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  The Realignment of the Lao as their power disintegrates
     
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I. The Fabric of History

II. The Hegemonic Crisis of the City of Angels

III. The Realignment of the Lao as their power disintegrates

IV. Many Provocations and Anou's response

V. The Opening phases of the 1827 campaign

VI. The Military phase of the 1827 campaign

VII. Maps of LanXang

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The Realignment of the Lao as their power disintegrates

12. FOREFATHERS' GALLERY

Although the leaders of most Southeast Asian countries in the sixteenth century acknowledged the sovereignty of the Burmese king, Bayinnaung, one monarch resisted: the Lao king, Setthathirat of Vientiane. He became known as "the chieftain who never knelt before the king of kings."l Three successive Burmese invasions did not curb his combativeness. Chao Anou acknowledged the legacy of Setthathirat when in 1824 he added Setthathirat's name to his own title. Similarly, some of Anou's generals bore the war names of their illustrious predecessors who had joined battle during Setthathirat's reign.2 Anou even modeled his battle strategy at Khao San in 1827 after one conducted by Setthathirat at Daen Somphu in 1569.3

Even in the most desperate situation, Setthathirat displayed confidence in himself and in his people. And he was not the only Lao hero who fought to maintain Lao independence before the advent of Chao Anou. Fa Ngum (r. 1353-1373) also figures significantly as a well-known Lao hero. Less familiar, although equally significant in Lao political history, is Thaenkham (r. 1479-1486). In 1483, as the Vietnamese forced the Lao to abandon the capital and retreat to the Thai border, Thaenkham rallied the Lao to chase the invaders out of his domain. These Lao rulers placed a high value on Lao independence, as Father Giovanni Filippo de Marini noted in 1663. He wrote:

But the prerogative he [the Lao king] prizes most highly is that of being in a position to enjoy independence and to recognize no superior, a privilege not


1 Hall (1976), P. 270; Thien (1908), pp. 71-82.

2 Anou probably ranked as Setthathirat IV. His brother Nanthasen had also taken Setthathirat as a reign name, which made him Setthathirat III. However, Phongsawadan muang phuan identifies Inthavong as Setthathirat III. See Phongsawadan milang phuan (1969) (L), p. 13. Anou's great-grandfather, Phra Sai (r. 1689-1730) (spuriously called Sai Ong Ve by late-nineteenth- century chroniclers) was likely the first to have added the name, Setthathirat, to his regnal name. Setthathirat's military officers had names like Phagna Mu Lek (Prince of the Iron Hand) and Phagna Mu Fai (Prince of the Fire Hand). Phongsawadan muang luang prabang (1963) (T), p. 236. Such names were resuscitated by Anou and one can find among Anou's officers a Phagna Mu Lek who earned fame at the Sompoi battle.

3 Phongsawadan muang luang prabang (1963) (T), pp. 326, 327.
 



12. FOREFATHERS' GALLERY

even enjoyed by the great King of Siam and Tunquing nor several others who are far richer and more powerful than he ...4

Chao Anou expressed in his poetic San lup bo sun (Indestructible Message) the same characteristic passion for independence.5 Anou was motivated by a resolute drive for independence manifested in a political strategy transmitted to him by his father, Siribunyasan, the last monarch of an independent Laos and a shrewd tactician in diplomacy.6 Siribunyasan, ousted from power by the Thai army in 1779, was rumored to have died at the age of forty-eight in the jungle near the Lao-Vietnamese border.7 It was in this same jungle that his son, Anou, would take refuge fifty years later.

Immediately following the defeat of his father, Anou's elder brother, Nanthasen, continued the struggle for independence. Nanthasen was the commander-in-chief of the Lao forces from 1778-1779. Traditional stories extol his military virtues, explaining how he rode his war elephant in a counterattack against Taksin's furious Thai armies. The rage felt by Taksin's generals was fueled by their failure to capture the capital a year earlier from the Lao.8 Those generals ultimately won the field and


4 Marini (1663), p. 169. Wuysthoff shared the same view of the Lao. See Garnier (1871), pp. 274-275. Wuysthoff preceded De Leria in Vientiane. See also Gutzlaff (1849), pp. 33-42. See also the narrative of Marini (1663), p. 159. Marini relied on the personal account of Father de Leria, an Italian Jesuit, who journeyed to Laos and stayed in Vientiane from 1642 to 1647, during the reign of King Suryavongsa, a monarch of the golden age in Lan Sang.

5 Chao Anou's confidence is elaborated in San lup bo sun (L), p. 23. On this literary work, see Charubut (1977), pp. 136 ff.; Sila (1954) (L), pp. 51-54; Sila (1960), p. 272; Soulang (1974) (L), pp. 120-150; Khampheng (1968)(L), pp. 287-188.

6 Gesick (1976), pp. 97-104.

7 It is generally accepted that after the withdrawal of the Thai armies, Siribunyasan returned to his capital. Informed of this, Taksin nominated Nanthasen to rule Vientiane. But, according to one scholar, after Taksin nominated Nanthasen, Siribunyasan was authorized to rule in Vientiane until his death one year later. See Anuchit (1932)(T), p. 172. vickery corroborates that 'After theThai invasion, King Siribunyasan returned to reign in Vientiane until his death a year later. Then Prince Nanthasen was sent back from Bangkok to succeed him, This explains the Lao-Thai alliance." Vickery (1990), p. 12. For another perspective, see Traduction de l'histoire de Vien-Chan, p. 15.

8 Renaud (1930), p. 102. The Lao capital "then rose high as an apparition behind its red ramparts. The gigantic doors of its walls allowed the passage of elephants, the canopy of which never touched the stones of their vaults, ornamented with ritual lotuses." According to Narinthonthewi: "The first month of the year of Dog, Chaofa Kasatsuk returned to attack Muang Sisattanakkhanahut. The siege continued until the end of the year without success. Chaofa Kasatsuk could storm the town [Vientiane] only on MOnday of the tenth month, the third day of the waxing moon. The Chao Muang [Siribunyasan] escaped. We seized Phra Kaeo and Phra Bang." Narinthonthewi (1963)(T), pp. 7,9. A chronicle gives its version of the Lao defeat: "Phagna Muang Chanh, mandarin of Chantha Bouli, colluded with the enemy. At midnight, he had boats sent to allow the Siamese troops to cross [the Mekong River]. Phagna Volapita [voraphita] felt he was lost, and left the capital." Traduction de l'histoire de Vien-Chan, p. 14. However, this version is debatable. The Thai had an armed fleet which, for the first time in the history of this part of Southeast Asia, sailed up the Mekong from Cambodia. It is plausible that Phagna Muang Chanh had the gates of the capital opened to the Thai armeis, who seemed unable to assault the town with enough firepower. This is the opinion of Maha Kikeo Oudom (Interview, Vientiane June 10, 1986). Another scholar argues that it was the formation of a sand bank in front of Vientiane that facilitated the landing of the Thai armies when they arrived to capture Vientiane, which had no defense on the western side of the town aside from two cannon placed at each end of the town, one at the mouth of Hoong Passak and the other at the end of Hoong Khou Viang. Before that, the Thai armies had already captured such vital points as Nong Khai, Muang Khuk, Phan Phao. Parmentier (1954), p. 89; Cf. Fels (1976), pp. 458-460.

 



12. FOREFATHERS' GALLERY

took Nanthasen to Bangkok as a prisoner with his brothers and sisters. There he found favor with the Siamese king, who sent Nanthasen back to Vientiane in 1781 to rule it as a vassal state of Siam.

The situation facing Nanthasen after his return to Vientiane was unprecedented. He attempted to guard his country's interests while coping with the heavy burden of post-1778-79 pressures and complexities.9 To critical observers, his accommodation with the Thai looked like a compromise. At last, in 1792, after a decade of rule, Nanthasen himself realized that despite a Lao lobby in Bangkok represented by Mom Venh, his policy of accommodation had been a failure and his country was suffering under Siamese domination. 10

Nanthasen's interactions with the Thai monarchs had never been simple; distrust and opportunism prevailed on both sides. Rama I had accumulated numerous grievances against the Thai king, the most important of which stemmed from Nanthasen's attempts to take advantage of the bloody power struggle between Taksin and Rama I in Thonburi between 1781-1782, when Rama I had not yet ascended the throne, but was still Taksin's comrnander- in-chief.

 Undoubtedly Rama I recognized in Nanthasen a forceful ruler and fearsome warrior, and, thus, a potentially dangerous opponent, for Nanthasen had shown himself capable of subduing other Lao principalities and bringing them under his own jurisdiction. This Lao king reconstituted Lao unity by securing Vientiane's control over Nakhon Phanom and Siang Khuang. In 1792, while he fought against the Vietnamese Tay Son rebels as a, mercenary iai Bangkok, Nanthasen found the opportunity to subdue Luang Prabang and Sam Nua, thus repairing one of the divisions that had long plagued feudal Laos. 'Ever a feeble state, Luang Prabang appears to have become a dependency of Vientiane in fact, if not officially, since this period." 11 All the areas subdued by Nanthasen's forces between 1781 and 1792 had


 

9 For an elaboration on Nanthasen's actions after 1779, see Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 26-27.

10 Mom Venh was a Lao prisoner who had become the mistress of King Rama I (whose queen had chosen to leave the palace and reside with her mother), exerted excessive influence over him. Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 33,40-41.

On this total reversal of Nanthasen's politics toward Bangkok, see Pansa (1978) (T), p. 38 ff. Pansa dated the revision of the Lao policy to 1792. In fact, from 1791, Nanthasen had witnessed Siamese expansionism extend to Luang Prabang. Other signs reveal his endangered position. For instance, to attack Tavoy, on the Burmese frontier, Rama I no longer chose to rely on the Lao king to mobilize Lao contingents to aid the Thai, but preferred to entrust a Bangkok officer with this task, as reported by Thiphakorawong: "Phraya Kraikosa was to go to Laos and conscript an army there while Phraya Kalahomratchasena was ordered to proceed to Cambodia, where he was to levy troops.' Thiphakorawong (1978), p. 192. In the past, the Thai had always encountered problems with the Cambodians, particularly in this field; however, the fact that Rama I had to proceed with the Lao as he did with the Cambodians suggests the deterioration of Bangkok's power in Laos.

11 Breazeale (1975), p. 7. Confirmation can be found in the document Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 18. This is substantiated by the Vientiane chronicle which recognized that 'The territory of Vien-Chan-Tha-Bouli [Vientiane] abutting in the South the Li Phi, the North to the mouth of the river Nam Mi, and from the river Nam Mi, going up the river to Pha-Khan-Dai, was given to the government of Luang Prabang which had to protect it." Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 18. For an identical view, Le Boulanger (1931), p. 129.
 



12. FOREFATHERS' GALLERY

previously paid tribute to the Tay Son.12 Surely when Nanthasen exerted himself to draw these areas inside his own circle of influence and away from the Tay Son, he must have camouflaged his actions as the efforts of a loyal Siamese vassal attempting to enlarge the number of political units dependent on Bangkok.13 Siam itself did not wish to enter into direct conflict with the Tay Son, who during this period controlled most of Vietnam and had received the investiture of the Chinese governmental For Siam to achieve their apparently contradictory goals, it therefore required a proxy, such as Nanthasen. When the Tay Son sent an embassy to Bangkok to protest vehemently against Nanthasen's activities, Bangkok easily disavowed him; yet when the Tay Son threatened to destroy Nanthasen, Bangkok rushed to rescue him.15 In the end, Bangkok arranged for the overthrow of Nanthasen because Thai elites judged him to be out of their control.

