The fabric of history
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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

Coming home series

Setting the record straight



The Fabric of History

1. Lao And Thai Contemporaries Of The Drama Speak Out


It is said that a fortunate people has no history, but we have found that an unfortunate people may be in even greater danger of losing the record and memory of their own past[1]. When we had the opportunity to lay our hands on a venerable palm-leaf manuscript from the Chotmaihet yo Muang Vientiane (Short Chronicle of the Vientiane Kingdom)[2], we could not help but feel a pang in our hearts when we read the final line: "The king returned defeated after having gone to fight the king of the South[3].


The king referred to by Lao chroniclers is none other than Chao Anou[4]. Born to Siribunyasan (r. 1760-1779), the last independent king of Vientiane, and a princess from the principality of Nong Bua Lam Phu, Chao Anou eventually presided as monarch over both sides of the Mekong River. His mother's principality was a Lao stronghold, close to the edge of the frontier on the Khorat Plateau. Nong Bua Lam Phu's current claim to fame and source of local pride stems from being the birthplace of the now nationally renowned poet, Pangkham, author of the immortal Sang Sinxay. Chao Anou's life began in 1767, a year of intense regional politics, when the Siamese kingdom of Ayudhya fell to the Burmese. Twelve years later, in 1779, the Thai army, victorious in a recent war, took Chao Anou as a prisoner to Bangkok. They returned him to Vientiane as vice king in 1795 when he was in his late twenties. Then in 1804, when Chao Anou's reigning brother, Inthavong, died, the Bangkok court nominated Anou to succeed him as ruler over Laos, Siam's vassal kingdom.




References to Chao Anou's royal, kingly status abound in the chronicles and historical documents. Chao Anou's Lao biographer, Maha Sila Viravong, reminds us of his title: "Somdet Phrachao Anouvong."[5] The annals of Siang Khuang give him the title, "Phrachao Anuruttharaja."[6] Those of Nakhon Phanom refer to him as "King Anuruttharaja,"[7] while the chronicles of Mukdahan refer to him simply as the "King of Vientiane."[8] The Chotmaihet muang wiangchan of Chao Khattiya, although written long after the fall of the kingdom of Vientiane, brazenly challenges Siam's victory over Laos by calling Chao Anou "Chao Maha Sivit Vientiane."[9]


Significantly, Chao Anou's title of nobility is written with the Dhamma script that is used for official and religious matters. His title runs for several lines on the stele of Wat Ho Phra Kaeo of the town of Srichiangmai (now located in Thailand),[10] as well as on the stele of his royal pagoda, Wat Sisaket, located in Vientiane.[11] The most important and meaningful appellation, however, was given to Anou by the inhabitants of the Khorat Plateau. In their narrative, the Phun Viang, this population established a cult to Chao Anou and conferred upon him the royal title of "Somdet Phrachao Sivit Anurutthathiraja."[12]


The Bangkok court usually referred to him as "Chao Anou," which meant "puny one, the youngster." It is a symbolic name, which presaged the diminutis capitio reserved for this king's country. Because he is best known by this appellation, we shall for simplicity's sake refer to this king as Chao Anou, or simpler still, Anou.


The Lao chronicles customarily refer to Chao Anou's successful Siamese opponent as "the King of the South." In its annual chronicle of world events, the Paris-based Societe Asiatique reported on the Siamese monarch in 1833, saying: "Kro-ma Mon-Tchit, aged forty-nine years, is now on the throne; he took prisoner and executed the king of Laos and his family in 1829."[13] This king, usually referred to by the Thai as the "Third King of the Chakri Dynasty of Bangkok," bears the royal title Rama III.[14] Born in 1787, he was given a nickname, Prince Thap, which literally means "sitting on." His regnal name,

Phrachao Nangklao, has a related meaning, "sitting on the heads of others." Prior to his accession to the throne in 1824, he bore the title of Krommamun Chetsdabodin. His lengthy royal title runs for several lines as recorded in his biography by Walter V. Vella.[15] As we have chosen to dispense with the full royal title when referring to Chao Anou, we will do the same when speaking of Phrachao Nangklao, and refer to him simply as the King of Siam, Somdet Phrachao Nangklao, King Rama III, Nangklao, or Rama III. We refer to name alone, rather than full title, throughout this book.

It is not easy to discover trustworthy contemporary reports of the epic struggle between Chao Anou and Prachao Nangklao. The chronicles of Chiang Mai, generally glib when reporting events unfolding in the sister cities of Wiang Chiang Mai (Lan Na)[16] and Wiang Chan (Vientiane), manifest an unusual discretion-an eloquent silence-regarding the conflict and its aftermath.[17] The annals of the kingdom of Luang Prabang, written under Bangkok's orders, are suspiciously blithe when detailing the deception by certain members of the royal house who attempted to thwart Anou's struggle to free the Lao from Bangkok's suzerainty.[18] Finally, the annals of Siang Khuang, displaying the retrospective self-recriminations and evasions of the elite, befuddle readers with their narration of events surrounding the capture of the illustrious vanquished Anou and his followers in 1828.[19]

Bangkok's perspective on the conflagration of 1827 has been documented in the Royal Chronicle of the Third Reign, authored by Chaophraya Thiphakorawong, a nephew of Rama III and a high-ranking official during the reign of Rama IV. Until recently, mainstream Western historiography has relied on this influential source. Yet it is our opinion that this document, itself the product of a precise social milieu, merits the same kind of critique scholars have leveled at similar "palace histories" and "works of piety."[20]

Another influential Thai historian, Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, also produced work that must be critically scrutinized for biases. Known as the father of Thai history, Prince Damrong professed the view that Thailand historically had been victimized, not only by the Burmese and their allies, but also by treacherous rulers in the Cambodian and Lao tributary states. Confronting this interpretation of Thai and Lao history, a twentieth -century scholar, Breazeale, has critically responded that "Perhaps, it never occurred to him [Prince Damrong] to examine further the warlike nature of the Thai themselves. Rather than attempting to justify the subjugation of many ancient peoples by Ram Kamhaeng and other rulers, he merely gloried in it because it was Thai.[21]

Despite our own reservations about the objectivity of The Royal Chronicle of the Third Reign, it has been rewarding to read it as the "official" gazette and to check it against extant Thai primary sources.[22] If while reading we take into account and adjust for the conformism of such official Thai historical documents as the Royal Chronicle of the Third Reign, the official dispatches included in the Chotmaihet ratchakan thi 3, and other precious chotmaihet (chronicles) related to this matter, we can use these documents as lenses through which to glimpse the Bangkok establishment's lively, varied reactions to the conflict.

