Towards a historical anthropology of Upland Laos

  • Oliver Tappe University of Hamburg


When travelling across Houaphan province in upland north-eastern Laos in 2010, I took with me a copy of James Scott’s (2009) Art of Not Being Governed. This thought-provoking book offered fresh perspectives to exploring this ‘Zomian’ landscape and its ethnolinguistically diverse population. Indeed a historical frontier zone of refuge and opportunity, Houaphan’s forested mountains always constituted an escape option for people facing (Siamese, Vietnamese, lowland Lao, or French colonial) imperial interventions (Boutin 1937; Tappe 2015). Even today, the different ethnic groups of Houaphan demonstrate a wide range of flexible livelihoods such as swidden cultivation that carried them through times of crisis and war at the margins of lowland state formations, often seeking creative ways to keep state authorities at bay.


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