Impeded by the disparate nature of the Lao "kingdom" and by ]Bangkok's forceful opposition to his attempts at organizing the Lao country, Nanthasen was unable to achieve his dream of reuniting Laos and regaining its independence. His "organizing" methods had not been gentle; they alienated Luang Prabang and exacerbated the irredenta of other areas, particularly Siang Khuang.16 Luang Prabang swallowed its aversion for Vientiane until the arrival of the French, but the last lines of its chronicles still dwell on this episode of political rape.17

 Bangkok's policy toward the Lao and particularly Nanthasen was eminently sophisticated. It aimed to isolate Nanthasen internationally as well as in Lao politics, but it also used Nanthasen to spearhead its policy of pacification in the hinterland of Southeast Asia. In his military expeditions against Luang Prabang and Sam Niia, Nanthasen was accompanied by Siamese contingents dispatched from Bangkok.18


 

12 In a letter of June 2, 1794, received in Bangkok on November 24, 1794, the Prince of Siang Khuang acknowledged that he had been invaded by Nanthasen because he had paid tribute to the Tay Son. This ruler of Siang Khuang also informed Rama I that Luang Prabang had paid tribute to these same Vietnamese rulers. See Gesick (1976), pp. 132-133; Bouillevaux (1874), p. 394. The Royal Chronicles of Bangkok were surely bending the truth when they accused Nanthasen of having deceived the Bangkok court by trying to hide the collusion between Luang Prabang and the "Burmese." In these chronicles, the term "Burmese" was often used by Bangkok as a code name to refer to any enemy of Siarn, including those enemies Siarn preferred not to name: the Tay Son.

13 Cf. Gesick (1976), p. 133, note 82.

14 Gesick (1976), P. 141.

15 Gesick (1976), pp. 131-132. However, Nanthasen's relations with the Tay Son were of an evolving nature. See the following section.

16 Gesick (1976), p. 133. In 1794, the prince of Siang Khuang asked to pay tribute to Bangkok through Luang Prabang and no longer through the intermediary of Vientiane.

17 Phongsawadan miiang luang prabang (1969) (L), p. 42.

18 Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), pp. 226-227. In his comment, King Chulalongkorn asserted that he sent Bangkok's troops at the request of Nanthasen, who had been assailed by the Tay Son. Relying on archival documents extant at the Thai National Library, Snit and Breazeale described the Thai as latecomers to the conflict involving the Phuan: "Patterns of modern Phuan history were already clearly set by the end of the eighteenth century. Bangkok was founded during this period; and the new Thai dynasty was attempting to bring the entire Lao country under its domination. Annam likewise had a strong new dynasty which, during the first generation, was well disposed to the Thai court. During the final years of the eighteenth century, serious conflicts arose in the Phuan state among competing candidates for the succession with various Phuan factions seeking support from outside. A Vietnamese force intervened on behalf of one candidate, while the Vientiane prince was supporting another. The Thai first became involved in the Phuan state in the 1790s when a Thai army acting for the Lao princes raided the plateau region, and carried Phuan prisoners back to Bangkok." Snit and Breazeale (1988), pp. 8-9. 19 Davis (1984), p. 32. The populations of Nan and the Lao of Lan Sang were very close, for in Luang Prabang King Photthisarat (r. 1520-1549) had been ordained by a monk trained in Nan. This monk became his spiritual master.
 



12. FOREFATHERS' GALLERY

Bangkok used this tactic extensively, not only with Nanthasen but also with other vassals who later were redirected against each other. For instance, the Prince of Nan, vassal of Siam in 1788, was strongly encouraged by the Siamese court to conduct raids as far away as Siang Khuang.19 Siam spurred on this fratricidal war among the Lao, which resulted in the Laocization of a war in a country already moribund from endemic violence. Bangkok clearly sought to aggravate the Lao homelands' quarrels, 'these harsh struggles between relatives for their immediate interests, these rivalries of tiny power against tiny power.,,20 The politico-strategic interests of Siam were served by this devastating situation. In 1827, the vice king of Siam, Bowon, talked to the Thai general, Bodin, when both were encamped on the riverbank opposite Vientiane: "Under previous reigns, we did not have to sustain a war against Vientiane, for Luang Prabang was angry with Vientiane, which consequently could not consider rebelling [against the kingdom of Siam.21

Leaders in Bangkok ordered Nanthasen to arrest Luang Prabang's King Anuruttharat (r. 1792-1817). Later, however, these same leaders released King Anuruttharat and restored him to power on June 2, 1794. The Royal Chronicle of Bangkok leaves this sudden reversal of the king's fortunes unexplained.' As a final measure, Nanthasen plotted with Prince Borommaracha of Nakhon Phanom to break away from the Siamese. Nanthasen's plan was exposed and a Bangkok expeditionary army, led by Luang Thep Borirak, apprehended him.23


 

20 Deydier (1954), P. 825.

21 Kulab (1971) (T), p. 313.

22 Thiphakorawong relates: "The King [Rama I] ordered King Romkhao [of Luang Prabang] confined in prison. Some time later, however, the king graciously pardoned King Romkhao and allowed him to take his followers with him and return to rule Luang Prabang," Thiphakorawong (1978), p. 176. Were the Chinese diplomatically involved in this release, as some have written? Gesick notes that: "Prachum Phongsawadan, Part R, p. 214, says this person [a vassal of Luang Prabang] asked the ruler of Hsenwi to plead Anuruttha's [Anuruttharat's] case with the Chinese emperor. What seems more likely from the facts of the case as given in this chronicle is that the ruler of Hsenwi, with the possible connivance of local Chinese officials in Yunnan, arranged for a fake embassy to be sent." Gesick (1976), p. 131, note 75, and pp. 139-140. However the version given by Luang Prabang officials as recorded by the Court of Hue's chronicler seems to present a puzzle, which may explain the embarrassing silence of the Royal Chronicle of Bangkok in this regard. They say that a power struggle arose in Luang Prabang between Anuruttharat (called N6-sa by Hu6) and his nephew Manthathurat (called Ong-manh:) "When Trieu-phong died, his son, Ong-manh . . . , was but three years of age. Availing himself of the occasion, No-sa promptly seized the throne, but the forces of Van-tuong [Vientiane] ... thereupon invaded Nam-chuong [Luang Prabang] and captured N6-sa, Ong-manh, and Ong-manh's mother, carrying them off to the Kingdom of Vientiane. N6-sa was subsequently released, but the detention of Ong-manh and his mother continued. In the year of Tin-hoi (1791 AD), the Tay-son rebels attacked the Kingdom of Vientiane. Ong-manh and his mother seized the opportunity to escape from the Kingdom of Vientiane and returned to Nam-Chuong, where they were reunited with No-sa.' Kimura (1971), p. 157.

23 On the arrest of Nanthasen, see TNL Document Rama IH. 1213/43. Memorandum on the history of Lomsak from 1767 to 1836. For a similar view, see Institut de Recherches en Sciences Sociales (1988) (L), pp. 250-251. And also, Chantha (1969) (T), pp. 207-208.
 



12. FOREFATHERS' GALLERY

Imprisoned for a second time in Bangkok, Nanthasen was saved frorn immediate execution Buddhist through the intervention of the Thai vice king, Surasi, who later donned monastic robes and pleaded, invain, for long-term and his followerS.24 Nanthasen's co-conspirator, Prince Borommaracha, died under Suspicious circumstances. Nanthasen himself wasted away and died in a Bangkok prison. Decades later, Anou would find himself in the same situation. He, however, would choose to escape torture by committing suicide.25

One of Anou's brothers, lnthavong, the Lao king nominated by Bangkok to succeed the ousted Nanthasen, used discretion when he dealt with the Thai. Inthavong's daughter, Nang Thongsuk, had been taken as a hostage to Bangkok, where she became a consort of King Rama I.26 Although these family alliances did not accomplish Inthavong's goals, he remained passive and never risked armed rebellion. Inthavong's successor, Anou, began his reign in the same spirit. After acting as the vice king to Inthavong for nearly a decade, Anou succeeded his brother in 1804 and became the third Lao king to be appointed by Rama I the man who had been the Thai commander-in-chief in 1778-1779. Anou, who was "thirty-seven when he took charge of Vientiane, would have a long reign throughout which he tried to achieve the independence for which his brothers and predecessors had struggled.
 

13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design


John Crawfurd, the early nineteenth-century British traveler, frequently repeated that "Lan-Chang [Vientiane] was always considered the capital of Lao. "His reiteration Of the statement suggests that Chao Anou certainly must have given him the impression that Lao was a relatively united country when the two met in Bangkok in 1822. 27 In fact, however, Lao was only a patchwork of provinces,
24 ThiphakOrawong (1978), pp. 208, 213.

25 C)n Anc)u"s suicide by Poison, see Malpuech (1920), p. 6, 77iaO Lao Kham (1973) (L), pp. 47,48, 65; McCarthy (19oo) 'p. 38; Phongsawadan m4fang Vientiane (Fonds Ouparat) quoted in ArchaimbaLilt (1967), p.,580 note 1. Picanon writes: "He was turned over with his three sons to the Thai commander; arriving in Bangkok, they poisoned themsLives, preferring death to enslavement." Picanon (1901), p. 176. Ayrnonier specifies that these included Ratsabut Chao Yo, Anoul s son and king of Champassak and Chao Anou himself. This poison was mixed in the boiled rice prepared on his order by his wife Nang Khaniphong who shared his fate. Aymonier (188,5), pp. 46, 88.

26 Pansa (1978) (T), p. 40; Prarnuanwichaphun (1937) (T) P. 79. This Lao princess, married to Rama I in 1795, gave birth in 1797 to a daughter ' was given the title Chaofa Khunthonthipphayawadi by Rama 1 (1797-1838); she waswphaorticulariv aear to her father and had forty-two descendants. Khunthonthipphayawadi became the second queen of Rama II and gave him four children. Joyaux (1967), pp. 133-134.

27 Crawfurd (1834) p. 446. It is noticeable that at this time one referred to the Lao country as 'Lao' and not "Laos," and to the inhabitants as -Lao' or in plural as "Laos" and not "Laotian" or "Laotians." Bonifacy wrote in an introduction to the 1931 edition of a book by Father Borri: Lao, in singular, the genuine name of the country, becomes Lai in plural, as in Italian. This has been translated in French by Laos, and thus, one has pronounced the 's ' as been done for foreign words. The country called now Laos, is said Lao' in first Italian missionaries, such Father Borri, Father De Rhodes (the inventor of Qu'oc Nu, he wrote his first narratives in 1653, in Italian) put this name of Lao into a plural it Lai. When these narratives were translated in French, one translator wrote Laos, in plural, and as it was a foreign name, it was pronounced Laosse. We have conserved this orthography and this pronunciation, and more, we have made the Lai or the Laos, the Laotians. " Borri (1931), pp. 397-398. In another book, Bonifacy writes: "Annamese and Chinese books often referred to these Lao who inhabited a part of southern China, the north- west of Tunkin, and who have let their name to Laos ... Tradition tells they were destroyed by the Tay who married their women. These men were certainly the aborigines." Bonifacy (1919), pp. 82-83. Aubaret, in his translation of the Vietnamese annals, states: "The country of Laos, called also M-Lao, was in the past in communication with China (around 220 AD). It abutted Yunnan province and was bounded on the south by the Annam empire; to the North-West, are mountains inhabited by savages. This country contained different tribes and the principal ones are: Ai-Lao, Lac-Hoan, Van-Tuong, Xi-Da, Muc-Da, Han-Vien, Chan-man, Khong-xuong, Mai- xuong-Unh and Ba-tac. The origin of these different peoples is Lao-s6n (mountains of Laos); it is for this reason that one calls this country in the general way the country of the Laos." Aubaret (1863), p. 51; see also, Sisana (1987)(L).
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

autonomous territories, kingdoms, and principalities with double or triple tributary relations. Only through shrewd political practice did Anou and his collaborators succeed, despite Bangkok's tireless resistance, in uniting this heterogeneous conglomerate into a sort of Lao confederation that gravitated around the Vientiane center.28 Anou moved ahead in this effort despite the fact that the experiences of his elder brother, Nanthasen, demonstrated to him how forcefully Bangkok reacted against those who attempted to reunify Laos.

