Introduction to Lao Literature
By Peter Koret From Contemporary Lao Literature, pp 3-35, Mother Beloved.
|In recent years, western interest in Southeast Asia has grown considerably.
Literature from the region, both in academic publications and collections aimed at a more
popular audience, has increasingly gained foreign attention. Literature in translation has
begun to play a significant role in educating westerners about Southeast Asian culture and
society. The increased importance of literature as an educational tool is a reflection not
merely of the fact that there is a greater quantity of works available at this time but
also of a gradual shift in the nature of Southeast Asian studies itself. Until recently,
western readers (and particularly those without knowledge of a Southeast Asian language)
had to rely solely on the writing of westerners for their knowledge of the region. In the
field of Southeast Asian studies, the voice of the people of Southeast Asia has been
conspicuously lacking. This is precisely why literature is not merely an entertaining way
to learn about the region, but also unique in its usefulness. Literature in translation
serves as a looking glass. Through fiction we have the opportunity both to observe how
Southeast Asians view their own cultures and the ways in which they express their views to
a Southeast Asian rather than a western audience.
Whereas the field of Southeast Asian studies has grown in the past decade, studies devoted to the country of Laos have remained minimal. While it is true that Laos received considerable attention from the United States during the Vietnam War (2.1 million tons of bombs dropped in the course of nine years, America has produced few scholars and little research about the countrys society and culture.1 Although the Lao have a centuries-old tradition of Buddhist literature, and a modern secular literature that began during the period of French colonization, there is little available in English concerning either tradition. This work is the first book-length collection of contemporary Lao short stories to be published in the English language2. It represents a valuable first step toward filling the gap in our knowledge of present-day Lao literature and society. The author, Outhine Bounyavong, is a prominent writer whose career spans many of the years that comprise the period of modern literature. The origin and development of modern literature in Laos reflect the great changes that the country has undergone in the twentieth century.
The short stories in this collection, dating from the final years of the pre-Revolutionary period to the present decade, illustrate how changes in the countrys social and political climate have affected the content of its literature. The introduction to contemporary Lao writing and the brief biographical sketch of Outhine Bounyavong that follow are intended to provide readers with a context within which to view the stories in this collection.
TRADITIONAL LAO LITERATURE
THE earliest recorded history of the Lao dates from the fourteenth century. In 1353, the Lao prince Fa Ngum, with the help of the Khmer, united Laos and much of present-day northeastern Thailand into a kingdom known as Lan Xang. Characteristics of literature from this period reveal both the literary influence of various Buddhist and Hindu civilizations of South and Southeast Asia and that of an early (probably oral) literary tradition of the Lao themselves. The primary cultural influence on Lan Xang was that of the closely related Tai Yuan kingdom of Lanna, which roughly comprised the area that is now northern Thailand. From the sixteenth century or earlier, Lan Xang developed a sophisticated tradition of art, literature, and scholarship. The temple was the cultural and educational center of the kingdom, with a power that rivaled that of the monarchy.5 Knowledge of literature, and literacy itself, were skills acquired at the temple, where young males commonly spent several years as novices and/or Buddhist monks. Regardless of their origins, literary works were typically presented in the form of Jakarta Tales, life stories of the Bodhisattva recorded in the Tripitaka Buddhist scriptures. Lao literature was traditionally performed by monks, novices, or laymen with prior religious experience. Literary works were stored in temple libraries and private homes, and performed regularly during religious festivals throughout the year.
THE DECLINE OF TRADITIONAL LAO LITERATURE AND THE RISE OF A MODERN LITERARY TRADITION
THE same factors that caused the transformation and decline of traditional literature essentially brought about the creation and development of modern Lao writing. In the late seventeenth century, the Kingdom of Lan Xang split into three smaller kingdoms. The subsequent weakness of the Lao led to internal instability followed by dependence upon and eventual domination by foreign powers. By the end of the eighteenth century, the region that had once comprised Lan Xang had largely fallen under the political control of the Thai. At the end of the nineteenth century, Siam was forced to cede to the French their Lao territories east of the Mekong River, an area that approximates the modern political entity of Laos.
