Summary of the
Second International Conference on Lao Studies
May 3-7, 2007 | Arizona State University | Tempe, AZ USA
Center for Lao Studies
The Second International Conference on Lao Studies was hosted by the Center for Asian Research (CAR) at Arizona State University, chaired by Professor Karen Adams of ASU, and the Center for Lao Studies (CLS) in San Francisco. Over 200 people attended the conference, and there were 101 presenters. This year’s conference brought in many scholars and cultural, community and nonprofit groups from all around the globe. In attendance were representatives from the United States, Canada, France, Laos, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Germany and Australia. The main focus of the conference was the academic presentations; however, many cultural activities, including cultural shows and museum and library exhibitions, also took place.
The First International Conference on Lao Studies was held at Northern Illinois University in May 2005 and co-chaired by Professor John Hartmann and Vinya Sysamouth (www.seasite.niu.edu/lao/LaoStudies/FICLS2.htm). The main objective of these Lao Studies conferences is to provide an international forum for scholars to present and discuss various aspects of Lao studies. Topics include all ethnolinguistic groups of Laos, the Isan Lao and other ethnic Lao-Tai groups in Thailand, cross-border ethnic groups in Thailand, Vietnam, China, Burma, and Cambodia (e.g., Akha, Hmong, Khmu, Mien, Lao Phuan, Tai Lue, Tai Dam), and overseas Laotians.
Two prominent guests, namely Dr. Vatthana Pholsena and Dr. Bualy Paphaphanh, attended the conference. Dr. Vatthana was sponsored by Arizona State University as the conference’s keynote speaker. As a fellow of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)-Institut d’Asie Orientale, Lyon, France, Dr. Vatthana gave astimulaitng talk on the Lao Revolution. Dr. Bualy was sponsored by Northern Illinois University, by the Center for Lao Studies, and by the U.S. Embassy in Laos. Dr. Bualy is currently the Head of the Department of Lao Language and Mass Communication, Faculty of Letters, National University of Laos (NUOL), Lao PDR. He was the first official representative from the National University of Laos, Lao PDR to attend a Lao Studies conference. At the conference, he presented a paper on “The Origin of the Lao Script: The Search for Its Origins by Following Notable Characteristics of Its Character Form.”
Opening Ceremony & Exhibitions
The conference registration opened on Thursday May 3, 2007 at noon; the opening ceremony was held at 4:30 p.m. Professor Karen Adams welcomed the conference participants; she was followed by William Sage (Adjunct Faculty of the CAR), John Hartmann (Presidential Teaching Professor of Foreign Languages & Literatures, Northern Illinois University, Vinya Sysamouth (Executive Director of CLS), Stephen H. West, (Director of CAR), and Professor Bualy Paphaphanh (the official representative of the National University of Laos).
After the opening ceremony, participants were ushered through several exhibits that were made available for viewing by the general public during and after the conference dates. They included:
Recollecting Lao: Selections from the Sage, Hanks, and Hudak Collections
The exhibit contained a collection largely of textiles from different ethnic groups of Laos, including the Akha, Alak, Hmong, Kasseng, Khamu, Lahu, Lao, Lue, Mien, Tai Dam, and Ta-oi. These pieces were collected between 1950-70 in Laos by William Sage, Jane R. Hanks and Tom Hudak. Artifacts such as blankets, baby carriers, bags, betel nut boxes, pipes, jewelry of silver, brass and beads, baskets, musical instruments, forms of money, tools, weapons, amulet and figurines, altar objects, sacred paraphernalia and handwritten texts also form a part of William W. Sage collection. For more information on the William W. Sage Collection, please visit: www.asu.edu/lib/colldev/se_asia/sagebib.html
Naga Rising: Lao in Print, Image, and Sound at ASU Libraries
According to the ASU Libraries, the Lao Language Collections at ASU began with a major donation from William W. Sage in 1993. Since that time, ASU has diligently collected materials in the Lao language in all formats. ASU Libraries is one of twelve major academic libraries in the United States that currently maintain extensive Southeast Asia collections both in Western languages and the vernacular languages of Southeast Asia. For more information on the exhibition, please visit: https://librarynews.blog.asu.edu/2007/04/17/naga-rising
Memories of Silk, Memories of Gold by Tiao (Prince) Somsanith Nithakhong
Tiao Somsanith is an artist known for his work in gold-thread embroidery, painting, stenciling, lacquer, and flower arrangement; he learned his crafts from the old Lao Royal Court, and received his M.A. in fine arts from France. Tiao Somsanith’s exhibition was sponsored by the Lao Heritage Foundation (www.laoheritagefoundation.org).
