Khmu Rice Fables in Laos

The Khmu of northern Laos have long told stories about rice. From fables of mythical mother Maan’s follies necessitating the drudge of swiddening to tales of leeches bringing hngo nyiir (the ‘original’ rice of the Khmu) to humans, these stories express, enhance and codify moral precepts and hands-on rules, providing a pragmatic charter for customary Khmu engagements with their vital, life force-laden crop. Yet rapid modernization, intergenerational change and, not least, the rise of smartphones is threatening the transmission of these tales. This annotated collection preserves, shares and discusses some of these stories, as told by former ma hngo (rice mothers), lguun (village fathers/“priests”) and other Khmu elders in northern Laos.

Note: while over thirty past and present rice varieties were identified during project field research in Luang Prabang province, a “subversive seeds catalogue” will not be produced, as neither villagers nor local leaders expressed a desire to “subvert” modern(ist) agroindustry (the reasons for this stance will be discussed in forthcoming work). Local rice varieties and their vernacular classification will however be mentioned and discussed in other publications and project outputs.