Variants of Frontier Mimesis

Colonial Encounter and Intercultural Interaction in the Lao-Vietnamese Uplands

in Social Analysis
Restricted access

Abstract

At the turn of the twentieth century, the French colonial administration adopted various strategies and tactics to ‘pacify’ and control the culturally heterogeneous regions dividing the lowland realms of the Lao and Vietnamese courts, while upland powerbrokers aimed to forge strategic alliances with the new colonial power. This article takes the concept of mimesis as a means to explore the interplay of alterity and identity. With reference to the work of Michael Taussig, along with other theories of imitation, I will discuss processes of mutual appropriation and differentiation within the precarious relationship between colonizers and colonized. Mimesis here provides an alternative reading of upland Southeast Asian history beyond the binaries of dominance and resistance prevalent in James C. Scott’s recent work on the anarchist history of zomia.

Contributor Notes

Oliver Tappe is a Senior Researcher at the Global South Studies Center, University of Cologne. His research interests include the history of the Lao-Vietnamese upland frontier and the past and present dynamics of labor migration in Southeast Asia. He is co-editor, with Vatthana Pholsena, of the volume Interactions with a Violent Past: Reading Post-Conflict: Landscapes in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (2013) and editor of the special issue “Frictions and Fictions: Intercultural Encounters and Frontier Imaginaries in Upland Southeast Asia” in the Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology (2015). E-mail: oliver.tappe@uni-koeln.de

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

  • ArchaimbaultCharles. 1971. The New Year Ceremony at Basak (South Laos). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • ArnasonJohann P. 1997. “The Southeast Asian Labyrinth: Historical and Comparative Perspectives.” Thesis Eleven 50 (1): 99122.

  • BadenochNathan and Shinsuke Tomita. 2013. “Mountain People in the Muang: Creation and Governance of a Tai Polity in Northern Laos.” Southeast Asian Studies 2 (1): 2967.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BenjaminWalter. (1933) 1986. “On the Mimetic Faculty.” In Reflections: Essays Aphorisms Autobiographical Writings. Ed. Peter Demetz; trans. Edmund Jephcott333336. New York: Schocken Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BettsRaymond F. (1961) 2005. Assimilation and Association in French Colonial Theory 1890–1914. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BourletAntoine. 1906. “Socialisme dans les hua phan (Laos, Indo-Chine)” [Socialism in Houaphan (Laos Indo-China)]. Anthropos 1 (3): 521528.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BoutinAndré. 1937. “Monographie de la province des Houa-Phan” [Monograph of the province of Houaphan]. Bulletin des Amis de Laos 1: 69119.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BrébionAntoine. 1935. Dictionnaire de bio-bibliographie générale ancienne et moderne de l’Indochine française [Dictionary of general bio-bibliography, ancient and modern French Indochina]. Paris: Société des Éditions Géographiques, Maritimes et Coloniales.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • BrocheuxPierre and Daniel Hémery. 2009. Indochina: An Ambiguous Colonization 1858–1954. Trans. Ly Lan Dill-Klein. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • CerteauMichel de. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • CoedèsGeorge. 1968. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Ed. Walter F. Vella; trans. Susan B. Cowing. Honolulu: East-West Center Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • CondominasGeorges. 1980. L’espace social: A propos de l’Asie du Sud-Est [The social space: About Southeast Asia]. Paris: Flammarion.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • CondominasGeorges. 1990. From Lawa to Mon from Saa’ to Thai: Historical and Anthropological Aspects of Southeast Asian Social Spaces. Ed. and trans. Gehan Wijeyewardene. Canberra: Australian National University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ConklinAlice L. 1997. A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa 1895–1930. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • CooperFrederick. 2005. Colonialism in Question: Theory Knowledge History. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • CupetPierre-Paul. (1900) 2000. Travels in Laos and Among the Tribes of Southeast Indochina: The Pavie Mission Indochina Papers. Vol. 6. Trans. Walter E. J. Tips. Bangkok: White Lotus.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DavisBradley C. 2009. “Post-Taiping Fallout: Nguyen-Qing Collaboration in the Pursuit of Bandits on the Border.” In Gainsborough 20092534.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DavisBradley C. 2011. “Black Flag Rumors and the Black River Basin: Powerbrokers and the State in the Tonkin-China Borderlands.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 6 (2): 1641.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DavisBradley C. 2015. “The Production of Peoples: Imperial Ethnography and the Changing Conception of Uplands Space in Nineteenth-Century Vietnam.” Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 16 (4): 323342.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DavisBradley C. 2017. Imperial Bandits: Outlaws and Rebels in the China-Vietnam Borderlands. Seattle, WA: Washington University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DionIsabelle. 2010. Auguste Pavie l’explorateur aux pieds nus [Auguste Pavie, the barefoot explorer]. Aix-en-Provence: Archives nationales d’outre-mer.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DouglasBronwen. 1992. “Doing Ethnographic History: The Case of Fighting in New Caledonia.” In History and Tradition in Melanesian Anthropology ed. James G. Carrier86115. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • EvansGrant. 1992. “Internal Colonialism in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.” Sojourn 7 (2): 274304.