Legacies of War (www.legaciesofwar.org)
Legacies of War is a nonprofit organization created to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos, to provide space for healing the wounds of war, and to create greater hope for a future of peace. The traveling exhibit shown during the conference mainly consisted of information in Lao and English about the project, archival and contemporary photographs, and interactive displays that show the dangers of unexploded cluster munitions. The exhibition opened with a Buddhist ceremony led by a local monk and concluded with a performance, Refugee Nation, by Leilani Chan and Ova Saopeng from the TeAda Production (www.teada.org).
Proud Journey Home: Cambodia, Laotian and Vietnamese Communities in Arizona
Held at Tempe Historical Museum, this community history exhibit explores Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese refugee experiences in Tempe, 30 years after the Vietnam War. More information can be found at: www.tempe.gov/museum/exhnew.htm
In addition to the exhibitions, the conference also provided tables for vendors and publishers to display books, artworks, products, and information about their organizations. Participants were given the opportunity to learn about various organizations and to purchase the books and other merchandises on display.
The business meeting was held on Thursday May 3, 2007 at 7:00 p.m. The purpose of the meeting was to select a new host for the Third International Conference on Lao Studies, which will be held in 2010. Eleven people, known as the Business Meeting Board (BMB), were selected from the organizing committee to choose the next host. Representatives of the National University of Laos (www.nuol.edu.la), Lao PDR also attended the meeting as observers.
Each potential host was given ten minutes to present their case for selecting their institution by following a set of questions and procedures mandated in the ICLS Guidelines (www.laostudies.org/ICLSguidelines.pdf). The BMB then chose the institution considered best able to organize the conference for 2010. This year, two institutions put in bids, the University of Freiburg, Germany (www.uni-freiburg.de/index_en.php) and Khon Kaen University (http://www2.kku.ac.th/eng), Thailand. Khon Kaen University won the votes of the BMB and will become the next host in 2010.
Parallel Sessions and Keynote Speaker
In order to accommodate a high number of presentations, the conference organizing committee arranged four parallel (concurrent) sessions. Presenters had twenty minutes to present and five minutes for questions and discussions. There were breaks with refreshments throughout the sessions, including a longer lunch break in the afternoon. The full conference schedule can be viewed at www.laostudies.org/ICLS_schedules.pub (large file 7.8MB).
The first full day sessions started at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 4:00 p.m.; it included panels on: 1) Gender and Social Exclusion; 2) Research and Its Challenges: Shifting Landscapes in Lao Information Geographies; 3) Comparative Linguistics; 4) Dynamics of Border Communities: Economic and Social Contexts; 5) HBV: The Untold Story of an Asian Epidemic; 6) Cultural Preservation through New Year Celebrations; 7) Textiles; and 8) Cultivation Practices.
The second day (Saturday May 5, 2007) full sessions began at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 4:00 p.m.. The sessions included: 1) Issues in Traditional and Contemporary Buddhism; 2) Morphological Processes and Pragmatics; 3) Contested Roles of Language and Culture; 4) Health and Pharmaceuticals; 5) Discourse and Its Social Role; 6) Legacies of War I: Making History Loud and Clear: The Power of Oral History in Teaching and Collaboratives; 7) Legacies of War II: Models for Transnational Cooperation: Lao and the US, Working for Reconciliation and Peace; and 8) Emerging Economics.
The third day (Sunday May 6, 2007) consisted of a half-day sessions, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. These sessions included: 1) Southern Border Mosaic; 2) Lao-Americans: Acculturation and Attainment; 3) Sustainability Issues; and 4) Good-bye Vientiane: Untold Stories of Filipinos in Laos, A Braided Narrative.
The conference’s keynote speaker was Dr. Vatthana Pholsena, a research fellow from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)-Institut d’Asie Orientale, Lyon, France. Dr. Vatthana’s talk, “The Other Side of the Lao Revolution,” took place on Friday May 4, 2007 at 4:30PM. Her keynote speech was followed by a reception at 5:30PM. Dr. Vatthana is the author of numerous books, including Laos: From Buffer State to Crossroads? (2007 with Ruth Banomyong), and Post-war Laos: The Politics of Culture, History, and Identity (2006). Both books are available at Amazon.com. A summary of the talk is available at www.laostudies.org/Vatthana.pdf
Receptions and Closing Ceremony
On Friday May 4, 2007 at 6:45 p.m. the Center for Lao Studies, the Laotian American National Alliance (www.lana-usa.org), and the Lao Heritage Foundation (www.laoheritagefoundation.org) together welcomed guests to Louam Mit: Lao Reception/Dinner Performances, and Fun at the Twin Palms Hotel, across from the ASU campus. The Lao-American Association of Arizona and the local Lao community members provided authentic Lao food, and the Kinnaly Dance Troupe of Seattle, Washington (www.kinnalydance.com) performed traditional Lao dances to live music.