For example, one can read the recollections of Princess Narinthonthewi, sister of King Rama I, the progenitor of the Chakri Dynasty of Bangkok. She devoted detailed passages in her memoirs to those terrible years. In the following pages we frequently quote the rare and highly valuable writings of this female Asian memorialist whose journals fill out the events described at greater length in the Royal Chronicle of the Third Reign mentioned above.[23]

The responses of Prince Mongkut, legitimate heir to the Bangkok throne and a future king [Rama IV, 1851-18681, were also recorded. On October 30, 1831, the Prince confided to the first American missionaries in Bangkok (who would introduce him to western culture and language) that, "His own nation, the Siamese ... have also been very cruel in their wars against the Birmans and Laos."[24]

One of the first Siamese female poets, Khun Phum (1815-1880), was a lady-in- waiting to Mongkut's consort, a Lao princess named Duangkham. Khun Phurn could not restrain herself from expressing her disapproval of Chao Anou's political undertaking. One excerpt from her poem, "Nirat bang yikhan," named after the Lao kings' residence in Bangkok, chides him for his impetuous rebellion: "If the prince of Vientiane had relied on the power of the Thai, he could still exist; [instead] he took on a ferocious air and he collapsed ...”[25]

 However, Khun Phum's critique of Chao Anou was tempered by her wariness of the brutality displayed by Siam's warrior chief, Chaophraya Bodinthondecha (shortened, Bodin). Natthawut Sutthisongkhram, Khun Phum's biographer and commentator, describes Bodin in these terms: "Chaophraya Bodinthondecha had the habit of brutalizing everyone, and no one within reach of his hand could fail to boast of having had his back striped from the strokes of the whip, which he always had in his hand.”[26] As our story unfolds, we shall learn that this strongman was none other than the victor over the Lao, the captor of Anou, and the man who torched Vientiane.[27]

A dissident in her own way, Khun Phum indirectly registered certain objections to Thai aggression against Laos; she refused to write the required encomium for King Rama III while he was still alive. She complicated her career and existence by launching sharp criticism against the governor of Khorat, Bodin's associate in politics as well as in speculation, but also the bete noire of the Lao.[28] She and her Bangkok friends were truly horrified by the carnage inflicted on the Lao and scandalized by the booty brought back by Bangkok's armies, the secular arm of "Thai power." Khun Phum moored her barge on the banks of the Menam Chaophraya, near the center of power, but situated so that the Bangkok establishment could not easily reach it. However, she was unable to sever herself from taking pride in her country's power and missions. Her etat d'ame was shared by a large portion of the Bangkok elite, which never doubted its manifest destiny, its mission civilisatrice.[29] Her attitude can be characterized as the archetype of "Bangkok chauvinism rather than of Thai nationalism." [30]

But in fact cultural influences did not all flow in one direction. The violent conflict between these two kingdoms left lasting marks on the Thai as well as on the Lao. For example, the Thai military expedition against the Lao and subsequent annexation of Lao territory deeply imprinted a Lao cultural identity on the population in Thailand's northeast, Isan, and ironically transferred some traditions into the region that were originally generated by a passionate Lao resistance and the memory of that resistance. "The original character of the Northeast, in a sense, was revived during the first half of the nineteenth century as a result of the annexation of the principality of Viang Chan [Vientiane] and the deportation of part of its population to the right bank of the Mekong."[31] Generations upon generations of the Isan people, as well as their ethnic relatives on the east bank of the Mekong River, have delighted in chanting the rebellious Phun viang (Chronicle of the Vientiane Kingdom) or Thao lao kham, Phun chao ratsavong (Chronicle of Chao Ratsavong; Chao Ratsavong was Chao Anou's son).[32] The Phun viang and Thao lao kham, Phun chao ratsavong crystallize the rancor and the hatred experienced by the Lao while simultaneously detailing the revolts that began during the Siamese invasion in 1778- 1779. In these epics, the Lao exalt the exploits of Chao Anou and his people, who rose up to defend themselves, arms in hand. The epigraph on the cover of a book, authored by Phrathip Chumphol, identified the Phun viang as "a literary masterpiece about the first instance of Thai exploitation of Lao people living on both banks of the Mekong."[33] Prince Damrong Rajanubhab brought the Phun viang from the Khorat Plateau to Siam in 1873 and had it translated into Thai so that Siam's authorities might assess its contents. The Thai elites found the Phun viang to be subversive because it testified against the dominant official Thai historiography, and so the chronicle was put away under seal in the Thai National Library in Bangkok, and another title intended to be more stem and proper was substituted: Phongsawadan chao anou wiangchan (Chronicle of Lord Anou of Wiangchan).[34] From that time, the historian prince, Damrong Rajanubhab, circulated his own version of Chao Anou's story.[35]

 The Phun viang's significance as a historical document should not be underestimated. It comes from the region of Pak Nam Mun (the mouth of the Mun River), the center of its propagation.[36] This is not surprising, for the Brahmans who had formerly consorted with the dynastic inner circle of the kingdom of Vientiane had been taken captive and resettled precisely in this region.[37] They assumed the role of astrologers, doctors and presumably, chroniclers of the dynasty. Furthermore, during the reign of Rama IV [1851-18681, Chao Anou's nephew Chao Nokham was made governor of Ubon, the center of the Pak Nam Mun area. The oral history conveyed by the Phun viang embodied the political culture and value system omnipresent in the daily lives of the inhabitants of the two banks of the Mekong River.[38] Millenarian phu mi bun [holy men] movements drew intellectual references from it and, perhaps most importantly, a source of legitimacy from it. Repeatedly, leaders of these movements presented themselves as the heirs, by bloodline or politically, to Chao Anou himself.[39] An expert on social phenomena in the region has clarified both the limits and breadth of this epic's influence:

... although there were references to Vientiane in a number of the [phu mi bun] revolts, there were no concrete attempts to establish an administration modeled on the dynastic state of Vientiane as it existed during its period of prosperity under Prince Anou. In only one case were Northeasterners persuaded to return to Vientiane. The references to Vientiane were, therefore, attempts to achieve cultural cohesiveness rather than to forge identity with a dynastic state. In other words, Vientiane was used as a symbol for unity, and the city could exist anywhere: a "new Jerusalem" to use the idiom of some millenarian movements.[40]

2. Narratives Of Western Diplomats And Missionaries

Besides indigenous witnesses, there were also foreigners in Bangkok at the time of the conflict. Their reports were necessarily shaped by their professional and ideological (generally European) frameworks, which had the merit of being more consistent and detailed than those of some indigenous observers.

