William W. Sage Collection on Laos

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The Sage Collection consists of 1253 photographs taken primarily by William Sage, with additional photographs contributed by James Bowman, former International Voluntary Services volunteer (IVS) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) employee in Laos; Jack Barker, former United States Information Service (USIS) employee in Laos; Jean Habert, former French volunteer and French language teacher in Laos; and James Martois, former Fulbright English teacher in Pakxe, Laos. All photographs were taken during the period 1969 to 1975 and the photographers’ names are cited accordingly. The Sage photographs were taken during the same period while he worked with IVS and USAID.

Some images in the collection were taken by unknown photographers. These include the pictures taken in Houei Kong between 1964 to 1968; military campaigns in Pakxong and Saravane in 1971; and those taken of the reunion between Prince Souvanna Phouma and Prince Souphanouvong in Luang Prabang in 1974.

The sources for the dates, locations, events and names of people featured in the collection were derived from Sage’s IVS and USAID monthly reports, IVS annual reports, USIS bulletins and USIS situation reports (Sitreps), and Sage’s journals. The airfield and village map coordinates cited in the descriptions, e.g. Houei Kong (L-56, XB 6473), whereby L-56 is the landing site number and XB 6473 is the map coordinate from the Army Corps of Engineers Map Service, 1965, were sourced from maps in the William W. Sage Collection on Laos at the Arizona State University Libraries. Sources also included Sage’s personal papers and collected newspaper articles. Information for the ethnic groups and clothing and dress descriptions was drawn from the William W. Sage Ethnographic Collection of Laos Hill Tribe Artifacts at Arizona State University.

Most of the photographs were taken in the eastern region of the Boloven Plateau in southern Laos and in northwest Laos in Houa Khong Province. The collection largely features IVS and USAID development project-related activities and village life in a variety of ethnic communities, including Lu, Tai Dam, White Hmong, Blue Hmong, Striped Hmong, Mien (Iu Mien), Yellow Lahu, Black Lahu, White Lahu, Lanten, Ta-oi, Alak, Nyaheun, Laven, and Khmu’-khuen villages. Also, the Akha photographs show them as residents in northwest Laos and as refugees from Myanmar.

The geographic names and their spellings used were those commonly in place at the time the photographs were taken, while many have changed since then. For example, Houa Khong Province is now Bokeo Province; parts of Attapu Province are presently Champasak Province; and Muang Sayasila is currently Muang Pakxong. Pakxe, formerly in Sedone Province, is now in Champasak Province. The route numbers for some roads have also changed and they have been noted in the images’ descriptions.

The photographs taken in Houei Kong have multiple place names depending upon the activity and the time a photograph was taken. For example, Houei Kong is the designation for the actual village, while Kong Senamnoi is the administrative designation given by the Royal Lao Government prior to 1969. It was then re-designated as Muang Sayasila, and is presently known as Muang Pakxong. Houei Kong Cluster was the designation used by USAID to describe the overall rural development program for the 42 Nyaheun and Laven villages which comprised the cluster. Village headmen in those villages were called “phobans,” while the term “naiban” was used in northwest Laos for village headmen.

The 78 palm leaf photographs were taken of fragments of palm leaf inscriptions from the Nyaheun village headman of Lassasine. Nyaheun legend has it that the inscriptions were given to the Nyaheun by the Lao King, Chao Anou (Anouvong) during his reign (1804-1828). The legend has been described with photograph ws00724 (or MSS 281 9.5.18).

Acknowledgements: A number of friends and former IVS and USAID colleagues helped recall some details for the photographic descriptions, particularly names of individuals or map coordinates. Thanks goes to the following individuals who provided helpful assistance: Wayne Johnson, Frederick Benson, Gary Alex, Jack Huxtable, Kouichoy Saechao, Torm Nomprasert, and Jacqueline Butler-Diaz. A special thanks goes to Rob Spindler and his ASU Archives and Special Collections staff in numbering and categorizing each and every picture before dispatching the collection to the University of Wisconsin in Madison (UW) for scanning. A very sincere thanks goes to Larry Ashmun, UW Southeast Asian and Hmong Studies Bibliographer, who reviewed and critiqued the images’ descriptions, verifying the metadata and Library of Congress Authorized Subject Headings for accuracy and completeness.