Lao Women: Transmitters of Tradition and Culture
Bounheng Inversin, MSW

Lao American Women Association (LAWA)
Washington, D.C.


There is an old saying among the Lao Lum people that a family is like an elephant. The man is compared to the front legs initiating the 'first' steps. The ability to move or advance depends greatly on the cooperation of the hind legs. The woman being compared to "the hind legs of an elephant" makes her the major contributor in all things possible for a family. Like a family, Lao society relies on its womenfolk for the teaching, preserving, and transmitting of tradition and culture to younger generations. Sayings such as "When choosing a wife, make sure to check out her mother first" or "Language tells where a person is from, his manners reveal his family background" may no longer be as fully applicable or valid today, but they highlight the important teaching role that women have assumed to ensure that their children are important assets and not a nuisance to the family and a shame to the society.

Although there are advantages to be globally in tune, there is, at the same time, an outcry to remain individual. According to Patricia Schultz, one of the "1,000 Places To See Before You Die" is Laos. What makes Laos attractive? Among her natural beauty are her people, culture, food, and textiles to name a few. A people's behavior, language, cuisine, and textiles motifs certainly are a heritage that was passed down from generation to generation. And throughout the millennia, women have been playing major roles in such generational connection.

This paper will present the contribution of women as transmitters of tradition and culture in the Lao Lum people of Laos rather than the general Laotian women. It will touch on the contribution of Lao American women as preservers of Lao heritage for the next generation growing up far from Laos. The chapter "Beyond Pabieng" will present the challenges that these women face in re-creating a traditional culture in their new environment.