Lao historian turns the pages of time

Lao historian and writer Khamphao Phonekeo says he won’t be writing any more books because he’s now 84 and feels he has just about exhausted most aspects of Lao history, as well as his energy for such projects.
The list of his publications is a long one, covering the following topics: Lao history seminar, the past and present of Khong district, Laos in ancient times, Laos in the era of

Mr Khamphao Phonekeo holds the book he wrote titled “A Brief Summary of Lao History at Vientiane Times.”

Sikhottabong, Laos – the land of a million elephants, Laos in the era of prosperity, Laos begins deterioration, Laos - the land of a million elephants under Siamese control, a brief summary of Lao history, the life of Chao Anouvong, history in our lifetime, and an educational book on thought.
The Director General of Lao Press in Foreign Languages was among those who helped to have Mr Khamphao officially recognised as a senior writer of national importance, and wanted to raise his profile with a review of his life-long dedication to Lao history.
Mr Khampao officially retired many years ago and I was excited at the prospect of meeting and interviewing him.
I had never met him before, but I had heard about his reputation as a prolific writer of history books.
Even though he is now old and a little diminished in size, his memory is as clear as ever.
He hopes that government agencies and private individuals will pay for more print runs of three of his books: Laos in Ancient Times, Laos in the Era of Prosperity, and Laos Begins Deterioration.
“I have kept copies of these books for many years as I feared they might otherwise be lost,” he said.
Mr Khampao first set pen to paper when Mr Leuam Insixiengmay was the Minister of Education and asked him to write Lao history texts when he realised there were no history books written in Lao for use in secondary schools, as all the books were written in French.
From 1962 to 1972, Mr Khamphao was Director General of the ministry’s Department of Primary and Adult Education. He compiled documents about Lao history teaching at secondary schools and also wrote a Lao history book.
His first volume was titled “Lao History Seminar”, published in 1971.
The following year, 1972, he was sent as a cultural diplomat to Paris, France, for three years. 
When he came back to Laos in early 1975, he again went to work at the Ministry of Education thanks to Uncle Phoumy Vongvichit, who was the minister at that time.
At the ministry, Mr Khamphao worked in the Research and Compilation Department where he translated secondary school textbooks from French into Lao, in line with the Viengxay education system curriculum.
“Uncle Poumy told me I would have to work at the department until I had finished translating all the books that the ministry needed,” he said, laughing loudly.
The translations took about six years, after which Mr Khamphao was assigned as Office Head of the Ministry of Education and Head of the Lao National Commission for UNESCO.
He also teamed up with Uncle Phoumy and Mr Mahakham to write the books: Laos in Ancient Times, Laos in the Era of Sikhottabong, Laos – the Land of a Million Elephants, Laos in the Era of Prosperity, Laos Begins Deterioration, and Laos – the Land of a Million Elephants under Siamese Control. The iformation for these books was complited in 1980.
Mr Khamphao spent almost five decades writing books. One of his most recent was a book about Chao Anouvong, which was published in 2010 to mark the 450th anniversary of Vientiane as the capital of Laos. He talked about the great king’s heroism, and explained how he tried to source information for the book.
Tracing the life of Chao Anouvong
Chao Anouvong was born in Vientiane in 1767 and reigned over the Lao kingdom starting in 1804. He died in 1829 after being tortured by the Siamese in Bangkok.
Chao Anouvong was the last king of the Lao Kingdom of Vientiane. He battled against the Siamese invasion of Vientiane but was ultimately unsuccessful and was captured. The Kingdom of Vientiane was forced to surrender to Siamese rule and ceased to exist. Because of his persistent attempts to defeat the Siamese and other enemies, Chao Anouvong is considered a courageous hero who fought for Vientiane until his death.
In his search for information, Mr Khamphao went to the northeast (Issaan) region of Thailand to see if he could find any trace of the camps set up there by Chao Anouvong, but they have all been built on and are now villages.
He spent two weeks with some Lao friends and Thai historian guides (Issaan) travelling through the provinces of Nong Khai, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Phetchabun,  Nakhon Ratchasima and others.
The Thai historian guides have since died, but they said that their grandparents and other elderly people told them they regretted the fact that the Issaan region was controlled by Thailand and that the French were unable to reclaim the area.
Khamphao’s early years
Mr Khamphao was born in Champassak province in 1934 on Don Det island in Khong district. He and his family lived during French colonial rule. He recalled the old narrow railway bridge that still links Don Det to a disused landing stage on the Mekong River, which he thinks was built by the French in 1913.
Mr Khamphao completed a Baccalaureat diploma at the French upper secondary school in Vientiane in 1956. He then went to the University of Montpelier in France where he studied history, geography and economics from 1957-1961.    


By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update March 23, 2018)

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