The Thai and French did not immediately have a significant cultural impact on the Lao. Before the final years of the nineteenth century, the Thai were mostly content to preserve indigenous cultural and political systems, and depended on the local elite to deliver tribute and taxes. The French similarly viewed the development of Laos as a low priority in comparison with the neighboring colonies of Vietnam and Cambodia, which showed greater economic potential. The traditional culture of the Lao therefore did not undergo a great transformation until the 1930 or afterward.
The state institutionalization of secular education in twentieth-century Southeast Asia has had a profound effect on traditional cultures throughout the region. Lao art forms, including literature, were marginalized as the power of their patron, the Buddhist temple, was reduced, and religious education was replaced by modern schools with a western-oriented curriculum. Traditionally, literature served the temple by teaching an individual to accept his place within Lao society and the greater Buddhist world. Lao education under the French was tailored to suit a different goal. Students who attended French schools in Laos were taught to see themselves as colonial subjects in a world with France at its center. In neighboring northeastern Thailand, students were educated to be citizens of a country under the political and cultural domination of the central Thai. As traditional literature appeared to discourage rather than encourage modern educational objectives, it ceased to be taught. Elements of traditional Lao culture came to be viewed as remnants of an "undeveloped" past whereas western civilization was admired as a model for emulation. During the colonial period, Lao students educated at government schools were exposed to French literature in place of that of the Lao. Secular prose fiction, previously unheard of in Lao society, became fashionable among the upper class, replacing poetic epics in prominence. Exposure of the Lao elite to French literature at school, and their emulation of the literature, led to the origin of modern Lao fiction.
The fact that traditional literature continues to remain a living tradition in Laos in the present day is testimony both to the limited availability of government education to much of the countrys inhabitants and the inability of modern schooling to transform the worldview of the Lao. In comparison with the majority of nations in Southeast Asia, the introduction and spread of modern education proceeded at a sluggish pace throughout Laos. The first lycee (upper-level high school in the nation's capital was not established until 1920s, shortly before independence. In the larger towns outside the capital, middle school was the highest educational level available, and in the rural areas where the majority of the people lived, government education was nonexistent. Students who wished to further their education had no alternative but to study at a temple or go abroad. Statistics taken from the mid-1930s show that twice as many Lao were being educated in the temples as in government schools (Gunn 1988) Even in the present, many of the rural communities in Laos are lacking in schools, teaching materials, and qualified teachers.
A second important factor that retarded the growth of a modern literature was the slow development of modern technology. Although printed publications in Laos date from the 1920s, the first Lao language newspaper to appear on a regular basis was not until the early 1940s, considerably later than in most of the nations within the region. Until the middle of this century, the primary method of reproducing a manuscript in Laos was the centuries-old practice of transcribing text onto strips of palm leaves with a stylus. In the 1930s, it was common for monks in Vientiane to take traditional Lao stories published in the more technologically advanced region of northeastern Thailand and copy them onto palm leaves for the purpose of circulation.
