LAO ROYAL FAMILY
The Lao monarchy, which dates to the 1300s, shared power with the Communist Pathet Lao on-and-off through the 1960s and '70s. The communists took complete control in 1975 and sent the king and queen and other members of the royal family to "re-education camps," where they died.
The Lao Royal Family was the ruling family of the Kingdom of Laos from 1904 to 1975 and the group of close relatives of the monarch of the Kingdom of Laos. King Sisavang Vong was the founder of the modern family, consisting of a number of persons in the Lao Royal Dynasty of the Khun Lo, who are related to the King of Laos, who are entitled to royal titles, and some of whom performed various official engagements on behalf of the Royal Family and ceremonial duties of State when the Kingdom existed. The Lao Royals base themselves in France, where they work to achieve a change of government in Laos. [Source: Wikipedia +]
The French protectorate was established during the reign of King Oun Kham of Luang Prabang. This made complete sense as the Chinese had invaded, sacked Luang Prabang and forced King Oun Kham (who was quite elderly at the time) to flee to Bangkok, barely escaping with his life. His escape was facilitated by the French civil servant Auguste Pavie who then helped negotiate the peace. He was then posted to Bangkok where he was a pivotal figure in the Franco-Siamese War that resulted in France replacing Thailand as the protecting power over Laos. Pavie then became the first Commissioner-General for France in Laos. Luang Prabang continued as an autonomous protectorate while Vientiane and Champasak were brought under the direct control of French colonial officials. In time the three Lao kingdoms were brought back together and reunited into a single Kingdom of Laos. The protectorate over Luang Prabang was first accepted by King Zakarine, the son of King Oun Kham who had been made regent for his ailing father by the King of Thailand. He was an accomplished prince who had led Lao forces in repelling an invasion by the Chinese forces of the Taiping rebellion.[Source: Mad Monarchist blog madmonarchist.blogspot.jp /*/]
In 1975, the Pathet Lao, led by another royal, Souphanouvong, overthrew the Royal Government and arrested many members of the Royal family. The King, The Queen, Crown Prince and the King's brothers were taken to a remote location to a re-education camp, where it is believed that they died there has been no official confirmation either way. In 1980 HPrince Soulivong Savang, became Head of the Royal House of Laos as Prince Sauryavong Savang was acting regent for his nephew, Vong Savang. +
The head of the Lao royal family, Sauryayong Savang, and the pretender to the abolished throne, prince Soulivong Savang, both live Paris. Soulivong Savang has said he hopes to return to Laos under a democracy some day. Princesses of the Lao royal family make a living serving dinner and performing welcoming ceremonies for foreign visitors. A former member of the royal family opened a car dealership in the early 2000s. Soulivong Savang’s mother owns a guest house in Luang Prabang.
See Elephants, Asian Animals
Books: “ Bamboo Palace: Discovering the Lost Dynasty of Laos”by Christopher Kremmer (2003); “Stalking The Elephant Kings” by Christopher Kremmer
Fate of the Lao Royal Family After the Pathet Lao Takes Power
In 1977, fearing the king might escape his virtual house arrest to lead resistance, the authorities arrested him and his family and sent them to Vieng Xai, the old Pathet Lao wartime HQ. There they were forced to labour in the fields. The king, queen and crown prince all eventually died, probably of malaria and malnutrition, though no official statement of their death was ever released. [Source: Lonely Planet =]
Initially King Savang Vatthana was kept as a figural leader and “Supreme Advisor to the President.” In 1977 he was arrested along with the queen, the crown prince and five other family members, allegedly for participating in a small uprising. The new regime feared that ex-King Savang Vatthana, who until March 1977 had lived quietly in the royal palace as a private citizen with the meaningless title of adviser to President Souphanouvong, would become a symbol of popular resistance. As a result, he was suddenly spirited away by helicopter to Houaphan along with Queen Khamboui and Crown Prince Say Vongsavang. [Source: Library of Congress]
The surviving members of the family were stripped of their money and possessions and had to learn to grow their own rice to survive. Prince Soulivong Savang, the grandson of King Savang Vatthana and the current heir to the throne, was allowed to remain with his mother, Princess Manilay Khamane Panya, in Luang Prabang. The government oversaw his education and made sure he received his share measure of Communist indoctrination.