The French archbishop Bruguiere, resident in Bangkok, was an eyewitness to events in the Thai capital. In a letter dated April 1, 1829, addressed to the Missions Etrang6res in Paris, he reported the arrival of the captured Lao king, Chao Anou, and his entourage in Bangkok on January 15, 1829. Brugui6re provided details about the treatment the prisoners received, including the torture of Chao Anou and his death seven or eight days after his arrival. Bangkok officials executed Chao Anou, descendant of a two thousand year-old royal lineage,[41] as though he were a common criminal. More than two months later, the public confinement of his relatives and collaborators in iron cages continued, exposing them to insults hurled by the populace.[42] Anou's death occurred during the Year of the Ox, Chulasakkarat 1191, which corresponded to the night of January 25-26, 1829. At the time of his death, Chao Anou had reached the age of sixty-one "Phansa" (Lenten seasons, the Lao counting of years).[43]

A journalist from the Singapore Chronicle, J. H. Moor, observed that he found Chao Anou a "mild, respectable-looking, old, grey-headed man."[44] Alongside this report, we read accounts of the torture suffered by the grey-headed king. For example, another foreigner, F. A. Neale, wrote that Chao Anou had his "eyes put out by the application of searing-irons.... Without food, with no protection from the fierce sultry heat at the noontide sun, with his brain racking and burning, and suffering from the acutest agonies that thirst can impart.,,[45]

The missionaries Jacob Tomlin and Karl Friedrich August Gutzlaff provided further details:

The horrible barbarities practiced in their iniquitous war with the Laos [sic], _ their treatment of the king and his family, who were betrayed into their hands, afford a melancholy exhibition of their ferocity. The situation is thus described by Mr. Tomlin, who was residing as a missionary at Bangkok when they were brought in: "The king of Laos and his family, when taken prisoners, were brought here in chains and exposed to public view for a fortnight in a great large iron cage. The news of their arrival caused great joy; the Phrah Klang and other high personages were long busied in devising the best mode of torturing and putting them to death. Close by are the various instruments of torture in terrific array. A large iron boiler for heating oil, to be poured on the body of the king after being cut and mangled with knives! On the right of the cage a large gallows is erected, having a chain suspended from the top beam, with a large hook at the end of it. The king, after being tortured, will be hung upon this hook. In the front there is a long row of triangular gibbets, formed by three poles joined at the top, and extended at the bottom. A spear rises up, from the joining of the poles a foot or more above them. The king's two principal wives are to be fixed on these as upon a seat. On the right of the cage is a wooden mortar and pestle to pound the king's children in. (Nine of his sons and grandsons were in the iron cage; most of them grown up, but two were mere children.) Such are the means these unsophisticated children of nature employ to maintain their superiority over one another- such the engines of power despotism employs to secure its prerogatives-and such the worse than fiendish cruelty of man towards his fellow-man, when left to the unsoftened dictates of his own depraved heart! Shortly afterwards, the old Lao king expired, and thus escaped the hands of his tormentors. He is said to have gradually pined away, and died broken-hearted. His corpse was removed to the place of execution, decapitated, and hung on a gibbet by the river side, a little below the city, exposed to the gaze of everyone passing by, but left a prey to the birds.[46] His son afterwards escaped, but on being pursued, put an end to his existence. On the fate of the others we have not heard.[47]


After a lengthy meeting with high-ranking Lao Vientiane officials imprisoned in Bangkok, K. F. A. Gutzlaff situated the origin of this merciless intercourse in these terms:

The Southern districts [i.e., the name generally given to the Lao kingdoms of Vientiane and Champassak] carry on a very brisk trade with Siam, whither the natives come in long narrow boats, covered with grass; importing the products of their own country, such as ivory, gold, tiger skins, aromatics, etc.; and exporting European and Indian manufactures, and some articles of Siamese industry. This trade gave rise, in 1827, to a war with the Siamese, who used every stratagem to oppress the subjects of one of the Laos tributary chiefs, Chow-vin-chan [i.e. the Prince of Vientiane]. This prince, who was formerly so high in favour with the late king of Siam [Rama II, or Phrachao Lcetla Naphalai, who was Rama III's father] as to be received, at his late visit, in a gilded boat, and to be carried in a gilded sedan chair, found the exorbitant exactions of the Siamese governor of the frontier injurious to the trade of his subjects and to his own revenues. He applied, repeatedly, to the court at Bangkok for redress; and being unsuccessful, he then addressed the governor himself: but no attention was paid to his grievances. He finally had recourse to arms, to punish the governor, without any intention of waging war with the king-an event for which he was wholly unprepared. His rising, however, transfused so general a panic among the Siamese, that they very soon marched en masse against him, and met with immediate success. From that moment the country became the scene of bloodshed and devastation .... The number of captives, generally country people, was very great. They were brought down the Menam [Menam Chaophraya] on rafts; and were so short of provisions that the major part died from starvation; the remainder were distributed among the nobles as slaves and were treated more inhumanly [sic] than the most inveterate enemies; while many of the fair sex were placed in the harems of the king and his nobles.... The country was laid waste; the peasants, to the number of one hundred thousand have been dispersed over different parts of Siam; and the whole territory has been brought, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the court of Hue, under the immediate control of the Siamese, who are anxious to have it peopled by other tribes.[48]