The rugged geography of Laos, with its extensive mountain ranges and forest, has also proved a formidable obstacle to the countrys development. Certain areas of Laos remain isolated from substantial contact with the outside world although the situation is changing rapidly at present.3
THE ORIGINS OF MODERN LITERATURE DURING THE FRENCH COLONIAL PERIOD, 1893 TO 1954
The earliest works of modern literature in Laos were composed and circulated exclusively among members of the Lao elite, predominantly in the capital city of Vientiane. In contrast to the majority of their countrymen, the Lao nobility studied at schools where the sole language of instruction was French, and French history, culture, and literature were taught in place of their own. Many continued their education in France. Members of the Lao elite frequently became more knowledgeable in matters related to French society and culture than the traditions of Laos. Prince Souvanna Phouma, for example, who was later to serve as prime minister of Laos for approximately two decades, felt more comfortable conversing in French than in Lao.4 Modern Lao literature was originally composed in the French language and imitated French literary styles. The first modern novel composed in Lao, Phra Phoutthahoup Saksit (The Sacred Buddha Image) by Somchine Nginn, was published in 1944. The author wrote the introduction to the work in French and, presumably due to the novelty of publishing a work in Lao, advertised on the cover: "Written in easy-to-understand Lao language."5 The motivation behind certain works of literature during this time was also overtly political in nature. Under the leadership of Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram in the 1940s, the neighboring nation of Siam sought to absorb Laos (and other territories under European colonial rule) as part of a Greater Siamese state. Whereas French remained the official language of Laos during colonial rule, in the years immediately preceding the Second World War, the use of the Lao language and culture were officially promoted in an attempt to forge a Lao national identity distinct from that of the Thai. In so doing, the intent of colonial administrators was to discourage Lao cultural affinity with the people of Siam.6
LAO LITERATURE FROM THE SECOND WORLD WAR TO THE COMMUNIST VICTORY, 1945 TO 1975
Lao literature from the Second World War to the present reflects the turbulence of the countrys politics. To understand the literature, it is therefore necessary to review Lao history during this period. In the final years of French colonial rule, a nationalist movement known as the Free Lao (Lao lssara) was established under the leadership of several Lao princes. During the Second World War, the Japanese took control of the country and entrusted the countrys administration to the Free Lao. When the French regained control of Laos in 1946, the leaders of the Free Lao fled to Thailand, where they set up a government in exile. In 1951, the French offered partial independence to the Lao, and in response, the Free Lao was dissolved. Moderate members of the group such as Prince Souvanna Phouma agreed to return and work together with the French to prepare for the countrys independence within the French Union. However, Prince Souphannouvong, the half brother of Prince Souvanna Phouma, was not satisfied with French conditions for independence. He joined forces with the Vietnamese to create a resistance movement known as the Lao Patriotic Front (Neo Lao Hak Satil. When Laos received independence in 1954, the two half brothers, Prince Souvanna Phouma and Prince Souphannuvong, found themselves on opposing sides of a conflict that was soon to develop into a major war. Unfortunately for the Lao, each side of the internal conflict was supported by a major superpower. The Royal Lao government was backed by the United States whereas the Lao Patriotic Front received assistance from Vietnam and the Soviet Union. When the war was finally resolved two decades later, Laos had the distinction of being one of the most heavily bombed nations on earth.
Literature produced during the war, from the early 1950s to the communist victory in 1975, can be divided into two distinct groups: literature created in the regions of the country controlled by the Royal Lao government and literature from the "liberated zones" governed by the Lao Patriotic Front.
LAO LITERATURE UNDER THE ROYAL LAO GOVERNMENT, 1954 TO 1975
Lao literature in this category was composed and circulated primarily in Vientiane. Publishing in Laos was still at a very basic stage in the 1950s. A few monthly magazines appeared during this period, some of which included literary content. By the mid-1960s, short stories were regularly featured in newspapers and magazines, and books of fiction began to appear. Major writers of fiction included Pakian (Pa Nail), Dara (Douang Champa), and Douangdeuane (Dok Ket), who were children of Maha Sila Viravong, an important scholar of traditional Lao history, culture, and literature.7 Outhine Bounyavong was also a prominent author.
French and Thai literature formed the major influence on Lao writing throughout the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s. Whereas Lao people continued to learn French to the level where they could read and appreciate French literary works, the Thai language is similar enough to Lao to be understood without great difficulty. By the early 1970s, there was an audience large enough to support the existence of a popular magazine devoted solely to literature, initially Pheuane Keo, followed by Pliai Nam, which lasted until two months after the revolution. Phai Nam was founded by the Lao scholar Maha Sila Viravong, and the editorial board consisted largely of his children, who were its major contributors.
