A Brief History of Laos
The Lao People's Democratic Republic, commonly known as Laos (sounds like 'louse') is located in South-East Asia where it is sandwiched by Vietnam on the East and Thailand on the West. It shares its northern border with China and Burma/Myanmar, and its southern border with Cambodia (map). It's population is about 6.6 million people.
Laotian are believed to be descendents of Thai tribes from the 13th century. In the mid-14th century a powerful kingdom was founded by Fa Ngoun (1353-73) who is credited with the introduction of Buddhism to the area. In 1707 internal dissent split the country into two kingdoms (upper northern and lower southern). Vientiane, the setting of the novel is in the lower region. During the next century the two states, constantly quarreling, were overrun by the armies of the neighboring countries, mainly Siam (which became Thailand in 1939). In 1893 Siam was forced to recognize a French protectorate over Laos, so Laos became part of French Indochina.
During World War II, the Japanese occupied French Indochina. When Japan surrendered, the countries in the area, including Laos, declared their independence, but soon after French troops reoccupied the former territory of Indochina, which lead to the First Indochina War. Following the French defeat, Laos gained full independence at the Geneva peace conference in 1954. Soon after Laos, along with Cambodia and, of course, Vietnam, became embroiled in the Second Indochina War, known to Americans as the Vietnam War. For more about this time period, see the history of Vietnam in the sidebar to The Father of All Things.
After Communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia, the Pathet Lao took control of Laos in the 1970s (the setting of this series), abolished the monarchy and made Laos a republic with a Communist premier. In the early '90's Laos abandoned economic communism for capitalism, but the party retains tight control.
The Hmong are one of the hill tribes living in the area that borders Thailand, Burma, Vietnam and Laos (sometimes referred to as the Golden Triangle). Other tribes include the Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Akha and Mien.
In the prologue to the book, the author tells the fascinating story of the Hmong. Because the valuable Book which contained their history (and many important things that it was necessary to know in life and the great journey between death and re-birth) was eaten by cows and rats, their history was misplaced and had to be told orally. Then the first-ever Hmong Shaman taught six earthly brothers how to play six music pipes of different lengths which could guide the dead to the Otherworld without the map. Later mankind was taught to put the six pipes together and play them with six fingers as one instrument. Thus, the geng was born. The Hmong now had a musical language that communicated from one soul to another.
This article is from the September 18, 2008 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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