When he was 18 Prince Soulivong Savang was able to slip out of the country by sailing a small boat across the Mekong River to Thailand, accompanied by his nanny and brother, Prince Sauryavong Savang. He made the move after realizing he had to do something after watching his friends disappear from school to be sent to re-education camps. The day he commandeered the boat he faked an allergic reaction and said he said needed urgent medical treatment in Vientiane . By the time his minders got wind of what happened he was in Thailand
Death of the Lao Royal Family
King Savang Vatthana, Queen Khamboui and Crown Prince Say Vongsavang were sent to a jungle camp in Huan Phan province for re-education and never heard from again. The king reportedly died of malaria in the late 1970s in a cave prison. The others presumably also died in similar circumstances from lack of food and disease. A dynasty that had endured for 600 years was snuffed out just like that.
According to the Library of Congress: Imprisoned in Camp 01, the crown prince died on May 2, 1978, and the king eleven days later of starvation. The queen died on December 12, 1981. According to an eyewitness, all were buried in unmarked graves outside the camp's perimeter. No official announcement was made. More than a decade later, during a visit to France in December 1989, Kaysone confirmed reports of the king's death in an innocuous aside that attributed it to old age.
According to a September 1987 report in the news magazine World Press Review, the Laotian royal family was starved and worked to death by the Communist regime in 1978 at the country's main labor camp for political prisoners. The magazine reports that the King, Queen Khamboui and Crown Prince Say Vongsavang arrived at Camp 01 in the village of Sam Neua in September 1977. Quoting the London newspaper The Independent, the World Press Review report states that the King and Crown Prince were forced to perform hard labor six days a week, with daily rations of two cups of poor-quality rice. The report states that the King and Crown Prince died within 11 days of each other in May 1978 and that the Queen died on Dec. 12, 1978, in the women's section of the camp. [Source: New York Times, February 8, 1990]
In his book “ Bamboo Palace: Discovering the Lost Dynasty of Laos,” journalist Christopher Kremmer was lucky to find alive a former prison inmate and, with his help and the aid of others, is able to tell the extraordinary story of the final moments of the royals. A former colonel of the Royal Lao Armed Forces, Khamphan Thammakhanty, told Kremmer was in the camp, in the remote province of Houaphen, where the royal family was kept secretly for several years, until one by one they died of hunger and neglect.
Patrick Cullen, Newcastle Herald, Kremmer was sent a document by Khamphan Thammakhanty, a former colonel in the Royal Lao Armed Forces, and the last known survivor of a secret prison known simply as Camp Number One. A total of 30,000 people were incarcerated in such camps and as many as a third of them were starved or executed, or died from lack of basic medical care. The two prisoners of great interest to Kremmer, and the people of Laos, were King Savang Vatthana and Queen Khamphoui. The King and Queen were brought to the prison "for their own safety" but Khamphan knows the true story. He not only reveals a nation’s dark past, but shows that little has changed.” [Source:Patrick Cullen, Newcastle Herald, December 13, 2003]
Communists Honor the Lao Royal Family
In the early 2000s, the Communist government broke tradition and took the unusual step of erecting a statue to honor King Fangum, a 14th century Lao monarch. The 4.3-tall bronze statue was unveiled with great pomp and ceremony, complete with women in period costumes riding on elephants. The President bowed before the statue. The government also announced plans to erect 12 more statues of kings.
The U.S. ambassador told the New York Times, “This is the most amazing thing I’ve seen in my time in Laos. There’s a hell of a lot of ironies. They are making a direct linkage between the king and the current leadership , and these are the same people who deposed the last king of Laos.”
This was quite a change from years before when simply referring to the Lao monarchy was regarded as a taboo subject. The statue was seen as a move by the government to use the monarchy as symbol of unity and patriotism, and to quash ambitions by Royalists.
