Lan Xang - McCarthy's Account of 1894

McCarthy's Account of 1894

James McCarthy, F.R.G.S., Director-General of the Siamese Government Surveys prior to establishment of the Royal Thai Survey Department, was appointed to the command of an expedition to this region, Reports had reached Bangkok of bandits called Haw plundering and destroying villages on the north-east frontier, the whereabouts of which were unknown, the greater part unvisited by Europeans, and on maps of the country, a blank. Siamese astrology (โหราศาสตร์ horasasat) determined the journey should start at noon on January 16, 1884. McCarthy reached Luang Prabang in June, and recorded the following traditional account of the founding of Lan Sang.

Luang Prabang, one of the oldest towns of Indo-China, has, very probably, the most interesting history. I was able, at odd intervals, to gather the following traditional scraps from the eldest son of the chief —

The first king was K'un Borom, who lived at Teng (identified by Major Gerini as the Dasana or Doana of Ptolemy), where a tree grew that reached to heaven, and shaded the whole district of Luang Prabang. The king used to amuse himself by going up and down between earth and heaven until the evil spirits, wishing to keep him on earth, cut down the tree. The wood of the tree is found even nowadays, and, under the name of " Kua Kao Kat," is, of course, used as a charm against every evil. The king planted pumpkins, and one day, to see whether a pumpkin was ripe, pierced it with an iron spear, whereupon, to his surprise, blood flowed from it. He waited a few days and then pierced another, when a black man issued forth, who became the progenitor of all the Ka Che, or Kamu. A few days later he pierced another pumpkin, when a white man came out, who became the progenitor of the Lao. In accordance with the tale the Lao look upon the Ka Che as their elder brethren.
As time went on both the Lao and Ka Che grew very numerous, so that it became necessary to find a new country, and rivalry sprang up between the families, though the younger brother's family, or the Lao, were admitted to be the cleverer. On the occasion of the exodus from Muang Teng. the Lao, with their usual skill, used wooden boats and rafts, whereas the Ka Che made boats of buffalo hide. Both went down the Nam Nua, but at a rapid called Men Kwai (" Smell of Buffalo "), the Ka Che boats were broken and had to be abandoned. Thus the Ka Che were obliged to seek a helping hand from the Lao, who took them to the spot where the town of Luang Prabang now stands. There they founded a city called Sawa, which grew to be very powerful, and held sway over the whole Me Kawng valley. The city was named after a large stone over which the pagoda Wat Chieng T'awng has been built.
History omits the story of the pumpkins, and says those who came first to Muang Sawa were the descendants of K'un Law, the eldest son of K'un Borom, by his wife Nang Pola. The second son was Chet Chieng, who founded Chieng Kwang, or Puan ; the third son was Ti-Palan, who founded Laksa Kuha, or Yunan.
The second wife had four sons : Chu-Song, who founded Pa-Kung, or Anara ; Lak-Kong, who founded Hongsawadi (Pegu) ; Lai Pong, who founded Chieng Dao, or Aleve (Chieng Hung, Siamese " Rung," the Lao having no R) ; Kun In, the youngest, who founded Si Ayiw t'ia. Thus Muang Teng is regarded as the distributing centre of all the population of Indo-China.
To settle the long-standing dispute concerning supremacy between the Ka Che and the Lao, it was agreed that the mastery should be given to those who should make the highest chaleo, or small matting placed conspicuously to frighten spirits and tigers from the camp. The Ka Che set to work, but could not raise their chaleo to any considerable elevation. The Lao, tying theirs to the end of a bamboo, which when let go sprang up to a great height, easily became the masters, and, until quite recently, the Ka Che consequently supplied them with all that they required. In the old days a rupee purchased more rice than four men could lift.
For fifteen generations the chiefs had the title K'un, and for six generations the title of Tao. The name of the city was changed to Lan Sang (Siamese " Chang," the Lao having no ch) the meaning of the name, according to P'ia Riddhirong, the Siamese commissioner, being, " the plain among the elephants " as the surrounding hills are called Sang (Siamese " Chang "), or elephants. Then the name was changed to Luang Prabang, from the Prabang, a golden image of Gautama which, first set up in Ceylon, was carried successively to Cambodia, Luang Prabang, Wieng Chan, Bangkok, and finally back to Luang Prabang.
In the beginning of this century Luang Prabang was destroyed by Wieng Chan, from which it had long been separated. Its chief, Anurata, and his son, being taken prisoners, were sent to Bangkok, where they remained for twelve years. Dying twenty years later, this chief was succeeded by Mongta, who ruled for twelve years, and was followed by Chao Luang Serm, who, in turn, after nineteen years of government, was succeeded in 1870 by the late chief, Chao Luang Un Kham.

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