King Anuruttharat of Luang Prabang abdicated in 1817 to allow his son Manthathurat (r. 1817-1836) to succeed him and then died two years later at the age of eighty-two years. It was at this point that Chao Anou decided to initiate a diplomatic effort to heal the rift between the two kingdoms, for like his brother Nanthasen, whose aggressions had alienated Luang Prabang, Chao Anou hoped to forge an alliance between the two principalities. "There are no reasonable politics without the capacity of forgetfulness.29 Anou's embassy arrived solemnly in Luang Prabang in 1820 with magnificent gifts for Manthathurat. One year later, Anou dispatched a second embassy to the Luang Prabang king.

These dates are crucial. At this time, the international situation on the western frontier of Siam was increasingly tenuous and even threatening. According to both Adoniram Judson, an American missionary who resided for years in Burma, and Antony Rowland, the Burmese translator for the Government of Bengal, the king of Ava was preparing to renew hostilities against Siam. This Burmese king had heard a rumor that Siam's king had died and that confusion prevailed at the capital regarding the succession to the throne because the Siamese king had left no descendants. The Burmese king commenced negotiations with foreign powers to seek their aid, contracted offensive alliances against the Siamese, and began its attack.30

In his own country, Anou's prestige was at its height and the kingdom of Champassak had just been given to his son, Chao Yo, by Siam. Anou took advantage of these developments to rally Luang Prabang, the other important domain in the pre-1707 Lan Sang kingdom, to his cause. Luang Prabang responded by agreeing to undertake the sacred cause by symbolically raising the That Sithammahaysok stupa


 

28 Yule (1855), p. 106; Carne (1872), pp. 100-101; Aymonier recorded that "These Laos of Central Mekong areas acknowledge the moral authority of the most powerful of all their chieftains as a national king, who is that of Vieng-Chan.' Aymonier (1901), p. 145; Chalong (1986) (T), p. 8.

29 Aron (1962), P. 47.

30 See further in Saxena (1952), pp. 575-577.
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

five cubits higher.31 The king of Luang Prabang, who had suffered from Nanthasen's aggressions and had even been imprisoned in Vientiane,32 meant to signal through these deeds that he was willing to turn over a new leaf, forget his resentments, and move forward. Anou's reconciliation with Luang Prabang seemed to be going as planned. To reciprocate Luang Prabang's conciliatory gesture, Anou raised That Sithammahaysok atop Vientiane's holiest stupa, the That Luang.33

But finally, news from Bangkok revealed that the situation in that capital was less chaotic than originally believed and that Bangkok remained a formidable foe. In 1821, Siam demonstrated its strength by invading Kedah and forcing its king to take refuge in Penang, an English dependency. Responding to these developments, Anou decreased his pressure on the Luang Prabang king. It was clear he would have to continue his waiting game. Anou's careful approach toward Luang Prabang throughout these years deserves close examination if we are to understand the reactions of Luang Prabang's king to his advances.

Paul Le Boulanger described the situation beginning in 1820 in these terms:


Three years after his enthronement, King Manthathurat received two envoys from Vientiane, Meun Heua Kham and Phalasay, who proposed to him a secret treaty of friendship. King Anou, who bore the Siamese tutelage impatiently', proposed that he forget past quarrels and that they unite their forces against the suzerain from the West, whose power was expanding in a threatening way. Manthathurat accepted the two gilded pirogues brought to him by the two ambassadors in the name of their master, but, a little frightened, he refused to commit himself. The next year, Anou renewed his proposal without success by forwarding an elephant whose height was seven cubits sealed with a war packsaddle to his neighbor [the King of Luang Prabang] by Nakphumin [Anou's diplomat].34


Paul Le Boulanger's words convey the traditional historical understanding of this Lao-Lao episode. In fact, Anou did dispatch a letter to Manthathurat proposing that the latter join his efforts, as Le Boulanger describes, but his correspondence included an additional promise that Luang Prabang chroniclers failed to mention. Anou proposed that once the country was liberated, he would retire to a temple, as Fa Ngum had done four hundred years earlier, after he united the Vientiane kingdom with Luang Prabang. All Lao areas would be placed under King Manthathurat's control after Anou's retirement.35 It is difficult to forecast what


31 Chotmaihet yo muang Vientiane (L), Luang Prabang Royal Palace.

32 Kimura (1971), p. 157.

33 According to Maha Kikeo Oudom (interview, Vientiane 22 April 1988), Chao Anou constructed this stupa in 1808, the year of the beginning of the restoration of the most famous stupa in the area of the Mekong basin. He would also take care of other monuments, including T'hat Phanom, That Sikhot, and That Si Songhak. The crowning of this policy instituting a full program of architectural resurrection, a policy that was essentially political but also religious, would materialize in 1818 with the construction of Wat Sisaket and the launching of the bridge across the Mekong.

34 Le Boulanger (1931), pp. 129-130. Confirmation in Phetsarath (1916), p. xi. Phongsawadan muang luang prabang (1969) (L), p. 38.

35 Interview with Maha Kik@o Oudom, Professor of History at the Lycee of Vientiane until 1975, in Vientiane on Saturday, November 17, 1979. Aged fifty-eight at the time of the interview, Maha Kikeo Oudom held a position at the Lao National Library. Under the former regime of the Kingdom of Laos, he had gathered, edited, and published palrn-leaf manuscripts in the national library. In 1988, Maha Kikeo Oudom was nominated to the position of Director of the National Museums. In April 1987, we visited Luang Prabang to investigate the intercourse between Vientiane and Luang Prabang during Anou's reign. In Luang Prabang, the Superior of Wat Mai told us that a letter from Anou existed there but the key to the library which housed the letter was in the possession of a monk who had gone to northern Laos for many months. This letter is mentioned in the inventory conducted by Finot (1965). The content of Anou's letter to Manthathurat, king of Luang Prabang, is confirmed in Sila (1957) (L), p. 285; Khamman (1973) (L), pp. 65, 95. Khamman, a member and historian of the royal family of Luang Prabang, specified that Anou requested military assistance from Manthathurat.
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

would really have happened if 1827 had brought success instead of defeat. It would be easy to criticize Anou's generosity or to see him as pursuing "the biggest ambition," which "has not any appearance of being ambition."36 But perhaps Anou would have fulfilled his pledge in a manner consistent with what an ethnologist has characterized as 'the fundamental values of Lao culture [which] are founded on generosity, a sense of honor and the recognition of good deeds."37 An intra-Lao dynamics had emerged. Anou broke with a century- long tradition (established with the tripartition of Laos in 1707) when he approached Luang Frabang in league with his own band of diplomats, of whom Nakphumin was the chief, in lieu of the usual rowdies. Characteristically, Manthathurat was receptive to Anou's initiative, for he was a man open to novelty.38

According to the Luang Prabang chronicles, "Manthathurat died on his parade bed on Tuesday of the first day of the waxing moon of the eighth month in the evening of the year 1198" (AD 1836). The chronicles continue, "He ruled his kingdom wisely, raised and cared for religious buildings, and never thought to mistreat foreign nations."39 Another copy of this chronicle emphasized:


Under the reign of King Manthathurat, no invader has come to tramp across the soil of Luang Prabang; its population knows great happiness and can indulge in pious activities aiming at creating merits for the salvation of their souls in the future life.40


This paragraph describes the ideal for excellence for a Lao king, but reality taints this perfect portrait. Manthathurat's serene satisfaction could not effectively obliterate challenging problems encountered by a country caught between two warring powers. Some copies of the Luang Prabang chronicles maintain total silence on this period of history,41 possibly reflecting the attitudes of the ruling class of Luang


 

36 Suares (1948), P. 7.

37 Dord (1980), P. 46.

38 Manthathurat had his pagoda Wat That Luang ornamented with medallions inspired by European styles. Among objects found when the That Luang collapsed at the beginning of the twentieth century were champagne glasses and other goods of European origin. The That Luang of Luang Prabang was constructed by Manthathurat in memory of his queen.

39 Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 17.

40 Phongsawadan miiang luang prabang (1969) (L), p. 38. 41 Phongsawadan muang luang prabang (1964) (T), pp. 2533-2598. The origin of the drafting of such chronicles is traced by Wilson (1976), p. 176: "local chronicles, several of which were compiled in the nineteenth century, among them chronicles of Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Lampang, Nan, the Northeast.... The number of chronicles compiled in the 1890's, usually at the request of King Chulalongkom, suggests that the Thai government was either anxious to preserve something of the past or that it was not especially knowledgeable about local administration or local history. Instead of turning to its own records, it may have been easier for the government to ask an interested person to compile a chronicle. In this respect it is noteworthy that no chronicles exist for the towns in the Chaophraya valley apart from those dealing with the fortunes of Ayudhya when it was the capital. All of the local chronicles are concerned with the autonomous townships of the south, the northeast, and the Lao, Khmer, and Malay satellite states."
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

Prabang, especially those members who might have sympathized with Anou. Other copies, drafted at Bangkok's request, bluster with verbal intemperance.42 After Anou's defeat, Manthathurat had to justify himself before the victor, Siam, by asserting his "good deeds" toward Bangkok, which did not really amount to much: a heap of the subaltern's Machiavellian ploys and ordinary day-to-day political actions displayed as concerted attempts to "circumvent" Anou. Bangkok's envoy camped in Luang Prabang and undertook a political purge within Manthathurat's own palace. The Luang Prabang Vice King Un Kmo and a number of other dignitaries were taken to Bangkok as prisoners and died in jail. Unfortunately, Phraya Phichai, Bangkok's commissioner during the political upheaval in this sleepy capital, died in Luang Prabang.43 A number of Luang Prabang inhabitants were subsequently deported to Siam: 675 to Ayudhya, seventy-six to Ban Aranyik, 560 to Muang Phrom, and thirty- nine to Bangkok.44

 The Luang Prabang chronicles quote Manthathurat as saying, "If I side with one and he doesn't succeed, the other will wage war in my kingdom. Thus, I will not take sides with anybody, and will appear favorably toward both countries."45 Francis Garnier, who watched Luang Prabang teetering between alliances, remarked on the king's "exasperating preoccupation with equilibrium."46 The reality was perhaps more subtle and certain signals more telling than the young French navy officer could comprehend. By placing the Vientiane kingdom (Siam's vassal) and Siam (the suzerain of Luang Prabang) on an equal footing, Manthathurat's attitude reflects sympathy for the Lao and Anou. Manthathurat's conduct substantiates that sympathy.

By accepting the rules for intra-Lao politics as newly defined by Anou, Manthathurat accomplished much for his career and personal safety. In 1824, Rama II's funeral ceremonies provided him with an opportunity to become a monk at Wat Phra Keo in Bangkok to pay homage to the late king, as well to express his loyalty to the new Thai monarch. It is said that he stayed in the Thai pagoda for three years and only reluctantly returned to rule again in Luang Prabang at the insistence of Rama III. According to the Luang Prabang chronicle, Rama III not only "authorized" Manthathurat to govern but also rewarded him with the highest regal insignia.47 But it seems that Rama III could never get Manthathurat to disclose information about Anou's maneuvers against the Thai king.

