The Testament of Khun Borom
Being now truly King, Borom ordered rice-fields to be laid out; he chose the best of the new men to be chiefs and the most gifted of the new women to be the wives of his seven sons.
The elephant, his father's gift, being dead, Borom made the tusks into seven pieces and gave them to his children; he then distributed among them the sabres and precious objects he had brought down from Heaven at the very beginning.
He next divided the immense crowd of people into seven large groups and gave one of his sons to each of them as King.
Having chosen an auspicious day, he summoned to him the seven princes and their companions and called upon the whole population to assemble with their chiefs.
As he had done in the past, Phya Fa Kun bade the young men to sit in the middle.
They brought him a golden vessel full of consecrated water, his children drew near, the men and women all clasped their hands together and the King, pressing them in his own, plunged them into the lustral water.
Then speaking to the Princes, he said:
« / ask you to be good Kings to your peoples; to do your best to earn their love; to avoid quarrelling and live in friendship together and to see to it that your peoples look upon one another as you yourselves look on one another between elder and younger brothers, and that the rich help the poor; always to take advice before action, and never to fight against each other.
« Never kill your wives for their transgressions, for such is the will of Phya Theng; they were the first to be born, to cause their death would be to bring down trouble on the country, and make short the rule of your Kings.
« May those who respect my words and are mindful of my counsels be happy in all their descendants, may those who are forgetful be short-lived. »
Addressing himself to their wives:
a Go to rest before your husbands, and be always the first to rise; always forestall their commands, do not wait for them to order you to prepare food, fabrics, whatever is necessary to their welfare: be mindful of their servants, watch over the plantations, the gardens.
« Whatever you may hear in your home, tell it not beyond your walls, whatever you hear beyond your walls, tell it not in your home. « Suffer the wicked in your house as well as the good; what knowledge you may have of good or evil, think well before you make it known to your husbands, then act according as your heart guides you. « In the countries where you will reign, have four, three or two friends to advise you; when they are of a different opinion from you, think well before you follow your own counsel.
« When the Kings, your husbands, will have judged or condemned someone, never make it your business to examine their reasons with a view to making them change their mind.
«Do not dispose of what belongs to your husband, do not give your love to another man.
« And finally, all you my children, who are human beings, refrain from lying in speaking of your possessions, do not drink spirits to the point of forgetfulness, and do not smoke opium for these are shameful things. Seek to imitate the Pra Put (1), our Master, who when he sees a poor man does not wait for him to beg for alms. » Having finished speaking Borom took their hands out of the holy water. He bade all the chiefs draw near for the coronation ceremony of his sons.
They were invested with the five Insignia (2) and their father did everything with the same slow stateliness as had the Phya Theng Fa Khun at his own coronation long ago.
He then showed them, all fourteen at once, to the seven peoples who stood motionless and without speaking a word, and taking sheets of gold, as did also the Queens Yomakara and El Keng and all the chiefs, they wrote that Khun L6, the eldest Prince, would go and rule over the Muong Swa Lan Xang.
They took other sheets of gold and set down that Khun Lan would rule over the Muong Howang, Sai-Kam and Vililat.
The Khun Chuc Son over the Muong Laniphom Nahataras.
The Khun Kamphuong over the Muong Khum-KhamNhoNocarat.
The Ehun In over the Muong Luvo.
The Khun Chet Choeung over the Muong Pu Eun.
The Khun Chet Cheang over the Muong Un (3).
(1) A corruption of Pra Buddha, the « Lord Buddha ».
(2) The five royal insignia were : the Crown ; the Nine Sabres ; the Gongs ; the Conches and all musical instruments ; the Tables, the Betel-Box, Kitchen Utensils, Crockery, Bowls and Cups ; a Carpet of cloth of gold for the Elephant's head (Editor's
(3) This dividing of the country between the children of Borom would seem to refer, besides Luang Prabang, to Yunnan, Nghg-An, the Sip Song Panna, Siam, Tran-
ninh and Western Laos.
In another manuscript, An Abridged History of the Land of Lan Xang Kom-Khao, the dividing out is done as follows : Luang Prabang, Nghe-An, Xieng-mai, Yunnan Sip Song Panna, Siam and Tran-ninh.
As each in his turn was appointed, the young men went and took up their place at the head of their people.
Their father ended with the following words:
« Go and rule over your countries and keep my counsel in your hearts.
« Store up riches in order to share them; set a portion of them aside in case of famine, and if that scourge does occur then give the said portion to the women to be distributed in alms.
« Set another portion aside for hermits and old monks.
« Set a third one aside for those chiefs who have been of assistance to you in the conduct of affairs.
