Many Provocations and Anou's Responses
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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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Setting the record straight



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



Rama III of Siam attempted to expand his power over other kingdoms and principalities of mainland Southeast Asia in the 1820s. Historian John Cady has argued that "the need to avoid a break with the rising Anglo-Indian Empire was especially urgent in view of developing Siamese problems on the Laotian and Cambodian frontiers."1 It is accurate to portray the Siamese king as a man facing a host of challenges during this decade, but one must remember that these frontier "problems" were largely of Bangkok's own making, since they consisted primarily of Rama III's attempt to annex Laos. The Siamese king had prepared to face all the disturbances that such an undertaking might provoke. After his accession to the throne, he personally selected one of two newly nominated, high-ranking officials to take responsibility for tattooing all the king's subjects, literally marking the extent of this king's rule.2 Rama III decreed that tattooing be extended to the population in most of the Lao possessions; their inhabitants were considered to be under the jurisdiction of Siam, not of the Lao kingdoms and principalities that were tributaries of Siam. This policy represented a shift in Lao-Siamese relations, and its success required a number of conditions that Rama III secured with his usual diplomatic dexterity.

While in the process of reaching out to engulf Laos, Rama III was careful to avoid disturbing his fragile hold on the throne. For this reason, he chose not to reshuffle the old guard leaders with whom he had previously worked when he was minister of foreign affairs and trade, and later, prime minister for his father, King Rama II.3 The Kosathibodi, the foreign and finance minister, was the only new member in the

1 Cady (1964), p. 335; Vella stresses, "Soon after achieving this settlement with the British regarding the Malay Peninsula, the Siamese became involved in difficulties that arose within the vassal states, difficulties that continued to engross Bangkok for over a decade.' Vella (1957), P. 66.

2 Vella (1957).

3 His advancement to Prime Minister occurred after 1822, when Prince Phithakmontri, his maternal uncle and a supporter of Mongkut, died.



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



cabinet.4 Even Bowon, the vice king, had been the minister of war under Rama II. The only youngster was Mongkut, future king, but he was an outsider to the power struggle.5

In the international arena, the region's traditional diplomatic configuration was shaken dramatically with the forceful entry of Britain, a new contender for power. This irruption of the British as a world superpower convinced the court of Bangkok that it must solve its pending problem with the Lao in order to insure that it could focus its full attention on the British challenge. Britain's unexpected and rapid victory over the Burmese put the Siamese on the spot. This was not the first time Siam had experienced simultaneous tensions with powers on different borders. Fifty years earlier, Taksin reached an accommodation with his former enemy, Avesunki, the Burmese generalissimo, and just one year after the agreement had been reached, the Thai leaders, temporarily freed of concern about Burma, redirected their armies toward the Lao. In 1826, the Bangkok court perceived the British as the new Burmese and so, recalling diplomatic actions that had proven successful in the past, Siam entered into a treaty with the British that guaranteed mutual non-aggression.6 One year later, as had happened in the 1770s, the Siamese armies spread out into Laos. History appeared to be repeating itself. Siam's perception of threats in the region required that it settle problems with the Lao and the Cambodians first, and thus secure "law and order" in its own backyard. Only after the nearby threats had been neutralized did Bangkok officials begin to maneuver against an enemy of unprecedented power.

Testing out their newfound and tenuous relations, Siam and Britain both engaged in military posturing. When Rama 11 died in 1825 and his successor's government recalled to Bangkok the Siamese troops habitually stationed at the Burmese border, foreign observers speculated about the meaning of the action. 'I believe there was some disturbance apprehended, the present king being by many considered an usurper, and consequently not very popular," a British agent in Bangkok informed John Crawfurd on September 2, 1825.7 For their part, Siamese officials tried to dispel British anxieties concerning the unusual presence of three army divisions in Bangkok by explaining that they were necessary for Rama II's funeral ceremony. This ceremony, however, had been completed on April 29, 1825, and no longer required a large military presence. Resolved to confront the amassed forces with a show of his own, the new British governor of Penang, John Fullerton, displayed his warships before the Siamese navy at Trang. This intimidating tactic seems to have succeeded; on July 31, the Siamese governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat signed an agreement with Britain, accepting its mediation in the Siam-Selangor

4 Brailey (1968), p. 84. Cady (1964), p. 334. For details on these grand serviteurs of King Rama 111, see Akin (1969), p. 303; Vella (1957), pp. 3-13; Burney Papers, vol. 1, pt. 1, pp. 52ff., particularly p. 80.

5 Thai historians have dismissed Chao Anou by claiming that he used the following words to entice Lao dignitaries to wage war against Bangkok: 'The new political and military personnel in Siam are merely youngsters." Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 39. Such gullibility is apocryphal. Acquainted with the intricacies of power and intimate with the power holders in Bangkok, Anou would never have uttered such nonsense to influence senior Lao officials, who were also well-acquainted with their peers in Bangkok.

6 The first article of the Burney treaty is clear on this issue. See Moor (1837), p. 218.

7 Burney Papers, vol. 1, pt. 1, p. 2.



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



conflict. It was this agreement that paved the way for Henry Burney to come to Bangkok in November to negotiate the non-aggression treaty.

But the Siamese did not rely solely on treaties to repel the perceived British threat. Since John Crawfurd's visit, the Siamese had prepared for battle with the British, whose forces they expected to arrive by sea. "The king lately has ordered that all the forts and two hundred war boats should be repaired, and this was effectuated at my departure from Siam,"8 wrote Henry Burney's predecessor. Siam's leaders took other defensive measures to deny the British access to the Menam River in the event of war. The Phra Khlang asserted to a British correspondent unconvincingly that these measures were directed against the Malays.9 However, the British were not really concerned by Thai preparations near the Menam River, since they knew of an alternative route and were confident their boats could break through any barriers erected. "They [the Siamese] have been endeavoring to construct chain works to throw across the river, but they are more likely to betray their ignorance than to place serious obstacles in the way of vessels navigating it," Captain James Low commented.10

Made confident by their defensive work on the sea coast, the Siamese court placed its permanent armies at Tha Rua and Prachinburi, both locations that provided the Thai armies with indirect access to the Lao territories, but were of no use in repelling any British threat; in fact, Bangkok left its Burmese border defenseless. 11 Situated behind four rivers, Tha Rua was particularly suitable as a base for what Henry Burney called "the aggrandizement politics" of Siam.12 Troops at Tha Rua and Prachinburi could also control access to the Khorat Plateau. For these strategic reasons, the posts served as the general headquarters for Siamese armies commanders as they prepared their attack against the Lao in 1827, and they served as rear bases for the Bangkok armies that entered the Khorat Plateau on their march to Vientiane. In addition to the armies at Tha Rua and Prachinburi, a third Siamese army spread to three Siamese towns that were strategically located near Vientiane: Phitsanulok, Sukhotliai, and Tak.13 Clearly, Bangkok planned to descend on the Lao.

The reign of Rama III had been the most bellicose and aggressive of the entire Bangkok dynasty. In its twenty-eight years of power, the regime encountered at least eleven revolts and multiple foreign wars.14 In a prophetic report, dated August 15, 1826, James Low wrote,

8 Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 5, p. 14.

9 Burney Papers, vol. 1, pt. 1, p. 4.

10 Burney Papers, vol. 1, pt. 1, p. 30; vol. 2, p. 4, p. S.

11 During the occupation of Khorat by Anou, Rama III ordered the towns bordering Burma, particularly Kanchanaburi, to mobilize all adults and to post them at the frontier with one absolute interdiction: they must not stir up any problems with the Burmese. See Kulab (1971) (T), P. 224.

12 Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 53.

13 A dispatch from the general staff of the armies of Bangkok, dated April 17, 1827, states that forces from Tak (now Raheng) had already joined the army Bodin called "the great army of the north." In fact, their merger had occurred at least two months earlier (at the latest February 17, 1827), well before the Lao army had reached Khorat. To be ready for battle by this date, the "great army of the north" had to have reached its barracks in northern Siam, near the border of the tributary principality of Lan Na, by the end of 1826. See TNL Document Rama III (19), 1189/4.

14 Thompson (1961), P. 297.




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Siam is an inspiring race, yet wanting adequate means to realize highly ambitious projects. An increase of these means seems to be an inevitable consequence of the present [British] war with Ava ... Siam win likely also turn her attention to Camboja and Laos, which cannot be supposed capable of resisting her [for] long ... From a military point of view, I should say that the Siamese mode of fighting, if I may allowed to use the expression, is defensive while it is most actively offensive. 15

Siam would insist that it had helped its ally, Britain, gain territorial conquests in Burma, and that therefore Siam must be allowed to expand into Laos and Cambodia to keep pace with Britain. This expansion was encouraged by the British, who preferred that Siam, their reluctant and cumbersome ally, co-signer of the treaty with the defeated Burmese, be kept busy far away from Britain's new possessions in Burma and the Malay Peninsula. Siam did not require much encouragement in this direction, for it had an old score to settle with Laos.

The opportunistic, uneasy alliance between Siam and Britain was only one factor complicating the political scenario that Anou would be required to interpret correctly if he hoped to succeed in winning Lao independence. Other forces were also engaged in overt and covert machinations, including the governor of Khorat, who ruled over the territory that lay between Siam and Laos, and Prince Mongkut, the rightful heir to the throne of Rama II, whose own secret ambition to overthrow the usurper, Rama 111, apparently prompted him to engage in a series of wily dealings that ultimately worked against Anou.

The governor of Khorat may have been most successful at confusing and entrapping Chao Anou. For example, long before the Lao armies left Vientiane to march on Khorat, a high-ranking Siamese official spread the rumor that Lao in Lan Na, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and Champassak had begun a general uprising. This official started the rumor to provoke a preemptive strike by Siamese troops and thus lead to the fall of Vientiane. The governor of Khorat not only took advantage of rumors such as these, but did his best to agitate the population and provoke a Thai response with rumors and evidence that he himself broadcast. During the hostilities of 1827, the Bangkok armies intercepted a counterfeit letter forged by the governor of Khorat, who had disguised the letter so that it appeared to be correspondence from King Rama III. The letter ordered Siamese forces to march against the Lao. One passage of this letter commands:

 ... the Lao in the North, the East and the South, as well as Phraya Krai [governor of Khukhan] were in revolt, so we order Phraya Sangkha to take command of the armies of Muang Pa Dong [Khmer towns under Siamese jurisdiction] to attack the Lao and Phraya Krai. Chaophraya Khorat and Phraya Ramkhamhwng are waiting for the royal armies. The governors of Sisaket and Surin must be placed under the authority of Phraya Sangkha.16

15 Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 10.

16 TNL Document Rama III (14) 1188/20. The Bangkok armies would seize all his letters, those of his collaborators, as well as those of his enemies, the Lao. TNL Document Rama III (14) 1188/20.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



The governor of Khorat was impatient with Bangkok's "wait and see" attitude toward the Lao because he feared a Lao decision to stay put and watch the Siamese offensive gathering momentum in Tha Riia, Prachinburi, and Sukhothai. At the same time, he broadcast the rumor far and wide that the Siamese armies were approaching. In this way, he helped set the stage for the cataclysmic events of 1827.