While Manthathurat relied upon the yellow saffron robe to protect him from harrn dealt out by the new strong man in Bangkok, Anou chose to be more direct: he


 

42 See Phongsawadan miiang luang prabang (1963) (T), pp. 315-369; Saveng (1980).

43 Phongsawadan yo ?niiang wiangchan(1969) (T), p. 147.

44 Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 114-115.

45 Le Boulanger (1931), p. 130.

46 Perrin (1937), P. 36.

47 Phongsawadan muang luang prabang (1963) (T), p. 350.
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

attended the funeral of Rama 11 in 1824 with a large entourage including all his high- ranking officers.48 As he passed through Lao towns on his way to the funeral, Anou asked the people to train men and to hoard paddy in preparation for the future. The Lao princes of Lan Na preferred to stay home from the funeral,49 as did Ong Chan,,50 who was accused of lese-majeste by Rama III for this action. The political game had become deadly serious for these rulers: the brutal, systematic deaths of the rulers of Lan Na following Rama III's accession to power in Bangkok were suspicious.51 These princes had consistently allied themselves with Anou during the war between Bangkok and Burrna.52

Three years later, after Anou had lost everything and was wandering about in search of refuge in the limestone desert of central Laos, Manthathurat sent his son Sukkhaseurn (r. 1838-1850) to Rama III on June 11, 1827 to inform him of Anou's previous approaches toward Luang Prabang. Sukkhaseum reported to the Bangkok court a diplomatic version of earlier communications between Manthathurat and Vientiane, despite the fact that divulging this information might compromise his loyal image. Manthathurat's political subtlety lay in the delicate timing of this embassy, which historians too quickly identify as an act of betrayal by Manthathurat of his formal ally, Anou. Through his messenger, Manthathurat did protest his loyalty to Anou's conqueror and presented the traditional 'flowers of gold and silver.",53 But these marks of subservience were as much required as they were tardy and should not be interpreted as genuine proof of any dramatic change of heart by the Luang Prabang king in Bangkok's favor.

Manthathurat had repeatedly shown signs of sympathy for Anou. His aid to Anou's enemies was only grudgingly given: the Thai Commander-in-Chief, Vice King Bowon, was infuriated by the total absence of cooperation from Luang Prabang when he demanded help in crushing Anou's armies. What's more, Manthathurat kept Anou's letter, written in 1821, at the Wat Mai pagoda, the royal pagoda of Luang Prabang. This act signifies the fact that Manthathurat indeed considered Anou's endeavors sacred.54


48 This is a remark from the Royal Chronicle of the Third Reign of Bangkok which by contrast fails to mention the retinues of other leaders that came to Bangkok for this occasion. Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 26. On Anou's orders to train men and to hoard paddy, see for instance, Kennedy (1970), p. 332, note 23.

49 See the explanation offered by Brailey (1968), p. 52-53, and Notton (1932) vol. 3, p. 253.

50 Gesick (1976), pp. 152-153.

51 Notton (1932) vol. 3, p. 253.

52 See for instance, Notton (1932) vol. 3, p. 235.

53 TNL Document Rama III (35) 1189/10 kai. The date has been completely obliterated, but a note records that Manthathurat's letter was received in Bangkok on June 22, 1827. It was brought by Sukkhaseum and Chao Somphu, accompanied by an escort of ninety- one persons. All the political subtlety and the diplomatic art of Manthathurat and his peers rested on crucial timing. This entire episode substantiated generally the Lao capacity for survival, as described by Thion: 'It is from the angle of traditional politics, with its exchanges, its subtle equilibrium, its symbols of religion and of power, [that] one must seek the main lines of the future of the Laotians, a game where they excel." Thion (1989), p. 42.

54 The abbot of the pagoda Wat Mai helped the explorer Henri Mouhot, and later would be the chief of the pro-French party, principally anti-Thai, with the venue of Auguste Pavie to Luang Prabang.
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

Manthathurat must have passed many disturbed evenings in his palace during 1826-1827, exploring alternatives and options. His head turned, ritually, in the direction of the small lake, Nong Sa Ket, located at the foot of the sacred Phusi hill with its 328 steps to the mountain-top temple. Contrary to what his chroniclers may have recorded in the "official journal"-the chronicle intended for consumption by the Luang Prabang population and for future generations- the subtle Manthathurat was aware of the cruel reality of the aphorism, "Life, an eternal victory-Pyrrhic. "55

In his campaign to resist Thai domination and reunify Laos, Anou's efforts to gain the allegiance of the northern king of Luang Prabang were matched by his efforts in the south. He traveled south to visit Prince Pharamaracha of Lakhon (now Nakhon Phanom) and Prince Chanthasuryavongsa of Mukdahan, urging them to undertake pilgrimages with him to That Phanom in 1806, 1807, 1812, and 1813. They acceded to his request. The repeated visitations by these Lao rulers to the religious metropole of the central Mekong basin, at the heart of the whole Northeast, symbolized the renewal of Lao unity and recalled the Nanthasen-Borommaracha alliance of the 1790s.56 As an act of pious merit-making, Prince Chanthasuryavongsa of Mukdahan, Prince Pharamaracha of Nakhon Phanom, and Anou from Vientiane had a paved path nearly five hundred meters long, flanked by two Nang Thewada, constructed from the landing on the Mekong River shore to the That Phanom stupa.57 During Anou's heyday, this stupa was a magnificent and powerful center.58 Anou consecrated more than thirty-three hundred peasants for its care, and the territories assigned to support the needs of its monks extended south to Phu That.59


55 Suares (1948), p. 485.

56 It also publicly signified Anou's determination to exorcise the legends of vengeful Sikhotabong, who had cursed the Lao and prophesied their doom. For the exegesis of this fable of Sikhotabong, see Archaimbault (1980). Meanwhile Low, relying on indigenous sources, considered 'Phraya Khottabong" to have lived in the year AD 638. Low (1851), pp. 510-511. Having the Prince of Lakhon with him constituted Anou's attempt to inoculate himself against the storied malevolence of Sikhotabong, who is said to have ruled Lakhon, the capital of the Land Chen-la empire, in AD 638. The marriage of Anou to Princess Nang Sone of Lakhon was also meant to deflect the old curses, as it sealed the reconciliation between the manna of Sikhotabong and the Lao of Vientiane. On the marriage, see Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 48. See also Archaimbault (1980), pp. 62-63. Lao rulers have for generations maintained a superstitious fear of such legends; King Sisavangvong (who reigned as king of Luang Prabang from 1906 to 1947 and of reunited Laos from 1947 to 1959) forbade the import from Thailand of books containing the imprecations of Sikhotabong against Vientiane.

57 After its construction, the path became known as 'Khwa Taphan.' That Phanom Chronicle (1976), p. 48.

58 By the beginning of the twentieth century, the stupa had fallen into disrepair. The chronicler of That Phanom recalled: 'In the year 2444 (1901), the year of the Ox, the Fifth King [Chulatongkorn] of the Chakri Dynasty ruled at Krung Rattanakosin (Bangkok). The That Phanom shrine had become a dilapidated ruin.... No one dared to climb or even step upon anything because of the fear that a person doing so could be punished [by the deities]. The villagers firmly believed this, so they brought flowers, candles and incense to worship without daring to touch anything in the compound, even the large attractive sanctuary built by Chao A.nou, of which it was said that anyone entering it would turn completely yellow like gold. As a result, this building was practically dilapidated by this time [19011." That Phanom Chronicle (1976), p. 70. ,59 Pavie (1902), vol. 9, p. 71.
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

In 1808, the two princes of the central Mekong River basin and Anou increased the height of the shrine's spire.60

Politically, Anou relived the experience of his predecessors, Setthathirat and Suryavongsa, in his pilgrimage south to speak with the prince of Nakhon Phanom. His predecessors had been tempted to shift their capital to this town as a part of a more general movement of the region's peoples to the south, toward the seashore. These were religious peregrinations, but also, for Anou, acts displaying his political faith in his ability to resuscitate Lao identity and unity. For Anou, strategies for satisfying sacred duties and for pursuing political power were indissolubly bound together, not contradictory.61

Anou himself was not particularly superstitious; if he had been, he might have surrendered his ambitious plan to reunify the Lao because portents at the time were certainly not auspicious. In 1826, the supreme patriarch of the Lao clergy begged him to renounce his undertaking since premonitory signs clearly condemned it. Anou did not listen to him. The bad omens began in 1812, the year of the construction of a bridge linking Vientiane to Srichiangrnai (Chiang Mai) on the opposite bank of the Mekong River. An earthquake occurred which frightened the Vientiane population. In 1814, the pagoda drums were said to have resounded loudly when no one was near, and that same year, a deadly storm ravaged the capital. In 1826, on the eve of the conflict with Bangkok, earthquakes created large abysses - six cubits long and eight cubits deep - under the floor of the royal palace (Ho Kharn) and in front of Wat Ho Phra Kaeo; then a hurricane broke the spire of Wat Ho Phra Kaeo and of the Ho Phra Bang altar, which in its fall damaged the head and the foot of the Phra Bang, the 53.4 kilogram, solid gold standing Buddha. Three houses inhabited by Anou's consorts and four hundred Vientiane homes were destroyed.62 These natural


60 They increased it to forty-three meters. That Phanom Chronicle (1976), p. 68.

61 More generally on this theme, Balandier (1969), pp.137, 161.

62 TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4, and also Document Rama III (64) 1189/11 khwai. As a matter of fact, the Royal Chronicle of the Third Reign, written by Thiphakorawong, and most written histories related to this topic, emphasize the significance of these natural cataclysms in order to suggest that Anou was damned by cosmic doom. However, Chaophraya Thiphakorawong maintains silence on identical natural disasters and bad omen that struck Bangkok at the same time. For instance, in the Siamese capital in 1824, the astrologers of Rama III recorded in their diary: "Thursday, the second day of the waxing moon of the fifth month, a three hours pm, cyclone on earth and on sea. The spire of the royal palace dropped in the palace... Friday, the seventh day of the waning moon of the seventh month, the white elephant offered by Chiang Mai is dead." For the year 1825, the Siamese king's astrologers registered: "Thursday, the fourth day of the waxing moon of the tenth month, in the morning, showing of two suns which pursued each other until mid-day, then circles amounted three or four around the sun. Tidal waves which lift boats to a height exceeding the spire of the highest stupa." The astrologers took notice again of the appearance of two suns over Bangkok in the year 1827. Cf. Chotmaihet Hon (1965) (T), pp. 105-106. It seems that in the 1820s, the sky and the earth were in turmoil in Southeast Asia. Luan Prabang's chronicler related in 1825, "the appearance of a comet, turning its tail in the Eastern direction. Earthquake of an unprecedented gravity. The most steep heights of Pha Een, Pha Theung, Pha Sieng Kha, Pha Ho, Pha Hong, Phan Nam Ta Nang Oi have nearly disappeared." Chotmaihet yo muang vientiane (L), luang Prabang Royal Palace. In Nan reports of the bad omens also abounded. "Early in the next year [1824], the Mong River suddenly dried up at midday. The water started to flow again in the afternoon... [In 1825] there had been a frightful hurricane which came from the west. It blew down many trees and houses. The image of Wat Chae Haeng was bent towards the Southeast.' Nan Chronicle (1966), p. 68. On September 2,1824, the explorer De Bougainville leaving Singapore for Cavite, had to face an earthquake, then a typhoon which damaged one of his two frigates, the Esperance. Guillon (1917), p. 292.

