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Thao Hung Epic

The 2000 Edition of Thao Hung Thao Cheuang Epic

FOREWORD by Duangduene Nettavong

Cheuang (also written as Cheung, Chieang, Thao Chreuang or Khun Cheuang) is the name of a partly historical, partly mythological figure in the traditional oral traditions and literary works such as Thao Ba Cheuang Legends, the Chronicles of Thao Cheuang, the Writings of Chieang, and other works. The title "Thao" or "Khun or Ba" was given to the prince of a city state. These traditional legends occur throughout the Mekong Basin subregion, from the Tai and Shan peoples, to the north in Yunnan Province and the Shan State and among the Tai speakers in northern Vietnam, as well as in north and northeastern Thailand and to the southern borders of the Lao PDR. The legends are also found in the oral traditions of the Mon-Khmer speaking peoples in the region, which recount the heroic deeds of the powerful leader who unified the various city states and provided for the freedom of the Mon-Khmer peoples.

The writings of Chiang, or the Chronicles of Thao Chiang, are found in fragments and various forms, usually on palm leaf manuscripts, but few copies of the complete epic written in the Lao script have survived to the present day. Those who have read or heard the writings find them difficult to read and understand. Some feel that they use earthy language and ancient styles are not enjoyable or conducive to read. It is clear that these legends have not been recited or read in temple ceremonies or in the homes as the other legends. "Sin Sai" and "Kalaket" have been popularly used in the oral tradition. The Cheuang stories are not well known among the Lao population, because the epic length stories did not survive to the present day on the palm leaf manuscripts stored in the temples and homes within the country. In fact, a great number of these palm leaf manuscripts from several provinces were confiscated by marauding armies. According to the national project "Preservation of Lao Manuscripts Programme" from 1989 until present, no epic poems about "Thao Cheuang" written in the Lao language have yet been inventoried, and only a few shortened versions have been inventoried in the sacred Pali script. Only very short poems in the Lao language called "Lam Chiang" have been inventoried, which are chanted back and forth with the accompaniment of drums in the annual rocket festival.

[Note: Thus far 400,000 bundles of palm leaf manuscripts (fascicles), totaling 6,000 titles, have been inventoried throughout the country in all but two provinces. In these two remaining provinces, Xiengkhouang and Huaphan, all the temples and the palm leaf manuscripts were destroyed during the aerial bombing during the war for liberation from 1958 until 1972].

Thus it is impossible to find complete written records of the epic poem on palm leaf manuscripts for comparison with the document copied by Maha Sila Viravongs in 1942 from the original palm leaf manuscript, a 300-leaf set inscribed in ancient Lao script found in the National Thai Library in Bangkok. No additional research has been done by other Lao scholars since the discovery of the manuscript in 1942. Thus copies of the original manuscript from the Thai library along with the original notes of Maha Sila Viravongs were the primary sources used by the research team to make the research for this publication as complete as possible.

As explained above, there are many versions of the Thao Cheuang writings scattered in many geographical locations and likely written over many centuries. They were recopied in the temples and added to as the versions were handed down over the centuries. This modern publication is an adaptation based on the invaluable epic-length composition of the great poets of the later Xiengthong period (from the 13th and 16th century, preceding the Luangprabang Kingdom). As explained in the compiler's preface these famous poets remain anonymous. According to Lao tradition, the composers' names were rarely recorded, although the names of the scribes who copied the manuscripts are preserved.

 

If we compare these writings with the sojourns of a person, they have traveled far and endured many obstacles in order to survive until the present day. They were rediscovered in 1942. But it was not for another half century that they were brought back to the homeland. The Thao Hung-Thao Cheuang writings have been called the great epic of the Lao nation, the greatest work of its kind in Southeast Asia. Finally the Lao people have the opportunity to enjoy these great writings and poems, and appreciate both the aesthetic value of Lao poetry and its historical importance in the literature and culture of the region. This adaptation of the Thao Hung - Thao Cheuang Epic into modern prose is the result of a unique cooperative effort which includes both senior researchers and a new generation of researchers, all from differing educational backgrounds. The team leader is Douangdeuane Bounyavong, a noted researcher and writer, who is experienced and recognised internationally as an expert in ancient Lao literature and culture; Sompha, Vikysak, lecturer of the Lane Xang literature era at the National University of the Lao PDR; Qthong Kham Inxou, a well known modern poet and writer, who is the deputy editor of the national literary magazine, Wannasin, published by the Ministry of Information &Culture. He has worked closely with the team leader for the past ten years on the Thao Hung-Thao Cheuang Epic. Two senior advisors, Maha Bounyok Senesounthon, who is an expert of ancient Lao language and literature and advisor for the "Preservation of Palm Leaf Manuscript Programme;" and Acharn Sommai Premchit, Associate Professor of the Social Research Institute of Chiangmai University, Thailand. Special advisors include Dara Kanlaya and Outhine Bounyavong, well known authors in the Lao P.D.R.