  • EvansGrant. 2000. “Tai-Ization: Ethnic Change in Northern Indo-China.” In Civility and Savagery: Social Identity in Tai States ed. Andrew Turton263290. Richmond: Curzon Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ÉvrardOlivier. 2006. Chroniques des cendres: Anthropologie des sociétés khmou et dynamiques interethniques du Nord-Laos [Chronicles of ashes: Anthropology of Khmu societies and inter-ethnic dynamics of North Laos]. Paris: IRD.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • FourniauCharles. 2002. Vietnam: Domination coloniale et résistance nationale 1858–1914 [Vietnam: Colonial domination and national resistance, 1858–1914]. Paris: Les Indes Savantes.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • GainsboroughMartin ed. 2009. On the Borders of State Power: Frontiers in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region. London: Routledge.

  • GayBernard. 1989. “La frontière Vietnamo-Lao de 1893 à nos jours” [The Vietnam-Lao border from 1893 to the present day]. In Les frontières du Vietnam: Histoire des frontières de la péninsule indochinoise [Frontiers of Vietnam: History of the borders of the Indochinese peninsula] ed. Pierre-Bernard Lafont204232. Paris: l’Harmattan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • GebauerGunter and Christoph Wulf. 1995. Mimesis: Culture Art Society. Trans. Don Reneau. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • GierschC. Patterson. 2006. Asian Borderlands: The Transformation of Qing China’s Yunnan Frontier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • GoschaChristopher E. 2012. Going Indochinese: Contesting Concepts of Space and Place in French Indochina. Rev. ed. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • GrabowskyVolker. 2003. “Chiang Khaeng 1893/96: A Lü Principality in the Upper Mekong Valley in the Focus of British-French Rivalry.” In Contesting Visions of the Lao Past: Lao Historiography at the Crossroads ed. Christopher E. Goscha und Søren Ivarsson3770. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • GunnGeoffrey. 1985. “A Scandal in Colonial Laos: The Death of Bac My and the Wounding of Kommadan Revisited.” Journal of the Siam Society 75 (1–2): 4259.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • HardyAndrew. 2003. Red Hills: Migrants and the State in the Highlands of Vietnam. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

  • HarrisonSimon. 2006. Fracturing Resemblances: Identity and Mimetic Conflict in Melanesia and the West. New York: Berghahn Books.

  • HugganGraham. 1997. “(Post)Colonialism, Anthropology, and the Magic of Mimesis.” Cultural Critique 38: 91106.

  • ImamuraMasao. 2015. “Rethinking Frontier and Frontier Studies.” Political Geography 45: 9697.

  • IvarssonSøren. 2008. Creating Laos: The Making of a Lao Space between Indochina and Siam 1860–1945. Copenhagen: NIAS Press.

  • IzikowitzKarl G. 1969. “Neighbours in Laos.” In Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference ed. Fredrik Barth135148. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget; London: Allen & Unwin.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • JonssonHjorleifur. 2005. Mien Relations: Mountain People and State Control in Thailand. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • JonssonHjorleifur. 2010. “Mimetic Minorities: National Identity and Desire on Thailand’s Fringe.” Identities 17 (2–3): 108130.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • JonssonHjorleifur. 2012. “Paths to Freedom: Political Prospecting in the Ethno graphic Record.” Critique of Anthropology 32 (2): 158172.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • JonssonHjorleifur. 2014. Slow Anthropology: Negotiating Difference with the Iu Mien. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

  • KramerFritz. 1993. The Red Fez: Art and Spirit Possession in Africa. Trans. Malcolm R. Green. New York: Verso.

  • LadwigPatrice. 2016. “Religious Place Making: Civilized Modernity and the Spread of Buddhism among the Cheng, a Mon-Khmer Minority in Southern Laos.” In Religion Place and Modernity: Spatial Articulations in Southeast Asia and East Asia ed. Michael Dickhardt and Andrea Lauser95124. Leiden: Brill.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LanessanJean-Marie de. 1889. L’Indo-Chine Francaise [French Indo-China]. Paris: Alcan.

  • Le FaillerPhilippe. 2011. “The Đèo Family of Lai Châu: Traditional Power and Unconventional Practices.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 6 (2): 4267.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Le FaillerPhilippe. 2014. La rivière Noire: L’intégration d’une marche frontière au Vietnam [The Black River: The integration of a border march in Vietnam]. Paris: CNRS Editions.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LeachE. R. 1954. Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure. London: Athlone.

  • LeachE. R. 1960. “The Frontiers of Burma.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 3 (1): 4968.

  • LefèvreEugène. 1898. Un voyage au Laos [A trip to Laos]. Paris: Plon.

  • LemireCharles. (1894) 2008. Laos in 1893. Bangkok: White Lotus.

  • LentzChristian C. 2011. “Making the Northwest Vietnamese.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 6 (2): 68105.

