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Variants of Frontier Mimesis

Colonial Encounter and Intercultural Interaction in the Lao-Vietnamese Uplands

Oliver Tappe

Keywords: colonialism; French Indochina; frontier regions; Laos; mimesis; Southeast Asia; Vietnam

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.

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