Years later, other European observers would record the chilling impressions that struck them when they visited what remained of Vientiane, and they would measure the holocaust with epic comparisons. Forty years after the events, the Mission for the Exploration of the Mekong led by Commandant Doudart de Lagree stopped over in Vientiane. The Mission described the area where Vientiane once stood as "Vientiane ruins" on their maps of the area. April 3 and 4, 1867, were devoted to interviewing the few surviving inhabitants about the historical traditions of the vanished kingdom.[49] In an article published in 1869 in the Revue des deux mondes (Paris) on "Vienchan and the Siamese conquest," Louis de Carn6, representative of the French Foreign Office, wrote: "The Laotians were exterminated or deported in mass, and their capital razed, as Jerusalem was by the Roman am-des."[50] Nearly one hundred years later, the British historian D. G. E. Hall echoed him: "The Siamese made a complete holocaust of Vientiane."[51] And recently, Arthur Dommen has written, "The Siamese, who by now were embarked on a policy of vigorous presence in the Lao territories, reacted to this impudent and imprudent challenge by sacking Viang Chang [Vientiane] as the Romans had destroyed Carthage after the Second Punic War."[52]


Not only Europeans observed and recorded the fall of Chao Anou. Vietnamese reports of the event were also collected, for Vietnam, close neighbor to both Siam and Laos, had been involved in a number of the diplomatic maneuvers leading up to the conflict and figured as Anou's last hope after the defeat. Following the collapse of the kingdom of Vientiane, Anou wandered several months in the forests of central Laos and finally decided to seek asylum in Vietnam. Aware that granting asylum to the defeated Lao king would surely spark reactions from Siam, the Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang immediately directed a scholar, Ngo Cao Lang, to make a compilation of all documents related to this affair. Traveling to the front lines at Quy Hop, on the fringes of Lao territory, Ngo Cao Lang amassed a dense administrative report, entitled the "Chronicle of our imperial court's behavior toward the affairs of the country of Ten Thousand Elephants."[53] This unique compilation gathered all the sources available at the Vietnamese court, ranging from spy reports from Lao territory occupied by Thai armies, to the details of the one-man-show performed by Bodin when he received Vietnamese emissaries in Vientiane, to the successive letters forwarded by Anou to Minh Mang. The whole report gives a picture of the elaborate, shifting political stance of the emperor, Minh Mang, himself.

The court of Hue displayed surprising care in handling this affair. Minh Mang certainly realized the full value and potential significance of the file concerning Anou. As a matter of fact, he was very uneasy about it, probably because it exposed certain actions performed by the Vietnamese court. J. H. Moor, in his "Notes on Siam taken in 1833," wrote that "The Prince Vun Chow [Anou] and family made their escape into Cochinchina; but instead of meeting with a friendly reception, they were seized by the king of that country and delivered prisoners to the Siamese."[54] More than thirty years later, the members of the French Commission for the Exploration of the Mekong- Louis de Carn6 and Francis Gamier among them-echoed Moor's assessment.[55] It is thus truly ironic that the French colonialists succeeded in arguing that they were coming to extend their protectorate to Laos in the name of Vietnam. We encounter a more telling, and perhaps more accurate, reflection of the relationship between Vietnam and Laos in the words of Emperor Thieu Tri (r. 1841- 1847), Minh Mang's successor, who, receiving an official report from his mandarin relating to Laos, scribbled on it, "Laos, What? Where?[56]

Though Chao Anou received little assistance from the Vietnamese emperor, his final stumbling flight into that country has subsequently provided Thai historians with the drop of evidence they require to portray Chao Anou as a rather feeble dependent or puppet of Minh Mang's. The prolific Thai historian, M. L. Manich Jumsai, unhesitatingly identified the conflict of 1827 as the pivotal catalyst for later events in the region and noted Anou's association with Vietnam.

The suppression of Vientiane has been one of the bitterest episodes of Thai history. Anou's rebellion is understood as one of the most daring and ruthless that was suppressed in Thai history. However, Lao history perceives Anou's rebellion as a war of independence. Anou became a war hero who staked everything for his country and was considered one of the bravest men in Lao history. It is beyond doubt that he was a brave warrior. He proved himself a daring soldier when he served under the king of Bangkok and drove out the Burmese and recaptured Chiengsen from the enemy! Even among the Thai, he was honored as such. The consequence of this war [between Laos and Siam] was far reaching, because it provided the Vietnamese with an opportunity to lay claim to Laos. Anou had gone to ask the emperor of Vietnam for assistance by discussing terms of submission and promising the secession of the eastern provinces and the usual tribute of silver and gold trees every three years. As a result, Siang Khuang was occupied by a Vietnamese garrison and the Vietnamese moved in at several points in Kammuon and Huapan. Later, when France ruled Vietnam, this served as a pretext for the French to take control over the whole of Laos.[57]

This representation of Chao Anou as the failed rebel who submitted himself to Vietnam, and in that act sacrificed large portions of Laos to Hue, has influenced many subsequent histories. For instance, during the Cold War era Chao Anou was portrayed by Thai historians as a "villain" puppet whose strings were pulled by the Vietnamese. A Mai scholar tried to substantiate this in an article with the suggestive title, "Behind the Scenes of the Revolt of Vientiane's Chao Anou."[58] This interpretation has even been popularized in a novel entitled Dok-fa champassak (Celestial Flower of Champassak),[59] authored by Luang Vichitr Vadakarn. Luang Vichitr Vadakarn was the noted ideologue of the Pan-Thai movement during World War II and the eminence grise of two military dictators, Marshal Phibulsongkhram (1938-1944,1948- 1957) and Marshal Sarit Thanarat (1958-1963), during whose rule the "Thai-Lao alliance" became, in fact, a "Thai-Laotian integration.”[60] Ironically, a Luang Prabang historian, Khamman Vongkotrattana, has substantiated that Marshal Sarit Thanarat, for whom Luang Vichitr Vadakarn worked, was Chao Anou's great- grandson.