  • LentzChristian C. 2014. “The King Yields to the Village? A Micropolitics of State making in Northwest Vietnam.” Political Geography 39: 110.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LorrillardMichel. 2008. “Pour une géographie historique du bouddhisme au Laos” [For a historical geography of Buddhism in Laos]. In Recherches nouvelles sur le Laos [New research on Laos] ed. Yves Goudineau and Michel Lorrillard113181. Paris: EFEO.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MelbergArne. 1995. Theories of Mimesis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • MichaudJean. 2006. Historical Dictionary of the Peoples of the Southeast Asian Massif. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

  • MichaudJean. 2013. “French Military Ethnography in Colonial Upper Tonkin (Northern Vietnam), 1897–1904.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 8 (4): 146.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • MichaudJean and Tim Forsyth eds. 2011. Moving Mountains: Ethnicity and Livelihoods in Highland China Vietnam and Laos. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • OsterhammelJürgen. 2009. Kolonialismus: Geschichte Formen Folgen [Colonialism: History, forms, consequences]. Munich: C. H. Beck.

  • PavieAuguste. 1901. Mission Pavie Indo-Chine 1879–1895: Géographie et voyages [Pavie’s Indo-China mission, 1879–1895: Geography and travel]. Paris: Leroux.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PavieAuguste. 1942. A la conquête des coeurs: Le pays des millions d’éléphants [A conquest of hearts: The country of millions of elephants]. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PelsPeter. 1997. “The Anthropology of Colonialism: Culture, History, and the Emergence of Western Governmentality.” Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 163183.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PelsPeter and Oscar Salemink eds. 1999. Colonial Subjects: Essays on the Practical History of Anthropology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PlatenkampJos D. M. 2008. “The Canoe Racing Ritual of Luang Prabang.” Social Analysis 52 (3): 132.

  • PoissonEmmanuel. 2004. Mandarins et subalternes au nord du Viêt Nam: Une bureaucratie à l’épreuve (1820–1918) [Mandarins and subalterns in northern Vietnam: A bureaucracy to the test]. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • PoissonEmmanuel. 2009. “Unhealthy Air of the Mountains: Kinh and Ethnic Minority Rule on the Sino-Vietnamese Frontier from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth Century.” In Gainsborough 20091224.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ProschanFrank. 1998. “Cheuang in Kmhmu Folklore, History, and Memory.” In Tamnan keokap thao hung thao chuang: Miti thang prawattisat lae wattanatham [Proceedings of the First International Conference on the Literary Historical and Cultural Aspects of Thao Hung Thao Cheuang] ed. Sumitr Pitiphat174209. Bangkok: Thammasat University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RobequainCharles. 1929. Le Thanh-Hoá: Étude géographique d’une province annamite [Thanh-Hoá: Geographical study of an Annamese province]. Paris: G. Van Oest.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RobertRené. 1941. Notes sur les Tay Dèng de Lang Chánh (Thanh-hoá—Annam) [Notes on the Tay Dèng de Lang Chánh (Thanh-hoá—Annam)]. Hanoi: Imprimerie d’Extrême-Orient.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RoqueRicardo. 2010. Headhunting and Colonialism: Anthropology and the Circulation of Human Skulls in the Portuguese Empire 1870–1930. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • RoqueRicardo. 2015a. “Mimesis and Colonialism: Emerging Perspectives on a Shared History.” History Compass 13 (4): 201211.

  • RoqueRicardo. 2015b. “Mimetic Governmentality and the Administration of Colonial Justice in East Timor, ca. 1860–1910.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 57 (1): 6797.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SaleminkOscar. 2003. The Ethnography of Vietnam’s Central Highlanders: A Historical Contextualization 1850–1990. London: RoutledgeCurzon; Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SaleminkOscar. 2015. “Revolutionary and Christian Ecumenes and Desire for Modernity in the Vietnamese Highlands.” Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 16 (4): 388409.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SarrautAlbert. 1923. La mise en valeur des colonies françaises [Enhancement of the French colonies]. Paris: Payot.

  • SchendelWillem van. 2002. “Geographies of Knowing, Geographies of Ignorance: Jumping Scale in Southeast Asia.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20 (6): 647668.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SchopohlAndrea. 2011. “Processes of Social Differentiation and (Re-)Integration in Northern Laos.” Sojourn 26 (2): 248276.

  • ScottJames C. 2009. The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • TappeOliver. 2015a. “A Frontier in the Frontier: Sociopolitical Dynamics and Colonial Administration in the Lao-Vietnamese Borderlands.” Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 16 (4): 368387.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • TappeOliver. 2015b. “Introduction: Frictions and Fictions—Intercultural Encounters and Frontier Imaginaries in Upland Southeast Asia.” Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 16 (4): 317322.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • TaussigMichael. 1993. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. London: Routledge.

  • TsingAnna L. 1994. “From the Margins.” Cultural Anthropology 9 (3): 279297.

  • TsingAnna L. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • TurnerFrederick J. 1921. The Frontier in American History. New York: Henry Holt.

  • WalkerAndrew. 1999. The Legend of the Golden Boat: Regulation Trade and Traders in the Borderlands of Laos Thailand China and Burma. Richmond: Curzon Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WalkerIain. 2005. “Mimetic Structuration: Or, Easy Steps to Building an Acceptable Identity.” History and Anthropology 16 (2): 187210.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WinichakulThongchai. 1995. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.