See Royalist Fighter, Below
King Sisavang Vong
It was the son of King Zakarine, Prince Sisavang Phoulivong, who presided over the reunification of the country and became King Sisavang Vong of Laos in 1904. The modern history of the country truly began with his reign. He had been educated in Saigon and Paris and his kingship was to be the beginning of a new era of Lao development and Franco-Lao cooperation; something he was totally committed to. The French built the new Royal Palace in Luang Prabang short after he came to the throne, a symbol of the start of a new period of unity and progress. King Sisavang Vong provided steady and moderate leadership, becoming over his many years on the throne one of the most beloved and respected monarchs in Southeast Asia. He was also more fortunate than some other monarchs in Indochina alone as he was left mostly to govern as he wished, at least in the area of Luang Prabang and whereas French colonialism had brought the division of Vietnam into three pieces, it had brought unity to Laos, restoring the one kingdom out of three. King Sisavang Vong saw the lives of his people improve and was genuinely friendly toward France. This friendship was put to the test with the outbreak of World War II. [Source: Mad Monarchist blog madmonarchist.blogspot.jp /*/]
After the German conquest of France the Japanese were able to assist their ally Thailand in recovering territory previously ceded to Laos after the Franco-Siamese War. This had an impact on King Sisavang Vong and made him all the more skeptical when Lao nationalists tried to enlist his cooperation in allying with the Japanese against the French. Despite the fact that Japanese forces dominated all of Southeast Asia, King Sisavang Vong refused to betray France and refused to cooperate with the Japanese. As a result, he was, in effect, deposed and replaced by a nationalist pro-Japanese faction that proclaimed the Kingdom of Laos independent of France. They seemed to have backed the winning side but, of course, they had not and following the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered and withdrew from Southeast Asia. French forces returned and King Sisavang Vong was restored as King of Laos, of the entire country, in fact as well as in name, in 1946. /*/
While revolution gripped neighboring Vietnam, the Kingdom of Laos remained peacefully isolated from such chaos and both Laos and Cambodia experienced a period of great prosperity after the end of World War II. King Sisavang Vong was more revered than ever and celebrated his Golden Jubilee in 1954. A few years later his poor health forced him to hand official responsibilities over to his son as regent and he died in 1959, disliked by the xenophobes for his friendship with France but beloved by most people for his thoughtful leadership and establishment of the first constitution in Lao history. He was succeeded by his son, King Savang Vatthana, who was destined to be the last King of Laos. Despite the outward signs of peace and prosperity, there was a cancer growing in the heart of the country which was the Pathet Lao; a communist, revolutionary group born out of the Vietnamese communist movement of Ho Chi Minh. He had first established the Indochinese Communist Party and spread subversive groups into Laos and Cambodia as he intended for the Vietnamese Communist Party to eventually rule all of what was then French Indochina. /*/
King Savang Vatthana, the Last King of Laos
Few monarchs of recent times have had to face such a calamitous collection of difficulties as His Majesty Savang Vatthana, the last King of Laos. He was born Samdach Brhat Chao Mavattaha Sri Vitha Lan Xang Hom Khao Phra Rajanachakra Lao Parama Sidha Khattiya Suriya Varman Brhat Maha Sri Savangsa Vadhana on November 13, 1907 at the Royal Palace of Luang Prabang to Their Majesties King Sisavang Vong and Queen Kham-Oun I, the second of five children. During this time Laos was part of the French colonial union of Indochina along with Cambodia and the three regions of old Vietnam (Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina). The new prince’s father, King Sisavang Vong, was very cognizant of the advances France had brought to his country as well as their role in aiding in the unification of the minor Lao kingdoms into a single Kingdom of Laos. He was determined to always maintain friendly relations with France and, like other royals of the time, sent Crown Prince Savang Vatthana to France at the age of 10 to be given a western education and to learn something of the world outside of Laos. [Source: Mad Monarchist blog madmonarchist.blogspot.jp /*/]
The Crown Prince went to a prestigious private school in Montpellier and later earned a degree in Paris at École Libre des Sciences Politiques, also a prestigious institution where French diplomats were trained. He spent ten years in France learning about history, science, statecraft, diplomacy and so on. As he had left at such an early age, when he returned to Laos traditional royal tutors had to repeat some of the traditional Lao education he had received as a child. It is probably safe to say that Savang Vatthana would be the most well and diversely education monarch that Laos ever had. Not long after his return, on August 7, 1930 he married his future Queen Khamphoui, a girl from Luang Prabang, beginning what would be a devoted and fruitful marriage. In the following years the couple would have seven children. They were always a close-knit family, praying and playing together. Tennis was a very popular sport that had been introduced to the country and the Crown Princely family would play together whenever they had a chance as well as being always eager to take in tournaments when they happened to be traveling abroad./*/