In the name of the National Library of the Lao PDR, and the director of the National Project for Reading Promotion, I consider this work to be an important catalysing force to start the momentum for continued efforts towards Lao literature preservation, as this publication increases the visibility of our invaluable cultural heritage in the form of ancient Lao literature. Building up a society of readers who appreciate written as well as oral literature is the mandate of the Lao National Library and also an important goal of the National Project for Reading Promotion. Our first step is to produce quality written works for the general population, both young and old, and to publish these works in sufficient quantity for distribution throughout the country.

This publication of the 20,000 lines of the Epic Poems in the original style is printed page by page alongside the modern prose adaptation. Its completion has been a challenging endeavor, and hopefully will invite the critique of readers and researchers alike. Such critique would demonstrate that this publication has achieved its goal by catching the interest and attention of the readers along with their appreciation of the value of this pioneering work. Thus in the name of the National Library and the National Project of Reading Promotion, I would like to encourage all readers to provide feedback and critique to the project team, in order to improve and advance the work of further research of Lao literature and culture. This complete and enjoyable rendition of the epic poems, with adaptation into modern prose, will be published in two volumes, each approximately 400 pages. Without the support of the Toyota Foundation of Japan, especially the continuing encouragement of the Programme Officer for Southeast Asia, Mr. Shiro Honda, to undertake this research endeavor and without their invaluable support, it would not be possible for this literary treasure to materialise, and subsequently take its rightful place among the literary treasures preserved and enjoyed by the Lao peoples in modern times. On behalf of the Lao people, I would like to express my gratitude to the Toyota Foundation, and sincerely hope that the team of Lao researchers and the National Library will receive assistance from the Toyota Foundations for further research and adaptations of Lao literature.

 

Credit to

Vientiane May 2000
Kongdeuane Nettavong
Director, National Library
Director, National Reading Promotion Project

 

Story of 

Thao Hung Thao Cheuang

Thao Hung, or Cheuang, was a son of Khun Chomtham, ruler of Suantan or Nakhong Kingdom (now Chiangrai, Thailand ).  When he was three years old, the Phangdam tribe presented him with a sword and a couple of silver gongs, and later on he was offered a white elephant named Xangpheuakphankham. Khun Chomtham died when Thao Hung was in his teens and his mother, together with the people of Suantan Kingdom, crowned Thao Cheuang, Thao Hung's elder brother, the ruler of Muang Suantan, and Thao Hung was his viceroy. Thao Hung trained his elephant in the arts of warfare and sometimes he rode it to faraway places.  One day he met Nang Ngom, daughter of Nang Meng, who was a ruling princess of the Kingdom of Xieng Kheua (Nang Meng was Thao Hung's aunt). Thao Hung fell in love with Nang Ngom, so he requested his elders to ask for her hand in marriage from her mother.   Nang Meng demanded too much brideprice for Thao Hung to afford.    Thao Hung therefore secretly entered his lover's room to consummate their love.

At that time there was a Vietnamese (Keaw Moy) prince from Muang Khamwang  named Einka; he was the nephew of Thao Kua, ruler of Muang Pakan (now Xieng Khouang).     After his father's death, Einka became ruler of Muang Khamwang.   At that time, he was not yet married; thus, Einka wanted to marry a beautiful girl.     Hearing of one named Nang Oua, daughter of Khunjum, king of Muang Ngoenyang (now Chiang Saen in Thailand) he sent an envoy to ask her hand in marriage, but Khunjum did not agree.   Moreover, Khunjum told the envoy that he would give Nang Oua to his own nephew, Thao Hung.  (Khunjum was the elder brother of Khun Chomtham).