The Machiavellian actions of the governor of Khorat are breathtaking. He simultaneously informed Bangkok of the Lao revolt, although it had not yet taken place, and of the readiness of Phraya Sangkha to help Rama III crush the Lao.17 The governor of Khorat told Bangkok that he had received a letter from Phraya Sangkha informing him that "the prince of Vientiane and the prince of Champassak are in rebellion against His Majesty our King, and have brought down their armies to bum towns and village ... When Chaophraya Khorat arrives with his armies, Phraya Sangkha, Phraya Wisetphakdi, and Phraya Surin will make an alliance with him."18 One should note that the dependable Phraya Sangkha had been nominated to his military post through a fake letter written by none other than the governor of Khorat himself. Having stirred the waters effectively, the governor of Khorat then emptied his territory of its operational troops and took them to Khukhan, using the pretext that he had to settle the dispute raging there. By subsequently declaring Khorat an "open town," defenseless against attack, he tempted Anou to enter the fortress. 19 The Lao had so many grievances against Khorat that they rushed in when they heard the town was defenseless. In this way, the governor of Khorat helped orchestrate the timing of Chao Anou's movements; Anou brought his armies over the Khorat Plateau, only to be trapped.20 In the meantime, the governor of Khorat fled and took refuge under the protective umbrella of the Bangkok army based in Prachinburi.21

Recently, the descendants of the governor of Khorat have tried to rehabilitate the reputation of their ancestor by displacing the responsibility for the events onto a former high official of the Vientiane kingdom, Phagna Akkharat, the man who opened the gates of Khorat to Anou.22 The governor's descendants have tried to define this small action as the key betrayal that led to the fall of Khorat. Phagna Akkharat was not alone, however. All the elders present in Khorat came to meet Anou as he advanced to the kingdom's fortress, and neither Rama III nor Mongkut ever pardoned them.23 A historian of Rama 119's reign reported that the Siamese king never forgave the governor of Khorat for having "surrendered" this stronghold, which was Bangkok's only bastion in the area official documents call "Hua muang lao fai tawan ok'(the Lao towns in the East).24 A curious version of these events appears in the Vietnamese annals, which report that at the very beginning of the conflict, the

17 Ruam riiang maang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 39.

18 Ruam rilang miiang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 39.

19 The fortress had been constructed by French engineers in the style of Vauban.

20 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 39. ,

21 TNL Document Rama III (10) 1188/20, Despatch of Chaophraya Phra Khlang, April 5,1827; Document Rama III (14) 1188 /20, Memorandum of April 6, 1827; see also Ruam riiang ?nilang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 36.

22 Phagna Akkharat had been a prisoner in 1779 and was authorized to settle at Muang Pak, now Pak Thong Chai, a half day's walk from Khorat. See Ruam riiang mi@ang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 60.

23 Ruam riiang?naang nakhon ratchasi?na (1968) (T), p. 60. See Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 89-90. 24 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T); Prathip (1982) (T), pp. 55-56.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



governor of Khorat sided with the Lao and only afterward reversed his allegiances.25 Probably the Vietnamese confused the governor of Khorat with other officials, such as Phraya Yokkrabat or even Phraya Plat, who at first sided with Anou and afterward turned against him.

 Consequently, the crisis of 1827 triggered a political struggle in which the governor of Khorat maintained a very high profile. However, the outcome did not benefit him or the Lao, but led to suppression of all internal dissent by Siam. It also unified Bangkok's ruling class, which had been riddled by succession disputes. The upheavals of 1827 forced this class into consensus with King Rama III, an action that ultimately helped legitimize the newly established Bangkok dynasty.26

The 1827 crisis occurred in a political context further complicated by the frustrated ambition of a high-ranking Bangkok royal, Prince Mongkut, who had been denied the throne by Chetsadabodin's accession in 1824. A Thai academic from Bangkok adamantly believed that Mongkut used the imminent Lao uprising to create confusion and regain power.27 The Lao action caused Rama III to lose face and may have ultimately cost him the throne. In any event, Rama III's power and prestige suffered during the conflict, for it gained him a reputation as an oppressive king and undercut his authority. In the process, it ruined the image he had painstakingly attempted to establish at the beginning of his reign as an "open-minded, liberal" king, who would reign without initiating a blood bath of the kind his immediate predecessors had ordered. Prince Mongkut whispered to the missionary Tomlin that the holocaust conunitted against the Lao irremediably tarnished Rama III's reign.28 It is certainly possible that Mongkut himself helped spread such rumors whenever the opportunity presented itself.29

On March 12,1827, Nai In, Nai Nak, and Nai Bun presented themselves as "Lao of Khorat" to Anou's armies encamped at Khorat. These three special envoys-or spies-had a long conversation with Anou, during which Anou gave them his version of events. His report was shaped to please his invisible audience-an audience of Prince Mongkut's secret allies inside the Bangkok ruling class who might sympathize with acts of resistance potentially troubling to Rama 111-in the hopes of exploiting existing factional differences. The three "Lao of Khorat" circulated freely among the Lao forces, where they noticed the Lao's lack of material and human

25 Nguyon Le Thi 1977) (V), p. 59.

26 Rama III's aunt protested against Anou, and the hustling poetess Khun Phum, a well- known opponent of Rama III, could not resist helping her rail against Anou. Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), p. 36; Schweisguth (1951), p. 266. Some foreigners resident in Bangkok took sides according to their business interests, such as Robert Hunter with Rama III. Neale (1852), pp. 48-52. The Royal Chronicle of the Third Reign obligingly praised Rama III as "Chosen by God.' Thiphakorawong (1961) (T).

27 Interview in Bangkok, Thailand, September 13, 1985. The Thai academic asked to remain anonymous, since he believes the issue remains sensitive. He affirms he is in possession of the documents necessary to support his assertion.

28 Tomlin (1832), P. 57.

29 In fact, although he ostentatiously retreated from the world by donning the saffron robe of a monk, Mongkut's preoccupations were desperately worldly: he was on a quest for power. Cowan (1967). He assisted, for example, at the famous council at which Rama III and Bowon argued over whether or not Siam should sign the Burney treaty. Burney Papers, vol. 3, pt. 5, p. 12.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



resources.30 The 'Lao of Khorat" were servants of Prince Itsaranurak, who had pressured Mongkut to challenge Rama III openly in order to reclaim the power that was rightfully his.31 Relying on the testimony of Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, historian Hong Lysa writes,

Mongkut ... at first did not completely acquiesce to the nomination of Rama III as king. He consulted his closest relatives on the wisdom of staking his claim to the throne then. An uncle, Krommamun Chinorot, and a half- brother, Krommamun Dechadison, counseled that the timing then was not right. His matemal uncle, Prince Itsaranurak, who was the brother of Prince Phithakmontri, however, encouraged him to do so. Mongkut followed the political assessment of the former.32

It is difficult to know when Mongkut decided against challenging the accession of Rama III, and difficult to know exactly what surreptitious means he used to weaken or discredit the king after that. Internecine struggles among the Bangkok elite were not unusual, and the aristocrats involved certainly understood that a foreign crisis might be used as a provocation to achieve internal goals.

Indeed, Prince Mongkut appears to have entertained the idea that he might benefit from a Lao uprising and a British invasion, for prior to 1827 he occasionally posed as a Lao sympathizer and an English sympathizer. John Crawfurd, who had negotiated in Bangkok in 1822, reported a meeting with two Siamese mandarins who informed him of their desire to put Siam under British influence; in order to attain this aim, they said, they planned to raise twenty-thousand men.33 The potential allies who unveiled themselves to Crawfurd were none other than Mongkut and his brother Chudamani, legitimate sons of Rama II and leaders of the anti-Rama III clique.34 These two men also had links with Laos. Mongkut himself rnarried a Lao princess who was Anou's niece, and Chudamani (known by the title 'Phra Pin Klao") had 120 spouses, of whom half were Lao and half were Siamese.35 In fact, Chudamani was a fan of things Lao. He constructed a Lao- style pavilion in the Ban Sittha district, learned to play the Lao reed mouth-organ known as khene, and performed Lao comedy-singing. 'It was said that if one did not actually see his royal person, one would have thought the singer were a real Lao. "36

30 TNL Document Rama M (9) 1188/20, Testimony of Nai In, Nai Nak, and Nai Bun, March 31,1827.

31 TNL Document Rama III (105)/34. It is significant that the death of Prince Itsaranurak in 1830 is recorded in a Thai National Library file titled "The Vientiane revolt,' and not under a separate entry

32 Hong Lysa (1984), p. 23. Contemporaries found relations between Rama III and Mongkut extremely bitter; the reason Mongkut took the robe is different than the assessment of present- day Thai historiography. Jancigny, for example, argued that Mongkut became a monk in order to avoid bowing before Rama 111, whom he considered a usurper. Jancigny (1850), p. 420.

33 Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 5, p. 14. This figure did match the number of soldiers Anou was able to muster when the Lao armies spread over the IChorat Plateau.

34 Gutzlaff (1834), pp. 66-67.

35 Bastian (1866), p. 552.

36 Thiphakorawong (1965) (T), p. 355; Krom Silpakorn, Prachum phongsawadan (T), vol. 9, pt. 26, pp. 156-57; Ruschenberger (1970), pp. 37-39.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses


28. Wily enemies, secret schemes

There is no firm evidence to prove that these two disinherited princes sincerely favored either the British or the Lao cause, but fragmented reports of their actions suggest that they were engaged in a number of courtly schemes, some of which may have been contradictory. The personal preferences and power struggles among the Bangkok elite helped shape the destiny of the kingdom of Vientiane and of the Lao during this epoch. In March of 1827, immediately after Lao armies seized Khorat, two fires ravaged Bangkok and devoured a number of Siamese war boats; those same fires ignited rumors that the British were about to invade Bangkok by sea. Looking back, historians can only wonder if certain members of court were busily feeding those rumors, for the disaster forced Bowon, who was camping with his armies at Tha Riia, to return to the capital.


The Vietnamese emperor, Minh Mang, wrote the following report to Rama III:

Chao Anou of Vientiane has launched hostilities against Siam for the following reason: when he came to Bangkok to pay homage to the king [Rama III], several Thai mandarins seized this opportunity to insult him by their acts and words. The king's older brothers of different mothers, still young, plotted to humiliate and oppress Chao Anou under various pretexts, solely because he is Lao. From his perspective, as the descendent of a long lineage of a reigning dynasty, Chao Anou could not bear these offenses coming from very young princes and could bear even less the affronts and indignities from the grand Thai mandarins. Returning to Vientiane, he soon mobilized his army to launch a war to avenge him of all the ills with which the Thai had relentlessly overwhelmed him. But Chao Anou was cheated, for he was duped by the Lao mandarins who were in cahoots with the Thai... 37

Despite its restrained language, this letter from the court of Hue emphasized the unbearable character of the situation Bangkok created for Anou. Minh Mang's letter mentions that Anou was victimized simply because he was Lao, and other contemporaries, such Edmund Roberts, the American special envoy, used the same words. 38 The Reverend Karl F. Gutzlaff was so convinced that Anou had been driven to war by Siam's provoking actions that he claimed Anou was "without any intention of waging war with the king [of Siam]-an event for which he was totally unprepared.,,39 Edmund Roberts, highly in favor at the court of Bangkok, also reported on the offenses Siam engineered to outrage Anou: "It seems, in 1827, the Siamese government oppressed the subjects of one of the Lao tributary princes, Chow-Vin-Chan [Chao Vientiane], to such a degree that he was obliged to take up arms in defense of his rights, against the neighboring Siamese government, this was the point to which the Siamese government wished to force hi-in, for the purpose of

37 Kulap (1971) (T), vol. 2, p. 7,50.

38 Roberts (1837), P. 282.

39 Gutzlaff (1834), p. 76; for the same view, Gamier (1870-71), p. 388.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses


29. Breaking spirits, crushing bodies

taking into possession his territory.,,40 The contemporary chronicles of these events, generally originating from the Khorat Plateau, lamented Chao Anou's fate.41

