The Newsletter 58 Autumn 2011

Indigenous history: an antidote to the Zomia theory?

Eisel Mazard

Volker Grabowsky & Renoo Wichasin. 2009. Chronicles of Chiang Khaeng: A Tai Lu Principality of the Upper Mekong. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. 424 pages, ISBN: 978-1-930734-02-9 (paperback)

As with the 19th century’s doomed plans to build a railroad linking India to China through the region, wild speculations and crackpot theories have blossomed forth from Western ignorance of “Upland Southeast Asia” – or, particularly, the
mountains that isolate the ethnic minorities of Laos, Burma and Yunnan along the borders that join those countries. Social theories strike out on a bold course, and they head up into the mountains with European aspirations that are incompatible with local cultural reality – not to mention geography – much like the prospect of that abandoned railway.

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