LAO REVOLUTIONARY LITERATURE, EARLY 1950s TO 1975
According to official Lao sources, revolutionary literature developed from the traditional literature of the common people of Laos, which expressed the peoples discontent with feudal rule and foreign domination (Bo et al. 1987: 297-298). For example, the ancient Lao poetic work San Leup Pha Sun has been interpreted as coded resistance to Thai invaders during the early nineteenth century, and taught to Lao schoolchildren as an example of the love that the Lao have traditionally felt for the homeland.8 However, regardless of the extent to which political sentiment was expressed in traditional form in the past, literature composed in the "liberated zones" of the Lao Patriotic Front (and subsequently, contemporary literature) has developed according to the directives of the Lao revolutionary movement.
Much like the Buddhist temple, the Lao Patriotic Front made considerable use of traditional literary forms to convey its political message to the Lao people. During the two decades that followed the Second World War, Lao revolutionary literature was composed primarily in ancient poetic forms. Even at present, a considerable percentage of the literature published in Laos is written in traditional verse.9
Until the mid-1960s, prose narratives consisted of articles, reports, and an occasional story by staff and soldiers of the Lao Patriotic Front in their newspaper Lao Issara (Bo 1993: 27). Articles in Lao Issara typically consisted of the life stories of Lao men and women of various ethnic groups who sacrificed personal interest for the cause of the revolution. Idealized portrayals of revolutionary heroes were the model for many later works of Lao fiction. By 1965, short stories commonly appeared in the newspaper of the Lao Patriotic Front and in book form. Whereas Lao revolutionary fiction was originally composed "in the style of a report" (Bo et al. 1987: 389) considerations of an artistic nature grew in importance with the development of the literature.
LAO LITERATURE FROM 1975 TO THE PRESENT
From 1975 to the present, literature has continued to serve a political role in Laos. Following the communist victory, facilities for the production and distribution of revolutionary literature were greatly improved as the center of the Lao Patriotic Front moved from rural Sam Neua province to the nations capital. In the early years after the revolution, the cost of paper and printing was subsidized by the Lao government and the Soviet Union. Books were distributed free or at minimal cost, and individual print runs often ran into the tens of thousands.
Lao authors dating from this period to the present can be divided into three categories. The first category includes writers such as Chanthy Deuansavahn and Souvanthone Boupphanouvong who originally served the revolutionary cause in the liberated zones prior to the communist victory. The second category consists of established authors from the old regime who have continued to use their literary skills in the service of the new Lao society. Outhine Bounyavong is a prominent example of this group,which also includes Dara Viravong (Douang Champa), Douangdeuane Viravong (Dok Ket), Sen Milamay (Seriphap). The third category is made up of a younger generation of writers who began their literary careers in the years immediately preceding the revolution or afterwards. Authors include Bounthanong Somsaiphon, Saisuwan Phengphong, and Viset Savengseuksa.
Lao writers from 1975 to the present generally work as civil servants. In the first decade after the revolution, many authors worked for the State Printing House, where they translated communist and socialist literature into Lao while composing their own fiction. At present, the majority of Lao authors are reporters for government newspapers and magazines. Writing fiction is one part of their overall duties.
In the late 1980s, following Gorbachevs policy of glasnost (openness) and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Lao government initiated a series of economic and social reforms known collectively as Jintanakan Mai (New Imagination). Taking advantage of the resulting liberalization, for a short period of time Lao authors to a certain degree made use of fiction to offer constructive critical observations on the state of Lao society and culture. In recent years, however, as a result of severe government control, authors have avoided political analysis in their writing (except in the service of government policy), or have sent their works to be published in Thailand, or in some cases have stopped writing altogether.
Market demand is increasingly affecting the content of contemporary literature. Lao authors, no longer subsidized by the government, are struggling to meet the rising cost of publishing. The number of book-length collections averages approximately ten per year with an average print run of two thousand copies. The large majority of poetry and fiction is published in newspapers and literary magazines. As literature comes to depend on public appeal, romance and general entertainment are rapidly gaining in popularity.