While it is clear that Siam's aggressions played a decisive role in provoking Anou to active rebellion, it would be difficult to agree with Gutzlaff that Anou entertained little thought of resistance before this time. We have seen that Anou showed an interest in constructing pagodas throughout the Lao territories to signify his connection to the population in these areas and in coaxing allies to his side at least a decade before 1825. Linked in spirit to his rebel brother Nanthasen, he was not a man to swallow insults and aggressions happily. (One of these insults, the impressment of Anou's son to lead a crew of Lao laborers in felling and transporting heavy sugar palm trees, is described in greater detail below.) During the visit to Bangkok described in the letter, Anou registered dissatisfaction with his treatment by curtailing his acts of obeisance traditionally due to the king of Siam. Before taking leave for Vientiane, Anou paid parting homage to Rama III, but refrained from performing other traditional (compulsory) courtesy visits. As the poet puts it, "One must not lower one's eyes before those one despise."42

A number of writers have interpreted Chao Anou's acts of resistance as foolhardy gestures of a monarch pursuing a personal point of honor to recover what in Lao language is called "piap."43 For example, Martin John Philip Barber has written,

If retaining one's appropriate status in traditional rural society involved stability and gradual progress, status levels in the cities were likely to be far more volatile. The fluctuations of fortune to which the Lao kings were subjected inevitably called into question their ability to maintain the image of supreme status. An attack on the king's piap could not be allowed to go unchallenged ... A classic example of when concern for piap caused a king to embark on the most foolhardy exploit was Chao Anou's attack on Bangkok in 1827. Chao Anou felt he had been insulted during a visit to the court of Rama 111, and could think of no way to re-establish his piap other than to launch the biggest possible army against Siam.44

40 Roberts (1837), p. 282. Roberts, the American envoy, described his reception by members of the Court of Siam in this way: 'No embassy from a foreign country ever had so favorable and honorable a reception as ours, marked at the same time with the most extraordinary despatch ever known." Roberts, pp. 83-84.

41 See Chan (T); Lam ph4in wiang pen phasa thai. See an identical report from American envoy Roberts (1837), p. 156, and a recent analysis by Prathip (1982) (T), pp. 38-39. Lao high-ranking officials taken prisoner after the war and held in a guarded residence at Wat Sam Pliim (Bangkok), testified to Gutzlaff that 'In their conversation, they cherish the hope that they shall be sent back to their native country, relying on the compassion of His Siamese Majesty, who forgives even when no o&nse has been given." (Emphasis added.) Gutzlaff, (1834), p. 78.

42 Suares (1948), P. 38.

43 Piap means honor, face, prestige, social status. 44 Barber (1979), P. 297.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses


29. Breaking spirits, crushing bodies

Other recent historians have portrayed Anou as both aggressive and foolish. Eiland and Dommen, for example, envisioned him as the man who "launch[ed] a quixotic [attack] of his own,"45 and embarked on "a foolhardy enterprise. "46

Though his own status and honor were undoubtedly important to Anou because they contributed directly to his power as a leader, his acts of resistance cannot be attributed simply to personal irritability and pride. He reacted as a representative of the Lao to insults and ill-treatment that had accumulated against his people as a result of regional power struggles and prejudices encouraged among members of Bangkok's ruling class. As contemporaries noted, the Siamese ruling class assumed Siam stood on the top of a hierarchy of nations. They actively indulged in "Bangkok chauvinism"47 that targeted Siam's own neighbors, such as the Lao, for ridicule.

Apparently, anti-Lao passions reached their zenith with the accession of Rama III to the throne; even the Thai patriarch of the Buddhist monkhood, Prince Chinorot, was solicited to promulgate descriptions of the Lao as the "enemy" in reports of historic episodes.48 The discourse used to indict Anou in the 1820s, a discourse that continues to the present time, condemns the Lao leader for daring to stand up to Bangkok. The governor of Ayudhya, in his report to Rama III on the presence of the Lao king at Khorat in 1827, called Anou and his followers "rubbish.,,49 The Siamese minister of foreign affairs, in a letter to his counterpart at the court of Hue, upped the stakes when he called them 'blackguards."50 Fifteen years after his death, Anou was called a 'rascal" by a Thai commanders.51 Such invective was not reserved for Anou alone, but directed at the Lao people as well.52 The term "Lao" remains one which carries "rustic' or 'provincial" connotations.

Nonetheless, a stubborn pride prompts descendants of Chao Anou's countrymen to continue identifying themselves with their ancestors, though such identification has been discouraged by a number of interested parties and authorities. In the 1820s, the inhabitants of both sides of the Mekong called themselves "Lau Che-ung Mai, Lau Che-ung In, . . . Lamp'hoon, Sup'han, Lau Lo-ung of We-ung Chan . . . " according to James Low. Even at the end of the nineteenth century, many Lao descendants were willing to claim the name "Lao," as noted by James McCarthy and Warington Smyth, even though the term "Lao" was forbidden in Siamese official documents and in the designation of territories that were formerly part of Lao kingdoms.,53 At all times, however, the struggle to maintain a Lao identity since 1827

45 Eiland (1983), p. 50.

46 Dommen (1986), P. 27.

47 Kochapun (1980), p. 21; Crawfurd Papers, p. 44.

48 See Schweisguth (1951).

49 Ruam ruang muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 35.

50 Ruam ruang muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 44.

51 Chotmaihet kieokap khamen lae yuan nai ratchakan thi sam (T), pp. 60-61.

52 See Chan (T); Thao lao kham. Phun chao ratsavong (1973) (L); Phunphit (1983) (T), pp. 18-19; Mayoury (1987) (L); Prani (1982) (T), pp. 185-86. Even Mongkut, ascending the throne, branded the Lao as 'inhabitants of the forest," in other words, savage. See Thiphakorawong (1965), p. 5.

53 McCarthy (1900), pp. 129, 155; Smyth (1898), vol. 1, p. 194. In fact, in some areas, the inhabitants still called themselves "Lao" or even 'Bao Lao Vientiane." See Taupin (1888), p. 63; Lt. Chevalier, "Etude au sujet de la rive droite du Mekong," to Resident Superieur au Laos, August 14, 1903 in RSL-FIO, Archives nationales, Aix-en-Provence, France. King Chulalongkom, in 1888, also noted the different Lao perspective. "[We] must try to please them [Luang Prabang], by explaining that Thai and Lao belong to the same soil.... France is merely another who looks down on the Lao race as savages. Whatever the French do to please the rulers of Luang Prabang is merely bait on a hook ... although the Lao habitually regard Lao as We and Thai as They, in cases when only two peoples are considered, such as when comparing the Thai and French, they may regard Thai as We and the French as They." Jirapom Stapanawatana, "The 1893 Crisis," Sri Nakarinwirot University (Prasanmit, 1980), pp. 411-412, quoted by Thongchai (1987), p. 162. Other observers perceived the Lao as separate from the Thai as well. In the rnid-nineteenth century, a Cambodian still spoke of the "Laos-lan- tao, Laos-Khong, Laos-ubong" in these territories. See Low (1851), p. 504; Lettre sur le Cambodge par un cambodgien (1872), p.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses


29. Breaking spirits, crushing bodies

has been opposed by Thai domination and a strong current of misconceptions about the Lao people.

But the struggle between the Lao and the Thai, a struggle that culminated in the events of 1827 and continues to influence the peoples of both countries to this day, was not solely instigated by courtly snubs and name-calling. Over the years, Bangkok had also aggressed against the Lao by forcing them to labor on life- threatening construction projects. For example, in 1813, Siamese leaders ordered some Lao to build a dam at Ang Thong, at the highest section of the Bang Kaeo canal, in order to redirect the Menam Chaophraya River. The Lao were forced to perform this gigantic task under the supervision of Phraya Aphaiphuthon.-54 Just after John Crawfurd departed from Bangkok, the Thai mustered Vientiane Lao to erect defensive structures at the mouth of the Menam Chaophraya designed to prevent an attack by the British fleet. These strategic works were supervised by Prince Chetsadabodin. In a report on September 2, 1825, Henry Burney said that this fortress thereafter was commonly referred to as the "Lao fortress."-5,5 Such endeavors were outrageously costly in terms of manpower and human lives. Contemporaries confirm the toll. Henry Burney wrote on December 2,1826,

... it is well known that the service which the King of Siarn demands from a portion of the males is most destructive to human life. This service is not limited to four or six months ... but according to the caprice of the Sovereign and his ministers, and the exigency of any public works. We were assured that the construction of the building in which the remains of the late King were burnt and which had occupied the workmen upwards of twelve months, had cost several hundreds of lives, and that no less than five hundred men had died last year in the labor of transporting to Bangkok from the interior an enormous tree intended for a large boat for the present King.56

Conscripted Lao laborers, truly drudges, had to provide their own food and equipment. Their fate was worse than miserable.57 But conscription of the subjects of the kingdom of Vientiane was an integral part of a system that John Crawfurd described on April 3, 1823: "The system by which the population is organized and arranged for the purpose of exacting forced services from the people available, forms

54. M Hubbard (1977), P. 33; Terwiel (1983), p. 108.

55 Burney Papers, vol. 1, pt. 1, P. 31; see Terwiel's discussion (1989) of where the forced laborers came from.

56 Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, P. 52.

57 Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 226.


29. Breaking spirits, crushing bodies

the most important object of Siamese administration."58 Crawfurd raised this issue again in a dispatch dated June 27, 1823:

The forced services, although not in proportion productive to the State, are of all others the heaviest tax upon the people. The most mischievous ingenuity, indeed, could hardly devise a scheme more destructive of industrious habits and adverse to public prosperity than a system which devotes, as this virtually does, a one-third portion of the manhood of almost all its subjects to the arbitrary, prodigal and capricious will of the servants of the Government. 59


In May 1825, when Anou came down for Rama II's funeral ceremony, his entourage was requisitioned by Rama III to provide laborers to fell sugar palm trees: a filthy, difficult job. Then these Lao laborers were ordered to drag the trees by hand from Suphanburi to Samut Prakan. The leader commanded to direct this forced labor crew in 1826 was none other than the crown prince of the kingdom of Vientiane, Anou's son Chao Ratsavong. 60 No other tributary states were required to perform such labor. On the contrary, the king of Luang Prabang's sons were integrated into the pages' unit in Bangkok's royal palace. The rulers of Chiang Mai had their ranks raised and were even authorized by the newly enthroned Thai king, Rama III, to repatriate some of their compatriots who had been forced to settle in Siam after the 1770s.

Lao oral tradition asserts that the martyrs who hauled sugar palm trees one hundred and twenty kilometers left a deep furrow that is still visible today. The conscripted Lao laborers then had to drive these logs, linked together by iron hoops, into the sea bed. The Siamese intended the log fence to prevent an invasion through the mouth of Menam Chaophraya by the British warhsips. The torture to which the Lao were subjected and the harassment in 1826 of the Lao prince, Chao Ratsavong, helped ignite the conflagration of 1827. This prince had come from  Vientiane to present tribute from his country; he had not expected to be kept as a virtual slave. 61 His supervisor in 1826 would be none other than Bowon himself, called Phra Banthun by the Lao, a title which means "the official who receives petitions in the first instance." 62 The clash between Ratsavong and Bowon was recountred in the Vientiane chronicles as follows:

Chao Ratsavong went to pay a visit to Phra Nangklao [Rama III]. During the meeting, Phra Banthun came and asked the visitor to provide him with sisuk bamboo so that he could use if for the works obstructing the mouth of the Menam, works that prevented vesels from entering the channel. Phra Banthun commanded him to dock bamboo at the landing pier of the port which was located near the palace. Chao Ratsavong and [Lao] inhabitants

58 Crawfurd Papers, p. 122.

59 Crawfurd Papers, p. 127.

60 Traduction de l'histoire de Vien-Chan, pp. 18-19.

61 This story from the Lao chronicles was indirectly confirmed by intelligence gathered by D. E. Malloch, which was routed to him from Bangkok on November 4, 1826. Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 226.