« A fourth for those exiles who come and ask you to give them shelter.
«Another for the blind, the crippled and the wounded.
« And lastly, one that you may have the necessaries if some evil neighbor attacks you or forces you into war.
« // you receive gifts, give equivalent presents back. »
Khun Borom having thus spoken to his fourteen children in the presence of their peoples, his words were repeated and respectfully observed right up till our own time.
Since the time of his leaving Heaven, twenty-five years had gone by.
(From Auguste Pavie's French translation)
We are back at the very beginning of the world. Heaven and Earth communicate with each other. In Heaven the ruler is the Phya Theng (1); on Earth there are three chiefs: Khun Khet, Khun Kan and Khun Pu Lan Xong, and they govern a brutal and unruly humanity. Civilization has not yet made its appearance; men live by hunting and fishing. The Phya Theng wishes for a share of their prey; he demands it of them several times without success. Deeply angered, he takes his revenge by causing a flood. The three Khuns had forseen this catastrophe and had built themselves a floating house. Borne upon the waters they arrive in Heaven, offer the Phya Theng their apologies and obtain permission to remain with him.
After a certain lapse of time the flood begins to subside and the Earth appears once more. The three Khuns beg to be allowed to return to the « Lower Land » (muong lum): on taking leave of them the Phya Theng presents them with a buffalo.
the legend of the pumpkins
The three Khuns settled at Na Noi (Muong Theng) (2) and with the help of their buffalo they began to lay out rice-fields. But at the end of three years the buffalo died. From his nostrils there sprang a Creeping Plant that bore three Pumpkins. These fruits grew to be enormous. When they were ripe a Joud noise was heard inside them. Pu Lan Xong took a piece of red-hot iron and pierced a hole in the Pumpkins: immediately crowds of men came pouring out. There were so many of them that the opening was too narrow to allow them through; seeing this the Khun seized a chisel and cut new openings for them. Such is the origin of the two races that people Laos: the Khas are those that came out
(1) Theng: heavenly Spirits (Editor's note).
(2) Another variant : « The place was called Muong Sinkalassi, we call it since Muong Theng, Land of the Theng » (Pavie) (Editor's note).
through the holes made with a red-hot iron; the Thais are those who passed through the openings hacked out with the chisel. The Khas are dark and wear their hair done up in chignons (klao phom); the Thais are light complexioned and wear their hair short (1). Khun Pu Lan Xong then set about civilizing the Sons of the Pumpkin. He taught them how to build houses, he explained the marriage and funeral rites, the respect due to parents and the cult of the ancestors. But these men soon multiplied to such an extent that the three Khuns no longer sufficed to govern them. In answer to their prayer the Phya Theng, or Fa K'un, sent down to Earth as Tao Phya, Khun Ku and Khun Kon, but they were a failure; so he called them back and sent in their place his own son, Khun Borom.
the descent of khun borom
The King of Heaven first sent down the Theng Ten and P'issanukan (Visvakarman) in advance of his son, and they taught men agriculture and the mechanical arts. Then the celestial procession got under way. Khun Borom, clothed in the royal insignia, rode on an elephant whose tusks crossed each other and who went by the name of Nga kieu gna k6t, son of Airavana; and at his side were his two wives, Yammapala (Yomakara), daughter of the Theng Kom, and Ek Keng, daughter of the Theng Xang. He had also a marvellous horse called Xat xua p'on ro hok. With him were the Khuns Thammarat, Seng Manosat, Un, K'li. Before him walked the Phu Thao Y6 and his wife, Me Ya Ngam, bearing the axe; behind him went the Thao Lai and his wife, Me Mot, carrying the coupe-coupe (pa) and the spade (siem). It was a Sunday, a day which is kap yi. They landed at Na noi oi nu. The two Thengs, Ten and P'issanukan ascended into Heaven once more to render an account of their mission to Fa K'un. It was then that it occurred to them that from among the useful arts that had been taught to mankind, music had been overlooked. Fa K'un at once sent the Devra Si K'anthap (Gandhabba) to supply this want. And then, to preserve himself against the importunities of mankind, he severed the rattant bridge that linked the Earth to Heaven. And ever since that time all intercourse between gods and men has ceased.
the severed creeper
While Khun Borom was organizing the Lower Country, a Kua khao kat Creeper was seen to rise from the Ground. It
(1) The legend of the Pumpkins is one of the most popular in Laos : later it will be seen that the person who drew up the Charter of Vat Keo went so far as to derive from it the Kingdom's very name (Editor's note).
grew so fast that it soon covered the whole Earth with its shade. Men could no longer see the Sky and were deprived of all light and warmth. The King gave orders for this monstrous Creeper to be cut, but none dared to risk it. At last the old married couple who, armed with axes, had preceded the Son of Heaven on his coming down to Earth, Phu Thao Yo and Me Ngam, declared themselves ready to attempt this perilous task. But they stipulated that after their death they should receive offerings and be invoked at the beginning of meals and of other occupations. To this everyone pledged himself (1). They then started chopping away the creeper with their axes: at the end of three months and three days it fell, crushing them beneath its weight. But the sun shone out once more on the world (2).