 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

calamities reminded Anou's subjects of identical phenomena reported to have taken place between 1778-1779, when the kingdom of Vientiane was first subdued by Siam. Anou answered with supreme calm -" My Buddhist merits will protect me"- and busied himself with repairs. He had the roofs of the pagodas repaired, the statue restored, the abysses filled up with soil, and the floor of his palace repaired. But it appears that the gestures of propitiation Anou and his peers made at That Phanom were aimed more to impress concerned people than to conciliate vengeful phantoms.

Meanwhile, necessary precautions were carefully observed to avoid offending convention. The That Phanom pagoda was located south of the Nam Kading River, which had been the limit of the Vientiane kingdom since the tripartition of Laos in 1707. One can read on the stele erected by Prince of Mukdahan in 1806,


in the year of the Tiger, Chaophraya Chanthasuryavongsa of Mukdahan, his consort, all of his retainers and nobles, with devout faith in the religion, have invited the ruler of Vientiane to come and persevere [with us] in this opportunity with the blessing of the patriarch and his pupils, to erect these sema boundaries, the handiwork of arahants. May our hearts be strengthened toward Nibbana by this task.63


But Anou's pious and glorious constructions would not survive. Maha Kham Champakeeomani, a historian during the former regime of the Kingdom of Laos, reflects on the changes that eventually overwhelmed the That Phanom stupa:


When the right bank of the Mekong became a integral part of the kingdom of Siam in 1893 according to the Franco-Siamese treaty, Phra That Phanom became Siamese. The Siamese authorities transformed it in 1939, for they feigned to despise the masterwork of Lao master artisans, particularly those of King Anou. They completely took off the summit of the reliquary to substitute a new one, as one can see today, and enhanced it by an additional fourteen meters to a total of fifty-seven meters.64


63 That Phanom Chronicle (1976), p. 48.

64 Kham (1974) (L), p. 25. In 1944, Luang Vichitr Vadakam pontificated to monks, some of whom were ethnic Laos, that 'we must bum all the Lao manuscripts for by this way the Lao would have no roots [phua bo hai mi sua sat lao], we must erase even the name of Lao for the Lao indeed to be Thais.' The monks were attending a conference for Pali testing at Wat Mahathat in Bangkok. Maha Vankham Souryadet, interview in Vientiane, June 24, 1987. This drastic purging policy was similarly carried out in Lan Na. See Diller (1992), p. 226, note 1.

 William J. Gedney pondered the disappearance of significant Lao artifacts and the perseverance of Lao resentment: 'For one thing, I often wonder as I travel from one provincial capital to another in the Northeast whether a residue of resentment may still remain from the past. As old-timers in Thailand well remember, a good many of the elected representatives of these northeastern provinces in past decades have been arrested and imprisoned and finally have met a violent death. When I visit the shrine at That Phanom, mentioned in some of the papers, I recall the account of Luang Vichitr Vadakarn, the former Director General of the Fine Arts Department, in which he tells of visiting this shrine and of having the thick crust of gold and gems on the tower, the product of many generations during which pious merit-makers climbed the tower during the annual festival and fixed ornaments there, removed to Bangkok for safekeeping, though so far as I know no one in Bangkok now knows where these are kept. How much past episodes like these affect present-day attitudes, I don't believe anyone knows.' Gedney (1966), p. 379. According to the testimony of the inhabitants of the northeast of Thailand, the finial of the That Phanom is made of gold and weighs fifty-four kg. The scandal caused by this theft of the That Phanom finial was so enormous that the Thai government had to replace Luang Vichitr Vadakam by Luang Pin Muthukan.

 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

Late in the twentieth century, That Phanom experienced the ultimate trial, described by Derek Davies:


Early in August 1975, after several days of a tropical downpour, the fifty- three meter high tower [chedil collapsed, crushing nearby walls and buildings. The symbolism was ominous indeed, for in that year the communist Pathet Lao had established control over Laos, heralding the collapse of the monarchy. The Lao royal capital of Luang Prabang had originally been one of the five kingdoms--Culani-whose ruler was said to have helped build the original chedi. Today the chedi has been completely restored yet again. One of the many factors spurring King Bhumiphol on in his efforts to improve his people's lot is his determination that the monarchy in Thailand will not suffer the fate of the kings who once ruled across the waters of the Mekong.65


It appears that although That Phanom has not been preserved in the physical shape Anou gave to it, it has conserved its meaning, for in 1989 Thai Premier Chatichai Chunhavan invited Lao Premier Kaysone Phomvihane to worship there at its annual Buddhist festival.

Taming spirits and leading people both posed challenges Chao Anou believed he could meet, and indeed he showed extraordinary talents as a political player and a resourceful diplomat in the years immediately preceding 1827. The Champassak episode involving Anou further illuminates this leader's abilities.

The 1707 division of Laos gave rise to the Champassak kingdom. Subdued by Taksin's armies in 1777, the kingdom was subsequently required to provide conscripts to the invading Thai armies that assaulted Vientiane a year later. In 1791, Bangkok replaced the king of Charnpassak with a descendant of the rebel against Vientiane, Phra Voraphita. To strengthen his hand, this descendant nominated his relative to rule the newly created Ubon. Their methods make their policies very clear, and for this reason it is astounding to discover that Anou somehow managed to supplant the faithful appointees of the Bangkok court and maneuver his own son, Chao Yo, onto the throne of Champassak. It was a masterfully strategic achievement. Anou's twentieth-century detractor, Luang Vichitr Vadakarn, could not conceal his exasperation at Anou's good fortune: 'Chao Anou succeeded in fooling the kings of Bangkok as he cheated the kings of Hui6."66

It is interesting to trace Anou's success story in Champassak. As a prisoner of war under Taksin in 1779, a hostage, and then a mercenary soldier under Rama 1, Anou had to fight the Burmese and the Vietnamese Tay Son for Bangkok's benefit.


65 Special issue on Thailand's King Bhumiphol Adulyadej. Far Eastern Economic Review, 1312,4 (January 23, 1986): 21.

66 Vichitr (1966) (T), pp. 103, 358.
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

He succeeded where the Siamese officers had failed.67 Rama I, however, could not ignore such prowess. He supported Anou, nominating him first as vice king, and then as king. Anou also became a close friend of the Siamese King Rama II, and even dug a pleasure pond for the inspiration of this poet-king who wrote to ask him to come to Bangkok with his theatrical troupe.68 As a sign of Rama II's favor, Anou was received in Bangkok in a gilded boat and carried in a gilded sedan chair.69 Anou was not thrilled, and must have paused to think of vanity or the futility of court favor. Some high-ranking Thai officials did not hesitate to remind him that he was no more than "Chao Vientiane," the prince of Vientiane. The court would entertain him as long as it served Thai interests and promoted Bangkok's chief ambition: the annexation of the Lao country in its entirety.70 Though he might ride in a gilded boat, Anou was, like all his relatives, effectively a prisoner of war.71

Sakietgong's insurrection blew through Champassak like a flash fire, attracting passionate adherents among the ethnic Lao Theung, but posing no broader threat; still, Bangkok appeared to be alarmed and ordered Vientiane and Khorat to suppress it. 72 After Sakietgong and his followers had been crushed, Anou realized that Khorat had tried to maneuver the insurrection and subsequent military response in a manner that would open a path for Siamese expansion into the Mekong River basin under the sponsorship of the yokkrabat of Khorat. This high-ranking official had become the darling of the Bangkok king, and was now elevated to a position that placed him virtually out of reach of the law.

Contemplating the situation, Anou requested that Rama II give Champassak to his son Chao Yo to prevent the further degradation of the Lao rulers' political status in the Bangkok court and to thwart the governor of Khorat's73 plan to use Champassak as a way to legitimize his claim to be the regent of the whole Lao country.74 Thus Anou played double or nothing, apparently realizing that "in politics, it is always advantageous to be in the offensive position. "75 It was necessary for him to show off his prestige and assets and to highlight Chao Yo's competence in order to check the power of the Khorat yokkrabat's lobby at the court of Bangkok. Anou exploited the known political weakness of the yokkrabat of Khorat who happily indulged in "kin muang" (eating). Khorat's yokkrabat collected all territories he could afford, but could not maintain order over his domain in the backyard of the Siamese empire, and knowing this, Anou must have promised to maintain order and made convincing references to his own record in battle, which proved that he would be able to keep his word. To avoid alarming Bangkok, Anou was shrewd enough to suggest that Champassak not be reunited with Vientiane, but be placed under a separate administration, with Chao Yo as ruler. Still, he could not be certain of the


67 Thiphakorawong (1978), pp. 270,271. Damrong (1977) (T), p. 688.

68 TNL Document Rama M. 1181/11 (17 December 1819). Sila (1957) (L), p. 241.

69 Gutzlaff (1834), P. 76.

70 Bangkok has always found it in its national interest to annex the whole of Laos. See, for instance, Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 87-88.

71 For example, Rama I's sister screamed when she was informed that Anou, a 'prisoner of war," had revolted and seized Khorat. See Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), p. 36.

72 Damrong (1957) (T), p. 66.

73 Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 28,29. Dhawaj (1982) (T), p. 71.

74 Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 81-85.

75 Freund (1965), P. 438.
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

outcome of his gamble; the well-connected Khorat yokkrabat was favored since he was general Bodin's client and had ingratiated himself with Rama 11.76 Anou at least temporarily out-maneuvered his mortal adversary by politicking among the various coteries at the Bangkok court. Most importantly, he succeeded in securing the approval of Prince Chetsadabodin, who was strategically placed as prime minister.77

The "Yo solution" prevailed at the Bangkok court as a compromise of last resort. The volatile situation in Cambodia shaped the decision taken. An expanding millenarian movement constrained Ong Chan, in Cambodia, to appeal to the Vietnamese to intervene.78 As the future Rama IV later put it, "Thailand thought it suitable to enlarge itself [into Cambodia] because it had the greater power.,,79 The Bangkok court clearly misunderstood the balance of power and Bangkok ultimately lost its arm-wrestling match with the Vietnamese in this area. In 1818, suspicious that Bangkok was preparing an incursion into Vietnam to take revenge for their previous failure, the court of Hu6 readied battle stations in Saigon.80 On the other border, Bangkok was confronted by the Burmese, who advanced their armies to the border.81

This tense international environment convinced Bangkok to maintain stability in the Champassak hinterland, for the contagion threatened to spread to other parts of the Khorat Plateau. In this period, the Prince of Siang Khuang was also facing popular uprisings among the Lao Theung in his principality.82 At Vang Vienk, the Phuthai behaved similarly.83 It was Anou's men who appeared capable of stifling incipient rebellions, for they had managed to suppress the Sakietgong movement in Champassak, the outbreaks in Siang Khuang, and those in Vang Vieng. Bangkok badly needed gendarmes to enforce the interests and the security of Bangkok at the periphery of the Siamese empire, and Anou had all the credentials for this kind of job. In addition, Bangkok's men had failed since 1791 to stabilize the situation in Champassak. Bangkok urgently wanted to install a strong power in the border area where Siarn, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia met. In a certain sense, the Champassak affair was an unbelievable windfall for Anou.

The Lao chroniclers, who did not take the international situation into account, reported that Anou was the one who nominated Chao Yo as king of Champassak and then came down on his own initiative to Champassak to construct a new


 

76 On the total confidence placed by the Siamese king Rama II in the ruler of Khorat, see Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 83-84.

