The role of ritual specialists among the Lanten (Yao Mun) of Laos

financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG)


The Lanten, a population also known as Lao Huay or Yao Mun and living in the highlands of continental Southeast Asia, have been exposed for centuries to conflicts and processes of marginalization, ranging from clashes with the Chinese Dynasties from the 12th Century onwards to their involvement in the Indochina Wars from the 1950s to the 1970s. These forced them to undertake long migrations that brought them from their native land in China to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and, in the wake of the Vietnam War, to the United States, Canada and France. In the face of these vicissitudes the Lanten society has displayed an extraordinary resilience. This did not entail a stubborn insistence on their cultural traditions or pursuing a policy of social isolation. On the contrary, the Lanten have incorporated practices and objects, persons, ideas and values originating from abroad, interiorising them into their own cultural repertoire. These successful strategies of social and cultural survival raise the question as to the mechanisms employed. In this respect, the Lanten belief system and particularly the roles performed by the Lanten Daoist ritual specialists are of essential importance. This project aims to identify and analyse these adaptive mechanisms and to explore the social and religious tasks assigned to such specialists in view of the reproduction of social relationships and the transmission of cultural knowledge.


Joseba Estevez, M.A.

seit 2006 Ph.D. Student an der WWU Münster (Hauptfach Ethnologie)
2006 Master of Arts in Southeast Asian Studies, WWU Münster
Thema der M.A.-Arbeit: "From kotekas to Nike T-shirts: The impact of national and international economy on the local exchange system among the Dani of Papua"