HRH Savang Vatthana was also a very religious man. As King of Laos he would one day hold a sacred, even semi-divine position, and he took his religious duties very seriously. He poured over Buddhist scriptures, practiced intense self discipline and, of course, served in a monastery as a monk himself as was customary. In time he became an expert on the sangkha, even by the standards of the Buddhist clergy. The Crown Prince was determined that when he came to the throne and inherited the position of chief protector of the Buddhist faith in Laos that he would know it completely and be able to do so. Not just protecting it from attack but also from any who would attempt to subvert its true meaning. It is tragic that a man who was such a sincere and devout Buddhist would face such a horrific succession of conflicts, violence and hatred throughout his life. The first, but unfortunately not the last, was when World War II spread to southeast Asia. /*/
King Savang Vatthana During and After World War II
The Empire of Japan, already allied to the Kingdom of Thailand, occupied Indochina and found many willing allies among those who wished to throw off European colonialism and grasp the hope of independence. The Japanese also made it clear that, believing in the imperial system as they did, traditional monarchs were who they preferred to work with. Many in Japan expected the mere offer of independence would be sufficient to enlist Laos on their side in the greater war. That was not to be the case. Crown Prince Savang Vatthana was sent by the King to the Japanese military headquarters in Saigon, Vietnam to relay his position and carry on negotiations as needed. In a very bold move he made it abundantly clear that the Kingdom of Laos was an ally of France and part of the French union and that was not going to change. The Japanese, needless to say, were not pleased and, as a matter of necessity, occupied Laos and allied with the nationalist faction to force a declaration of Laotian independence. Again acting for the King, Crown Prince Savang Vatthana vociferously protested against the Japanese presence in Laos and their actions in the political sphere. [Source: Mad Monarchist blog madmonarchist.blogspot.jp /*/]
Ultimately, the King was proven to be the more foresighted. In 1945 the Japanese were defeated and evacuated southeast Asia and in 1949 France granted full self-rule to Laos as part of the Union of Indochina. In 1951 the Crown Prince took office as Prime Minister under his father and in 1953 negotiated the treaty by which France recognized the full independence of the Kingdom of Laos as a neutral constitutional monarchy with a new prime minister taking office. In the summer of 1959 as the King become increasingly frail, Savang Vatthana assumed the position of regent. Fighting was still going on in Vietnam between the communist and non-communist factions and the kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia were in danger of being dragged into conflict as well.
King Savang Vatthana Takes the Throne During the Civil War and Rise of the Pathet Lao
On October 29, 1959 Savang Vatthana became King of Laos. The new monarch, however, decided to delay the grand coronation rites due to the civil war that was raging in his country as a result of the communist insurgency. By the time King Savang Vatthana came to the throne the Kingdom of Laos was a fully united, independent monarchy within the worldwide French Union. Also by that time the Vietnamese monarchy had been destroyed and the country divided into a communist north (supported by the Soviet Union) and a non-communist south (supported by the United States). The King was most concerned with keeping Laos out of the increasingly bloody, fratricidal war in Vietnam but this proved increasingly impossible. The Pathet Lao were fully dependent on the Vietnamese communists and were working to subvert royal authority in Laos as well as to support the war effort of their communist masters in Vietnam. Soon, the United States was intervening in Laos as well (unofficially) to counter the Vietnamese and their allies in the country. So it was that there emerged a three-front civil war in the little, mountainous Kingdom of Laos. On one side were the communist and pro-North Vietnamese Pathet Lao, on the other side were the Hmong warriors, Thai mercenaries and other anti-communist pro-American forces and in the middle was King Savang Vatthana and the official Royal Lao Army which was trying to cling to neutrality and keep the other two sides from engulfing the country in their conflict. [Source: Mad Monarchist blog madmonarchist.blogspot.jp /*/]
King Savang Vatthana stood in a precarious position. His country was essentially divided into three factions. On one side were the communist insurgents, the Pathet Lao, who wanted to take over the country and were supported by the communist North Vietnamese. On the other side were the anti-communist nationalists who wanted to fight the insurgency and the North Vietnamese and were supported by the United States of America. In the middle was the neutral faction which wanted to keep Laos neutral and neither support nor oppose either side in the Cold War that come to Southeast Asia, the Soviet Union originally supported this faction. Making things even more painful for the King was the fact that each faction was led by a royal prince who were his cousins with each claiming to be prime minister and each recognized by their primary foreign supporters, either North Vietnam, Soviet Russia or the United States. King Savang Vatthana therefore went on a worldwide tour in an effort to gain foreign support for an independent Kingdom of Laos and by establishing friendly relations with all to hopefully influence them to withdraw their support for the factions which were dividing his country. /*/
