Speaker: Paul-David Lutz – Université libre de Bruxelles - BE
Dates: 17 February 2024
Venue: Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC), Luang Prabang
Laos is a land of rice-growing peasants: over 13,000 varieties provide the daily staple for the country’s nearly eight million people. Rice is not just a key source of sustenance. It also social and cultural significance: virtually all of the country’s fifty officially-recognized ethnicities have beliefs and customs related to rice.
This talk will discuss the impact of Laos’ rapid and ongoing modernization on rice-related rituals among ethnic Khmu peasants in the north of the country. How do Khmu peasants decide which customs to abandon, reform or retain in the context of engaging socialist modernity and global markets? How do longstanding rice-related beliefs and practices shape the ongoing spread of alternative livelihoods like livestock raising, wage labour and cash crop cultivation? How do newly-estabished lowland, wet rice-growing communities compare to upland settings where Khmu still practice traditional swidden rice agriculture? This talk addresses these and other questions through the stories of two villages: one in the uplands of Phongsali province, the other in a lowland pocket in Luang Prabang province. Drawing on comparative analysis, hands-on fieldwork and local oral history, it offers an up-close account of the recent past, present and possible future of rice and rice-related ritual in northern Laos.