Freed from its deadly shade, men set to till the land which was given the name of Muong Theng, since it had been created by Theng.
(From Louis Finot's French translation)
(1) This pledge was respected. Ever since it has been the custom, on beginning work or sitting down to table, to say : « Ma Yo kin Yd!» (« Come, Y6! Eat, Y6I»). The married couple is familiarly referred to as Phu Y6 Ya Yo. Moreover, an essential feature of every Laotian festival is a dance in which the performers, wearing enormous cardboard masks, play the part of Phu Y6 Ya Y8 (See pi. XXVI).
(2) We have kept to the version of the P'ongsauadan. The Khun Borom gives us another one in which the legends of the Pumpkins and the Creeper are amalgamated. A pumpkin-plant with two fruits growing on it appears in the middle of a pond and fastens on to a fig-tree growing on the bank : both are of gigantic size and they obscure the light of day. Khun Borom sends Phu Thao YO and his wife to Phya Th§ng to ask his advice. They go up to Heaven by climbing the trunk of the fig-tree (and not by a bridge). The Thtag orders the old people to sever the Creeper once the Pumpkins have been pierced by the two Thfings who are going to return to Earth w»th them. The two Thengs pierce a hole in the Pumpkins and out come men, women, animals, plants, etc. Then Thao YS and M§ Ya Ngam sever the Creeper; fhao Lai and MS Mot cut down the fig-tree. And thus all intercourse between Heaven and Earth is put to an end, which found itself none the worse off. (L. F.).
Historical Aspects of Laos
BY Katay D. sasorith, Former Prime Minisler of Laos.
According to our thousands of years old legends all the populations that are racially Laotian descend from the same common ancestor, Khun Borom. When we strip these legends of their romantic, poetic, or merely literary elements, we are justified in asserting that Khun Borom was simply a descendant of the Thai kings who ruled at one time in China. Khun Borom divided his Empire among his seven sons. Laos as we know it is formed out of the remnants of the first of these Kingdoms, in other words the ancient Lan-Xang which was conferred upon the eldest son, Khun Lo. As the result of various political changes, the greater part of the territories and populations belonging to Lan-Xang were incorporated into Siam. To this day they form that part of Siam which the Siamese call Phak-Isarn (Siamese North-East), but which some people continue to call the « Siamese Laos ».
In as far as it is possible to guess at the past in the light of what these legends and traditions teach us, we may take it that the country which at first was known by the name of Muong-Xieng-Dong-Xieng-Thong, then by that of Muong-Swa, and finally by that of Lan-Xang, had always been ruled over by Kings from the very earliest times till just before the French intervention in 1893. Khun Borom, and also his six younger brothers, probably owed the Royal Grown to his own personal merit. What people are pleased to call Khun Borom's Empire was no doubt originally a mere accumulation of empires which owed its existence to the genius for organization and for conquest of this Thai prince from China. This would account for the long lists of recommendations which, according to the legend, Khun Borom addressed to his sons:
« You are going to conquer (1) lands according to my instructions,
(1) The Laotian word which is used is « kin », « to eat » (« kin ban kin maong ») has a double meaning. It can also mean «to rule ». We are, however, translating it by « conquer » for this seems to us to conform more exactly to the spirit of the legend. « The king eats his royalty as a governor eats his province » (G. Ccedes, Histoire ancienne des Etals Hindouises a"Extreme-Orient).