For decades this “unofficial” civil war raged across Laos and divided the Royal Family as well as the populace. Prince Souvanna Phouma (who favored neutrality and was supported by the USSR, which did not want the war to spread) was in Vientiane claiming to be Prime Minister. Prince Boun Oum of Champassak was in the south with the anti-communist forces and was recognized as Prime Minister by the United States. Finally there was Prince Souphanouvong, the “Red Prince” who led the communist Pathet Lao and was backed by North Vietnam in also claiming to be Prime Minister. The King was in the middle trying to bring all sides together and he was the only figure that Prince Souvanna Phouma and Prince Boun Oum would both deal with. The Pathet Lao, of course, were reluctant as their aim was the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of a communist dictatorship (which would actually be a puppet regime for North Vietnam). King Savang Vatthana wanted all three of the feuding princes to come together in a coalition government in an effort to please all sides and end the killing. Unfortunately, he was only partially successful. /*/
Try as he might, King Savang Vatthana simply could not stop the escalating conflict in Vietnam from spreading to his country. The North Vietnamese established routes through Laos for moving men and supplies into South Vietnam and the United States (clandestinely) employed forces to attack these routes. Finally, in 1961, the National Assembly reached a slim majority in favor of Prince Boun Oum of Champassack, leader of the anti-communist faction supported by the United States. King Savang Vatthana recognized the new government, which was crucial as he occupied the only position in national government that was beyond dispute. However, he hoped that the factions would form a coalition government to unite the country. /*/
In 1961 and the following year the King did get his wish in the establishment of a coalition government that included representation for all factions. However, the Pathet Lao were never committed to working within the rules of a constitutional monarchy and their plots and schemes against the other members of the coalition were continuous. In 1964 there was a succession of coups and coups attempts which forced the royalist and anti-communist factions together in closer cooperation against the Pathet Lao. /*/
There was a succession of coups and coup attempts until finally there was no room for neutrality. The communist Pathet-Lao refused to take part in any talks, elections or compromises and the neutralist and anti-communist factions joined forces against them. The communists became increasingly uncooperative and by 1972 ceased to even pretend to support the legal, existing government, returning to their outright campaign of terrorism and subversion. /*/
For roughly a decade after this a civil war raged in the small, mountainous Kingdom of Laos between the royal government and the communist Pathet-Lao. One side was supported by the communist North Vietnamese, the other by the United States. By the late 1960s it was becoming increasingly clear that the United States was on the way out of Vietnam and that the non-communist forces would soon be cut off by their primary supplier of funds, weapons and diplomatic support. Time was on their side. It was extremely painful for the King who was always a man of peace but circumstances had left no other option. Everything would depend on whose allies sent the most support and that issue was determined in 1975. /*/
King Savang Vatthana After the Takeover of Laos by the Pathet Lao
Especially after 1973 the United States had started withdrawing from Vietnam. In the next U.S. congressional elections after the Watergate scandal, the Democrats swept to power and immediately cut off funding for the war effort and all aid going to non-communist forces in Indochina. 1975 was the year of total victory for the communist forces of North Vietnam and, by extension, their fellow revolutionaries across Indochina. On April 17, 1975 the Khmer Rouge occupied Phnom Penh, starting “Year Zero” and the nightmarish regime of Pol Pot. On April 30, 1975 the North Vietnamese army marched into Saigon and the red flag was raised over the Dragon’s Head Palace. The royal government of King Savang Vatthana of Laos was the last to hold out. The Royal Lao Army had been devastated as early as 1968 due to a massive attack by North Vietnamese forces. [Source: Mad Monarchist blog madmonarchist.blogspot.jp /*/]
After the fall of Phnom Penh and Saigon, the Pathet Lao were eager to renew their offensive against the royal government, which they did, with North Vietnamese support. King Savang Vatthana tried to organize a defense but many of his ministers and generals were giving up and leaving the country while that was still possible, due to the obviously hopeless position they faced. Finally, the Prime Minister ordered government forces to offer no resistance to the Pathet Lao, considering any further fighting would simply be a waste of life. The King bravely remained at his post, refusing to leave his people even as the government folded up around him. The communists took over without political opposition as they were already in control of the country. /*/
On August 23, 1975 the Pathet Lao occupied Vientiane and on December 2, 1975 forced King Savang Vatthana to abdicate. It was the first time in at least six hundred years that Laos was without a monarch. As in Vietnam in 1945, the communists at first pretended to be moderate and named the former king “Supreme Advisor to the President” who was the former “Red Prince” Souphanouvong. In fact he had no power or role at all in the new “Lao People’s Democratic Republic”, even suffering the indignity of seeing his home seized by the communist party. At first, they would have been glad to see him leave the country. [Source: Mad Monarchist blog madmonarchist.blogspot.jp /*/]
As in the other countries of Indochina, the communists first made a show of reconciliation by appointing the former King advisor to the President but this charade did not last long. The communists did not want to deal with him at all but the King refused to leave the country and abandon his people. Over time, the communists started fearing the king would leave. They had promised a utopian paradise and instead had delivered only misery, suffering and oppression, backed up by the North Vietnamese.
