1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Laos (territory)

33047931911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 16 — Laos (territory)

LAOS, a territory of French Indo-China, bounded N. by the Chinese province of Yun-nan, W. by the British Shan states and Siam, S. by Cambodia and Annam, E. by Annam and N.E. by Tongking. Northern Laos is traversed by the Mekong (q.v.) which from Chieng-Khan to a point below Stung-Treng forms the boundary between Laos (on the left bank) and Siam and Cambodia (on the right). French Laos constitutes a strip of territory between 700 and 800 m. in length with an average breadth of 155 m., an approximate area of 88,780 sq. m., and a population of about 550,000. Its northern region between the Mekong and Tongking is covered by a tangle of mountain chains clothed with dense forests and traversed by the Nam-Hou, the Nam-Ta and other tributaries of the Mekong. The culminating point exceeds 6500 ft. in height. South of this is the extensive wooded plateau of Tran-Ninh with an average altitude of between 3000 and 5000 ft. Towards the 18th degree of latitude this mountain system narrows into a range running parallel to and closely approaching the coast of the China Sea as it descends south. The boundary between Laos and Annam follows the crest-line of this range, several peaks of which exceed 6500 ft. (Pu-Atwat, over 8000 ft.). On the west its ramifications extend to the Mekong enclosing wide plains watered by the affluents of that river.

Laos is inhabited by a mixed population falling into three main groups—the Thais (including the Laotions (see below)); various aboriginal peoples classed as Khas; and the inhabitants of neighbouring countries, e.g. China, Annam, Cambodia, Siam, Burma, &c.

Laos has a rainy season lasting from June to October and corresponding to the S.W. monsoon and a dry season coinciding with the N.E. monsoon and lasting from November to May. Both in northern and southern Laos the heat during April and May is excessive, the thermometer reaching 104° F. and averaging 95° F. With the beginning of the rains the heat becomes more tolerable. December, January and February are cool months, the temperature in south Laos (south of 19°) averaging 77°, in north Laos from 50° to 53°. The plateau of Tran-Ninh and, in the south, that of the Bolovens are distinguished by the wholesomeness of their climate.

The forests contain bamboo and many valuable woods amongst which only the teak of north Laos and rattan are exploited to any extent; other forest products are rubber, stick lac, gum, benjamin, cardamoms, &c. Rice and maize, and cotton, indigo, tobacco, sugar-cane and cardamoms are among the cultivated plants. Elephants are numerous and the forests are inhabited by tigers, panthers, bears, deer and buffalo. Hunting and fishing are leading occupations of the inhabitants. Many species of monkeys, as well as peacocks, pheasants and woodcock are found, and the reptiles include crocodiles, turtles, pythons and cobras.

Scarcity of labour and difficulty of communication hinder the working of the gold, tin, copper, argentiferous lead, precious stones and other minerals of the country and the industries in general are of a primitive kind and satisfy only local needs.

The buffalo, the ox, the horse and the elephant are domesticated, and these together with cardamoms, rice, tobacco and the products of the forests form the bulk of the exports. Swine are reared, their flesh forming an important article of diet. Imports are inconsiderable, comprising chiefly cotton fabrics, garments and articles for domestic use. Trade is chiefly in the hands of the Chinese and is carried on for the most part with Siam. The Mekong is the chief artery of transit; elsewhere communication is afforded by tracks sometimes passable only for pedestrians. Luang-Prabang (q.v.) is the principal commercial town. Before the French occupation of Laos, it was split up into small principalities (muongs) of which the chief was that of Vien-Tiane. Vien-Tiane was destroyed in 1828 by the Siamese who annexed the territory. In 1893 they made it over to the French, who grouped the muongs into provinces. Of these there are twelve each administered by a French commissioner and, under his surveillance, by native officials elected by the people from amongst the members of an hereditary nobility. At the head of the administration there is a resident-superior stationed at Savannaket. Up till 1896 Laos had no special budget, but was administered by Cochin-China, Annam and Tongking. The budget for 1899 showed receipts £78,988 and expenditure £77,417. For 1904 the budget figures were, receipts £82,942, expenditure £76,344. The chief sources of revenue are the direct taxes (£15,606 in 1904), especially the poll-tax, and the contribution from the general budget of Indo-China (£54,090 in 1904). The chief items of expenditure in 1904 were Government house, &c., £22,558, transport, £19,191, native guard, £17,327.

See M. J. F. Garnier, Voyage d’exploration en Indo-Chine (Paris, 1873); C. Gosselin, Le Laos et le protectorat français (Paris, 1900); L. de Reinach, Le Laos (Paris, 1902) and Notes sur le Laos (Paris, 1906); and bibliography under Indo-China, French.