Every civilization has its myths and legends transmitted from generation to generation. Laotian culture is no exception to the rule. Deep in the Buddhist tradition, the stories are about love, divine spirits, fights or nature. At ORLA tours, we believe that they are very important to Laotian culture. That's why we make a series of articles about it.
For this third article, we’ve decided to tell you a love story with a tragic ending.
What we like in this tale is that it takes place mainly in the region of the 4000 islands, in the south of the country. And that some major events in the legend have given some of these islands a name. For example, Done Daeng, which you can find on google map, means red island. Why? Because the main character has left a cloth stained with blood. Done Long, the coffin's island, because she buried her son there ... You'll understand, that’s not a funny story. But still, enjoy the reading !
So, this is the story of Nang Malong, a very beautiful young Laotian woman.
She was the daughter of a high dignitary of the king's court. The dream of her father? Marry her to Thao Bachieng, a rich prince of the Bolavens district. Only difficulty, Nang was already in love with another prince: Thao Passak. The 3 protagonists of the story are Nang Malong, Thao Bachieng and Thao Passak.
Now that the background is set, let's move on to the adventures. Nang Malong's father was beginning to despair that his daughter’s only dream was Thao Passsak. That’s why he built a mountain between their two kingdoms. Rather radical, right ?
As the days of her arranged marriage were getting closer, her love for the other one kept on growing. On the D-day, she decided to run away. Her father, furious, cast a curse on both of the lovers: "let them perish drowned in the river." Remember those words !
Thao Bachieng happened to be right at the door of the palace, ready to marry Nang Malong who had just disappeared ... And it must be said that he had done things great. He had come down from his kingdom, with thousands of soldiers, accompanied by hundreds of elephants, all loaded with precious stones, gold, silver, alcohol and food. Long story short, ... the father of the future bride was not in the perfect situation...
A little lie is better than a big truth, right? That's what he thought. He decided to say to the prince of the Bolavens that his daughter had died suddenly during the night.
Thao Bachieng was shattered by the news. In deep sadness, he decided on the way back to kill all his elephants. The mountain, where it happened, got the name of Phou Sang Tai (the mountain of dead elephants). He then emptied all the alcohol he had brought on the Mount Phou Sa Lao (mountain of spilled alcohol). And finally, he decided to put an end to his life.
In the meantime, the two lovers, Nang Malong and Thao Passak, had met in an isolated place. The prince decided that they would live their lives in his kingdom. But before the official meeting with his dad, he decided to talk about it alone to the king at first. Knowing that the father of his lover has built a mountain to separate them, it is rather a good initiative, right? He left the young woman on an island while he was heading his father’s palace.
But as Thao Passak left, she gave birth to a baby boy. Alone, she threw her blood-stained dress into the river that reached the shore of Done Daeng (Red Island). The situation being a bit tricky with a new-born, she decided to cross the waters. Unfortunately, her boat sank and her child drowned. She built a coffin on Done Long (coffin island) and collected charcoal for the cremation on Done Tharn (Coal Island).
She then wandered a long time looking for Thao Passak. In vain, from island to island following the Mekong river.
Her quest led her to the falls of Khone Phapheng where she perished, drowned in the tumultuous waters ...
What about her lover? The legend says that his boat also sank in the Mekong causing his death. And that’s how the curse thrown by Nang Malong's father was accomplished.
What is the moral of this story ?
It's not very clear. Must we accept the fatality of one’s destiny? This is possible because Laotians believe in it and tend to take life as it comes. Or maybe it's a way to educate children about the dangers of the Mekong? Still, if you explore the 4000 Islands region, you will be able to follow the footsteps of the impossible love of Nang Malong and Thao Passak. From island to island, their tragic destiny will forever be engraved in the Mekong.
Pictures : ©Soumsanouk Mixay & Fleur Brofos Asmussen