The Pathet Lao became increasingly worried that the King would escape the country and organize a resistance movement against them so, in March of 1977 he, along with the Queen and several other members of the Royal Family, were arrested and thrown into a concentration camp in the north for political prisoners. The King and Royal Family were sent to “Camp Number One” in northern Laos for political prisoners. None of his people would ever see him again. The King passed his 70th year in this prison but finally died, no one is sure even today exactly when or under what circumstances. There are conflicting accounts about when exactly the last King died and under what circumstances. It was only in the 1990s that the ordinary people in Laos learned what had happened to their Royal Family and this caused great anger and resentment against the government. Some people even adopted the King of Thailand as their own, in the absence of a monarch in Laos. In any event, his youngest son who had escaped the country continued to lead the opposition to the regime in exile. /*/
Prince Phetsarath of Laos
In the history of the Kingdom of Laos, just prior to its tragic demise, few royals had such a diverse and colorful career as Prince Phetsarath. Holding such positions as prime minister and vice-king and various times in his life, his reputation endured even after his death with the Prince achieving and almost semi-divine status that lingers somewhat even to the present. His Highness Prince Chao Maha Ouphat Phetsarath Rattanavongsa was born in Luang Prabang on January 19, 1890 to Prince Bounkhong (son of Prince Souvanna Phomma) the uparaja of Luang Prabang and his second wife Princess Thongsy. The second son, Prince Phetsarath was the older brother of Prince Souvanna Phouma who would lead the pro-neutrality royalist faction in the later Laotian Civil War. He was also an older half brother of Prince Souphanouvong who would lead the communist faction and become the first President of Laos (Prince Souphanouvong being the son of Prince Bounkhong by his eleventh wife who was a commoner). Coming from such an illustrious family line, Prince Phetsarath was given the best education possible in colonial French Indochina. [Source: Mad Monarchist blog madmonarchist.blogspot.jp /*/]
After preliminary instruction in the traditional fashion, he was sent to the Lycee Chasseloup Laubat in Saigon (at that time in the French colony of Cochinchine) the “Paris of the Orient” and “Pearl of the Far East”. In 1905 he left Indochina to study in Paris, France at the Lycee Montaigne and later the Ecole coloniale. After finishing his education he returned to Laos in 1912 and the following year married Princess Nhin Kham Venne, his first of three wives. After about a year of working for his father as an interpreter he got a job clerking at the French governor’s office in Vientiane. The Prince proved himself quite adept and within two years was promoted to secretary to the colonial governor. This was during World War I which added new difficulties as the French organized military battalions from Indochina to serve in Europe, sometimes in combat roles but more often in labor battalions, digging trenches and moving men and supplies. In 1919 Prince Phetsarath was honored with the title of Somdeth Chao Ratsaphakhinay, one of the highest in the land, from the King. His father had previously held the same position. He was also appointed Director of Indigenous Affairs of Laos by the French governor. /*/
The next year, on July 26, 1920, Prince Bounkhong died and Prince Phetsarath succeeded his father as the uparaja or ouphat, effectively the Vice-King of Laos, also sometimes westernized to “Viceroy”. In that capacity he worked tirelessly for the development of the country. He reformed or, indeed, instituted in the first place, the Lao Consultative Assembly, streamlined the advisory council of the King, made the civil service more fair and results-driven by establishing a clear system of ranks and requirements for promotion that ended a great deal of corruption. In Laos, “Church and State” went hand-in-hand and Prince Phetsarath also reformed the administrative system of the Buddhist temples and set down new guidelines for the education of Buddhist priests. The first modern legal code in the Kingdom of Laos was the invention of Prince Phetsarath and he founded the Institute of Law and Administration to train competent civil servants who would not owe their position to the granting of special favors. Not only did all of this greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Lao government, but it also displayed to the people of Laos that they themselves were capable of holding positions and making improvements which were previously the domain of the colonial authorities alone. As such, even many who were not ill-disposed toward the French began to see them as being rather unnecessary. /*/
Prince Phetsarath was quickly gaining a golden reputation in Laos among the ordinary people and that grew all the more with the coming of World War II in French Indochina. When France fell to Nazi Germany, and word reached Southeast Asia, people in Laos were shocked. What would happen to them if their “protector” had been conquered? The answer was that the military government in Thailand, supported by Imperial Japan, moved to regain border territories they had lost to Cambodia and Laos after the Franco-Siamese War. This outraged the Lao people and caused a great deal of anger against France as their position in the colonial union of French Indochina was based on the promise of protection which was no longer being delivered. Tensions rose further when the French government (Vichy) allowed Imperial Japanese forces to make use of bases in Vietnam for their campaigns against Malaysia and the Dutch East Indies. /*/