62  Traduction de l'histoire de Vien-Chan, pp. 18-19. See also Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 4, p. 11.




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29. Breaking spirits, crushing bodies

could requisition five thousand trunks of bamboo that he assembled in rafts and floated down the river with such log driving that it could not be stopped at the place required [by Phra Banthun]. The stream pushed it far away. The bamboo raft could be moored only at the shore of Wat Cheng. Chao Ratsavong came to inform Phra Banthun of the regrettable incident; Phra Banthun was wildly furious to the point of insulting his messenger, who came away very displeased. Fighting might have ensued between them had the king of Siam not intervened. To prevent renewed disputes, His Majesty ordered Chao Ratsavong to return to Vientiane.63

A second version of this feud circulated in a different copy of the Vientiane chronicle, quoted often by French authors.64 This story relates that the "Ratsavong of Vientiane had to lead the forces recruited for Siam to Bangkok; he was exposed to the mockeries of the Siamese who deemed his workforce laughable. Stung by the laughter, Ratsavong testily rebutted them. The Siamese then decided to attack Vientiane. "65 Lao oral tradition elaborates on it by romanticizing the incident:

Chao Ratsavong and his followers had completed their work well before the deadline. The Siamese therefore taunted them with jeers such as, "look at the Lao with the white eyes [cowardly] who think they have done well by achieving their task before us." Choking with indignation, Ratsavong even refused the meal prepared for him by his sister who was in Rama III's harem. In his hurry to reach Vientiane, he slipped on the embankment of the Khlong Szen Saep canal, which ever since has been called Ban Phalat Lom [village of the slide].66

A British version, told by an engineer named McCarthy who was well acquainted with Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, placed even more blame on Bangkok. This writer collected facts in the 1880s and rendered them as follows: The story relates that when Chao Anou was governor of Wiang Chan in about 1823, his son was called to Bangkok and to supervise the men summoned to assist in digging a canal to connect Tachin to Bangkok. It would appear that the official in charge of the undertaking, after kicking the young man, added a flogging, and when the youth returned home, his father, indignant at the insult, rebelled.67

63 Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 19.

64 Malpuech (1920), pp. 5-6; Marchand (1948), p. 142; Archaimbault (1967), p. 580.

65 Charuwan (T), P. 3.

66 hiterview of Lung Suk (sixty-nine years old), Vientiane, November 10, 1986. 67 McCarthy (1900), p. 37. In an 1888 article, McCarthy situated the events around 1825, not 1823, as quoted above. Relying on this source, Hubbard wrote, 'King Phra Nang Klao, or Rama 111, ascended to the throne on his father's death in 1824. Well aware of the value to the state of inland shipping and trade, Rama EII ordered several new canals dug and had old canals and river beds dredged and widened. According to one source, this ambitious program led to one of the major rebellions of his reign, the Laotian revolt of 1826-1827." Hubbard (1977), p. 34. After quoting McCarthy, Hubbard speculated about the canal Chao Ratsavong could have worked on: 'No available reference suggests what canal project may have been in progress in 1825, but the above story would indicate maintenance on the Mahachai Canal." On Lao forced labor and canals in Bangkok, see Sujit (1987)(T) and Sagnan (1988)(L).



The ultimate version placed the event in the context that Henry Burney, quoted earlier, particularly noted. This version was narrated by Phra Chao Ratsavong Theu Charatsphonpatithane:

When Ratsavong had to pull down a tree of a special kind required for the cremation of Krom Somdet Phra Srisulalai [Rama III's mother], a grave incident occurred. Following the incident, Ratsavong, standing on the back of his elephant, harangued in Lao [language] the peasants who were there, saying: " In Muang Thai, we have no rice to eat nor fish bones to nibble. By going back to Muang Lan Sang we will have perfumed rice and delicious fish." Arriving back in Vientiane, he pressed Chao Anou, "I do not want to be a slave to the Thai any more. Radical measures must be taken to  put an end to this situation. What do you think about it, father?"68

Lao chroniclerss addto Ratsavong's address when they quote him saying, "Even if the Thai are very intelligent, they say the Lao are idiots. Thus I want now to let these Thai know what one of these idiots can do. I abhor these Thai who tyrannize us."69 Confronting the general terror felt by the whole religious, military, and political establishment of the Lao Vientiane kingdom in response to the suggestion that they fight back the Thai when the capital had just experienced a natural cataclysm, Anou exclaimed to his subjects, "If you want to stay here [Vientiane], do it! Both my son and I will go to face the Thai."70

Emerging from all these stories and facts is a single outline: forced labor, ostracism, and exhaustion. Even some Thai historians are shocked when they look back at the treatment inflicted on the Lao of Vientiane. Toem Wiphakphotchanakit argues that the repeated forced labor was a catalyst for "the uprising to recover independence" by the Lao in 1827:

Chao Anouwong certainly suffered the pangs endured by the Lao who had been forced to dig canals that edified the capital, Krungthep Phra Maha Nakhon, under the reign of Rama I, and to plant in the ocean a stupa at Samut Prakan under the following reign.71

This gigatic stupa is called "Phra Samut Chedi" and its construction was credited to Rama III in these terms: "Worhty of mention among his contributions is the construction of a chedi [stupa] on an island at the entrance of the Chaophraya River. The chedi symbolizes Thailand as a Buddhist country."72

68 Phlainoi (1984) (T),p.246. Chotmaihet nakhon ratchasima (1985)(T),p.260.

69 A quotation from the account Thao lao kham. Phun chao ratsavong. See also the translation in Archaimbault (1980),p.132.

70 Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987)(T), v.3, p.113.

71 Tien (1970)(T), vol. 1, p. 356.

72 Surat (1984)(T). The quote is from the Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1979), p.2.



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



With Rama II gone, Prince Chetsadabodin (who soon became Rama III) decided on a measure that had serious consequences and provoked a chain of reactions in the international politics of the Southeast Asian peninsula. He insisted on tattooing his subjects for political purposes, "an event which has few parallels in even the most tyrannical political systems in human history. "73 The tattooing was accomplished by a stiletto, red with fire, that branded a Siamese census number and the name of a person's town on the wrist of every inhabitant from every town that the Short Chronicles of Vientiane had designated as 'Muang Lao."74 For the first time, Bangkok departed from traditional policies that limited the range of a Thai census to areas considered within Siam proper, that is within the Menarn Chaophraya basin.

The towns thus dragged under Siam's jurisdiction by the tattooing procedure were still called 'Hua muang laofai tawan ok" in the official documents of Rama III's reign.75 These 'Lao towns in the East" spanned the areas where inhabitants spoke Lao. Chao Anou called them 'Hua muang lao" and referred to their residents as "Banda lao thang puang," excluding those of Khorat.76 When gathering intelligence on the balance of power between the Lao and the Siamese in 1826-1827, Luang Prabang's King Manthathurat sent scouting parties to the towns bordering Siam proper, such as Phirnai (near Samrit), Paklai, and Nan. He referred to them as Lao towns.77 For contemporaries, there was no doubt that the areas where the Siamese tattooing agents intervened did not belong to Siam but were located in Lao country.

Lao historical annals substantiate the traditional inclusion of such towns and territories as Lao. Though they lived in an agrarian culture which favored oral tradition, the Lao were fond of recording territorial demarcations. Their most ancient annals invariably included a document called "Kong din,' literally "territorial wheel," that enumerated the natural border markers surrounding their territory.78 Lao chroniclers located the limits of the kingdom under Chao Anou as follows: " . . . on the Mekong River bank, in the west, they reach Dou Song Ton-On Song Khouai and continue to Sam Moo, frontier of Khon Lat [Khorat].,,79 The Siamese outpost at

73 Trocki (1980), p. 68; Terwiel states, "It [the tattooing] has bearing upon the system of administration as well as the class structure and class friction.' Terwiel (1979), p. 157.

74 Chotmaihet yo miiang wiangchan (1969) (T), p. 136. Along with this drastic measure, Rama EE[ ordered a follow up edition of the Treatise on the Art of War. Wales wrote, 'In 1825, at the beginning of the reign of Rama 111, it was decided to produce a new edition of the Treatise of the Art of War, owing to the confusion and neglect that had overtaken this branch of learning since Bangkok had become the capital." Wales (1952), p. 122. It would also be under this reign that the inhabitants of the Northeast areas had to learn the Bangkok standard language in the textbook "ko ka" or "prathom ko ka." Paitoon (1988), pp. 89-90.

75 Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 1, 106.

76 Ruam riiang maang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), pp. 27-28.

77 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 64-65.

78 Lafont (1988); Saveng (1980); Bang lao. Bang chum (L).

79 Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 18. This border mark ("Three trees of Mai Dou and the three burrows of the groundhog"), located at the watershed line of the mountain Phu Khouaioon, was already the demarcation between Ayudhya and Lan Sang. This natural marker was still visible in the reign of King Rama II. The monk Chao Khun Ubali, accused by some of fostering a Pan-Lao movement, had had a twin Buddha erected at this place as a reminder that the traditional Thai-Lao border was here. The twin seated Buddha is called 'Phra Ngam.' (Interview with Maha Vangkhain Suryadet, age sixty-three years, Vientiane, June 24, 1987.)




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses


30. Annexation of the Lao Muang Through Tattoing

Khorat constituted an anomaly in an otherwise Lao area; in the past, the demarcation line dividing Siam and Laos ran along the mountainous chain of Dong Phraya Fai called "the chain of Laos" by Western authors of the nineteenth century.80

The political map of this time was clear, not only to the governments of the two countries, but also to the common person. For instance, at the end of 1827, when the Vietnamese embassy was preparing to meet the chief of the Siamese occupation forces in Vientiane, the Vietnamese diplomat reported to his emperor:

... a Siamese soldier came to deliver papers and a pass to Ho Van Chat [the Vietnamese head of the delegation] as well as a bit of glutinous rice. Ho Van Chat took the occasion to question the Lao soldiers assigned by the Siamese to protect Ho Van Chat. These soldiers answered him that almost all of those who were at the Siamese camps at Lac Hoan [Lakhon or Nakhon Phanoml originated from the twelve towns of the country of Ten Thousand Elephants [the kingdom of Vientiane] including: Muang Hoi At [Roi-Et], Con Lai [Kalasin], Muang Van Van Pha Kham, Muang Pha Cai, Obon [Ubon], Kham- ma-Lai [Khemmarat], Con Kien [Khon Kaen], Muang Dong, Muang Nam, Muang Man Giang-Cat, Muang Muc-Da-han [Mukdahan]. The recruits from those towns are sent to different places under the command of Siamese chiefs.81

During the same period, the Phra Khlang of Siam addressed a letter to his counterpart in Hu6 in which he made the same identifications as those soldiers "debriefed" by Ho Van Chat. The Phra Khlang wrote that when heading to Khorat, Anou had seized "khropkhrua hua muang lao" [families of the Lao towns], and had "encircled Muang Nakhon Ratchasima and forced the inhabitants to leave their homes." The Phra Khlang dated the beginning of Anou's revolt from the moment he entered Khorat, not before; before then, Anou was still in Lao areas. The Phra Khlang identified the provenance of numerous armies converging on Vientiane to crush Anou as "troops from the Thai towns in the north, the west, the east and the Lao towns of the black bellies" [Hua muang thai fai nua, fai tawan tok, tawan ok lae hua muang lao phung dam]. He was right, since all these attacking armies were from the traditional Siamese areas in the Central Menam Chaophraya basin, excepting the people of Lan Na or "the black bellies."82 The conflagration of 1827 thus reveals a Thai-Lao opposition rooted in territorial realities and indicates that the forced symbolic and political appropriation of Lao areas, engineered by Rama 111, led to a collision between the Lao and Thai worlds. An official document taken from Bangkok in January 1827 by a British arms trader, D. E. Malloch, demonstrates the ultimate step in the process of "Siamization." According to the document, Laos was


80 Gutzlaff (1834), p. 76; Moor (1837), p. 193; Taberd (1838); Folliot (1889), p. 22; more generally, Gagneux (1976) and Stemstein (1985). Until the 1850s, Le Grand de la Liraye still referred to the 'Chain of Laos.' See Sylvestre (1889), pp. 15, 40; Cortembert and De Rosny (1862), p. 8; Roberts (1857),p. 310.