each of you shall carve himself a Kingdom as vast as his own deserts; but no one of you shall trespass on the domains of the others. The Kingdom of the eldest shall remain that of the eldest, the Kingdom of the youngest shall remain that of the youngest. Sons shall succeed to sons, grand-sons to grand-sons, great grand-sons to great grandsons. Be careful to enquire after each other regularly. If one of you possesses in his Kingdom anything that the others do not possess in theirs, let him not fail to send them gifts of that thing, and let this be reciprocal. Happiness and prosperity shall reward those who shall have followed my advice, misfortune shall befall those who shall not have followed it (...). Respect truth and seek no quarrel with your neighbur (...). Do not get drunk on alcohol nor with opium for they will cause you to lose all intelligence and dignity (...). Inform all the inhabitants what work is due on the rice plantations and on the fields, as you inform them also which days are holidays and festivals (...). / transmit these counsels to you exactly as I myself received them from your grandfather in the Kingdom of the Sky (I)... »
But a great many Thai families that had fled from Chinese tyranny must have been settled in the country for a very long time, for the comparison has been between a flood and « the march of thai extraordinary race, adaptable and fluid as water and with its power of insinuation and of taking its color from that of the sky and its form from the shape of the river bed, but which never loses its essentially individual character and language however various its aspect, and which spread out in an immense sheet over the whole of Southern China, over Tanking, Laos, Siam and as far as Burma and Assam »(2). And apparently, if we adhere strictly to the spirit of the legend, it was due to the prayers and entreaties of these numerous and important families of Thai emigrants, who wished to escape the authority of backward native chiefs, that Khun Borom was chosen for the task of conquering the country. The legend, for that matter, tells how Khun Borom (3) when he came down from the Sky (the Celestial Empire, or China) with all the royal insignia for his own coronation and for that of this sons, had to wage war with a rather heavy hand against the Kha chiefs in Muong-Xieng-Tong.
(1) The Celestial Empire, or China.
(2) Louis Finot.
(3) « Mounted on a white elephant, whose eyelids and black lips were of most perfect design and whose transparent curved tusks crossed each other, he was accompanied by his two wives and both preceded and followed by a long procession of horses, elephants, oxen, buffalos, scholars, mandarins, soldiers, pages, and musicians, as well as by more than six hundred ladies and maids of honour walking two by two... «.
The first part of the period that runs from the reign of Khun Lo to the eve of French intervention remains obscure. We refer to the period ending in 1353, date at which Fa Ngum came to the throne. No authentic document that is contemporary with this early period of our national history has reached us. The legends and traditions of our old land have nonetheless handed down to us three or fours lists of the names of Kings which on the whole vary very little and which are generally agreed in counting twenty-two Kings prior to Fa Ngum.
From the reign of Fa Ngum until that of Sai Ong Hue (1711) an increasingly clear light is shed on our history thanks to the possibility we have of comparing and confronting our Annals with the historical documents of our neighboring countries from the 14th century onwards. M. George Coedes, in his Histoire ancienne des Etats hindouises d'Extreme-Orient, quoting in part from Louis Finot, gives the following account of the events that mark the transition from the veiled twilight of the early period to the growing daylight of the second period:
((Having governed his Kingdom badly, Phaya Long was exiled to the mountains (or shut up in a cage in Pak-U, according to another legend), and supplanted by his son Phaya Khamphong. When a son was born to the latter, he sent a message to the dethroned king asking him what name he wished to be given to his grandson. The old man in his irritation answered only: « Phi fa pha! » (a May Heaven blight you I »). On receiving this answer Phaya Khamphong simply called his son Phi fa («. Spirit from Heaven »). This pompous name was scarcely to be justified, for the only thing Phi Fa had in common with the god whose name he bore was a marked taste for women, a taste that didn't even stop at the doors of his father's harem. He was driven out the country and never reigned. Before he was exiled he had a son, the future Phaya Fa Ngum, who was born in 1316.
« The exiled prince found refuge at the court of the King of Cambodia who, at that time, was probably Jayavarmaparamesvara who succeeded to the throne of Angkor in 1327. Young Fa Ngum was brought up by a scholarly monk from the capital called, in the Laotian Chronicles, Maha Pasaman Chao (Phra Mahdsamana). When he was sixteen the King of Cambodia gave him his daughter, princess Keo (or Yot Keo, or Keo Lot Fa) in marriage. Then at some indeterminate date between 1340 and 1350 he entrusted him with an army destined to reconquer his father's Kingdom ».
From Fa Ngum to the dividing of Lan-Xang into three distinct Kingdoms, we can count exactly thirty-two Kings. A brief chronological summing-up if the dynasties bring four essential facts to the surface:
First, Lan-Xang was always, from the earliest times right up to the eve of French intervention, governed by Kings, by a single King when the country was united and the whole nation rallied round a single central ruling-power; then by several Kings when the country was divided by dynastic rivalry and the nation was cut up into as many Kingdoms or Principalities as there were pretenders with more or less legitimate claims. All these pretenders must however have had sufficient prestige to have each his followers among the intriguing aristocrats that lived in the shadow of the throne, and power enough to force submission from a respectable fraction of the nation.
On the other hand, with the exception of a very few usurpers, all these Kings, whether they reigned over the whole of Lan-Xang or over only a part of its vast territories, were of the Khun Lo Dynasty.