Thai official institutions, such as the celebrated Fine Arts Department of which Luang Vichitr Vadakarn was Director-General from 1932, have efficiently planted and propagated the idea that Chao Anou allied himself with Vietnam in the conflict of 1827. This theme was implied in the 1926 preface written by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab to Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (Documents on the Suppression of the Vientiane Revolt)[61]; fixed from 1932 on in the documents relating to the Siam-Vietnam war in Cambodia during Rama III's reign; and renewed in the fifty-sixth part of the Prachum phongsawadan (Compendium of Historical Documents).[62] Since then, this version of history has been widely disseminated in school and university textbooks in Thailand as well as in Laos.[63]

The Thai government and its officials have initiated and supported efforts to interpret Anou as a traitorous figure in areas populated by Lao. In Khorat, in 1934, officials erected a statue dedicated to Khun Ying Mo, a woman credited with having led the insurrection of her town against Chao Anou. Yet available documents prove that this "heroine" was a fiction, a plain town woman dressed up in exaggerations by inventive subjects eager to please Siam. Readers can discover this hoax by paging through the Chotmaihet muang nakhon ratchasima (Collected Documents Related to Khorat), edited by the Fine Arts Department. This compendium consists of detailed reports written by Khorat authorities, including Khun Ying Mo's husband, on the evening of the battle. Khorat authorities forwarded these reports to the Bangkok court, hoping to win royal favor for their contribution to the struggle against the Lao and to prove Khorat's loyalty to Siam, about which Bangkok was deeply suspicious.[64] Nationalistic Thai thinkers have reclaimed this old woman, who was fifty-five years old when the event occurred, by rebaptizing her with a more potent, masculine name: Thao Suranari (literally, Sir+alcohol+women). They have also taken great pains to find proof of her "heroism," but so far have not found any convincing evidence.[65]

Thirty years later, in 1964, as Cold War conflicts spread into regions surrounding Thailand, writings patronized by the Thai Fine Arts Department presented Chao Anou as a traitor, allied to a power [Vietnam] that figured as a competitor of or antagonist to the Thais. Local notables, seeking to stimulate interest in the impoverished condition of the Northeast provinces among officials in the Thai central government, initiated the celebration of "historic" figures who had resisted the "invader Anou." For example, Chaiyaphurn province commemorated the "faithful hero to Bangkok, Chao Pho Phraya Lae." However, Thai archival documents undeniably prove that Chao Pho Phraya Lae came down from his mountainous preserve to Anou's camp in Khorat in order to pledge his loyalty to Anou. Chao Pho Phraya Lae headed to Vientiane when the Thai armies began to roll across the Khorat Plateau.[66] Is he not therefore a Lao hero instead? In any case, the dramatic, changeable circumstances like those that prevailed in 1827 made consistent loyalty a challenge.[67]

The search in 1964 for local, legendary heroes famed for their loyalty to Bangkok coincided with the engagement of the first contingents of Thai mercenaries in Laos at that time. Though the Thai government ostensibly sent the troops to confront the Vietnamese, the troops actually sought to combat the Pathet Lao movement.[68] Books on Lao history written during these central decades of the twentieth century reshaped and diminished the figure of Chao Anou in an attempt to bring Lao history in line with the Thai version.[69] It also served to satisfy those who considered themselves "elder- brothers" in the Thai-Lao world of kith and kin. The most striking case is exemplified by Prince Phetsarat, one of the leading Lao nationalists in the struggle against the French in 1945-1946. In his memoirs, he decried the foreign invasions of Laos yet simultaneously avoided mentioning those invasions perpetrated by Siam, even though they were "most disastrous for Laos."[70]

 Similarly, an illustrated booklet edited by the Ministry of Information of the Kingdom of Laos, titled Phramahakasat ong samkhan khong lao (Important Lao Kings), succumbed to the demands of the day. It mixed well-known fact and flagrant fantasy when it asserted that "Chao Anou wanted to liberate the country from foreign domination nominally by Thai and Vietnamese."[71] By making this statement, the booklet strove to generate an anti-Vietnamese racism that had not previously existed per se in Lao history.[72] It grafted this superficial anti-Vietnamese sentiment onto a historically developed and traditional suspicion of the Thai.[73] The booklet had a circulation of one hundred thousand issues, an enormous figure by Lao standards.

The revision of history has continued. Since the establishment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in 1975, the idea that Chao Anou was manipulated by the Vietnamese has been revived.[74] It will be difficult to extirpate this bias from history books and popular, regional impressions.


Historians eager to denigrate the status of Chao Anou as a Lao hero need not always compromise the reputation of the defeated king by describing him as a puppet of the Vietnamese; they can also suggest that Lao loyalty was misguided or manipulated by a foreign power. Both of these interpretations imply that the Lao lack independent judgement and will. For instance, we note that some Thai scholars- willingly or not-tried to trivialize and distort Chao Anou's legacy by maintaining that "the French, each time they want to mobilize the Lao against the Thai, had merely to resort to an invocation of the events of 1826-1829.[75] However, the Lao attachment to Chao Anou has nothing to do with a French or a colonialist machination. In fact, the Lao have very mixed feelings toward the French, particularly because the French failed to secure Lao territories and even sacrificed the domains ruled by Luang Prabang's king to the Thai.[76] The French also scrapped Lao territories in the south when they gave Stung Treng to the Cambodians, and Darlac and Kontum to the Vietnamese.[77] Ellen Hammer has criticized what she describes as the tendency of the French Government to consider Laos as simply composed of principalities over which Vietnam and Siam had fought for centuries. French officials at the time apparently did not realize that the king of Luang Prabang was (after the words of Paul Le Boulanger) 'the chief of a real state, the legitimate descendant of a long line of kings.'[78]

As the first French R6sident in Vientiane, Armand Tournier, wrote in 1900, "French Laos consists of only a third of the area known under the name of the Lao principalities and it is the least rich and the least peopled of these territories."[79] The Australian expert on Laos, Martin Stuart-Fox, acutely stressed that "French intervention thus had the effect of saving Laos from extinction at the hands of its more powerful neighbors, and of permanently reducing it to the status of a dependent and minor power."[80]

Anti-French feelings are shared by the Lao elite and the Lao population. When millenarian movements burst forth in the early 1900s in Laos and in Thailand's northeast, they were directed "against the French and against the Siamese."[81] Mistakenly equating Auguste Pavie with the acts of French colonial oppression and neglect of Laos during a time when, in fact, Auguste Pavie had been completely sidetracked by coteries in Paris,[82] the Lao populace in Luang Prabang and Vientiane destroyed the statue of him and threw it in the Mekong.[83] Significantly, the first guerrilla group created by the Secretary General of the Lao Communist Party for the Lao People's Army during the struggle against the French was the "Ratsavong unit," named after Chao Anou's son and hero of the 1827-1828 conflict.[84] Lao from a broad range of factions expressed their grave dissatisfaction with French treatment of Laos after World War JI.[85] Even the Lao most committed to the French, such as King Sisavangvong and Crown Prince Savang Vatthana, wanted the French to demand the return of northeast Thailand to Laos.[86]