81 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 80.

82 Ruam ruang muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 41; Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 52.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses


30. Annexation of the Lao Muang Through Tattoing

no longer peopled by Lao, but by Siamese and Chinese: in this way, the official records obliterated the Lao people.
Names of Provinces

Cities, Towns, Villages

Siamese Chinese Lao Cochin-Chinese

Cambojeans, etc..

Muang Wiang Chan 150,000 2,000    
Muang Pasuk (Champassak) 7,500 450    
Muang Luang Prabang 14,500 450    
Muang Chiang Mai 75,000 900



Source: 'Names of Provinces, Principalities, Cities, Towns and Villages of Siam, with the population of each consisting of Siamese, Chinese, Peguers, Cambojeans, Tavoyans, Cochin Chinese, Laos, Malays, Moors and Christians taken from the Public Records Burney Papers, vol. 3, pt. 2, p. 357.

It is interesting that this document acknowledged the existence of Cambodians. One of their towns, "Muang Battabong" [Battambang] was said to be peopled by 150 Siamese, 1,500 Chinese, and nine thousand Cambodians; similarly, the Malay town, "Muang Calatan," was credited with 2,500 Siamese and five thousand Malays. Yet, Bangkok refused to acknowledge the discrete existence of Lao inhabitants. In short, the Bangkok court's attitude toward the Lao was specific and deliberate. Years later, a Thai researcher revealed the continued success of the early nineteenth-century policy to deny the existence of Lao people when the researcher wrote: "Laos is indeed an expression purely geographic which corresponds to no ethnographic reality.83

Siam's extensive tattooing campaign, mounted throughout traditionally Lao territories, had an economic aim: to introduce the Thai fiscal administration into Lao areas. Tribute and tax payments were calculated on the basis of the adult male population registered by tattooing. Payment was made in gold, silver, or cardamoms; as mentioned above, the bankrupt Siamese state also required forced labor from the Lao.84 The general pauperization of the Lao, particularly of the local nobles, resulted directly from this move.

The order that men in Lao territory be tattooed constituted a turning point in the history of Lao-Thai relations, for it reduced the status of Lao principalities and kingdoms to the level of Siamese provinces. Thus, a high-ranking official of Khorat would refer to the 'province of Vientiane, "85 while his superior, the governor of Khorat, would boast to Chao Anou: "Between you and me there exists no difference, for both of us are equally subjects of the king of Siam.,,86

83 Subamonkala (1940) (T), p.12.

84 Burney Papers, vol. 3, pt. 2, p. 257; Malloch (1852), p. 72.

85 Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 80-81, 87.

86 Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 76-87. Siam's policy of transforming tributary states into adopted provinces has been noted. According to one source, it was "in the Siamese interest, for example, to erode the autonomy and, where possible, the territory of the prathetsarat [tributary state]. One way in which such erosion proceeded was by blurring the distinction between the status of provincial and tributary muang....' Wilson (1970), p. 126.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses


30. Annexation of the Lao Muang Through Tattoing

Rama III's policy of incorporation had the unintended consequence of making Vientiane the rallying point of all opponents to Bangkok's policy. Even the former foes of Vientiane, such as the ruling elite of Kalasin, declared allegiance to Chao Anou.87 Distant Khmer-speaking areas, such as Khukhan, also turned to Vientiane.88 As it turned out, the tattooing process required by Bangkok had alienated a number of subjects in the tributary states and split the population into two distinct camps: those who agreed with Bangkok and those who strongly disagreed. The latter were automatically classified as rebels, which meant they were associated with Chao Anou and the Lao. The inhabitants of the Mekong River basin had to face this risk in a situation where the rules were set by Bangkok.

The tributary rulers who felt their autonomy was being threatened were faced with an unpleasant choice. If they behaved as faithful tributaries, conforming to behavior as it was defined by the Thai, they tacitly acquiesced to the erosion of their own position. If they refused to perform the duties assigned to them by their Thai suzerain or showed reluctance, they ran the risk of endangering their security by bringing their loyalty into question.89

While the rulers and ruled in the Khorat Plateau struggled in this treacherous political maelstrom, the Bangkok armies encamped at Tha Riia cast a cannon with the inscription "Prap wiangchan" [Repress Vientiane].


The Thai royal chronicle of the third reign records a war council that Anou held on his return from Bangkok, where Anou made demands on the Thai leader. Historians dispute the number and substance of these demands, but it is indisputable that the Thai keeping historical records at that time omitted facts that would harm the dynasty in Bangkok.90 In particular, they downplayed Anou's request that Bangkok return the Phra Keo (the Emerald Buddha) to the Lao. Thai historiography tends to discredit the Lao monarch by recording only Anou's seemingly frivolous demands, such as his request for Princess Duangkham and a troop of female actresses, but in fact this request for the restitution of the Emerald Buddha constituted Anou's essential demand: all others were linked to it.91 The Emerald
87 Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 75.

88 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangehan (1926) (T), p. 8.

89 Gesick (1976), P. 150.

90 Borihan (1965) (T), p. 288, has argued that there were only two demands and that the Kingdom of Laos' history text [i.e., Sila's 1957 classic in Lao] added a third: the repatriation of the Lao of Saraburi. As documents in the Thai archives demonstrate, the Lao have not rewritten history. See TNL Document Rama III (5) 1187; Ilansa (1978) (T), p. 89, note 3. Chaophraya Thiphakorawong mentions a similar third request for the return of the Lao of Saraburi.

91 Princess Duangkham and Kieokhom were the same person. See Pansa (1978) (T), p. 89, note 3. However, Lao historians argue they were not the same. They assert that Duangkham is the daughter of Chao Khimenh, Anou's seventh son, and of Nang Thonkeo, vice-king Tissa's daughter. Institute de recherches en sciences sociales (1987) (L), vol. 2, p. 286, fn. 1. Whatever the parentage of this princess, the request for the return of a family member by a vassal king of Siam was not unusual; the Cambodian king, Ong Chan, was also dismissed by the Court of Bangkok when he dared to present a similar request in 1807. Thiphakorawong (1978) (T), vol. 1, pp. 296-297.



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses


31. Increasing the stakes: the Lao Demand the return of their treasures

Buddha was seized from the Lao in 1779, when Siam initiated aggressive actions against that country. The Lao continued to feel the sting of those insulting actions up to 1827. Only after Rama III rebuffed his demands did Anou begin his rebellion,92 as Thai historiography maintains.

 But let us first examine the demands that many historians have dismissed as frivolous. The abduction of the Lao princess whom Anou sought to recover was intimately connected with the loss of the Emerald Buddha. She had been abducted by the Thai in 1779, and her name was not Duangkham, as Chaophraya T'hiphakorawong asserted, but Khieokhom (Siamized as Khiawkhom-thaajsuan), and she was Anou's sister, the femme fatale of 1778. Famed for her beauty, she rebuffed Taksin, who once had coveted her.93 In 1779, when the Thai armies stormed Vientiane, she took refuge in Wat Ho Phra Kaeo, but was ultimately removed from there and brought to Bangkok with the Emerald Buddha. Though destined for Taksin, she was raped by Chakri, Taksin's commander-in-chief and the future Thai king, on the way to Thonburi. When Taksin learned this, he exiled her and her one hundred maids to Saraburi, along with the Lao families forced to leave Vientiane.94 Repatriated in 1827 after a raid conducted by Ratsavong on Saraburi, Khieokhom was later recaptured by the Siamese armies at Pak Ngum after the fall of Vientiane.95 The fate of Khieokhom still roused the anger of the Lao during this epoch, since her carnal rape and victimization symbolized the political rape inflicted on their country by Siamese armies. Another demand entailed the return of a troop of actresses, who must have been members of the theatrical group that Rama II asked Anou to bring to perform in Bangkok. But the Siamese king, a womanizer with a thousand-member harem, demanded that the visiting actresses remain in his harem.96

Thai archives document Chao Anou's request for the return of other exiles as well, as they report that Anou asked Rama III to allow the repatriation of the Saraburi Lao, a group that had been forcibly exiled in 1779. As victims of Thai forced labor policies, the Saraburi Lao would collectively function as a powerful symbol that hampered relations between the Lao and Bangkok for many years after 1779.97 In 1792, Nanthasen had dared to request their repatriation, but he failed to gain his


92 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), pp. 25-26.

93 Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 13; Raquez (1902), p. 105; Nan Chronicle (1966, p. 45.

94 Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 14; Interview of Maha Kikdo Oudom, Vientiane, September 15, 1986. Princess Khieokhom had kept close relations with Rama I; see Thiphakorawong (1965), vol. 2, p. 471. The Lao chroniclers romanticized her by making Khieokhom Rama I's 'queen of the right.' See Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chan, p. 20.

95 TNL Document Rama HI (87) 1189/11 ching.

96 Mouhot (1863). After the death of Rama H, his successor freed the entire harem population. Burney Papers, vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 40. At that time, Anou certainly must have demanded that the Lao members be returned to Vientiane.

97 Pansa (1978) (T), p. 38. Thai archival documents agree with Vietnamese ones on this issue. See Tran Van Quy (1988), p. 12. The Lao forced to settle in Siam were not happy with their situation. For contemporary Thai poems evoking the sorrow in Lao communities in Bangkok, see Kunlasap (1981) (T), pp. 75-77.




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31. Increasing the stakes: the Lao Demand the return of their treasures

objective.98 More than twenty years later, it appeared that Rama III might perhaps be willing to discuss the issue of the Saraburi Lao, for he had agreed to the repatriation of the Lan Na rulers' kinsmen who had been forced to settle in Siam under the same circumstances.99 Three different sources suggest that the Lao were actually allowed to return home. The first is testimony given by a Lao to the Siamese armies when they captured him on approximately June 10, 1827:

My name is Khananya. I am seventy years old. My wife is the grandchild of the late Phraya Thotchomphu. We live in Saraburi. [On April 30, 1827], I came to Bangkok to purchase some goods ... I encountered some Lao who informed me that the king [of Siam] had agreed to authorize [the king of] Vientiane to repatriate the families [the inhabitants] of the four villages [of Saraburil and that Chao Ratsavong of Vientiane had come down to fetch them. I hastened to return home, but the Lao army had already taken away everybody in my village, while the houses and the granaries were intact. [On May 2,1827] I quickly pursued them. 100

The second source is a letter from Anou to the Vietnamese emperor, Minh Mang, written when he was hunting for refuge after the fall of Vientiane to the Siamese armies.

