Laos Culture And Nationalism Cultural Studies Essay

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They are closely related to Chinese. Often called "Aboriginal Chinese." Entered Laos in the 1840s from the Yunnan province. They have been driven out of China into Southeast Asia by the ethnic Chinese. A lot of Hmong live in exile in America, Thailand, and France, (Immunol).

Austro-Asiatic (Mon-Khmer and Viet-Muong) language family (30 ethnic groups), (Soft)

These ethnic groups came from southern, southeastern China around 2000-2500 BC. Speakers of other languages split the Austro-Asiatic languages into several groups. These people mostly live in small tribal groups even today, (Austro).

Tibeto-Burman (8 ethnic groups), (Soft).

Tibeto-Burman speakers are believed to originate in northwest China and were the descendants of the ancient Di-Qiang groups, (Immunol).

2. Values and Beliefs

Lao people's culture and in particular their values and beliefs are still very much influenced by the Buddhist thinking and traditions, even though that modernization today is a global trend worldwide. What contributes to this is probably the fact that the country consists of 65 ethnic minorities, which have specific languages and customs. In order to obtain a social order, these many minorities stick on the boundary between two very different moral principles that are applied in accordance with the particular situation - collectivism and individualism. Lao people tend to be collective when it comes to contributing to the whole community or to someone in a need. This is caused by Laotian's belief that the individual is insignificant when compared to a larger social scheme. But the Lao are not always so conformist. The numerous ethnicities and Buddhist belief that every individual has a personal responsibility has made the Lao people stronger individuals compared to the other East Asian countries. Another very important value for the Lao is keeping the prestige of the authoritative people. Usually the authority in Laos increases according to the age, position or social statues. In general the strongest authority is the authority of the father which makes the Lao society strongly patriarchal. Another important feature of the Lao system of values and beliefs is the "face" which is the core of the relationships between people. This is basically related to the ability of a person to hold his own view and to defend it with honor among the other members of the society. Lao people consider it important to maintain a strong face in order to create an influential and powerful image of them. The Laotians believe that the more important one person is the more easily his wishes will be satisfied. However, the most significant values for every member of the Lao society are the family, the friendships and all other close relationships. The family and the tribal relationships are the most highly appraised relationships. In general the Laotians divide the relationships into two types - "moo linh" and "moo tai". The "moo linh" is а transient relationship during which is focused on the mutual advantages of each person. This is the easier type of relationship that can be achieved. The "moot tai" is a relationship which is based on trust, patience and strong closeness. It is translated as a "die friends" relationship, because the people in it rely 100% on each other whether the moment is good or bad. In contrast to Westerners who tend to make impermanent friendships with many people, the Lao establish friendships for life. ("Understanding Lao Culture.")

Theravada Buddhism:

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Theravada Buddhism together with Mahayana Buddhism are the two main branches of the religion Buddhism. "Theravada" in Pali basically means the "School of the Elders." This religion claims to follow the true teachings of Buddha, written in the ancient scriptures called the Tripitika. It tries to trace the original monastic community that followed Buddha. Theravada Buddhism is very conservative and aims at correctly interpreting its canon, (Theravada). It is the most wide spread religion in Laos, more common among the ethnic Lao Thai people. It is a southern form of Buddhism, which came into the country through Sri Lanka and Thailand. Before the Communist rule, Theravada Buddhism, mixed with Hinduism and Animism, was the official religion. Every male Buddhist is expected to spend a certain amount of time as a monk. Buddhist holidays are the ones that mark important events of the life cycles throughout the year like: planting, harvesting, birth, marriage, child bearing, and death. Theravadins usually believe that the next life will be more pleasing, so they are stoic, avoiding fun and amusement. They accept what is given to them and do not try to change their lives. The goal of the Theravadin is to reach the state of "nirvana" when he will never be reborn again because life was considered suffering, (Theravada).

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4. Customs

The Laotians' every day life is characterized by several basic customs that origin from the values and beliefs that they follow. One of the most important is the traditional greeting called "wai". It is very different from the western hand shaking. The "wai" consists of several steps. The hands are placed together in a praying position and the head bows slightly forward. The one that starts the greeting is usually the person from the lower class or status. This custom originates from the Lao belief that people with authority should be respected in a more honorable way. That is why the first sender of the "wai" always considers the social rank of the receiver and changes the height of the hands and the depth of the bow. According to another important custom the body expresses different levels of morality and spirituality. The head is considered the most spiritual part of the human body and that is why it is not well accepted if someone touches or pats your head. The feet on the other side are the lest spiritual parts of the body so what Lao people do is to remove their shoes in temples or homes and avoid pointing with their feet. This custom relates to the belief that the spiritually valuable relationships are based on trust and patience that come from the mind (the head) and the heart, while the transient relationships are more interested in the physical and material advantages (the feet are symbol to it). Also the head is closer to the sky and the divine and that makes it more spiritual. The third important custom comes from the value which extols the "face". When a situation is such that tries to make people angry and frustrated, the Laotians tend not to express their internal rage and instead of that they remain calm and quiet. They consider that in this way they do not loose their face and their reputation remains undisturbed.( "Local Customs.")

5. Lao Celebrations

Religion in Laos is strongly present in the daily life and celebrations. Since Theravada Buddhism is the most common religion in Laos, most of Laos's celebrations are connected to the cycle of life: birth, marriage, death, or harvest and planting.

Kathin is one of these Buddhist celebrations. During it, the Theravadin monks are given new robes and other items that are necessary for their life during the year. The celebration follows a period called the Buddhist Lent, called Vatsa, starting from October to Novemer. During this Lent, monks remain in their monasteries to meditate and study. They do this retreat because in the earliest days of Buddhism, when monks wandered the countryside, this period was the one of the monsoon, when it became difficult to travel. Furthermore, the retreat was at that time so that monks would not step on the young, tender rice plants. During the Vatsa, people bring food and supplies to the monasteries to help the monks through their long retreat. The festival Kathin in Laos also involves offering monks alms bowls and sleeping mats for their pilgrimages. People usually clean and decorate their homes to chase away the evil spirits of the rainy season. Boat races are held near towns, close to rivers, (Festivals).

6. Artist

Marc Leguay (1910-2001) is one of the most prominent figures in the development of the Lao Art. Even though he was born in France, he spent most of his active life in the Asiatic country where he was dedicated to developing the native art. After he arrived in Laos he spent a significant time traveling around the country and studying the local traditions. Combining the knowledge her received in France and the experience he gathered from the Laotians Leguay was ready to start teaching. He settled in the town of Sala where he opened an art school and taught traditional drawing, graphic and metal work for the period of five years. His school was closed later due to the lack of funds, but Leguay continued contributing to the advance of art. He assisted in the founding of the first National School of Fine Arts in the central part of the Lao capital Vientiane. Thus people got more opportunities to study art and to succeed as artists. Most of the famous future Lao artists were educated in this school. In addition to it Marc Leguay kept drawing and the works he made were mostly based on the beautiful Lao nature. His pictures were spread throughout the whole world and they popularized the Laos by showing unique scenes from the life of the Laotians. ("Modern and Contemporary Art.")

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