The Contribution of the Laotian Ethnic
Minorities in the Building of Laos
Yang Dao, Ph.D.
University of Minnesota
Laos is a small country, located in the heart of Southeast Asia. Due to its geographic situation, this small land has from time immemorial been a crossroad of migrations and trades from the Polynesian islands and from South China as well as from Thailand and Vietnam. These movements of races and cultures, civilizations and ideologies have, over centuries, shaped the present-day countenance of ancient “Lan Xang”.
However, the building of the nation of Laos has never been easy, due to its cultural mosaic and its absence of national conscience, complicated by the influence of foreign ideologies. The feudalist system in Laos had never recognized the rights of the ethnic minorities to become an integral part of the Lao society while Western colonialism tried to divide the poly-ethnic population of the country in order to dominate. Laos was just a state with an administration, but not a nation with ethnic representations.
When World War II ended in 1945, the emerging Lao elite was torn into two political factions: pro-Western status quo and nationalist movement. Then, in their struggle for leadership, the Lao antagonist leaders, supported by foreign powers, recognized the importance of the ethnic minorities which composed half of the total population of the country, and sought their political support. Therefore, the Khmu, the Hmong, the Mien and other ethnic groups who for centuries had been considered as “pariah” or foreigners by the dominant society in Laos, actively participated on both sides, that of the Royal Lao Government and that of the Neo Lao Hak Xat (Pathet Lao), in the long and devastating civil war of Laos (1946-1975).
The Hmong involvement in the first and second wars of Indochina would constitute an example. To show their loyalty to the King of Laos, Touby Lyfoung led a faction of the Hmong to support the Royal Lao Government while his maternal uncle Faydang Lobliayao led another faction to join the Lao Issara Movement or Pathet Lao under the leadership of Prince Souphanouvong. The Hmong distinguished themselves in the defense of the “national cause” with General Vang Pao from the Royal Lao Army’s side and with Colonel Ya Thao Tou on the side of the Army of National Liberation.
Today, thirty years after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the geopolitical world has been profoundly changed. The great powers, such as the U.S.A., the USSR and China, who only yesterday were enemies, have become friends today under a new era of cooperation and partnership. The Laotian leaders who were belligerents during the civil war should take their example into consideration to promote peace and national reconciliation which constitute the essential foundation for social and economic progress in Laos.