On receiving this report from his envoy, Einka hastened to inform his uncle, Thao Kua, at Muang Pakan. The latter was so angry, that he sent an envoy to Khunjum threatening that, if he did not agree to let his daughter marry Einka, his kingdom would be in jeopardy. Khunjum, hearing this, was also angered, and immediately told the envoy:

Since I have ruled Ngoenyang,
No-one, but you, dared to utter arrogant words.
He who marries my daughter must be of her race;
No-one else has the right to speak thus. 11

When these insults were reported to Thao Kua and Einka, they were infuriated, and led their armies to attack Muang Ngoenyang.  Eleven of Einka's commanders took part in this war: Hunbang, Kuankae, Aiykam, Maenfong, Kaewthong, Maensom, Ngodpong, Xiangpha, Thao Daed, Kaewkong, and Aiy-hing.

While they were marching towards Ngoenyang, Thao Kua told Naymat to ask Samma-heng, chief of the Phu Thum tribe, for directions and for help.  Thao Kua also asked Aiyhad, chief of the Pha Lod tribe for help.  Samma-heng and Aiyhad then were told to lead his troops ahead.  However, Samma-heng and Aiyhad, who were allies of Khunjum, decided to inform Khunjum about the attack so that he could be ready for it.   Khunjum, hearing of his enemies' plot, prepared to defend his kingdom.  His commanders were Naychanh, Nguawat, Kham-yong, Sammahio, Aiykad, and Samma-heng.

Khunjum's troops could not resist Einka's army, so they withdrew into the town. Khunjum then sent a message to his nephew Thao Hung, asking for help. The latter set off with his army to aid his uncle.  His generals were Aiykhuang, Einkhon, Hengphay, Khunkhan, Khonxay and Chason.   At the same time, Nang Ngom, Thao Hung's lover from Xiengkheua, commanded a troop of twenty elephants and many important generals to fight along side Thao Hung.  Her generals were Khunkeuan, Khun-pheng, Khun-yia, Xailue, Einphay, Aiyphong, Khunkhon and Thao Xoy.

Arriving in Ngoenyang, Thao Hung's troops, together with his lover's, attacked Einka's soldiers, who were hiding in the surrounding area. The latter fled in disorder and split into small groups. In the course of the fighting, Thao Kua, prince of Pakan, was killed on the battlefield, while Thao Einka was captured by Khun-yia, Nang Ngom's general.    Thao Kua's commanders were also killed. The rest of Einka's troops, 30,000 in number, were captured. Those who managed to escape were Thao Pong, Hunbang, Kaewthong, Maenlay, Maenfong, Kuankae and Xiang-hang.

In this war, Thao Hung lost three thousand men. When the war was over Thao Hung, with the three armies from Suantan, Xiangkheua and Ngoenyang, had driven their enemy up to the frontier. Thao Hung's army returned home in the fifth month with Nang Oua and Nang Amkha accompanying him as far as the land called Xiangkhuan.  Nang Oua rode an elephant named Phang-hoen-pakhuemad, while Nang Amkha rode an elephant named Inkong. From there, Thao Hung led his army to Tha-yong Phalod where he found a number of Hunbang's elephants and horses.  Hunbang was able to escape.  Then Thao Hung's army went on their way to Phu Thum where the Phangdam tribe lived.  After Phu Thum, they arrived at Muang Pakan on the same day.  

The following morning, Thao Hung and his army attacked Xiangban.  According to a local chronicle Xiangban had a population of 500,000 and 1,000 elephants.  Its borders were Sithom in Khen (Khmer) and Ho (Lao Nongsae).  Xiangban was seized that morning.  Kaewphoeng, Thao Daed, and Maenhuang were captured.  Kaewhuak jumped off the elephant's back and fled to Muang Pakan to tell Thao Kua's wife to defend the city.  Thao Kua's wife rode an elephant leading an army to fight against Thao Hung until she was killed in the battle.  After Thao Hung seized Muang Pakan, he appointed his noblemen and ministers to administer fourteen sections of Xiangkuan region and to oversee the tributary collection.

1. Khun-yia ruled the large Rice field, and was in charge of elephant tribute 

2. Einkhon ruled Xiang Ban Rice field, a prosperous trade centre 

3. Khonxay ruled Kongthun Rice field, where they levied more agricultural produce

4. Patcim (the western) Rice field which was the border of Phalod region was apportioned to Nang Meng

5. Nakham Rice field, formerly belonged to the land of Kaewkam, was apportioned to Xaylue

6. The plain Rice field of Pha Tham was apportioned to Einphay.

7. Rice field of Maenluean was apportioned to Nanoy

8. Rice field of Maenfay was under the administration of  Ngoenyang

9. Abundant Rice field of Xiang Khuan, with its beattle nut and coconut plants were

apportioned to Nang Oua.