But royalty in Lan-Xang was not always transmitted from father to son nor in the order of primogeniture, as it is in most of the monarchies in the Occident. A great many sons never succeeded their fathers or only came to the throne after a number of collaterals, and many younger sons were crowned before their elders.
And finally, girls were excluded from succession to the throne. In the whole long list of Sovereigns that reigned over Lan-Xang we find only one woman's name: Nang Keo Phimpha, «the Cruel», who began by manoeuvering in the background for some time, and by having a whole succession of young Kings deposed or massacred; she ended by seizing the throne and she reigned for a year, following after the thirty-second sovereign of Lan-Xang, her nephew. « It is a mailer for vain conjecture, » writes Jacques Le Boulanger, « what were the motives that urged this princess, who was crueller than Fredegonde or than Marguerite de Bourgogne, to perpetrate such a wholesale slaughter of kings ! Was she a sanguinary despot, or simply a royal Lampito whose temperament was too much for her? (1) ». Nang Keo Phimpha was in her turn executed. According to some she was decently shot and « her corpse was left for the crows and vultures ». Others, doubtless unable to forgive her useless cruelty, take cruel pleasure in telling how they bound the condemned princess and laid her on the bank of a river with « her head on a rock and her feet in the water, till death intervened. »
A thorough study of the Annals of old Lan-Xang, both of their
(1) «Marriages between brother and sister were always allowed in the royal family of Lan-Xang. On the other hand, they are forbidden to the people of the lower classes.» (J. Le Boulanger's Note).
If we leave out a few ethnological Minorities (Khas, Meos, etc...) that are scattered here and there, generally in the heights, the whole of Muong Lao spoke the same language, honored the same genii, cultivated the same religion and had the same usages and customs. The same can not be said either of any of the ancient empires, nor of India or of the Great China of the present day.
There was another factor besides this community of language, beliefs, religion and customs, that held together and united the Laotian country, and that was its feudal organization which was everywhere alike.
The country was made up of provinces that were all organized on the same model as the capital (which represented the central power) and each of which enjoyed a large degree of autonomy. A chief was set at the head of each of them, called the Chao Muong, who was generally chosen from among the worthiest and most representative members of the most influential family in the province concerned. Such a family was as often as not related to the Royal family either by blood ties of more or less ancient date, or through some of the matrimonial alliances that the polygamous Asian monarchs were always willing to contract, even with the least of their vassals if they chanced to have daughters who were famous for their charm or their beauty.
When disturbances occurred to upset the capital and its King they did not necessarily affect the provinces and their Chao Muongs. In spite of the violent competition that would every now and then arise around the throne, the princes and feudal lords who acted as Chao Muongs did not explicitly take sides, but went quietly on governing and administrating their little States or fiefs and agreed in advance to put themselves under the rule of the victor, provided he was of their own race and of the royal line of descent. This unvarying feudal organization is to be found at all periods of Lan-Xang's history. Every time that dynastic rivalry caused the Kingdom to be broken up for a time the provinces simply gravitated round several different monarchs, each according to its geographical situation or the interests of its local policy. If Muong Lao ceased after 1711 to exist as an empire in the political sense of the word, its populations and the form of its political and administrative organization was yet so homogeneous that it remained one single nation, a nation that one might qualify as « polycephalous » because it was governed by several sovereigns all of the same Dynasty, each exercising his temporal power within the limits of his little State, but possessing real moral and spiritual authority throughout the whole of the country. In spite of its dismemberment the country could therefore be considered as still in its undivided state until such time as a great prince whose talent and merit nobody contested, should rally all the petty chiefs of rival States to his name and group them together once more under a single sceptre. In short, it was a sort of Confederacy of States in disguise, latent and unknown to European international law. The absence of a single strong central power, although regrettable, was in this case tempered by the lack of rapid means of communications. This lack inevitably narrowed down the political horizon of the masses to the frontiers of the territory under the direct authority of their own petty King... The absence of a central power was also tempered by the admirable social and spiritual tie that never ceased to bind the Laotian peoples together, and by those other ties of vassalship and of suzerainty that formerly linked the various countries of Asia one to another.
At the time of France's intervention in the upper and middle basins of the Mekong, towards the end of the 19th century, it was face to face with this polycephalous nation, this latent Confederacy of States, that she found herself. If she had been better informed France could either have restored the Confederacy in favor of one of the ruling Laotian Kings of the moment, or boldly put herself at its head and take its government into her own hands. Unfortunately she did nothing of the sort. Laos unity was once more sacrificed. It has only just been restored to life, after the Second World War.
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