow me to lie by your side, sharing our hearts.
Longing to see you, my darling, I truly suffer;
Even if I die and am sent to heaven, I would not let you go from my side.

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5.

ຂໍໃຫ້ກັນລະຍານ້ອງມະລີຈັນຫລິງຫລ່ຳແດ່ທ້ອນ
ພີ່ນີ້ມີແຕ່ຮ້ອງຮ່ຳໃຫ້ຫານ້ອງສ່ອງຝາ
ລຽວເຫັນກາບິນຜ່ານກາຍມາເປັນຫມູ່
ນຶກວ່າແມ່ນຫມ່ອມຊູ້ກະເລີຍຕໍ່ມັນ
ລາງວັນເຫັນຄນເດິນໄປຫນ້າໄຜມາວ່າແຕ່ແມ່ນ
ຄຶດວ່າສີແກ່ນແກ້ວມາແລ້ວຜັ່ນລ່ວງເລີຍ
ກາງຄືນງອຍເກີຍຈ້ອງມອງພະຈັນແຈ້ງສວ່າງ
ນຶກວ່ານາງຫນຸ່ມເນົ່າຄືອເຈົ້າຫນ່ວຍພະຈັນ 17
kho hai kanlayaa nong malichan ling lam dae thon
phii nii mii tae hong hum hai haa nong song faa
liew hen kaa bin phaan kai maa pen muu
nuek waa maen mom chuu kaloey to man
laang wan hen khon doen pai naa phai maa waa tae maen
khued waa sii kaen kaew maa laew phan luang loey
kaang khuen ngoy koey chong mon pha chan
nuek waa naang numnao khue chao knuaw pha chan.
Pray, my precious Princess Malichan,18 please give me a glance;
Longing for you, I moaned and cried and tried to look at your walls.
Seeing a flock of crows flying by, I was reminded of you.
Seeing someone walking ahead, I thought it was you.
I thought you have come and gone on ahead of me.
At night, I sat and watched the bright full moon,
And it reminded me of you, for you are as beautiful as the moon.

 

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Notes to Chapter 10: Lao Epistolary Chronicles

     1.  Maha Sila Viravongs, "Samai khong pha chao anu haeng nakhon vienchan pho so 2347 (The Reign of Phachao Anu of Vientiane in 1804)" in Payot khong wannakhadee (The Benefits of Literature), Vientiane: Phainam Kanphim, 1996, pp. 255-256

     2.  Jaruwan Thammawat, Wannakam thongthin: korani isan lan chang (Folk Literature: a Case Study of Isan and Lan Chang (Laos), Mahasarakham: Mahasarakham University, nd., p. 121.

     3.  Somsii Dechakamphuu, Phoey Saan luep suun (Revealing the Sun-blocking Message), Vientiane: The State Printing Press, 1978, np.

          The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, Saan luep suun (the Sun-blocking Message), Vientiane: The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, 1967

          Maha Sila Viravongs, "Samai khong pha chao anu haeng nakhon vienchan pho so 2347 (The Reign of Phachao Anu of Vientiane in 1804)" in Payot khong wannakhadee (The Benefits of Literature), Vientiane: Phainam Kanphim, 1996

     4.  Somsii Dechakamphuu, Phoey Saan luep suun (Revealing the Sun-blocking Message), Vientiane: The State Printing Press, 1978, np.

     5. The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, Saan luep suun (the Sun-blocking Message), Vientiane: The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, 1967, p. 5.

     6.  Somsii Dechakamphuu, Revealing the Sun-blocking Message, p. 19.

     7.  Maha Sila Viravongs, "Samai khong pha chao anu haeng nakhon vienchan pho so 2347 (The Reign of Phachao Anu of Vientiane in 1804)" in Payot khong wannakhadee (The Benefits of Literature), Vientiane: Phainam Kanphim, 1996, p.245.

     8.  Ibid, p. 242-243.

     9.  "Saan luep pha suun (The Sun-blocking Message)" in Baebhian phasa lae wannakhadee san matthayom pithi song (A Textbook on Lao Language and Literature for the Eighth Grade Students), Vientiane: The National Research Institute of Science and Education, Ministry of Education, 1997, pp. 140.

    10.  Ibid., pp. 140-141.

    11. Ibid., p. 250.

    12. The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, Saan luep suun (the Sun-blocking Message), Vientiane: The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, 1967, p. 4.

    13. Ibid., p. 17.

    14. Ibid., p. 24.

    15. Chanthachon is a proud heroine who was born a love bird in her past life.  One day the male love bird went out to find food and was trapped in a lotus and could not return to his nest.   That same day, there was forest fire that burnt her nest and her birdies.  She was so angry that her husband was not with her to help her birdies.  She decided to jump in the fire as well.  Before she did so, she vowed not to have anything to do with men again.  When the male bird returned and found that his wife, his birdies, and his nest were destroyed in the fire, he vowed that he would try to search for his wife in lives to come no matter how difficult.  Both birds were born and reborn for many live times, but the male bird had never succeeded in gaining the love from the female.   When the female bird was born Princess Chanthachon, she refused to have any association with men, not even her own father.  The male bird was reborn as Prince Worakit and again he followed her.  Princess Chanthachon's father made an announcement: "If anyone could make my daughter speak, I will give her hand in marriage, plus half of the kingdom."  Almost every man in the human world came to try, but failed.  Finally, Prince Worakit came and he retold the story of the love birds, from the point of view of the bird husband.  The princess could not bear it, she argued that the story was not true.  Once she said that sentence, Prince Worakit became the winner of this endeavor and they became married and lived happily ever after.

  This verse is the attempt of the narrator to say that the task is almost impossible; to dream that Princess Chanthachon actually came to see him on her own is extraordinary.

    16. "Saan rak samoenet (the message of love which is as much as one's eyes)" in Jaruwan Thammawat, Wannakam thongthin: korani isan lan chang (Folk Literature: a Case Study of Isan and Lan Chang (Laos), Mahasarakham: Mahasarakham University, nd., p. 122.   

    17. "Saan nok sarika kaew (the message from the precious mynah bird)," Ibid., p.123.

     18. The author alluded to the Prince Kalaket's endeavor before he won the love of Princess Malichan who   is the heroine of a classic Lao literature entitled, Thao Kalaked (Prince Kalaked). 

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