Some years before, the Siamese king invaded Lakhon [Nakhon Phanom] which is a dependency of Lan Sang, and he deported its population. Later, the king of Lan Sang had an audience with the Siamese king who gave him the authorization to repatriate them. The people of Lan Sang returned with Anou to Vientiane after he attended the ceremony of the cremation of the king's mother in Bangkok. 101

The oral tradition that persists to this day in northeast Thailand, particularly among the Phu Thai population forced to settle on the Khorat Plateau after 1827, confirms Anou's version in which the deported Lao willingly returned with him to Vientiane.

Their ancestors recounted that Chao Anou came down to Bangkok to pay homage to the burial of Rama II; once the ceremonies were over, Chao Anou returned to Vientiane. The Thai, of Lao Vientiane edu-dcity, feared that with the demise of Rama II troubles would engulf Siam, since Rama III had such enemies as Chaofa Mongkut; this population therefore came back to their homeland with Anou. But on the Thai side, there was misunderstanding. 102

With each demand, Chao Anou sought to reclaim for the Lao "treasures"- his sister, a troop of female performers, a population of exiles-that had been stolen from his country by the Thai in 1778-79. But the stolen treasure that he was most

98 Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 26,38. 1-11

99 Brailey (1968).

100 TNL Document Rama IH (20) 1189/4, testimony of Khananya, June 10, 1827.

101 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 2.

102 Sance (1978) (T), p. 166.



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31. Increasing the stakes: the Lao Demand the return of their treasures

determined to regain because it almost literally embodied the heart of Laos, was the Emerald Buddha.103 From 1550, this statue had been the palladium of Laos, and its loss in 1779 robbed the country of its soul and identity. At the time the Thai stole it, the people felt that "seizing a precious Buddha, a palladium of the kingdom, is like stealing its power from this territory."104 Thereafter, the Lao were obsessed over this loss.105 Even as early as Nanthasen's rule, the Lao had requested that the guardian image be returned to Vientiane, but Nanthasen, like Anou years later, encountered adamant refusal. 106

Prince Damrong Rajanubhab would maintain that Chao Anou presented this array of demands in order to demonstrate his influence at the court of Bangkok.107 This assessment fits the ideological slant of Thai historiography, which portrays Chao Anou as a man blinded by ambition. Again, however, one must note that the two most important requests-for the return of the Emerald Buddha and the repatriation of the Saraburi Lao- had already been tendered by Chao Anou's predecessor, Nanthasen, thirty-five years earlier. Thus, these issues cannot be dismissed as preoccupations of a cocky Chao Anou, but must be acknowledged as concerns shared by the Lao nation. Even after Anou's fall, other Lao rulers and their peoples returned again to these issues, particularly to the loss of the Emerald Buddha. 108 Moreover, it makes no sense to claim that Chao Anou made his requests in order to demonstrate his influence in Bangkok. By this time, Anou's political capital with the court of Bangkok was almost nonexistent. The nadir of Lao fortune had already been reached, and it is likely Anou understood his requests would be denied and planned to use this new manifestation of an old insult to provoke and

103 A number of sources insist that Anou sought the return of the Emerald Buddha to Vientiane. Pramuanwichaphun reveals "Phrachao Anuruttharat then decided to launch a war of national liberation and brought his armies to struggle at Bangkok and in the case of success to invite the Phra Kaeo Morakot to return to Vientiane, " Pramuanwichaphun (1937) (T), p. 43; Sila and Maha Nuan Uthensakda also wrote, "Phrachao Anou has brought his armies to combat Siam to recover the nation and invite Phra Kaeo to return to Lan Sang Vientiane.' See Sila and Maha Nuan Uthensakda (1969) (L), p. 28. Others support the argument that Chao Anou presented only one request to Rama III: the return of the Emerald Buddha to Vientiane. See Khamman (1973) (L), p. 64; Youn Oonphon (1971) (L), p. 7.

104 Archaimbault (1967), p. 557.

105 Dhawaj (1979) (T), p. 287.

106 Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 26,38.

107 Damrong, in his forward to Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 6. 108 See the speech of Admiral Decoux, Governor-General of Indochina, and the speech of Prince Phetsarath, representative of King Sisavangvong, at the inauguration of the restoration of the Wat Ho Phra Keo on March 18,1942. Martin (1985), p. 99. After the Second World War, King Sisavangvong asked for the return of the Phra Kaeo to Laos; see Direk (1978), p. 210, and Oun (1975), p. 57. Sarkisyanz comments, "The reader [of the book of Direk Jayanamal is led to believe that after the war, France demanded the Emerald Buddha from Thailand, rather than the fact that this had been the Laotian guardian Buddha of Vientiane which France was demanding to be returned to Laos.' Sarkisyanz (1971), pp. 257-258. In the beginning of the 1980s, when as the result of an astral phenomenon in the night, the whole of Vientiane town was immersed in a light brighter than the full moon beam, the inhabitants of Vientiane spontaneously headed to the That Luang, thinking that the Phra Kaeo was coming back to Laos! A persistent rumor about this statue in reported in White: "It's been said the Emerald Buddha enthroned in Bangkok is merely a copy, that the true Emerald Buddha is hidden away here in Vat Phu [Laos]." White (1987), p. 784. The rumor can be traced to Grossin, who reports that the true statue is hidden in the woods in the province of Phrae. Grossin (1933), p. 18.



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31. Increasing the stakes: the Lao Demand the return of their treasures

mobilize the energies of the Lao people. "The refusal of so unreasonable a request was a foregone conclusion; it was made merely for the sake of obtaining a useful pretext for the highly dangerous step of renouncing his allegiance to his overlord," argued historian D. G. E. Hall.109

 Anou's demands were part of a focused plan to obtain the independence- symbolized by the return of the Saraburi Lao and the Phra Kaeo-of the country. He wished to putchak khamum, which means, literally, he wished to "throw a weight off the head," according to the annals of Luang Prabang.110 The chroniclers' intentions are lost to history, but it is interesting to note that Rarna III had two nicknames as a youngster: Thap and Nangklao, both of which mean "to sit on the head" of others.111 Met with a refusal by the Siamese king, Anou informed his advisers, "The situation is becoming unbearable. We can no longer accept our position as a dependency of Siam."112


Despite common wisdom, which holds that after Anou reached Vientiane, he immediately launched an attack on Bangkok in order to loot it, a great number of contemporary sources fail to mention Lao intentions or preparations to invade Bangkok; the memoirs of Chaophraya Bodinthondecha and Princess Narinthonthewi, Lao documents seized by the Thai armies, dispatches from the Bangkok army, and Lao chronicles make no mention of any precipitous march to Siam's capital. Furthermore, the first Lao army deployed over the Khorat Plateau targeted Kalasin, far from the Siamese capital. This army, led by Vice King Chao Tissa, Anou's brother, constituted the core of the Lao effoyt.113 The army reached Kalasin in mid-December 1826, when the vanguard for the second Lao army, under Anou's command, was sbE training in Vientiane.114 That force did not make its move against Khorat until January 16, 1827.
109 Hall (1976), p. 449.

110 Phongsawadan miiang luang prabang (1969) (L), p. 41; A chronicle records that "In the year c.s. 1188, Prachao Anurutharat decided to liberate the country and brought his armies to fight the Thai as far as Khorat.' Phongsawadan mfiang phuan (1969) (L), p. 15.

111 Vella (1957), p. 3.

112 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 39. The same view is expressed by the contemporaries of Anou, such as James Low in Burney Papers, vol. 5, pt. 1, p. 89; Garnier (1870), pp. 54, 380. Historians in the twentieth century have the same opinion, as Prince Chulachakrabongse acknowledges: 'When Chao In died in 1805, Chao Anou was appointed ruling Prince of Vientiane. Although this prince had been popular and much admired in Bangkok, he was planning from the first to free his country from T'ai control.' Prince Chulachakrabongse (1967), p. 107. See also Tcem (1970) (T), P. 357; Pramuanwichaphun (1937) (T), p. 43; Toem (1956) (T), P. 149; Uthai (1966) (T), p. 301; Bunchuai (1960) (T), P. 255. The same opinion is in Osbome (1975), p. 87; Hall (1976), P. 680; Keyes (1972), p. 612. Keyes (1976), p. 47; Sila (1969) (L); Samrit (1971) (L), pp. 115-134.

113 Dhawaj (1980) (T), P. 84. Confirmation of the figure on the allocation of the Lao forces comes from a Lao official responsible for the statistics of the kingdom of Vientiane. See TNL Document Rama IH (64) 1189. The army of elephants was assigned to the theater of operations placed under the responsibility of Tissa; see Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 48.

114 Theerachai (1984) (T), p. 68.



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32. Lao rulers resist the invasion and commit to freedom

At first glance, the Lao attack on Kalasin appears long and roundabout; upon closer inspection, it is clear that the attack not only paralleled the movements of Siamese tattooing agents but was mounted as a response to that action. Suryaphakdi, one of the numerous officials assigned to the tattooing mission, was on duty in Khorat on August 14, 1826, branding census numbers on the wrists of the Ban Sung Noen villagers. A few weeks later, in the beginning of September, Suryaphakdi moved on to Suwannaphum to continue his mission. There, he seared the wrists of nearly three thousand persons with the iron-red fire at that time. In November 1826, he reached Kalasin, where many peasants fleeing the tattooing in Khorat had taken refuge.115 in this town he encountered Vice King Chao Tissa, who had come to carry out the order to prevent further tattooing. Suryaphakdi, located eight days' walk from Vientiane, was drawing near Sakon Nakhon, a town loyal to Anou. From there, he intended to go to Nakhon Phanom, also an ally of Vientiane.116

In the southernmost area of Laos, the Siamization process was more advanced. Siamese agents117 responsible for tattooing had largely taken over Chao Yo's kingdom; they were busy at Siang Teng, Saenpang, Khong, and Attapeu.118 In the western corner, Siamese agents Luang Srisena and Phraya Ranikhamhwng operated with their branding irons at Surin and Khukhan in September 1826.

On this gloomy political map, one ray of light remained. The governor of Saraburi had gone on strike and refused to gather the inhabitants for tattooing.119 He was a Lao who had been taken prisoner and removed from Vientiane in 1779, and he, along with all Lao in Saraburi, remained faithful to their homeland. His behavior presented a challenge to Bangkok rule, for Saraburi was just three days travel from the Siamese capital. The endangered situation of faithful Lao like those in Saraburi precipitated Anou's and Ratsavong's reaction.

The Lao goal must have been to "respond to the imxnediate crisis," which would explain why Chao Anou required Tissa to capture Suryaphakdi in the act of tattooing Kalasin's inhabitants. The Lao were ordered to kill all Siamese agents carrying out the tattooing.120 The Phun viang chronicles expressed their abhorrence for the Siamese officials l2l; the document railed with invective against the governor of Khorat, who complacently proposed to the new Siamese king that tattooing be extended to all Lao territories.122 These same chronicles avoid mentioning Rama III by name, though he had masterminded the whole operation.

Contemporaries of the drama recounted it in simple words. A Thai officer speaking to a diplomat from the court of Hue said, "Lan Sang does not surrender. Siam will have to fight its way to Lan Sang in this way."123 Before trampling the fort of Nong Bua Lam Phu, a Thai commander asked the besieged Lao, "Do you accept to pay the gold and silver flower?," a question that effectively asked whether the Lao

115 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 19.

116 TNL Document Rama HI (84) 1189/11 ching.

117 Their chiefs were Phya Wisethatcha and Khun Wisetsongkhram.

118 TNL Document Rama Ell (58) 1189/11 ngu.

119 TNL Document Rama EE[ (23) 1189/ 11 kai.

120 Dhawai (1980) (T), p. 41.

121 See Dhawaj (1980) (T); Dhawaj (1982) (T); Prathip (1982) (T), pp. 29-32.

122 Dhawaj (1982) (T), p. 31.

123 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 80.