10. Rice field of Dong Chan was apportioned to Nang Amkha

11. Rice field of Khamwang was apportioned to Aiy-keuan

12. Rice field of Kaew Heuak, in the eastern sector at the Chinese border, was

kept as a tributary state.

13. Rice field on Bang Bin river bank was apportioned to Uncle Phouang

14. The plain Rice field outside of the city was apportioned to Chason.

Thao Hung nominated Thao Khuang ruler of Muang Pakan.  After he finished his duties, he led his army back to Ngoenyang via Xiangban.  After ten days, he arrived home.  Upon his arrival, he asked Nang Chom, his mother, to be the ruler of Xiangkhuan which was the border city of Muang Pakan.  Thao Hung ruled Ngoenyang for seventeen years.  Nang Ngom bored him a son named Thao Khamhung.  While he was ruling Ngoenyang, the following foreign guests brought him tributes.

1  Ho Nhay ( Grand Ho ) of Nongsae

2. Phaya Fa-huan of Tumwang,

3. Ruler of a Chinese Kingdom,

4. Rulers of Muang Phakho, Muang Nan and Muang Chawa

5. Rulers of Muang Phayi, as well as Khmer and Lue.

Later on, Hunbang, commander-in-chief of Thao Einka, who had fled and taken refuge with Phaya Fa-huan of the court of Tumwang, led guerillas to attack Pakan territory.    Aiykhuang, the ruler of Pakan, reported this to Thao Hung, who immediately sent troops to Tumwang to subjugate Hunbang. There, Thao Hung's envoy, Khun Khon, negotiated with Phaya Fa-huan over the matter of surrendering Hunbang and Thao Hing, but Phaya Fa-huan refused to do so, saying that both men had requested refuge in his court.    When the negotiation had failed, Thao Hung decided to attack Tumwang.

Phaya Fa-huan was not strong enough to resist the attack, so he sent Maensom to submit to Thao Hung, but the latter did not accept this protocol, not trusting the enemy.    He decided to overthrow Tumwang.  Phaya Fa-huan therefore sent two of his soldiers to seek help from Thaen Lo of the Kingdom of Kalong.  The distance between Tumwang and Kalong was 15 days' journey by oxcart.  Upon arrival, Thaen Lo led his army to fight a bloody battle against Thao Hung and his troops. Most of Thao Hung's generals were killed, so he withdrew to Muang Pakan, sending a message to tell Aiycheuang and Khunjum ( his father-in-law ) to send reinforcements. The fighting was so fierce that Nay Phouang, one of Thao Hung's generals, feared that if they fought to the last man, it would result in genocide. He therefore asked permission to send his mother, Nang Chomsom, and  the children, among whom were Thao Khamkheuang and Thao Khamhung, sons of Thao Hung to Ngoenyang, while Thao Hung himself fought on until he was killed on the battlefield.

The local chronicle further states that, after his death, Thao Hung's spirit became commander-in-chief of the ghost army.  He led these troops to attack the Thaen Kingdom through Muang Khakhiow.  Einkhon, his most important general, had gone to ask Tai Eing the way to Muang Fa (Thaen's city in heaven).  It was also said they had to go by monkeys' ladder, by which they reached Linkham River toward Muang Lianphan, which was  Thaen's city.  After conquering Muangphan, Thao Hung led his ghost troops towards the luminescent land of Indra.  At Muang Kongthun, Thaen Lom, the city ruler there paid him homage.  At Muang Kamma, Thaen Nguang paid homage to Thao Hung.    After that he passed other cities of the Thaen and they all came to pay homage to him.  These Thaen city rulers included Thaenthao, Thaenmeng, Thaenkokay, Thaen-thuang, Thaenfeuang, Thaenmok, Thaenlee, Thaenlom, and Thaensong.

Meanwhile, Thao Cheuang ( Thao Hung's elder brother ), Khunjum, Thao Khamheuang and Thao Khamhung led the troops from Ngoenyang to attack Phya Fa-huan again.  Finally,    Phya Fa-huan was killed and the troops from Ngoenyang occupied Tumwang.  

And the story ends at this point.

By Dr. Wajuppa Tossa

 

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