77 Did Anou offer one of his daughters as a concubine to Chetsadabodin in this context? Lao and Vietnamese sources agree that there was such a matrimonial alliance, but have not explained its date and context. See Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 18. Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 98, referred to a letter from Bodin to Chao Ratsavong on this issue when Anou took refuge in Vietnam. Rama HI's biography is less certain than the official historiography about the 'support' Chetsadabodin offered to Anou to assure that the Champassak throne would be secured for Anou's son, Chao Yo. The biographer says that 'it is rumored" that Chetsadabodin supported Anou. See Anuchit (1932) (T), pp. 174-175.

78 Chandler situates events in 1820 while Lecl6re, cited by Chandler, gives the date of 1818. Chandler (1973), pp. 104-106.

79 Chandler (1973), p. 96, who cites Wilson (1971), p. 983.

80 Gutzlaff (1834), P. 80.

81 Saxena (1952), pp. 575-577.

82 Phongsawadan miiang phuan(1969) (L), p. 14.

83 Sance (1978) (T), pp. 162-163.
 




13. In the Machine Room of a Grand Design

capital.84 Possibly Anou wanted to muster Lao public opinion and convince his people that a resurrection of Laos was in the offing and that the country was on its way to reunification, soon to be free from foreign interference and released from submission to external powers.

Given the nature of the political situation, Lao unity could only be temporary. Relative to the events of 1707, the year of the tripartition of Laos, Anou's gamble was a leap forward toward reunification, but was risky nonetheless. The first stanza of the San lup bo sun depicted the situation allegorically, "The garuda goes hither and thither in the sky, opening the entire length of his beak, preparing to turn heaven and earth upside-down to attack the nagas."8-5 For the Lao-who considered themselves nagas--of this epoch, the garuda, the mythical king of the feathered tribe and royal emblem under Rama II, represented the Thai. In mythology, the garuda's war against the nagas was perpetual.
 

14. THE SYMBOLISM OF WAT SISAKET'S CANDLE-BEARER


Monks, who form "a kind of intellectual elite of the population,"86 constituted one-eighth of the Lao population.87 The ability to maintain this sizable, dependent religious order suggests the affluence of the populace while also demonstrating the influence and significance of the clergy, which provided the cement for society. Anou certainly understood that religion could be and had been used as a device for the legitimization of power. It appears that Siam understood the power of monks as well. In 1827, monks were among the Lao prisoners taken on the battlefield.88
84 See Chotmaihet Vientiane, Wat Ho Phra Kaeo; Phongsawadan yo muang wiangchan (1969) (T), pp. 136-145. Neither Chao Anou nor his son Chao Yo tolerated the domination of Siarn over the hinterland. On the contrary, they took countermeasures. They established a new capital on the right bank of the Mekong and materialized the scheme of land colonization. French authorities collected, a century after the events, testimony of the local population in these terms: "Many hundred years ago [the conception about time in the local mind is vague], many parents of the King of Vientiane came, in order to propagate the religion, to found a Muang on the left bank of the Sekong River. They named it Muang Laman and undertook the conversion of the Khas ... They succeeded fully and in a short time, numerous Laotian families came down from Vientiane to settle at Laman. But discord soon grew among them. Those disgruntled crossed the Sekong in order to establish a new Muang at Bane Phone." Gay (1987), vol. 2, p. 489.

85 San liip bo sun (1967) (L), p. 1. Garuda is the generic name for a mythological eagle with a human body. Naga means mythical serpent. See discussion following in section 14, "The Symbolism of Wat Sisaket's Candle-Bearer."

86 Delineau (1893), P. 266.

87 Reclus (1883), p. 816. Van Wuysthoff, a Dutch traveler of the seventeenth century, wrote: "There is approximately one pagoda for every seven or eight houses; generally, one can see two or three nearby each other. It is unlikely that a family has fewer than one of its members committed in the clergy, and this pagan body is as numerous as the soldiers of the emperor of Germany.' See Gamier (1871), p. 277.

88 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 4. The Siamese had frequent recourse to monks' magic power during the war of 1827. For example, they used four monks at the battle of Sompoi. Kulab (1971) (T), p. 262; Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), p. 37. To convince the Lao vice- king, Tissa, to surrender, the Siamese dispatched monks to him. See Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 67.
 




14. THE SYMBOLISM OF WAT SISAKET'S CANDLE-BEARER

"Some words must be covert for some and comprehensible for others," murmurs a verse of the San Lup bo sun. The more Anou devoted himself to the construction of pagodas, particularly on the right bank of the Mekong River from whence Siam wanted to expel him,89 the more smoothly he advanced toward his aim. His preparation went unnoticed until 1827, when Rama I's sister, Princess Narinthonthewi, shrieked with fright:


The third month, twelfth day of the waning moon, the year of the Dog, be informed that Krung Si Sattanakkhanahut [Anoul offended the good name of the King [Rama III], for he wanted to undertake a new territorial division, depleting [Siam]. [The Prince of] Vientiane, although still a war prisoner [since 17791, should not dare to head for Muang Nakhon Ratchasima [Khorat to tread it under his feet nor should he have the gall to transport families on a large scale from Saraburi and Muang Kao [Ayudhya].90


The indignant Princess Narinthonthewi had not demonstrated such qualms when she recorded the invasion of Vientiane by her two brothers, Chakri and Surasi, in 1778-1779.91 "That which men find most divisive is that which each of them holds sacred."92 What was "sacred" for Princess Narinthonthewi was the grandeur of Siam, and especially the security of its 1779 possessions. Anou considered "sacred" both his refusal to accept the fait accompli of 1779 and his determination to recover Lao independence. He did not think this an impossible mission, since he and his father Siribunyasan had been pursued by the same man, the Chakri who became Rama I. In 1827, Anou and his followers approached the Khorat Plateau as if they had been always there. They moved without haste, but with the self-confidence of proprietors convinced of their right to possessions which had belonged to them from time immemorial. When he was forced ultimately to evacuate the Khorat Plateau, Anou left swaying on the back of his elephant at a speed of three kilometers per hour, with "a red-bordered hat on his head," an eyewitness recalled.93

The political mobilization for a break-away insurrection had begun as early as 1805 and persisted, with its peak years in 1810, 1820, and 1821.94 The height of Lao achievement perhaps came with the construction of Wat Sisaket, a temple of enormous political and cultural significance.95 The pagoda bears the noble Pali name


89 Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 14; Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 47 ff.

90 Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), p. 36.

91 Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), pp. 7,9.

92 Aron (1961), P. 342.

93 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangehan (1926) (T), p. 60.

94 1805 was the year of Anou's overture toward HuL6, and in 1810 the bridge across the Mekong River was constructed and Wat Ho Phra Kaeo was erected on the bank opposite Vientiane. 1820 and 1821 were years of rapprochement with Luang Prabang.

95 "In particular, Chao Anou reconstructed Wat Sisaket, for it became the place serving the most secret political intention of Chao Anou. Each year Chao Anou came to receive the oaths of allegiance pledged by the Lao governors of Vientiane and Champassak. This provided a favorable occasion to tighten the unity of views and souls in preparation for the insurrection to recover independence." Institut de Recherches en Sciences Sociales (1987) (L), p. 277. The temple's noble name is Wat Saen, which seems to draw from the Buddha statue weighing one saen that Nanthasen brought from Chiang Saen and had installed. The common name of the pagoda, Sisaket, is said to come from sisa, meaning head, and ket, the finial of the Buddha statue in front of the pagoda towards which the king turns his head when he sleeps (towards the east). However, Ratnam offers a more convincing interpretation when she writes: "Wat Sisaket (Sri Saketa, Saketa is the old name of Ayudhya the capital of Sri Rama)." Ratnam (1982), p. 78. The Lao were fond of the Ramayana they had 'indigenized,' and in the reign of Anou there was a splendid building devoted for the play of this piece.
 




14. THE SYMBOLISM OF WAT SISAKET'S CANDLE-BEARER

of Wat Sattasahassa Vihararama, which means the monastery of "ten thousand felicities." Its first brick was laid on March 4, 1818 and the pagoda was inaugurated in 1824.96 This pagoda constitutes a supreme masterwork among 'admirable Laotian pagodas which are genuine artistic jewels."97 The feast given to honor it lasted nine days and nights, two more days than had been devoted to Wat Ho Phra Kaeo. Processions around Wat Sisaket and around the royal palace took place for three days and nights. AU the data relating to this event is carved on a black marble stele, which "bore on one of its faces an inscription of fifty-one lines."98 Professor Etienne Aymonier at the School of Oriental Languages in Paris wrote that "Its admirably fine, neat and sustained script made it one of the more beautiful specimens of Laotian epigraphy."99 This script actually constitutes a sample of Chao Anou's writing style: Anou reformed the Lao script, giving it its current form.100

Once inside Wat Sisaket, celebrants and visitors gazed on a magnificent creation placed there by Chao Anou: a fascinating, complex candelabra, bathed in light from candles lit by devotees and monks. This dazzling, branched candlestick in all its splendor brightened the main Buddha statue of the sanctuary, which was flanked on each side by two bronze Buddha statues that were exactly as tall as Chao Anou. Anou devoted himself to conducting his people along the challenging path shown by Indra. The sacred and the temporal were interwoven unequivocally in this image, and the Wat Sisaket candelabra delivered a potent message to those who understood the symbolic meanings of its sculptural elements.

Louis de Carne reported on this work of art in 1869, "I have admired among others a small masterpiece of carved wood.... It mixes gold and the daylight to produce the best effect. "101 Francis Garnier had a picture drawn and published in the Revue Tour Du Monde, the Time magazine of the 1850s.102 Anou, and indeed all Lao, would certainly recognize the significance of the terms that Henri Marchal used to depict this famous candle-holder, whose silhouette was enlivened by two dragons'


 

96 Lunet de Lajonquiere (1901), p. 107.

97 Marchal (1949), p. 100. According to A. H. Franck, "Vientiane had one hundred and twenty magnificent temples." Franck (1926), p. 348. Delineau, passing by Vientiane, counted forty-two while Raquez gave sixty-two. See Delineau (1893), p. 266. Also Raquez (1902), p. 457.

98 Lunet de Lajonquiere (1901), p. 110.

99 Aymonier was informed of the existence of another stone inscription with this same "neat and well-drawn script," some miles below the chief town of Siang Khan province and located at 17'54' latitude north, on a hill of the left bank called Phu Houd Pha Len. It is naturally carved in a deep cave where there are a great number of statues of Buddha and a stele. Ayrnonier (1901), p. 147.

100 Sila (1973) (L), pp. 18 ff. For the needs of the colonial exposition held in Paris in 1932, the king of Laos, Sisavangvong, studiously stamped out the scripts from Wat Sisaket's stele in order to fabricate the first punches for the national printing office to publish the first books in Lao. Hospitalier used these punches to edit his Element de grammaire Lao (1937). Testimony of Pierre-Marie Gagneux, Paris, November 2, 1988.