In January of 1941, in reaction to all of this, Prince Phetsarath formed the “Movement for National Renovation” to stand up for Lao territorial integrity. It was not an anti-French organization and some French officials in Laos supported it but these were generally those more in line with the “Free French” loyal to General Charles DeGaulle in London. The French colonial leadership in Hanoi which was loyal to the Vichy government opposed the organization. At one point, in 1944, Prince Phetsarath sent Lao troops to attack Thailand and regain the lost territory but nothing came of the attempted campaign. Laos remained in almost a state of limbo in terms of the wider world war until the liberation of France by the Allies in 1944. With France shifting back to the Allied camp, the Japanese reacted by taking control of Indochina themselves, starting with Vietnam. Some French officials fled to Laos and the Japanese moved in to pursue them and to detain King Sisavang Vong in the hope that he would declare independence from France and join the Japanese-sponsored “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” as the Emperor of Vietnam and King of Cambodia had done or would do. The King and Crown Prince refused to turn against France but Prince Phetsarath took a different view. As he saw it, their relationship with France had been based on the French pledge to protect Laos and as they had failed to do so, Laos should declare independence and if this could only be done with the support of Japan, so be it. /*/
With the King refusing to deal with them, the Japanese naturally moved closer to Prince Phetsarath who was widely revered throughout the country and a determined patriot devoted to the cause of independence. During their occupation they named him Prime Minister of Luang Prabang and Prince Phetsarath formed and led the group called Lao Issara or “Free Laos”. When the King remained obstinate, Prince Phetsarath issued his own declaration of independence, backed up by Japan who were rushing to try to erect friendly Asian governments as an Allied victory loomed on the horizon, and the Prince tried to regain lost ground since the start of the war. Because of his activities during this time, Prince Phetsarath became known as the “Father of Lao Independence” even though the time of this independence was of short duration. After the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan those governments allied with Japan and occupied by Japanese forces began to come apart. Indochina was no different. In August of 1945 the last Emperor of Vietnam abdicated and a “Democratic People’s Republic” was declared in Hanoi. In Laos, Prince Phetsarath tried to convince the King to declare the unity and independence of Laos at that time, without French or Japanese influences, but the King was convinced that France would be returning and the risk of unrest was too great. /*/
Within days the French were reasserting control over Indochina and Prince Phetsarath was a marked man for his cooperation with the Japanese. Still at the head of his “Free Laos” government, he had no choice but to escape across the border into Thailand in 1946. He was gone but not forgotten and during the more than ten years Prince Phetsarath spent in exile, his reputation grew and grew in Laos until he attained godlike status. People had come to believe that the Prince possessed supernatural powers and would often call on him to bless their villages and drive out evil spirits. After the return of French forces, his reputation as “Father of Independence” took on a new importance among the populace. People said that he could fly and had turned himself into various animals to speed his work in struggling for their freedom. Part of the origins for these beliefs were also the seemingly miraculous way the Prince had survived numerous accidents in his life, and tales of this eventually reached the point where he was considered invincible, a khon kong or half-god, half-royal. /*/
The French, needless to say, were not happy with Prince Phetsarath or his ever-growing legend, but how could they fight a demigod? In 1957 he was finally allowed to return to Laos where he received a huge, rapturous welcome from the ordinary people. He visited King Sisavang Vong who restored all of his old titles to him and by the prestige of his personality brought about a moment of unity amongst the political factions in Laos. Unfortunately, it was not long after that Prince Phetsarath died of a brain hemorrhage on October 14, 1959 in Luang Prabang. His funeral was a massive affair, and rightly so, for his death was a tragedy for the entire country. Had he lived longer, the terrible civil war might never have happened. Yet, even after the civil war, the fall of the Kingdom of Laos and the communist takeover, the memory of Prince Phetsarath has never died. His portrait adorns the walls of shops, homes and restaurants and family altars where people burn incense in his honor and pray for his spirit to watch over them. Even in recent years, people in Laos, young and old, could be found wearing miniature portraits of the Prince as talismans to protect them from harm. In spite of all the years of communist controlled education painting the Royal Family with the worst possible reputation, the faith of the people in their beloved prince remains strong. /*/
Royal Family of Laos Visits Los Angeles and Seeks U.S. Help
In August 1995, John Pope wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The royal family of Laos, whose members have lived in exile in France for the past 20 years, toured Westminster and the Little Saigon area as part of a West Coast visit to study how Laotian refugees are adapting to American life. The U.S. visit is the second for Prince Sauryavong Savang and the first for his wife, Princess Daravan Savang, and their son, Sourivong Savang. "From the start of the trip, I have been delighted with the situation and freedoms of the Laotian people in San Diego, Las Vegas and Santa Ana," Prince Savang said through an interpreter. "I have been invited to other states in the near future and look forward to visiting more Laotian people." Visits to Sacramento and Fresno are scheduled later. [Source: John Pope, Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1995]
"The royal family has been kicked out of Indochina the same as us, and they are political refugees," said Westminster Councilman Tony Lam, who left his native South Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975. "They may not be recognized by the Laotian government, but when they come to our city we treat them as dignitaries."