A significant difference between the ancient and modern literary traditions of the Lao is the extent to which each has been incorporated into Lao consciousness and culture. Whereas traditional literature was composed and performed in areas inhabited by the ethnic Lao for several centuries, modern Lao prose fiction has existed for only half a century and has yet to possess either a large audience or a wide range of composers.
THE LIFE AND WORK OF OUTHINE BOUNYAVONG
Outhine Bounyavong is a well-known author of contemporary Lao fiction. Prior to this collection, his works have been translated into Russian, Vietnamese, and Thai. Outhines development as a writer, which is described in the brief biography that follows, resembles that of many other major Lao authors from the same period.10
Outhine was born in 1942 in Sayabouri, a province in northwestern Laos. At an early age, he was sent to live with relatives in Vientiane, where opportunities for education and employment were greater than in the countryside. During his school years, French was the language of instruction, and literature classes taught students to appreciate works of French origin. Among Outhines teachers was Somchine Nginn, the author of the first Lao novel and a noted composer of French verse. Outhine was forced to leave school as a result of financial difficulties. During the 1960s and early 1970s, he held a wide variety of jobs, including clerk at an electrical firm, librarian at the United States Information Service (USIS), and bookkeeper for a Japanese company that was expanding the runway of the Vientiane airport.
From the period of French colonization to the present, literary influences on authors of Lao fiction have been dictated by the limited supply of books available in the nations capital. During the 1960s, there were only two bookshops, one that sold Thai language material and another that sold works composed in French. Outhine became familiar with American fiction while working at the library of the USIS.
Outhines earliest writing consisted of short stories and prose pieces which appeared in various newspapers and magazines. The limited audience that existed at the time preferred humorous works to fiction with a serious theme. In the mid-1960s, Outhine published his first book, a collection of short stories entitled Sivith Ni Ku Lakone Kom (Life Is Like a Short Play). At the time, collections of Lao fiction were rare. It was not only necessary for an author to finance the cost of his publication, but also to take responsibility for its distribution. Outhine walked the streets of Vientiane, placing books in coffee shops, hotel lobbies, and anywhere else he imagined an audience to exist. Approximately half of the two thousand copies of his book were eventually sold.
In the late 1960s, Outhine began to associate with a group of writers who were the children of the pioneering Lao scholar Maha Sila Viravong. He eventually married one of the most prolific writers in this group, Duangdeuane Viravong (Dok Ket), who remains to this day one of the most prominent female Lao authors.
The 1960s and early 1970s was a period of turbulence and traumatic change in Laos. A Lao revolutionary writer once described the society of Vientiane during these years as a "bastardized version of American culture" with its "whore-houses and dance halls" (Bo et al. 1987: 398-99), while the travel writer Paul Theroux described it in not dissimilar terms as "one of Americas expensive practical jokes, a motiveless place where nothing was made, everything imported" (Theroux 1977: 234). For its survival, the Royal Lao government depended on a massive dose of American financial aid. Corruption was rampant, and a few prominent families enjoyed conspicuous wealth while the majority of people lived in poverty. In a capital the size of Vientiane, the large American military presence was highly visible, accompanied by prostitution, drugs, and organized crime. Vientiane society was not only starkly at odds with the rest of the country but also with traditional culture. Whereas earlier works of modern Lao fiction had served merely as entertainment for a small elite, the generation of Lao writers who came of age during this time quickly grasped the concept that fiction was an effective form of social commentary and criticism. The earliest stories in this collection of Outhines works were composed during this period. "Death Price" describes the problems faced by a poor woman when she attempts to visit her husband, who is stationed up-country as a soldier. She is forced to wait at the airport for several days, continually denied permission to board a plane because she cannot afford to bribe the lieutenant in charge of seating assignments. In "Dic and Daeng," published in 1974, the behavior of certain members of Lao society is compared to the actions of two dogs and their owners. As the dogs bully each other in competition over scraps of food, the owners of the animals are continually drawn into their petty conflicts. On one level, the indirect nature of the criticism provides protection for its author. At the same time, in a country where dogs are viewed as contemptuously as they are in Laos, a comparison of this type is particularly biting.