Despite so many years of disappointment with the French, Laos's own histories have been influenced by a requisite allegiance to this imperial nation, most often evidenced in our texts by sly attacks against the British. Some Lao writers curiously remade the brutal Chaophraya Bodinthondecha (Bodin) into a British mercenary, in this way accommodating the French-British rivalries of the nineteenth century.[87] Certain contemporary scholars have even hypothesized that Chao Anou was heading to Bangkok in 1827 to struggle against the British capitalists.[88]

In 1984, when a border war occurred between Thailand and Laos, the Lao immediately called on the memory and name of Anou. A book, entitled "Draw Chao Anou's Sword," was edited for the political mobilization of Lao youth.[89] On March 22, 1985, when Laos celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the foundation of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, Thailand ostentatiously revived the ceremony dedicated to Khun Ying Mo, the reputed (fictitious) rebel leader of Khorat. This ceremony was held in Khorat, on the west bank of the Mekong, in the presence of Thai Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanon. En 1988, after Thai air and ground operational forces had pounded the Lao militia for one hundred bloody days, a Siam rath reporter asked former Thai Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj (a distant descendant of Chao Anou) if Thailand should take back Sayaburi province. He responded:

Two hundred years have passed and we should cross over and burn Vientiane once more. There is no need to declare war-just go across and bum it; when it's done come back. I don't think friendly relations can happen between the Thai and Lao. The Thai side must remain strong. If we want our countries to relate like elder and younger brothers, the elder brother must be strong and make the younger Lao brother fear him. There is no use being too compliant. If you go to war, do it properly, break them completely. Don't fight and allow the Lao win like this.[90]

It may be that no one has learned or forgotten anything, but neither have they forgiven anything. As an exorcising operation, when Prime-Minister Chatichai Choonhavan visited Laos shortly after he came to power, he pledged to initiate a special relationship between the Thai and Lao peoples. He endlessly repeated, "Let bygones be bygones." Despite the long, entangled and sometimes antagonistic histories of Thailand and Laos, the diplomatic politicians of today attempted to renew positive ties. Chatichai Choonhavan's Lao counterpart, Kaysone Phomvihane, responded in the poetry of which his people are so fond: "Mountains may collapse and rivers may run dry, but may the Lao-Thai friendship last forever."






[1] He who seeks does not always find, as Deydier remarks, "Moreover, I understand that in Laos as soon as one touches on the history of the events concerning the last one hundred or one hundred fifty years, one is ensnared in current politics, and also in the history of families. All the records concerning the provinces [of Vientiane] have disappeared. Some aspects of the history of Laos are just family records. All the quarrels of yesterday are still present." Deydier (1954b), p. 117. Manich expresses the same feeling when he states,

"My first real contact with Lao history was when I spent three happy years in Laos. Of course I made a study of the Thais long before this. During these three years I came across many materials in the Lao language, most of which are not yet printed, since printing in Laos in Lao language is of recent date. Many families and many private libraries in Laos still keep manuscripts among their proud possessions which they guard as great treasures, and which they will not disclose if they suspect that the foreigners are coming to take them away. Some of the manuscripts are quite old, written or copied out by hand, generation after generation on local mulberry paper made from tree bark by their ancestors quite a number of years back and still kept as family treasures. Some of these valuable manuscripts were taken away from time to time by collectors abroad and a number were destroyed during the country's unsettled situation which has ravaged the country continuously, and is unluckily still despoiling this unhappy country." Manich (1967), pp. 1-2.

[2] Chotmaihet yo muang vientiane (L), Wat Ho Phra Kaeo, Vientiane.


[3] Chotmaihet yo muang vientiane (L), Wat Ho Phra Kaeo, Vientiane.

[4] Apart from several manuscripts of Chotmaihet yo muang Vientiane (L),

see also Phongsawadan yo muang wiangchan (1969) (T), as well as Bok

sakkarat khwam khluan wai khong lan chang (T).

[5] Sila (1969) W, p. 15.


[6] Phongsavadan muang phuan (1969) (L), p. 15.


[7] That phanom chronicle (1976), pp. 68-69.

[8] Bok sakkarat khwam khluan wai khong lan chang (T).


[9] Phongsawadan yo muang wiangchan (1969) (T), p. 135.

[10] Dhawaj (1987) (T), p. 355.

[11] Tamnan vat sisaket (1954) W, pp. 1-2.

[12] Khamphon (1936) (T).

[13] Nouveau Journal Asiatique (1833), vol. 11, Paris, p. 15.

[14] The title was retroactively given by his great grandson, King Vajiravudh.

[15] Vella (1957), p. 3.


[16] King Mangrai, the "first Lao monarch" of Lan Na as recorded in the chronicles of Chiang Mai, calls his town "Wiang Chiang Mai." Cf. Notton (1932), p. 63.

[17] Notton (1932), P. 254.

[18] Saveng (1980), pp. 105-107; Phongsawadan muang luang prabang (1969) (L), p. 42; Phongsawadan muang luang prabang (1963) (T), pp. 350-351.

[19] Phongsawadan muang phuan (1969) (L), p. 18; Archairnbault (1967), pp. 580, 581, 620, 621, 627, 628,654.

[20] Trocki (1980), pp. 64, 68.

[21] Breazeale (1971), pp. 165-166.

[22] Thailand's Department of Fine Arts has published several valuable first-hand documents, the most recent of which is the Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam. This collection includes most of the documents extant in the National Library which are related to the first years of the reign of King Rama III, and was edited for the bicentennial of the birth of Rama III. We have worked from the original documents preserved in the Thai National Library, and in this book we will refer to these archival documents with the abbreviation "TNL, " and also to the Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam.

[23] Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), pp. 36-39.

[24] Tomlin (1832), p. 57.

[25] Quotations of Khun Phum are from Schweisguth (1951), p. 266. Especially on this Siamese poetess see Natthawut (1974) (T), p. 169.

