Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Lao epics and American foreign policy

This week during President Obama's address to the nation of Laos there was an interesting "blink and you'll miss it" shoutout to the epic of Sinxay. Without reading too much into it, I will say that it's an interesting example of traditional Southeast Asian literature to cite, compared to other examples that were possible including Phra Lak Phra Lam, Xieng Mieng, or Phadaeng Nang Ai

At the risk of oversimplifying the plot, I think it's a wonderful choice because the fullest version of Sinxay is an optimistic tale of reconciliation: The giant war-hungry King of the Nyak has returned from the dead after his defeat by the hero Sinxay. The King of the Nyak initially wants revenge and to give in to his old lusts and desires for Sinxay's aunt, but after a conversation with everyone, comes to see the errors of his ways and sees that he had a second chance before him. The King of the Nyak then helps to build a bridge with everyone between the realm of the Nyak and the humans and everyone lives in harmony going forward.

Of course, that was written centuries ago, but it can easily serve well as a message and a metaphor for today. Time will tell if we've all learned our lessons. 

You can obtain a copy of an exceptional English adaptation of the tale at www.sinxay.com by the Whittleseys, and several versions are also available at Dokked Publishing in Laos. As I've noted elsewhere, unfortunately, many other English translations and summaries are presently very difficult to read, but hopefully this will change in the coming years ahead as more interest grows in the traditional Lao myths and legends.

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