Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lao Epics: Phra Lak Phra Lam

Among the literary projects for Lao Americans of the 21st century will be an approach of several of our classic epics such as Phra Lak Phra Lam. While in many ways it is a version of the Ramayana, within Lao culture it is also a Jataka, or a story of a previous incarnation of the Buddha. Most approaches to Phra Lak Phra Lam are also noted for their depiction of Lao daily life and values. 
I wonder what our writers will keep and what will be adjusted for the present age and future generations. I'm sure there will be purists, but I think there will and should be a body of writers who will approach it with great innovation. 
This will be controversial, but a culture cannot really own its own stories unless we continue to explore its meanings and potential, treating it as a dynamic, fluid part of our heritage. I've gotten the sense that one of the chief objections in some circles will be that as a Jataka or an iteration of the Ramayana, it is now too holy to touch or alter. At best, Phra Lak Phra Lam can be commented on, but should not be radically altered, at least in some people's eyes. 

But just as we can see many different visualizations and re-enactments of the Bible from Charlton Heston films to comic books, I think Lao can be open to broad aesthetic explorations of this epic, and I believe we'll emerge stronger and more interesting for it.

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