101 Carne (1869), p. 262.

102 Garnier (1870-1871), p. 391.
 




14. THE SYMBOLISM OF WAT SISAKET'S CANDLE-BEARER

heads that supported it on each side. 103 Henri Marchal characterized the dragons as "bad-tempered," but remarked that the "splendid" nagas seemed to surround a door of light. Nagas are the symbol of Laos and source of its name, Si Sattanakhanahut, meaning the land of nagas. The nagas' heads, with their jaggedly torn crests, and the nagas' backs, bristling with flames, signified Lao resistance. In this carved image, the nagas, after reluctantly supporting Siamese domination, hold up their heads in a gesture of defiance.104

The central decorative motif of the candelabra is a group of fifteen vertical rods with a set of seven half-rods surmounted with a half- prasat on each side. The motif represents the seven principal Lao polities enumerated by Archbishop Pallegoix: "Muang-Lorn or Loum, Muang-Vieng Tian, Muang-Louang Pho-Bang, Muang- Phouenne, Muang-Phle, Muang-Nan, Muang-Meung Maie."105 Only the central stem is complete, however, for it represents the strength and the invincibility of the Lao country when united. 106

Henri Marchal, a specialist in Lao art, noted the presence of "an emblem of the god Indra riding on the back of his elephant Airavata" at Wat Sisaket.107 Another critic, Henri Parmentier was surprised by this image, which he considered "abnormal enough here."108 But this special presence communicated Anou's message that the war was an inescapable means for attaining the Lao objectives of unity and independence; this explains the presence of Indra, the god of thunder and war. Significantly, Chao Anou and his followers swore by Indra.109

For ritualistic reasons, the pagodas in the Lao capital all face east and their flanks are aligned with Mekong River. The only exception is here, at Wat Sisaket, which hes perpendicular to the Mekong River; its axis of forty degrees southwest turns it toward the Khorat Plateau, and its view includes Saraburi and Bangkok. The architectural precision is astonishing. Anou's contemporaries, aware of the geomantic setting of this royal pagoda, understood the intended message. "At this splendid new temple of Sisaket, he [Anou] held a grand assembly of all his feudatories twice a year to pay him homage."110 Representatives who took part in this assemblage would stand with their backs turned to Bangkok. After 1827, the court of Bangkok required that this practice cease: all the Lao were required to pay homage to Bangkok, with their faces turned in Bangkok's direction. French colonization renewed Anou's gesture. After the French protectorate ended, the Lao kingdom neglected to reinstitute Anou's proud gesture and instead staged its oath-


103 Marchand (1948), plate 36; Raquez (1902), p. 461; Parmentier 1954), p. 263.

104 Lao oral tradition holds allegorically that Laos had been defeated in 1778-1779 when the Siamese wise man, Si Thananchai, succeeded in plugging the tunnel to the nagas' underground refuge. Chan (T), p. 13; Lam Phiin Wiang Pen Phasa Thai (T), ninth verse.

105 Pallegoix (1836), pp. 40-41. Confirmed by Father Langlois, former missionary in Tonkin. Cf. Langlois (1831), p. 65. The number of seven Lao states is enigmatic. In the seventeenth century, Marini wrote that the Lao kingdom was embodied by seven provinces and each of them was ruled by a vice-king. Marini (1663), p. 265. The story, Thao Lao Kham, reminds us that the Kingdom of Vientiane owned seven vassal states. See Archaimbault (1980), p. 148.

106 Sila (1954) (L), p. 51.

107 Marchal (1964), pp. 14-15.

108 Parmentier (19,54), P. 263.

109 Archaimbault (1980), pp. 120,125,126,146,152,159,173.

110 Hall (1976), p. 449.
 




14. THE SYMBOLISM OF WAT SISAKET'S CANDLE-BEARER

taking ceremonies in a less contentious temple, Wat Ong Tu, a tradition which lasted until 1975.111
 

15. ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL IN THE LAND OF COURTING POETRY

In an earlier chapter, we examined the ways in which Siam blocked and rerouted trade that had traditionally circulated between Laos and its neighbors, in particular Vietnam and Cambodia. These maneuvers inevitably frustrated Chao Anou, who found himself in need of revenue as he began serious efforts to muster his resources for an armed revolt. He exerted himself to circumvent Bangkok's attempted blockades by directing Lao traders to explore new routes, for example to the north, into China, by introducing intensive rice production, and by imposing increased taxes on Lao principalities now controlled by Vientiane.

The second policy, in particular, was fated to stir up discontent in the region, for unlike the Bangkok elite, the Lao rulers had traditionally neglected to demand contributions from the populace to sustain glorious royal households. "The conditions of the life of a Laotian are very simple, for he is the simple man par excellence, with minimal needs and satisfied with little," wrote Henri Marchand.112 And according to another observer, even the "nobles are of simple habits, not rich and poorly educated.,,113 At the apogee of the Lan Sang kingdom in the seventeenth century, foreign envoys who were granted an audience by the Lao king found themselves seated on mats, as was the king himself. Laos had always been known as a country of poetry, not glitter: "Laos, this beautiful country, is where love and joy are king."114 In daily life, courting poetry continues to play a large role in Laos, which has gained the reputation among foreigners as the "kingdom of flirting."

The country's royal families never instituted a taxation network sufficiently demanding to generate great wealth or to bring immense properties under their control. "The revenues of the kingdom consisted in gum lac, benjamin, and gold. In areas where gold exists, tax was set at a rate of one hoy for each one hundred men domiciled in this area. This tax for the whole kingdom amounted to about two picul [approximately 122 kg. of gold] per year."115 During French colonial rule, the situation changed little.

Collectively these various members of the royal family [in Luang Prabang] own no more than a few hundred hectares of irrigated rice land. A similar situation applied to the surviving aristocrats elsewhere around Champassak. The surplus they received was consumed unproductively in maintaining the pomp and ceremony and lifestyle of a traditional aristocracy, which in many ways it remained. It is perhaps worth emphasizing, however,. that commensurate with the small surplus generated, differences in standards of


1ll Dore (1980), p. 89.

112 Marchand (1948), p. 68.

113 Gamier (1871), pp. 267-268.

114 Marchand (1948), pp. 72-73; Gamier (1870), p. 64. Francois (1937), pp. 72-73. These observations confirmed those of earlier European travelers in the seventeenth century such Marini or Van Wusthoff. On courtship rituals in Laos, see Compton (1979).

115 Gamier (1871), p. 277.
 




15. ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL IN THE LAND OF COURTING POETRY

living between the elite and commoners were not great, unlike in Bangkok, although all the trappings of rank and social status were strongly enforced. Yet the important point is that the surplus was neither generated by commercial development, nor plowed back for commercial expansion.116


In other words, the Lao feudal class never possessed an assembly of slaves or captives to extract surplus profits from farming or trade,117 so the country was unable to negotiate the transition "from property rights in man to property rights in land . . . [or] the accumulation of large areas of paddy land in the hands of aristocrats and state-based officials."118

Anou tried to break this impasse. Confronted with the blockade organized by the Siamese in southern Laos, he looked toward the north for a commercial outlet. For the year 1811, the annals kept at the Wat Ho Phra Kwo, the Chotmaihet yo Vientiane, noted an unprecedented event in Laos: " [On] the ninth day of the waxing moon of the tenth month ... Chao Anou dispatched officials to trade in the Muang Lu (Yunnan, China) and to buy horses and elephants." Perhaps at this time, Lao Vientiane officials were sent for training in trade skills. As traders, they could establish profitable commercial links with China. C. K. Gutzlaff wrote:


Some Laos, who were sent by their chief, a few years ago, with a Chinese mandarin from the frontiers of China, appeared a superior class of people, though speaking the same language as other tribes. They were greatly improved through their association with the Chinese, to whose emperor they are accustomed to send regular tribute by the hands of an ambassador. 119


Despite difficulties traversing the wide mountainous range that stood between Laos and China, intercourse between Vientiane and China was regular, as John Crawfurd noted in 1823:


The territories, indeed, border upon each other, but these adjacent regions are the remote and thinly inhabited parts of both territories. These are the kingdom of Lao on the one side, and the Chinese province of Yunnan on the other. Here some traffic is carried on between them, and a considerable number of the Chinese of Yunnan have settled at Lantchang [Lan Sang], the capital of Lao, and other towns of the country.120


116 Evans (1987), P. 6.

117 Parmentier (1954).

118 Quoted in Evans (1987), p. 5. The quotation is from David Feeny, The Political Economy of Productivity: Thai Agricultural Development, 1880-1975 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1982), chap. 6.

119 Gutzlaff (1834), p. 79.

120 Crawfurd Papers, p. 148; Orldans (1896), p. 420; Sylvestre (1899), pp. 53, 101; Groslier (1958), p. 125; Franck (1926), p. 350. Crawfurd counted eight thousand Chinese in Laos, three thousand Chinese in Fai-Fo, Vietnam, and five thousand in Saigon. Crawfurd (1834), pp. 447, 470. Malloch gives the figure of two thousand Chinese in the kingdom of Vientiane, 450 in the kingdom of Champassak, 450 in Luang Prabang, and nine hundred in Chiang Mai. Burney Papers, vol. 3, part 2, P. 385.
 




15. ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL IN THE LAND OF COURTING POETRY

The Chinese in Laos, called Nung-seh, numbered eight thousand according to John Crawfurd, who seems to have received this information from Anou himself. In his journal, John Crawfurd noted: "goods are transported with difficulty by small horses. The imports from China in this quarter I am told consist of coarse Chinese woolens, some English broadcloths, pins, needles, and other descriptions of hardware, with some gold, copper, and lead."121

Did Anou's commercial initiatives obstruct Siamese interests and exacerbate the conflict in the 1820s? James Low, who claimed to have obtained his information from the Lao and the Bangkok Siamese, reported: 'About thirty years ago, AD 1817, the Siamese court, being perhaps irritated at the intrigues of the Chinese with its neighbors, laid waste with an army ... a great part of South Laos."122 The Bangkok court already suspected the Chinese, even those in Bangkok, of colluding with the British to prepare a British attack on Bangkok.123 They may also have suspected that the Chinese would provide support to rebellious Siamese vassal states. There were some disgruntled Chinese and Thai in Siam who were exasperated by the way the Thai aristocracy handled trade, and who had shown a preference for contacting the British directly, as John Crawfurd reported. Like these Chinese traders, Anou had also found commercial dealings with the Thai aristocracy unprofitable and frustrating. The convergence of Chinese and Lao economic interests gave rise to common interests in politics.

Certainly Anou hoped to forge an alliance with the Chinese. In 1827, Anou took special care to keep himself in the good graces of the Chinese in Saraburi and Khorat. For instance, he dispatched four hundred elephants to convey the fortune of a Chinese, Chek Chai, from Saraburi to Vientiane. He hoped his service would guarantee Chinese support for his war effort, which he believed would last at least three years. Anou lodged these Chinese in the residential quarter of Suan Luang (now the campus of the Vientiane Lycee) adjoining the royal palace.124 It is impossible to know the extent of the alliance between Anou and individual Chinese in Siam and China. In any case, both Bangkok and Vientiane had Chinese minorities whose capable trading skills ensured that politics and trade were intertwined. Clearly, Anou valued their talents and hoped for their friendship.

Since trade moves easily across political frontiers and ignores ideological boundaries, Laos also engaged in intercourse with Burma as a substitute for the traditional outlet to the south. "Rubies,' C. K. Gutzlaff related,

... and emeralds are collected, and are sent both to Bangkok and to Ava, but in great quantities to Ava, from whence they have found their way to Hindostan.... Many of these Laos visit the fair at Rangoon, though forty days distant, with the productions of their country. They export lac, varnish, groundnuts, lead, gold and silver in ingots. Iron is found in large quantities.


121 Crawfurd (1834), p. 407; Burney Papers, vol. 2, 4, p. 83. For the situation before Anou, see Gutzlaff (1848), p. 39. For the context in the 1860s, see Mouhot (1863), p. 347.