[26] Natthawut (1974) (T), p. 36.

[27] Schweisguth (1951), p. 264.

[28] Natthawut (1974) M, p. 37.

[29] On this "mission civilisatrice" of Bangkok, see Breazeale (1975), particularly the chapter on "Political Philosophy of Thai domination." See also, Youn (1971) Q and Sammana pavatsat lao (1971) Q, pp. 135-158.

[30] Kochapun (1980), P. 21.

[31] Fisti6 (1967), p. 33.

[32] Interview with Pa Phiou Magnola (District of Khua Luang, Vientiane, 7 Aug. 1976), aged eighty-five years. When a youngster, she often had opportunities to hear the chanting of the Phun viang. Other elders we have interviewed in the Vientiane region say the same thing. For more general information on this issue, please see Institut de Recherches en Sciences Sociales (1987b) Q, pp. 288-296; Dhawaj (1980) M, pp. 31, 124; Prathip Chumphol (1982) M, p. 14. This oral tradition was later transcribed on palm leaves totaling six to seven bundles and was sung to animate religious or profane festivals. At these festivals, the manuscripts are laid on a legged tray of rattan and the manuscripts are unfolded, leaf by leaf, as the reading progresses. White flowers and scented beeswax candles are placed in front of the manuscript to stress the holiness of manuscripts written in sacred script.

[33] Prathip (1982) M.

[34] Prathip (1982) (T), p. 8.

[35] See his preface to Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) M.

[36] See Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 122-124.

[37] Brengues (1904), p. 736.

[38] For instance, Taupin (1888), p. 63, relates, "The Lao people does not possess any of these great historic traditions which used to be the basis for patriotic feeling and the idea of nationality. Therefore the instinct of the race can not completely be absent. It owns in this field a feeling intense enough, and its regrets expressed in its elegies about the ancient Vien-Chan resemble the lament of Jeremiah."

[39] Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 124-129. According to Bernard Gay (Interview, Vientiane 13 and 24 March 1988), an anti-French revolt broke out in the Hua Phan (Sam Nua) as early as 1895. Its chief was Ong Luang, alias Bac Thong, who claimed to be Anou's son. The last trace of Ong Luang was reported from Dasia (province of Saravane) in 1901. See also, Gay (1987) vol. 1, pp. 34, 46 and 55. The French documents of this time refer to Ong Luang as Ong Kum Somdet. "Born in Bangkok, his father should be Chao So Pha, his mother Nan Chan Ta; his father is the son of Chao Southesan [Sutthisan], himself son of the last king of Vien Chan, his parents have been brought to Bangkok where he would be bom; Ong Kam Sam Dit [the other name of Ong Kum Somdet or else Ong Luong] has been a monk at Wat Si Saket; he came to Laos seventeen years ago. " Residence Supdrieure au Laos. No. 90. Affaire du Phorniboun (Khong, 6 sept. 1895). Par le Commandant Superieur du Bas-Laos, a Resident Supdrieur au Laos. Depot National des Archives d'Outre-Mer, Aix-en-Provence. Fonds Amiraux, Dossier 20850.

[40] Chatthip (1984), p. 128; also Phanphen and Atcharaphan (1984) (T), p. 241; Archaimbault (1980), pp. 114-119.

[41] Khamphon (1936) (T), p. 65.

[42] Brugiere (1831), p. 137.

[43] This was recorded as the night of the sixth to seventh of the waxing moon of the second lunar month. Khamphon (1936) (T), p. 115. This contradicts neither Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), pp. 90-91, nor Charubut (1982) (T), who substantiates that Chao Anou "was born in the year Mung Khai (pi kun nopphasok) chulasakarat 1129, Ph.S. 2310, and died in the year Kat Pao (pi salu ekkasok).

[44] Moor (1837), P. 199.

[45] Neale's account draws on information from Robert Hunter, a British arms merchant residing in Bangkok and an insider to Thai power circles. Neale (1852), pp. 48-52.

[46] Such an excruciating passing shook the nerves of the population who left vacant the place where the execution took place. Even as late as the 1850s, Neale reported that "your boatmen sHueder as you pass this place." Neale (1852), p. 52. Since then, in this very location, King Rama V's Queen Saowapa Pongsri has established the Ratchini School.

Chao Anou became a benevolent spirit in at least one part of Laos. The people of Ban Nala in Muang Sayabouly have recalled that just before his death, Chao Anou told his bodyguards who were of Lan Na heritage that whenever they encountered difficulty, particularly during a time of drought, they and their descendants could summon his spirit by offering a one hundred-legged tray of rattan. Until 1975, every time that someone offered a one hundred- legged tray of rattan, rain fell. From an interview with Thit Nan Sutham, sixty years old, by Professor Akiko Iijima from Tokyo University, on Jan. 4, 1997 at Ban Nala, Sayabouly province, Laos. Chao Anou's recommendation may have been the origin of the auspicious rites consecrated to him in Vientiane twice a year, in June at the beginning of the rocket festival and in December for the festival of the great stupa, That Luang. Both celebrations had been performed before the ruins of Wat Kang, which is now the location of the Lan Sang hotel. Then it was the residence of the patriarch of the kingdom of Vientiane. This celebration, requesting well-being for the country, ended when France granted formal independence to Laos in the early 1950s. The elderly of Vientiane attribute plagues which descended upon the rulers of the old regime to the abandonment of this rite dedicated to Chao Anou. Pa Chanthapone, interview, Vientiane, Jan. 13, 1997.

[47] Gutzlaff (1834), p. 27.

[48] Gutzlaff (1834), pp. 67-68.

[49] Gamier (1870-1871), p. 394.


[50] Carne (1869), P. 496.


[51] Hall (1976), p. 451.

[52] Dommen (1986), P.

[53] Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V). On the historical importance of this document, see Cadiere and Pelliot (1909), p. 645; Pheuiphanh (1986) (L), p. 4. Do Quang emphasizes that, "With a serious working method, the author minutely recorded every date, every fact relating to every personality, and shed light on many points." Do Quang (1981), pp. 90-91.

[54] Moor (1837), P. 199.