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32. Lao rulers resist the invasion and commit to freedom

would accept their country's position as a Siamese dependency.124 A political observer of this time stressed that "the war originated from the Lao people's refusal to send the golden flower-the usual mark of homage."125

An 1824 proclamation that decreed the tattooing of the Lao quickly prompted a reaction from them. At the beginning of 1825, Anou asked all the town elders in whom he had confidence to provide granaries and to train and arm villagers.126 These towns were on Anou's itinerary when he traveled to Bangkok to attend the royal funeral ceremony. Thus, momentum toward an insurrection was generated well before Anou addressed his demands, which were rebuffed, to Rama III. Throughout 1825, Anou expected the return of Ratsavong and the majority of the Lao elite who were engaged in forced labor in Bangkok. Anou also patiently waited through 1826, for he did not wish to move ahead until he knew the outcome of the Anglo-Burmese War, on which depended the possibilities for peace among the Lao, the Siamese, and their formal ally, the British.127 The end of the Burmese war triggered a course of events in Bangkok, prompting Rama III to compromise with the British in order, according to Bouillevaux, "to fall upon the Lao with all his strength.,128 Though caught off-guard by the unexpected end of hostilities in Burma, the Lao nevertheless nourished hopes until the end of 1826 that a conflict might ensue between Siam and Britain, the two allies joined by the Yandabo Treaty. They thought that if Siam became involved in a struggle against its purported ally, Britain, the Lao might have time to cope with the annexation scheme decreed by Rama III. The effective mobilization of their resistance would require at least three years. The war they hoped to see continue in Burma would allow them the time they desperately needed.

Rama III predicted the Lao would react angrily to the tattooing process and used his understanding of their reactions to entice them into a trap that would finally dash their ambitions for independence. Rama III even entrusted Ratsavong with two letters for Anou when Anou's son left Bangkok for Vientiane on September 14,1826. Scrapping the rigid protocol which forbade a Siamese king from directly addressing his tributaries, Rama III asked Anou to prepare to come to Bangkok and help him if needed; he also forwarded to Anou a copy of the Burney Treaty that Siam was concluding with the British.129 Rama III sent the Burney treaty to inform Anou of the extent of Siam's official authority. This 'English treaty," as Anou called it, contained in its first article the following: "The Siamese shall settle every matter within the Siamese boundaries according to their own will and customs."130 This provision differed from others, which emphasized equally the British and Siamese obligations. It amounted to a sell-out of the Lao, who had considered the British a potential ally.

124 TNL Document Rama IH (26) 1189/4 kai.

125 Low (1839), p. 248. 1

26 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 35-36.

127 Burney Papers, vol. 1, pt. 1, p. 62.

128 Bouillevaux (1874), p. 413.

129 Anou referred to all of these documents in his letter to Rama III on January 15, 1827. This letter is preserved in the Thai National Library, under the call number, Document RamaIII (6) 1188/20, and published in Chotmaihet Ruang Muang Nakhon Ratchasima (1968) (T), pp. 27-29, as well in Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 155-156, and also in Prathip (1982) (T), pp. 35-38.

130 Moor (1837), P. 218.



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32. Lao rulers resist the invasion and commit to freedom

Siam's strengthened position, newly won as a result of its treaty negotiations with the British, prompted the Lao to mobilize and to deploy their armies over the entire Khorat Plateau.131 Events developed rapidly: Ratsavong arrived in Vientiane around December 28,1826, at the same time as a high- ranking official from Lomsak. Following them came the resident envoy from Luang Prabang and representatives from sakon Nakhon, Kalasin, Siang Khuang, Nakhon Phanom and other principahties.132 They gathered to conceive a plan of operations. C)ne author has summarized their attitude in these words:

The Siamese Thai had begun a period of rapid expansion ... But the Lao were not to cede their place of note in the peninsula without one final flourish of quixotic courage and recklessness which, with its catastrophic denouement, sounded the death knell to hopes for a genuinely independent Lao kingdom. 133

Minh Mang's envoy was also in Vientiane at this crucial moment and categorically opposed the Lao move. Later he accused Lao nobles of conniving with the Siamese to undermine Anou's efforts, and in this way he cautiously avoided directly implicating Rama 111.134 The court of Hue advocated maintenance of the status quo-an action motivated by self- interest-even though the status quo no longer existed because the stage had already been turned upside down by the Burmese defeat and the triumphant entry of a new challenger, Britain, in the region. By opposing the Lao move, Minh Mang unwittingly prepared for the Thai invaders to move against his own homeland. Siam's leaders had decided that to survive in this dangerous new world, Siam must enact a bold expansionist policy; that policy would push into Laos, Cambodia, and ultimately into Vietnam itself.


131 Five months later, close to total defeat, Chao Anou confided his disappointment to Chao Pho Niia Thong, son of the king of Luang Prabang, who reported that "Chao Anou and his officials had realized that they had committed a great error." TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4, dispatch of Phraya Phetphichai to Phraya Sisahathep. For a likely reiteration of Anou's confession, see Roberts (1837), p. 156. Prathip proposed a similar view: "The Siamese power seeks by all means to definitely settle the fate of the Hua Muang Lao in order to destroy the traditional basis of the power of their ruling elite and to make a clean sweep of the workforce taken on the plateau of the Northeast and to carry it to the Central Plain [of the Menam Chaophraya]. In reality, Siamese power has indeed a great need to 'seize the opportunity' of this affair of the revolt of Chao Anou. The royal chronicle of the court of Bangkok 'strove' to distort the meager size of the local troops of the Lao." Prathip (1982) (T), pp. 38-39.

132 TNL Document Rama III (79) 1189/11 ngu, testimony of Ai Chan, received in Bangkok May 25,1827. Tamnan muang sakon nakhon, in Kham (1980c) (L), p. 3. Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 16. Chao Noi of Siang Khuang was in Vientiane around the 12th Lao (lunar) month (approximately November 1826).

133 Barber (1979), P. 44.

134 About the presence and purpose of the Vietnamese embassy in Vientiane, see TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4, Phraya Phetphichai to Phraya Sisahathep, April 17, 1827. About Hue's assertion that Anou had been betrayed by Lao nobles, see Kulap (1971) (T), vol. 2, p. 750.



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



As the Siamese general Bodin admitted to Vietnamese diplomats, Siam encountered in Laos "an armed and popular insurrection." 135 Launching a three-year program designed to succeed in resisting Siamese expansion and repression, Anou first emptied the Khorat Plateau of its population. This strategy prevented the Bangkok armies from recruiting there, a move that bought him time,136 and also insured that Anou had a pool of people from which he could raise and train an army equal to that of Siam. He assigned a portion of the relocated population the task of increasing rice cultivation.137 Throughout, his maneuvers were made easier by the fact that the governor of Khorat had abandoned the region with his own troops. By first moving his Lao troops into Khorat, Anou hoped to dissuade and threaten Bangkok while it simultaneously disrupted Bangkok's communication lines with its army. Unfortunately, the leaders in Bangkok considered the Lao presence trivial and decided to move the Thai armies forward.

Transferring the population of Khorat to Vientiane presented an immense challenge, but was necessary for a successful insurrection. What's more, it could be interpreted as an act of repatriation, for members of the population were being returned to their former omelands. People originally from Luang Prabang returned to that region, and people from Chiang Mai returned to Chiang Mai. Those from Vientiane were distributed among the fighting units of Anou's armies.

Anou's strategies diverged from the practice of Lao's former leader, Setthathirat, who had preferred to leave the capital to his enemies and fight from hiding places in the countryside. In many ways, this insurrection constituted a replay of the war of 1778-1779, for once again the Lao forces were marshaled in defense of the capital, but this time they were gathered around Vientiane in order to clear the battleground before the advance of the Lao monarch's adversaries. Anou's was a three-pronged plan, involving resettlement of the Khorat Plateau population, execution of military maneuvers to dissuade Thai armies to leap forward, and, in case of failure, to lure the Siamese armies to fight in a territory where many of their advantages would be neutralized, and thirdly, extension of diplomatic overtures to potential Lao and Khmer allies. No contingency plans had been prepared, however, for the worst- case scenario.

 According to the Phun viang chronicles, the essentially political thrust of the first prong called for the repatriation of the population within the 'ancient limits of Lan Sang," which was bounded by the Dong Phraya Fai mountain chain.138 This operation - in itself a mission impossible - was to have been completed in January and February 1827. The news that Khorat's overnor had emptied Khorat of its

135 Bodin's communication to the diplomat of the Court of Hu6 is recorded in Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 162.

136 Most Southeast Asian military establishments considered three years the period of time necessary to prepare a country to withstand the challenge of an onslaught. For instance, the Burmese, who engineered a coup d'etat against the British in 1837, said to need two or three years to prepare themselves to fight the British on the battlefield. Hall (1974), p. 295.

137 TNL Document Rama HI (3) 1188/20, testimony of Nai In, March 31,1827.

138 Khamphon (1936) (T), p. 49. A contemporary Western confirmation is in, for instance, Low (1851), p. 512.



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



forces precipitated a key component of the first prong: a hghbiing raid on Saraburi. Had the governor of Khorat remained with his troops within the walled confines of his fortress, the Lao would have had to wait in Vientiane for the Thai invaders. Because they rushed into Khorat, Anou and his countrymen were branded as "rebels" by Bangkok, a designation that virtually required a forceful reaction from the suzerain. 139

The evacuation of the Khorat Plateau was accomplished ruthlessly. Lao soldiers bluntly asked, 'Lao or Thai?" to determine whether inhabitants would live or die. 140 They executed all Thai commoners summarily, while high-ranking Thai officials- totaling forty-two persons- were taken prisoner and beheaded on Don Chan island opposite Vientiane.141 The remaining local elites from Kalasin, Chonnabot, Chaiyaphum, Phukhieo, and Khorat were asked one additional question: Would they relocate themselves to Vientiane or not?142 All recalcitrants were treated as Siamese; in short, they were killed. Later, Thai soldiers posed the same question when trampling through these areas, but demanded a different answer.143

The Lao wished to use surprise and speed to gain advantage over the Siamese armies camping near the Khorat Plateau. They had little else working in their favor, for their forces had to cover a huge expanse of reclaimed territory without adequate training, equipment, reserves, or logistical assistance,144 a situation that stretched the communication lines between these armies to the breaking-point. Perceiving their own liabilities, the Lao initially avoided confrontation with the Siamese armies. This strategy explains why Chao Ratsavong did not remain in Saraburi, where he could have amassed the Lao exiles there and attempted a coup in Bangkok. But that was not a goal. Instead, Ratsavong evacuated the entire Saraburi population and began his retreat to Khorat on the same day.

At the end of the first phase, more than twenty-five thousand persons had been evacuated to Vientiane, which previously had a population of ten thousand. 14,5 Some 12,421 others from Khon Kaen, Roi-Et, Khorat, Kalasin, Suwannaphum, Ubon, Phukhieo, and Phuthaisong were still en route to Vientiane when Vientiane fell,146 while others gathered by Chao Ratsavong from Muang Nakhon Chum, Nakhon Thai, Loei, Lomsak, Dansai, Kaenthao, and Muang Hain stopped to the west of

139 See the testimony given in Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 11; Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), p. 36; TNL Document Rama M (99) 1188/20. Fifteen years after the conflict, a Siamese commander-in-chief continued to emphasize the crime of 1ese-majeste in a letter to the Prince of Huaphan Ha Thang Hok: see Chotmaihet kieokap khamen lae yuan nai ratchakan thi sam (1970) (T), pp. 91-92; his name was Phraya Thammathibodi. He attempted to convince his Lao addressee to surrender to him: "Anou, Chao Muang Vientiane, entered into rebellion and ... had the daring to come to attack Nakhon Ratchasixna. The grandeur of His Majesty (king of Siam) being incomparable, Anou could not resist the [Siamese] armies and encountered misfortune."

