Thao Suranari Museum

Commanding pride of place in the hectic concrete jungle that is Khorat is the statue of Thao Suranari,  more popularly known as Grandma Mo, a woman warrior equally revered for imparting miracles and good luck as she is for saving her city.

Sculpted by Silpa Bhirasi, a figure central to the modern Thai state’s nationalistic myth-building efforts, it’s not just stately, but also perpetually surrounded by worshipers, tourist touts and instant photographers. Much more impressive, however, is the monument dedicated to her ragtag army of angry townsfolk.

Even more impressive is a small museum, inside which is a panoramic diorama that recounts the events of 1826, the year that Chao Anou, ruler of the Lao kingdom of Vientiane, rebelled against his Siamese overlords and marched on Bangkok. Having spent years as a hostage at the Bangkok court, Anou apparently enjoyed the patronage of the scholarly Rama II, but after the latter’s death relations between vassal and suzerain rapidly soured.

Along the way he took Khorat, then Siam’s most important city in the country’s northeast, and in accord with time-honoured traditions of Southeast Asian warfare proceeded to forcibly remove and resettle the city’s population.

According to popular belief the aforementioned wife of the (absent) deputy governor managed to get the invaders drunk before massacring them, after which she rallied every Siamese man, woman and child to victory.

A rapid succession of misfortunes soon befell Chao Anou: his allies soon deserted him, and his forces were routed in battle after battle. Facing looming defeat he fled to Vietnam, Siam’s rival for control of Laos and Cambodia. Anou bid his time, and two years later raised another army, which was promptly smashed by Sing Singhasena (the future Chao Phraya Bodindecha), an all-round badass who had Vientiane and its environs put to the torch, thereby completely wiping the city off the map, until its eventual resurrection by the French.

Although incredibly obscure in western eyes, in Laos special centrality has been given to Chao Anouvong by the current communist regime, which promotes him as a martyred freedom fighter; there the conflict itself has taken on the hues of a popular people’s war of liberation. Across the border the rebellion is no less a contentious historiographical issue, with academics questioning the very existence of Lady Mo herself.

For a more detailed yet disarmingly straightforward account I recommend picking up a copy of The Kingdoms of Laos by Peter and Sanda Simms.

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One response to “Thao Suranari Museum

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