My paper ‘Mothering in the Lao Revolution: Sacrifice, masochism and other idealisations’ is inspired by women’s experiences of the Lao revolution. The biographies, autobiographies and oral history compilations currently emerging in the local publishing scene in Lao PDR provide an intimate window into subjective experiences of the revolution. Among these, mothering emerges as an important theme. Revolutionaries included mothers as well as women who counted the relinquishment of motherhood among the sacrifices made in their revolutionary work. The conditions of the two Indochina Wars included gender-based violence, forced marriages and devastating food shortages, which framed maternal experiences for many. Images of the maternal in propagandistic accounts of the revolution mix degradation with the sublime: a grown man’s life saved by suckling a woman’s breastmilk, companies of soldiers dependent for their lives on rice smuggled in women’s orifices, or enemy soldiers fleeing from the shame of being bombarded by a woman’s artillery. The revolution returns endlessly to the theme of sacrifice, which is also a key theme of the maternal. This is true not only in Laos but also in many cultures. This paper picks at the nexus of the maternal, masochism, sacrifice and revolution, asking how these appear in accounts of the Lao revolution and how these compare to other possibilities.

I will discuss this paper as part of the penal discussion ‘From Mothering as Reproduction to Mothering as Revolution’ at the upcoming Australian Anthropology Society’s Conference 2022 (Deakin University, November 23-25).