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History of Laos

Although people have been living in the region of today's Laos for years, it is unknown when they arrived and little is known about the early people as there was no written history. In fact, most of Laos's history is unknown as there are few written records of their past, leading to most historical accounts being based on archeological evidence, logical guesses, and local mythology. The history of Laos taught in Laos and their history taught abroad seems to vastly differ as well.

The Lao culture and ethnicity most likely began development in about the 800s AD, but the culture, ethnicity, and people didn't fully develop or make their way to modern day Laos until later centuries.

The earliest Lao people seemed to have lived off the land as farmers and may have immigrated to the region in the 1200s, perhaps with their relatives, the Thais and Burmese. At this time the people living in the region were most likely related to the Khmers of Cambodia, Dvaravati, and numerous other ethnic groups. The immigrating people most likely, to some degree, fought the locals and, to some degree, intermarried these people to create the Lao people.

Laos was nearly forgotten compared to the Khmer Dynasty to their south and developed slowly through the 1200-1500s. In the 1500s the Mandala kings adopted Theravada Buddhism, but it may have been present prior to this point. Prior to this point it seems some people may have practiced Buddhism, but Hinduism was most likely more common, and Chinese religions seem to have had the most influence (whether or not they were actually practiced), since the Lao calendar is based on ancient Chinese religious calendars.

From the 1500s until the 1800s Laos was a forgotten land where Buddhism was thriving and growing, but with little outside influence, a fact that changed in 1893 when the French occupied the region.

Laos remained under French rule until the Japanese took over the region during World War II. With Japan's eventual surrender in 1945 the Lao declared independence, but the French quickly entered the region and re-took power in the region the following year.

As France soon got pre-occupied in battles in Vietnam and Cambodia, the Lao began to revolt, culminating in 1953 with independence. In the 1950s the country was faced with a number of coalition governments that seemingly spent more time fighting and planning coups than they did governing. This ended in the country's neutrality in 1961 as the United Nations clamped down on extremist movements.

Despite United Nations intervention, Laos became a battleground between the communists and anti-communists as the war from Vietnam soon spilled over as the country was regularly bombed by the United States and invaded by North Vietnam.

In 1975 North Vietnam defeated the south and they quickly and quietly moved into Laos to establish a communist government. The king abdicated his power and the Lao People's Democratic Republic was founded. This new government, who truly answered to Vietnam, sent any opposition, including the former military, government, and anti-communist supporters to "re-education camps."

The government was almost wholly reliant on Vietnamese and Soviet support, which ended in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. Since then, the communist party has maintained power in Laos, but is slowly privatizing the economy.

This page was last updated: March, 2013