After the communist victory in 1975, Outhine continued his career as a writer under greatly different circumstances. In the first decade after the revolution, he initially worked for the State Publishing House, followed by employment at the Progress Publishing House in Moscow, where he translated English and French works into Lao. In the early years of the new regime, authors were sent to interview revolutionary soldiers and record their life histories. A major result of this project was Sieng Kong Khong Latthi Vilason Pativat (The Echoing Sound of the Doctrine of Revolutionary Heroes), published in 1982, in which Outhine was the major contributor. Outhine was also one of the founders of Vannasin, a magazine devoted to literature and culture, which remains the most important literary publication in Laos to the present day.
Two stories in the collection of "Mother Beloved" are typical of literature composed in the years following the revolution. "Contribution," published in 1990, illustrates how people can serve their nation, regardless of their status in society. The story takes place in 1988, at a time when Laos and Thailand were involved in a short but violent border dispute. The main character is a poor man who supports himself by repairing shoes. As the tale begins, the shoe-mender is upset that a customer has not returned to collect a pair of shoes. When the owner of the shoes eventually returns, he is dressed in a military uniform and missing one of his legs. The man explains that he volunteered to fight in the border clashes, from which he has returned as a cripple. The shoe-mender gives the shoes to the crippled soldier without asking for payment. He realizes with pride that even a humble shoe-mender can, in his own way, contribute to his countrys war effort. A second story, "What a Beauty," first published in 1978, is similar in plot to several works from this period that describe the relationship of Lao women to the revolution. In this type of story, a Lao woman oppressed by the corrupt capitalist society of pre-revolutionary Laos ultimately finds respect and romance from the revolutionary cadres. The storys heroine, a young woman named Phaengkham, is unpopular because she is poor. During the Lao lamuong dance described in the storys opening scene, she cannot find a dance partner because her clothes are not fashionable and she does not know how to dance in western style. Eventually, however, one man shows an interest in her and explains to her privately that he understands the true value of poor people, farmers, peasants, and laborers. Only after the revolution does Phaengkham learn that her admirer is a member of the Lao Peoples Army. As for the wealthier women who had been her competition on the pre-revolutionary dance floor, after the communist victory they all have either fled the country or been sent away "to one of those Womens Islands to be re-educated."
In the early 1990s, Outhine was employed at the Ministry of Information and Culture. He composed childrens fiction, including Pa Kho Lopha (The Greedy Striped Snake-Headed Fish), a collection of short stories which teach moral lessons. He also rewrote Lao poetic classics in simple prose to make them more accessible to a modern generation. In 1992, Outhine traveled with his wife to the University of Washington in Seattle, where they both spent a year teaching the Lao language to American students. Upon returning to Laos, he helped establish a printing shop which was named Phaf Nam after the literary magazine founded by Maha Sila Viravong.