On Saturday, May 5, 2007 between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m., the Royal Lao Classical Dancers of Nashville, Tennessee performed dances from the Lao royal court and scenes of the Lao version of the Ramayana or the Phalak Phalam. A reception was held afterwards in their honor. According to the reception pamphlet, “the Royal Lao Classical Dancers was founded in 1997 by Mr. and Mrs. Khamdy and Bangthong Chindavanh, formerly dancers of he Royal Lao Dance Troupe in Luang Prabang, Laos before 1975. They and other dancers and musicians were resettled as a group in Nashville in 1980, bringing with them the costumes and instruments to continue their tradition.” More information on the Royal Lao Classical Dancers can be found at their website: www.rlcd.org.
The closing ceremony took place on Saturday evening, between the Royal Lao Classical dances. Tiao Somsanith Nithakhong (www.princesomsanith.com) made a gold thread-embroidered flag of the Lao Studies conference logo, the two-headed naga, and offered it to the organizing committee members. The flag was passed on to Khon Kaen University, the host of the next Lao Studies conference in 2010. The flag will be transferred to successive conference hosts in the future. Dr. Yaowalak Apichatvullop, who is both the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Director of the Center for Research on Plurality in the Mekong Region at Khon Kaen University, gave an acceptance speech and showed a video about Khon Kaen University. The Center for Lao Studies and Khon Kaen University will work closely together to organize the next conference. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Center for Lao Studies and Khon Kaen University was signed on the last day of the conference.
A final reception was held on Sunday May 6, 2007 at 4:00 p.m. at Mr. Ly Silavong’s house in Chandler, Arizona and was hosted by the Lao-American Association of Arizona. Conference participants who attended the evening gathering were able to enjoy delicious Lao food, wonderful music, friendly discussions and a warm reception. Mr. John Sisouvanh, the head of the Lao-American Association, and other guests reflected on the outcome of the conference.
The film festival organized by the Center for Lao Studies and the Center for Asian Research was held on Friday, May 4, 2007 from 8:05 to 10:45 p.m.; it was hosted by Dr. S. Steve Arounsack (http://arounsack.com). The Film Festival included the feature film, Nerakhoun: Betrayal, (work in progress) by Thavisouk Phrasavath and Ellen Kuras. Other films included Laos: Roads to the Future produced by Truth Talking Project, Palm Leaf Project, produced by Peter Ohlendorf, Pierre-Pierrot produced by Nith Lacroix, Bombies produced by Lumiere Productions, and The Life and Times of a Teenage Gambler produced by Joseph Mills and Kae Saephan. For a full abstract of each film, please visit www.laostudies.org/ICLSfilmfest.pdf
The Center for Lao Studies is pround to present its first publication from the First International Conference on Lao Studies, Contemporary Lao Studies: Research on Development, Culture, Language, and Traditional Medicine, edited by Carol Compton, John Hartmann, and Vinya Sysamouth. The book will be available by 2007. The conference committee is also planning to publish selected papers from the Lao Studies II. The deadline for submissions is September 1, 2007. Please follow the Guidelines for Submission of Papers to Conference Publication for all papers.
Center for Lao Studies
1201 San Bruno Ave., Suite 1
San Francisco, CA 94110 USA
Additional Information, Photographs & Videos
For additional information on the conference, please visit www.laostudies.org. Photographs of the conference will be available at the Center’s website soon. Other photos of the conference can be found at:
Royal Lao Classical Dancers: http://www.rlcd.org/gallery2/v/icls07/
Legacies of War: http://www.legaciesofwar.org/news-room/news-releases/193
Lao Heritage Foundation: http://www.laoheritagefoundation.org/events07.jsp
Voice of America: http://www.voanews.com/lao/2007-05-17-voa3.cfm
Boon Vong: www.b-vong.com (click on May 2007 and then ICLS)
The Future of Lao Studies Conferences
The International Conference on Lao Studies will be held every three years. The next conference will be held in the heart of the Isan region of Thailand, Khon Kaen, where the majority of the local people are ethnically Lao. It is hoped that in the future, the Lao Studies conference will be held in Laos and that the conference will continue to promote and develop the field of Lao studies in many years to come.
The Center for Lao Studies would like to thank our sponsors and supporters at the Gold and Silver levels of the conference and the publishing of the Lao Primer booklet. They included: Into Champon & Assoc., A Law Corporation; Mr. Touk Ken; Center for Hmong Studies; Laotian American Society; Legacies of War; Ms. Bounheng Inversin; and Dha and Touk Sinatha. We would also like to thank Northern Illinois Center University Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the US Embassy in Vientiane for providing a travel grant for Dr. Bualy.