Accepted Paper:

The brothers of the king: kinship, state and history in Northern Laos  
Guido Sprenger (Heidelberg University)

Paper short abstract:

Rmeet kinship expands from the village level to the ritual integration of guests and immigrants to that of the former king and today’s presidency. Close and remote relations are interpreted in local terms of fertility and sovereignty. At the same time, political change alters the meaning of kinship.

Paper long abstract:

The kinship system of the Rmeet (Lamet) in Laos forms a tight system with ritual roles and social structure. It is dominated by patrilineal descent groups and asymmetric marriage alliance. But some of the notions that are operative within village society are also used for constructing relationships beyond it. The relation between the Rmeet and the Lao kingdom until 1975 was conceived in terms of patriline. The Lao king was said to be of Rmeet descent, a discursive strategy not uncommon to the region. This claim was connected to a set of myths that appear as incongruent and contradictory, thereby demonstrating the situational and communicative use of such a construction. Thereby, the Rmeet negotiated the difference between village society and kingdom, that is infused by the power hierarchy between aristocratic centers and upland peripheries common in the region. The way kinship terminology was used allowed the expression of the relation in local terms and the recognition of a difference at the same time. Although the relation with the present-day, Socialist government is not couched in explicit terms of kinship, notions of kinship still pervade the conceptions of power and nation-state.

Panel W036
Rethinking ritual kinship