Outhines short stories of recent years provide a commentary on the changing state of Laos and its culture. Much of his work is devoted to environmental concerns. "Frangipani," originally published in 1980, describes an incident in which tamarind trees are torn down to facilitate the placement of power lines in a Vientiane neighborhood. The story reveals the actions negative effect on the neighborhoods people. The tale ends on a positive note, however, as frangipani trees planted by the narrator and his neighbors eventually grow to replace the trees that were cut down.11
Another topic commonly addressed in Outhines fiction is the wisdom of Lao villagers and the value of traditional customs. In the story "Wrapped-Ash Delight," published in 1990, a village girl steals a silver belt that a bather has left on a riverbank. Although she later feels guilty about her action, the young woman is afraid to return the stolen object and expose herself as a thief. The problem is cleverly solved through the use of a traditional custom. Each of the villages who had been present at the river bank when the belt was stolen is instructed to bring a packet of ashes wrapped in a banana leaf to the house of the village headman. By placing the silver belt in the banana leaf, the guilty woman is able to return the stolen object without being shamed. It must be emphasized that stories of this type are not merely intended as a patriotic expression of Lao appreciation for their own culture. These stories serve as a warning against the rapid pace of modernization as well as the unquestioning acceptance of foreign culture and values that is becoming the norm. Outhine writes at a time when traditional culture is increasingly being relegated to the status of an artifact, destined to be placed in museums for the sole purpose of bringing in foreign revenue.
In recent years, Lao society has rapidly changed as result of the increasing cultural impact of the west. Vientiane in the late 1990s is strikingly different than it was at the beginning of the decade. One hopes that the increased contact between Laos and the west will not only result in the westernization of Laos, but also in a greater understanding of Lao society in the west. This collection of short stories by Outhine Bounyavong is intended as a step in that direction. The fiction collected in this book not only serves as an introduction to contemporary Lao literature, but also provides valuable insight into the changing state of Lao society, as viewed from the perspective of a Lao author whose works span from the pre-revolutionary period to the present.
1. Studies that exist at present in the United States are largely devoted to Lao political history in relation to the Vietnam War.
2. A few short collections of Lao fiction in English translation were published in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. However, they consist solely of stories composed prior to 1--5 in the "liberated zones" controlled by the Communist Lao Patriotic Front.
3. TV antennas on rural rooftops are an increasingly common sight in Laos. Thai television, videos, and popular music are influencing the present generation of Lao both in urban and rural areas.
4. It must be noted, however, that many members of the French-educated elite remained proud of traditional culture and were actively
involved in its promotion. Thao Phetsarat, for example was influential in the use of literature and other espects of traditional Lao culture in the creation of a modern Lao national identity (Koret 1999).
5. Further reflecting the hybrid nature of the work, the hero of the story is the son of a French man and a Lao woman.
6. Ironically, for the same reason that colonial administrators espoused the promotion of Lao language and literature, they also attempted to replace the Lao script with roman characters. It was thought that if future generations of Lao were taught the roman script in place of their own, they would lose the ability to comprehend the Thai language, which has an alphabet similar to Lao. A decree to officially abolish the use of the Lao script in schools and government administration was issued in September 1"4. However, the Japanese occupied the country before the decree had a practical effect. (Gunn 1988: 101--6).
7. Pen names commonly used by the authors are in parentheses.
8. This interpretation of the poem is the topic of the book Pheuy San Leup Bo Sun by S. Desa, which has been reprinted four times since the communist victory in 1--5. The same interpretation can be found in the official Lao work of literary criticism, Vannakhadj Lao, by Bo Sengkham Vongdala et al., pp. 269-74. Not surprisingly, the poem is given a different interpretation by the Thai. A prominent Thai scholar of Lao literature, for example, has analyzed the work as Buddhist philosophy (Jarabut Reuangsawan 1--7: 136--37). The same verse is commonly performed in southern Laos as courtship poetry.
9. The interpretation of the ancient poem San Leup Pasun in the book Pheuy San Leup Bo Sun by S. Desa is a noteworthy example of how traditional poetry is used to convey a political message. The interpretation, fifty-six pages in length, is composed in a verse form that is similar to the poem itself.
10. This biographical sketch is largely based on the authors interview with Outhine Bounyavong in July 19--.
11. For those who recall the sad fate of many of the beautiful trees that until recently lined both sides of Khu Viang Road in Vientiane, this story is particularly relevant.
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________ Rebellion in Loos: Peasants and Politics in a Colonial Backwater. Boulder, CD: Westview Press, 1990.
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2002 SEAsite Laos
Last Modified: 02/05/04