Touby Lyfoung and the Emergence
of Youthful Leadership Among the Lao Hmong
Mai Na M. Lee
University of Wisconsin—Madison
In 1939, with the consent of the Hmong clan leaders in the region of Nong Het, the French and Lao authorities in Xieng Khouang named Touby Lyfoung the tasseng of Keng Khoai, presiding over the prestigious position once held by the legendary Kaitong Lo Blia Yao. Touby was just twenty-one years old. In a society that honored age and experience, Touby’s nomination was unprecedented. His appointment marked the appearance of youthful leaders among the Lao Hmong. This paper examines the elements that made the Hmong accept Touby Lyfoung as a leader despite his tender age. It is argued that literacy and knowledge of multiple languages, both of which made Touby the ideal political broker for the Hmong, opened the door for him to become a paramount Hmong leader. Touby’s rise, albeit seemingly unprecedented, also has roots in Hmong history and society. Touby’s charisma and literate power tied him to prophetic Hmong leaders in the past, making him appealing to the Hmong.