Spatial melancholia in the highlands of Laos: memories of the disappeared Tai Soi
Pierre Petit (Université libre de Bruxelles)
Paper short abstract:
Basing on the concepts of ruination and affective spaces proposed by Navaro-Yashi (2009), I analyze the spectral presence of the Tai Soi who were expelled from the village of Houay Yong (Laos) 70 years ago. I elaborate on the role played by their material traces in the local politics of memory.
Paper long abstract:
The Tai Vat living in the village of Houay Yong (Houaphan Province, Laos) are characterized by an ethos of mobility. They came in two waves from neighboring Vietnam during the 1870s and the early 1950s, while many youths presently head to the capital Vientiane, feeding the nation-wide rural exodus (Petit 2020). The Tai Vat were not the first population to settle in Houay Yong. The place was already inhabited by Tai Soi, who were Buddhist (Tai Vat rituals address only spirits). The initial coexistence of the two groups was smooth, according to oral traditions, but the situation changed in 1946 and the Tai Soi eventually left the village. If the Tai Soi have disappeared as a group from the upland valley, their presence lingers on through their memory and material traces. Some old fruit trees were reputedly planted by them. Toponyms indicate where they had their Buddhist temple, or their stupa reliquary-monument. A large graveyard used by them lies next to the present cemetery. Buddha statues were discovered in caves in the close mountains and attributed to the Tai Soi; their looters, afflicted by angered spirits, lost their mind or died. Basing notably on the concepts of ruination and affective spaces proposed by Navaro-Yashi (2009) for Northern Cyprus, where Turkish communities live in formerly Greek villages, I analyze the spectral presence of the Tai Soi in the valley and elaborate on the role played by their material traces in the local politics of memory.
Knowing Historical Traces, Eliciting Possible Futures