122 James Low, who wrote this passage in 1847, referred to the 1827 invasion of Vientiane, which the British called "South Laos" at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Low (1851), P. 511.

123 Breazeale (1986), p. 211.

124 Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 44; Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 37. Some of these Chinese residents tried to emigrate to Vietnam when Anou took refuge there.
 




15. ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL IN THE LAND OF COURTING POETRY

The Lao have lately opened an intercourse with Martaban, and will probably, on finding security of person and property, come to the market in greater numbers for the manufactures of Europe. 125


Was this trade authorized or was it carried on despite the injunction from the Bangkok court? The commercial intercourse between the Lao and Burmese was an established trade recorded in the Siang Khuang chronicleS,126 and the Burmese government was well aware of the activity and its economic potential. The Burmese envoy negotiating in Saigon in 1824 noted in his diary on July 9: "I observed that the King of Ava had many settlements towards the northern part of the Kambojan river [Mekong], by the channels of which a great trade might be carried on between the two nations [Burma and Vietnam]; while, if a road were cut through Lenjen [Lan Sang] to Tonquin, an intercourse might be established in that quarter.,,127 In short, we can suppose that Bangkok vigilantly observed Anou's attempts to extend his kingdom's trading networks and to foster communications with his neighbors in all directions but south.

In addition to increasing revenues and strengthening alliances through trade, Anou also tried to extract revenues from his own country. It appears that Anou imported the plantation system from Siam, where it was rapidly expanding because it generated high profits for the Bangkok elite. Within an eighteen kilometer wall circling Vientiane, Anou established the na luang, or the royal paddy field. The Thai occupying armies in 1827 were surprised to find Vientiane so well endowed with rice.128 The rice fields of these na luang were still discernible decades later to Delineau and Lunet de Lajonquiere, who passed through Vientiane in 1888 and 1901 respectively. They located the old fields near a virtually empty section of the city: "The part of the town situated between the That Luang road and the Huei is nearly deserted and seems to have never been as completely inhabited as the western part: one can still find traces of old rice fields which certainly had not been created after the seizure and the destruction of the town."129

 The long period of peace during Anou's reign stimulated production and prosperity, according to oral tradition, despite the efforts of Siam to cut off trade in the south.130 Many new towns were created such as Muang Kao, Muang Heuang, Muang May, Muang Soum, and Muang Bo in Borikan (formerly Ban Na-Hen).131 A. Raquez wrote about the area's prosperity in 1902:


125 For the commercial intercourse between Nan and Burma, see Gutzlaff (1848), pp. 38, 46; Chiranan (1989).

126 Phongsawadan muang phuan (1969) (L).

127 Peam (1964), p. 161, 154.

128 Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 80-81. The rice grown in Vientiane gained an excellent reputation ever since the first Europeans traveled to Laos. Father Marini wrote "Rice is incomparable and has a such particular odor and savor ... this rice is so excellent that I don't think it may possible to find it in other part of the East." Marini (1663), p. 155. Kaempfer wrote: "This country produces abundantly the best kind of rice.' Kaempfer (1729), p. 23.

129 Delineau (1915), p. 449.

130 Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 19. 131 Interview of Pho Tou (113 years old) in Vientiane on August 2,1986; Taupin (1888), p. 55.
 




15. ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL IN THE LAND OF COURTING POETRY

This Vientiane province [actual name in the newly established French administrative chart] with its four Muang of Vientiane, Turakhom, Pachum, and Borikhan is one of the richest of Laos. The Nam Ton [river] and the Sam Meun Muang Tuong [Sam Mun Muang Fuang] provide beautiful limestone. Near Vientiane, there are iron minerals, but no one indigenous to exploit it. Salt mines existed at Tat Luang, Ban Keun and Houei Sien, and gold in Nam Sang, Nam Bom, at Keng Pha, at Keng Chau, and in the Nam Nghiep. Precious stones in the Tasseng of Thine Hou. There were formerly silver mines. Older persons have conserved the memory of the smelting of this ore, near the Tat Luang. Money is even fabricated at Vientiane.132


The inhabitants of Sakon Nakhon (now in Thailand) to this day recall how Anou extracted silver from the mines in the area.

Another sign indicating the tremendous effort and commercial activity initiated and encouraged by Chao Anou was the efficient system organized for exporting valued natural resources. In a report on April 3, 1823, John Crawfurd noted:


Benjamin is produced chiefly in the kingdom of Lao and has of late years been exported in considerable quantities. This is a commodity which has commonly been supposed to be peculiar to the Islands of Sumatra and Borneo .... Stick lac of the finest quality anywhere to be found forms a very valuable product. It is chiefly obtained from Lao and the northern parts of the country. Of this production not less than 18,000 piculs are annually sent to China.133


This substantial export trade was the consequence of an energetic bureaucratic reorganization in the Lao kingdom.134 However, enlarging and empowering the bureaucracy had consequences. Understanding that he would require revenues to underwrite his plans, Anou saw to it that the tax system for the kingdom was systematized and extended. The old tax system, which traced its origins to the seventeenth century, had instituted a collective tax applied to villages mining gold at the rate of one hoy [125.5 grams] per one hundred inhabitants.139 Anou reworked and revived the system, organizing mu ban suai and mu ban lek dean [villages that render taxes in kind]. Following the reorganization, villages in the western part of the country, such as Phan Phao, Nong Bua Lam Phu, Sompoi, and Pho, had to pay an annual poll tax of three to twelve baht in silver.136

On the eastern side, Vientiane's control was less direct, but Anou still managed to exact tribute. For instance, the Siang Khuang annals recorded that directly after his enthronement, Anou 'sent an embassy to bring a letter to Chao Noi and acknowledged the kingdom of Phuan with Chao Noi as king. But, [Anou's] ambassadors immediately transformed [themselves into] officials to take a census of


 

132 Raquez (1902), pp. 466-467.

133 Crawfurd Papers, pp. 112-113.

134 On the organizational scheme of the kingdom of Vientiane, see Charubut (1981) (T), pp. 1- S.

135 Archaimbault quotes Dutch travelers in the seventeenth century, (1967), p. 609.

136 Theerachai (1984) (T), p. 59; Phongsawadan milang phuan (1969) (L), p. 14.
 




15. ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL IN THE LAND OF COURTING POETRY

Muang Phuan's population and to consecrate the superior of Wat Si Phon as the patriarch of the Siang Khuang clergy."137 Vientiane had attempted to organize a census of the Phuan kingdom in the past, but had met with esistance for political and fiscal reasons. In 1799, Inthavong had sent his vice king, Anou himself, with an army to capture the Phuan king, Chao Somphou, and to bring him to Vientiane. One year later, Inthavong tried to directly administer Siang Khuang; he sent a commissioner, whose name was Samonti, to take charge of the area and to make a census.138 But the Vietnamese court of Hue intervened. Vientiane was subsequently persuaded to release Chao Somphou, who later died in his homeland, Siang Khuang.

Chao Anou was more successful than his predecessor at dismantling the royal government of Siang Khuang. He dethroned twelve-year-old Chao Noi, the legitimate heir, and non-dnated a commoner, Chao Noi's uncle, to replace him. Chao Noi's uncle had formerly been governor of Muang Kassy, located mid-way between Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Siang Khuang. This substitution of a governor for a king aimed at reducing the status of Siang Khuang from a kingdom to a simple province of Vientiane.139 However, Anou's machinations were met with some resistance. Chao Noi's partisans helped him take refuge at Ky Son, in Vietnam, where he requested assistance and intervention from the court of Hu6. At Hu6's suggestion, Anou gave up his attempt to enthrone the legitimate heir's uncle and nominated Chao Noi as the ruler of Siang Khuang, but then Anou promptly neutralized this legitimate ruler's power by appointing as vice king his own favorite candidate, the governor of Muang Kassy.140 Anou then dismembered the kingdom of Siang Khuang, where his appointee carried out his plans. After the fall of Anou, Chao Noi's sons would claim that "Siang Khuang had more than one thousand able men and a population of about six thousand. Its satellite towns were Siang Kham, Kat, and Khang, each with about two hundred to three hundred able men. Sui, Mok, and Siang Di were under Vientiane's jurisdiction also. Siang Khuang and its satellites were taxed at four hundred baht yearly-plus beeswax, rhinoceros horn, and ivory in no fixed amounts."141

Chao Noi of Siang Khuang, who had received one of Anou's distant female relatives to be his queen as a gift from Anou,142 was as interested as Anou in rationalizing and facilitating tax collection. Echoing the general feeling of the population, the Siang Khuang chronicler recorded that:


137 Phongsawadan m4tang phuan (1969) (L), p. 13.

138 Snit and Breazeale (1988), p. 9.

139 Snit and Breazeale (1988).

140 Snit and Breazeale (1988).

141 TNL Document Rama M, 1208/28, Memorandum on the State affairs of Phuan, recorded in 1835-1837.

142 When the princely family of Siang Khuang was imprisoned after 1829 by the court of Hue, Chao Kham and her daughters were spared because the Vietnamese considered them members of Chao Anou's family. See TNL Document Rama III, 1214/75. Later, they were brought to Thailand with other Phuan to be settled in the territory of Chachcengsao, at Tha San.' At San landing, Prince Noi's consort Princess Kham (a member of Prince Anuwong's family) and their three daughters, helped to stabilize the new Phuan and Lao communities and to attract more Phuan and Vientiane Lao migrants. By that time, Phuan villages began to spring up around San landing ...... Snit and Breazeale (1988), p. 33.
 




15. ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL IN THE LAND OF COURTING POETRY

Chao Noi came to the throne at the age of fourteen years. He was an authoritarian king who imposed heavy taxes. He had a treasury, elephants, horses, and an arms depot. He had a vast palace constructed that resembled that of Vientiane. He had five hundred pages trained for military careers. The population was numerous, the country was prosperous; Muang Phuan was placed under the suzerainty of Xieng [Siang] Khuang. 143


Thus, throughout the Lao principalities, a number of leaders appear to have been simultaneously inspired to extend their trade and taxation networks in the years prior to 1827. In Champassak, Anou's son, Chao Yo, became the new king. He earned a reputation similar to his father's, for he too was an energetic and ambitious man, interested in reviving the regal rights that his predecessors had allowed to fall into disuse. The outcome was essentially the same as in Siang Khuang, and the chronicle written after the fall of Anou and Yo is particularly hostile to them. Charles Archaimbault's account in the Charnpassak chronicles claims that opposition to Chao Yo represented the vox populi, and he hailed it as the south's "historical conscience" expressing its opposition to Vientiane, not just to Chao Yo's fiscal policies. "Yo was a wicked man. Each dignitary who did not execute rapidly the task assigned to him was chastised for his troubles,"144 asserts the Champassak chronicler, who also criticizes Chao Yo for organizing a census in Champassak and its satellite towns. Following the census, each married man liable for armed service had to pay a tax in silk, wood pigeon, and rice weighing one s'ang, five tamlung (1,500 kilograms).

Anou, Ratsavong, Chao Noi, and Chao Yo were truly the technocrats of Lao power. Motivated by the broad interests of their country, they neglected to consider the human factor. For this reason, the legacy of chronicles and historical judgments trailing them is dark and critical in many places.145


 

143 Archaimbault (1961), pp. 619, 577.

144 Archaimbault (1961), p. 566.

145 Struck by their aggressive administrative expansion and taxation policies, Theerachai Boonmathum emphasizes the counterproductive effect of Anou's and his men's aggressive administrative efforts on the outcome of the 1827 conflict. Theerachai (1984) (T), p. 59.