140 TNL Document Rama RI (29) 1189/10; Document Rama M (9) 1188/20.

141 Prachum chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1930) (T), p. 133.

142 Prachum chat ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1930) (T), pp. 113, 114, 121, 122; Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 44.

143 TNL Document Rama IH (20) 1189/4; also Document Rama In (13) 1188/20.

144 About 170,226 square kilometers (more than a third of present-day Thailand).

145 TNL Document Rama III (36) 1189/11 kai.

146 TNL Document Rama III (87) 1189/11 ching.




Many Provocations and Anou's Responses


33. Mapping out a plan to counter the catastrophe on the Khorat Plateau

Vientiane.147 The elderly, women, children, non-Lao and others who were ineligible for conscription made up the latter group.

Ethnic Lao were automatically conscripted into armies. Army commanders sent these recruits to defend a number of positions; they were moved, for instance, to defend the fort erected at Ban Thaenl48 when Anou made his advance to Khorat, and to Nong Bua Lam Phu after Anou chose it as a headquarters over Ban Thoen.149 It was the second prong of the Lao plan that determined the conscripts' movements, for the Lao strategists hoped to lure the advancing Siamese armies during the deadly rainy season into unknown territory where the geography would prevent the Siamese from utilizing their superior firepower and war elephants.150 Thus they planned to arrange for the two Lao armies to meet to defend their territory, territory comprised of the areas bounded by Nong Bua Lam Phu in the south, the Thong Sompoi basin, and the Khao San pass.

The third prong was a diplomatic one. It aimed at persuading the rulers of Lan Na (Chiang Mai, Larnpang, Lamphun, Nan, and Phrae-) and the Khmer of Khukhan, Sisaket, and Surin, to commit themselves politically if not militarily to the Lao cause. Lao strategists hoped these alliances would not only strengthen their side but also puzzle and frustrate Bangkok. 151

In the end, however, this three-part plan failed to gain a preliminary victory for the Lao, who were crushed by Siamese forces in the vicinity of Vientiane.152 At this point, the Lao high command hastily came up with a fourth strategy that they hoped would allow for a temporary retreat and retrenchment. Formulated as a response to problems in Khorat and the bleak situation that prompted Anou's retreat from Vientiane, Lao commanders quickly organized a resistance at Nakhon Phanom, eight days' sail down the Mekong River from Vientiane.1,53 This sanctuary offered two advantages: it was ruled by a loyalist and was geographically close to Vietnam. All remnants from defeated armies were to be directed toward this town, where the armies of Chao Yo, which had to retreat to the Phu Khi Kai mountains encircling a large plateau, protected them in the south. Another route taken by retreating armies

147 TNL Document Rama III (47) 1189/16; also Document Rama HI (64) 1189/11 khwai.

148 Chotmaihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 11.

149 Chot?naihet riiang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 12, 23-24.

150 Kennedy (1970), p. 344. Siam had used the same strategic assets during its offensive in Cambodia in 1813. See Chandler (1973), p. 90.

151 Chao Anou in part succeeded in his operation, particularly in the Khmer confines of IChukhan, Surin, and Sisaket. Bangkok had serious doubts about their loyalty to Siam and had to drain part of its forces from Frachinburi to these areas. A dispatch of the Siamese general staff raises this significant point: "If Phraya Ratchasuphawadi had succeeded in crushing the Ai Lao-Khmer in the East. . . " See Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), v. 3, p. 37.

152 Kulap (1971) (T), p. 269. Relying on the experience of the Siamo-Vietnamese conflict in Cambodia in 1813, in which Siam preferred to withdraw from the country during the rainy season, the Lao establishment anticipated its repetition in 1827. As a matter of fact, Siam had already drawn lessons from 1813 and eagerly sought a swift decision on the battlefield in order to prevent the internationalization of the conflict with the intervention of a third power, such as the court of Hue. See also Chandler (1973), p. 90.

153 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), pp. 12-13. On this Lao spirit of "the resistance continues,' see the confirmation by Bodin himself, in Kulap (1971) (T), pp. 297,317,363.



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



followed the Mekong River from Siang Khan, and then moved on to Siang Khuang,154 Luang Prabang, China, or even Burma l55.

The total exhaustion and grave losses endured by the Lao armies, compounded by disorganization in the command structure, doomed the fourth prong of the Lao plan, which was invented as a response to defeats already suffered and called for fighting on the run, often while in retreat, with the hope of regrouping in safe areas beyond the reach of Siam's armies. Even so, the plan incorporated self-defeating weaknesses born of a strange combination of desperation and overconfidence. On the one hand, Lao planners failed even to imagine the possibility of their defeat. They envisioned that in the worst case, the Lao would have to barricade themselves at Vientiane; no one had prepared to protect people, resources, and soldiers in the event of defeat. The failure of Lao leaders to plan for all contingencies contributed to the disparities in Lao-Thai power and may have made Siam's task easier.


According to history texts, the Lao high-command directly responsible for managing the crisis in 1827 was composed of a very limited circle of "initiates." Thai and Lao historiography fail to mention a large summit held in late 1826 in Vientiane, which gathered rulers from towns along both sides of the Mekong. This omission leaves historians free to assign full responsibility to a war council convened in the Lao capital and attended by Vientiane officials under Chao Anou's presidency, including Vice King Upparat Tissa, Chao Sutthisan, Chao Ratsabut Yo, Chao Ratsavong, Phagna Miiang Sai, Phra Plat Miiang Saen, Phra Plat Muang Chan, Sanon, and Chao Kom Satsadi.1,56 In his Memoirs of War, Bodin gave a longer list that included Koan Vieng, an official responsible for the administration of the capital, Koan Sao, responsible for palace affairs, Koan Thosana, responsible for rice field affairs, and Koan Khang, in charge of finance. 157

In fact, the decision-making process was confined to a few members of the royal family.158 Judging from communications intercepted by the Thai armies, these members held a total monopoly over policy. The result was excessive personalization

154 Siang Khan was indeed at the top of the Lao military agenda. As soon as the Lao troops left Vientiane for Khorat, Anou asked the king of Luang Prabang to send soldiers and rice to this town located in upper Vientiane. See TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4.

155 One Lao commander, Phagna Sanon, went to Siang Khuang. Maha Vankham Suryade, Interview, Vientiane, June 24,1987. See also documents compiled in Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 150. Still in 1830, five thousand prisoners, almost all inhabitants of the kingdom of Vientiane, were detained around the town of Paklai, waiting to be sent to Bangkok; see Snit and Breazeale (1988), p. 12. Burma sheltered some of Anou's relatives. Saimong (1965).

156 See Sila (1969) (L), p. 29.

157 Kulap (1971) (T), pp. 173-74.

158 Wyatt covers the fundamental differences between the Siam, Lanna, and Lan Sang sources, which insured the supremacy of the Siamese over their Lao neighbors and even the Burmese. Wyatt (1984), p. 124. A contemporary view is given by Low: "There is strong affinity betwixt the Siamese and Burman plans of government. But in their details it would seem that a firmer chain of responsibility has been wrought throughout the body politic in Siam than in that of Ava." Low (1839), p. 247.



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



and centralization, which resulted in a lack of initiative among lower- level military leaders, and a lack of understanding among leaders at the top. When the situation worsened, Anou had to rely on a collective body formed by Chao Ratsavong and some plebeian generals; this brain-trust, collected at the last hour, deserves credit for the competent direction of the Sompoi-Khao San battle.

At sixty years of age, Chao Anou seemed immune to circumstances, and his patriotism and strength were indisputable. The veteran had a thick skin; he dared to challenge the natural cataclysm that had devastated his capital city, despite the counsel given by advisors who interpreted the earthquake as a bad omen. In preparation for war, Anou had his soldiers receive military training outside the capital in order to spare his recruits the sight of Vientiane devastated by an earthquake.159 The 1827 campaign exposed his weaknesses. He was beset with doubts; after the Khorat affair, he constantly repeated that he would "make Khorat [his] coffin.,,160 He said the same thing when inspecting Nong Bua Lam Phu.161 This suicidal pessimism was transitory, however, and Anou soon roused himself to lead soldiers personally to the battlefield.162 After the fall of Vientiane, he continued to organize resistance in remote mountainous areas despite his meager resources. 163

But weaknesses in the command structure, particularly evident at the top level, which was filled by Anou's relatives, hampered Chao Anou's efforts to lead his armies to victory. Anou's sons and brothers, occupying positions of military authority, were too often inexperienced and even jealous of one another. Undoubtedly, the most effective of these princely commanders was Chao Ratsavong, who resembled Anou, but also displayed his own special, individual buoyancy and panache. 164 He stood at the forefront of all the battles. Fearing his military prowess, the Thai tried to ascertain whether Ratsavong was commanding the battle in person.165 Even Rama III knew him well and blamed Ratsavong for having pushed Lomsak to fight the Thai armies with such violent detern-dnation.166

Number two in the Lao military hierarchy, vice king Tissa, Anou's brother by a different mother, possessed a field command. With Tissa, the petty jealousies that characterized Anou's relatives in the military began. Tissa disliked having to obey his nephew, Chao Ratsavong, the fair-skinned, robust twenty-five-year-old commander. 167 Following their defeat, Tissa blamed Ratsavong for the events of 1827 and thereafter.

159 TNL Document Rama III (64) 1189/11 khwai, Somdet, testimony of Thao Lao, received in Bangkok May 15, 1827; TNL Document Rama III (19) 1189/4, testimony of Ai Ngoen; Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), v. 3, p. 113.

160 TNL Document Rama III (8) 1188/20, testimony of Kaeo Ot, March 27,1827.

161 TNL Document Rama HI (28) 1189/10, testimony of Phagna Narin.

162 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), pp. 54, 57; Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 38.

163 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 61.

164 Contemporary Thai documents, in fact, wrote just "Anou-Ratsavong' when referring to the prince. "Ratsavong" was his function title; his real name was Ngao, meaning 'roots" or "origin," a very common name even today in northeastern Thailand.

165 Chotmaihet ruang prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), p. 36.

166 TNL Document Rama III (52) 1189/11, vol. 2.

167 TNL Document Rama IE (79) 1189/1 ngo, testimony of Ai Chan.



Many Provocations and Anou's Responses



Anou nominated his eldest son, Chao Sutthisan, to take command of operations in Khorat, an appointment that created frustration among some Lao officialS.168 At thirty years, Sutthisan was a tall man with fair skin and a long face.169 Responsible for Khorat, Sutthisan directed the front-line on the battlefield, but failed in his assigrunent. The defeat must have utterly broken him, because he played no further role in the events.

Though he was the king of Champassak, Chao Yo held the fourth rank and the title, "Ratsabut," in the Vientiane hierarchy. He was in charge of operations in the south of the Khorat Plateau. Anou provided Yo with two of his sons, Thong and Pane, to help him when the situation became desperate. Thong, who had joined with Tissa to seize most towns on the Khorat Plateau, had thereafter joined Anou at Khorat.

In this manner, Anou had distributed all field command positions to royal family members. Lacking a functional chain of command that worked as a team, Anou, his relatives, the Lao, and their allies faced a terrible defeat.

168 Chotmaihet ratchakan thi sam (1987) (T), vol. 3, p. 30.

169 His real name was Chao Po, while Sutthisan was his function title.