[55] With the same opinion and nearly the same words, Carne speaks of "a secret accord passed [by the Vietnamese court] with Bangkok." Carne (1869), p. 497. Three other sources referred to the "treaty of 1828" between Bangkok and Hu6 on this. issue. Gamier (1870), pp. 53-54; Gosselin (1900), p. 80; Grossin (1933), pp. 20,38.

[56] Woodside (1971), p. 236.

[57] Manich (1967), pp. 218-19.

[58] Thanom (1982) (T), pp. 75-92. This article has been reprinted under another title, Thanorn (1984) (T). More generally, see Thanom (1980) (T), pp. 230-243.

[59] Vichitr (1966) (T). The views of Luang Vichitr Vadakarn have since then exercised a predominant influence over Bangkok's political culture. See Kobkua (1978).

[60] Zacher and Milne (1964), p. 267.

[61] Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 6-7. Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, asMinister of Interior, was responsible for the ban on the use of the word "Lao" in the designation of the Lao areas and Lan Na territory and for the interdiction on playing the khene (bamboo-reeds), the music instrument par excellence of the Lao people. Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 1-2; Sathian (1866) (T), pp. 160-162; Sunai (1985) (T), pp. 25-26.

[62] Krom Silpakorn (1964) (T), "Introduction," Prachum phongsawadan, ed. Kao Na, vol. 6 (Bangkok), p. E. Also, Krom Silpakom (1965) (T), "Foreword," Prachum phongsawadan, ed. Kao Na, vol. 4 (Bangkok), p. 18.

[63] Borihan (1965) (T) 285ff.; Nakhon (1983) (T), p. 195.

[64] Ruam ruang muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 36. See the copy of these documents in Dhawaj (1980) M, pp. 158-66. The originals are preserved in the Thai National Library (Manuscripts Division) with the following call numbers: Document Rama III (7) 1188/20; Document Rama III (8) 1188/20; Document Rama III (14) 1188/20. The local chronicles, Phongsawadan muang yasothon (1969) (T), p. 77; Chantha (1969) (T), pp. 211-212; Khamphon (1936) (T), the Phun viang chronicles, the oral tradition, and the first writings about the history of the region of the Khorat Plateau [see Toem (1970) (T), p. 364] make no mention of a famous act by any woman during the battles between the Lao and the Thai. See also Saipin (1996) (T).

[65] In 1986, during a seminar in Bangkok focusing on Thai-Lao relations, a Thai researcher announced that a Vice-Minister of Education of Thailand was opposed to any extension of the cult rendered to Khun Ying Mo. Note the intervention of Sanguan Rotbun in this sense when he makes reference to the opposition expressed by this Thai Vice-Minister, proceedings of Sammana Samphanthamaitri Thai-Lao (1986) (T).

[66] Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 25, 27.

[67]When the pan is white hot, it is the sesame seeds that bum," says a Lao maxim on the pitiful lot of the ruled.

[68] Burgess (1974-1975), pp. 62-72; Anderson and Mendiones; (1985), p. 31 and note 12.

[69] The lengthy book titled "Historic Heroes and Statesmen," and sponsored by all the rulers in the Kingdom of Laos, managed to remain silent about Chao Anou. See Kitti (1970) (L). Equally, when Ukham. dedicated his book to the spirit of the Lao heroes, he failed to cite Chao Anou. Ukham (1966) (T). These lacunae reflect a particular political climate among the Vientiane elite of this period, well rendered by Burchett (1957), pp. 315-17.


[70] Saveng (1971), p. 329.

[71] Ministere de l'Information et du Tourisme (1970) W. Lao sorcerer-apprentices were not aware of the feeling toward Chao Anou nurtured by their counterparts from the other side of the Annamitic range, which otherwise should have surprised them. In the pre-1975 Republic of South Vietnam, the Lao king was simply portrayed by Saigon scholars as "the revolutionary leader" of the Lao. Hoang Van Hoe and Nguyen Quang To, Minh Menh Chinh Yeu (1974) (V), vol. 6, p. 122, fn. 1.

[72] Gurney (1950), p. 85.

[73] "The Lao are very sensitive to domination by the Thai." Halpern (1964), p. 24.

[74] See Thanom already quoted; Punsri (1986) (T), pp. 110-117; Nakhon (1983) (T), p. 84.

[75] Toem (1987) (T), p. 167; Sulak (1980), p. 167: "Something which Laos lacks very much are the young intellectuals who identify themselves with Laos. If, in the past, a young man had intellect or ability he was brainwashed by the French. The French cunningly indoctrinated the Laotians to hate the Thais, and they even used the Emerald Buddha as a means to this end. They used Prince Anou as a lure." Charubut asserts that Chao Anou was manipulated by the French. Charubut (1978) (T).

[76] Raquez (1902).

[77] Stung Treng had been considered Lao territory until the French arrival. See Miche (1852). Regarding the French cession to Cambodia, see Khamchan (1971) (L). Darlac was attached to Vietnam by French colonization in 1904 and Konturn in 1905. For more about this arbitrary French territorial scheme, see Gay (1988).

[78] Hammer (1954), P. 13.


[79] Tournier (1900), p. 1; Reinach (1911), p. 52.

[80] Stuart-Fox (1986), p. 435.

[81] Archives des Missions Etrangeres, Paris. For a pan-Lao interpretation, with which we disagree, see Archaimbault (1980), pp. 114-118.

[82] Bernard (1933).

[83] Gunn (1988), p. 145.

[84] On the "Koong ratsavong," see Sisana and Vongsay (1970) W, pp. 21-25.

[85] Grievances were expressed by members of the Lao Issara, such as the Francophile, Nhouy Abhay, about the inability of the French to protect Laos against Thai encroachment.


[86] Mayoury and Pheuiphanh (1990), p. 12.

[87] Khamchan (1971) W, p. 17; Prasit (1974) W, p. 34. Leclere (1914) reports, however, that while "some authors said that Bodin was a Frenchman," Bodin is a Thai. See Akin (1969), p. 221; Damrong (1975) (T), pp. 20-39; Charubut (1959) (T).

[88] See reference in Stuart-Fox (1986), p. 10. See, however, Mayoury and Pheuiphanh (1989), p. 66, note 74.

[89] not gao chao anou (1984) Q.

[90] Interview, Siam rath, Bangkok, February 23,1988.