Challenging the Limits: Indigenous Peoples of the Mekong Regionby Mekong Press
Edited by Don McCaskill, Prasit Leepreecha, and Kwanchewan Buadaeng
Except on tourist brochures, the indigenous peoples of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and southern China (Yunnan) are the least visible, and most excluded, of citizens. All these countries have used similar strategies to classify, include, or exclude minority peoples from the project of nationalism. Understanding the cultural and economic trajectories of key minorities such as the Dai, Hmong, Lahu, Akha, and Karen is critical to apprehending the construction, workings, and future of each of these nation-states, indeed of the Mekong region as a whole.
Conversely, as vividly demonstrated here, the minority peoples—many spanning more than one country—have adapted and accommodated to, or actively resisted, majority culture and state policy alike. There continues to be undeniable impoverishment, cultural loss, and “social suffering” in some communities, particularly amongst ex-swidden based upland ones in Vietnam and Laos; the rearranging or reconstituting of trading and social networks; the over-commodification of aspects of culture, often for domestic tourism; and struggles to maintain language, rituals, and belief systems.
The studies here bring alive these communities in transformation, pointing out those in near dissolution, such as some Akha villages in Laos affected by overzealous opium-eradication programs, as well as those hopefully reclaiming and expanding their cultural space, such as the Dai in Sipsongpanna/Xishuangbanna engaged in a cross-border revival of Theravada Buddhism and Dai culture.
This is essential reading for anyone who wishes to uncover the nuances and interplay of ethnicity, nationalism, and change in the Mekong region, and serves as a companion volume to Living in a Globalized World: Ethnic Minorities in the Greater Mekong Subregion, edited by Don McCaskill, Prasit Leepreecha, and He Shaoying (Mekong Press 2007).
About the editors
and are researchers at the Social Research Institute of Chiang Mai University, Thailand. is Chair of the Department of Indigenous Studies at Trent University, Canada.