In February 2000, Frederic J. Frommer of Associated Press, “The exiled crown prince of Laos, whose grandfather was toppled from power by communists after the Vietnam War, urged the United States to try to negotiate a transition to democracy in his homeland. Prince Soulivong Savang, heir to the throne, said the communists have turned Laos into an economic and human rights disaster. Laotians living abroad "have asked the royal family to work towards a return," he said Thursday. Savang, 36, said he would be willing to preside over a constitutional monarchy if that's what the people of Laos prefer. "If I had a chance to go back to Laos, the first thing I bring is freedom," he said through an interpreter at a news conference. "But this is not going to be an easy task. Democracy has to be learned, and people have to learn their rights."[Source: Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press, February 24, 2000]
Savang's uncle, Prince Sauryavong Savang, the patriarch of the royal family, acknowledged it's unlikely the communist government will cede power. "But in light of the disastrous economic situation in Laos right now, and the fact that Laotians abroad are successful, we can go back and help rebuild the country," he said. The princes and other members of the royal family are spending the week in the United States, seeking to put pressure on Laos, one of the few remaining communist nations. The family, which lives in France, has scheduled meetings with lawmakers and has an appointment with officials at the State Department. The State Department declined to comment on the possibility of U.S.-brokered talks with the Laotian government.
A spokesman for the Laotian embassy rejected the idea. "The prince and the royal family don't have any importance in Laos nowadays," said the spokesman, Mai Sayavongs. "We are not interested in talking or negotiating with the prince or any other organization that is based in exile." Around the same time the Lao Veterans of America called on the Laotian government to release the remains of the king and queen.
Laos Royal Family Not Actually Royalty?
Yunnie posted this on Lao Chat on Asia Finest Discussion Forum: My mom was telling me some things it could just be rumors or actually the truth. who knows but here's the story.But you know government officals tend to send their children abroad to study. Well rumor has it that the last king of Laos wasnt royalty but a child of a general. And the real Laos royalty is the King of cambodia. Now now wait... hear me out. [Source: Asia Finest Discussion Forum, Asian Culture, Lao Chat, Lao Serious Talk, yunnie, November 24, 2006]
Well All these children were abroad and the parents went to pick up their children and well the King of Laos then picked the child of a general instead of his own son. (not surprising since royalty and upperclass back then didnt take care of their children but had nannies) And so The king of Cambodia picked the actual prince of Laos and off they went.
So he was raised in Cambodia as prince and years later he visited Laos and could point out all the places he played at as a child and where he craved his name or a picture or something into a tree and it was there.He also was given a Laos princess as one of his wives.My mom tells it so much better but that's the jist of it.
But I was wondering if anyone else heard this rumor too? The web user lemongrass responded: “I was told the exact story too from my parents. They said it happen long ago.” Point Dexter wrote: “His uncle Minovong Sisowath has many ties to the Southern Lao Kingdom of NaChampassak, who lather migrated south and are now known as the Khmer Yenaws. His second wife Princess Sisowath Pongsanmoni could be a child of the Nachampasacs. I gotta check this out. Beerlao said: “I love my parents, but sometimes I feel like their story have no creditability, because they heard from someone else. In general we tend to believe what ever our love ones told us, even though the source can not be verified.
To that Point Dexter wrote: “I've been trying to seek out historical credibility on this one too. It's a cute little story to tell, especially to Khmer friends and then get bashed by the scholars... I've been trying to get m politically-liberal-conspiracy-believing-outrageous-radical father to show proof of these silly statements before he goes around presenting these ideas. cuz history must be based on evidence not hearsays, bottom line.” DLGHolyGuy responded: “”Anybody that believes this $hit is fu-king retarded. How the fu-k are Humans not to recognize their own children. Even fu-king Monkies can pick out their kids in a crown of other monkies.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Laos-Guide-999.com, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014