Stone Masters: Power Encounters in Mainland Southeast Asia

about the book

Stone Masters (2022) examines stone veneration in mainland Southeast Asia. The topic is vast and is itself but a small segment of an even larger topic, which is the veneration of stones by humans across all continents. Therefore, this book draws together scholars and scholarship from across the region. Our commitment, collectively, is that close attention to particular cases of stone veneration is a pathway to understanding the phenomenon, and indeed it is often the only path that is available. However, this path must lead beyond singular cases if it is to yield general insights. A regional, ethnological perspective is useful because it provides a vantage which is neither so tightly focused on one locale that it ends up insisting on that place’s uniqueness, nor is it so beholden to generalising impulses that it fails to ring true with on-the-ground observations. Our hope is that this investigation of stone veneration in mainland Southeast Asia will speak to investigations into stones, mastery, authority, and the interplay between the power of life and the power over life evident in the wider Asia Pacific region and beyond.

The excellent chapters in Stone Masters reveal the importance of comparison within the region, while at the same time recognizing the complexity of the task of comparison and its power to broaden our understanding of the human condition in general.



This chapter of Stone Masters approaches stone veneration in South East Asia from the vantage point of fieldwork in Kandon village in Sekong Province, Lao PDR, an ethnic Kantu village. It is arranged around four ethnographic vignettes, presented chronologically. The first two are drawn from observations in Kandon village itself: first I discuss Old Kandon, and the evidence that a stone cult was sustained there up until 1964, when it was desecrated as part of a staged ‘power encounter’ that was evidently an important event in the incorporation of the village into the wider socialist movement. The second describes the stone cult that was adopted by Kandon villagers after they relocated to a plains area in 1996. The final two investigate the calls made by the local authorities for the residents of New Kandon to participate in parades for state-backed stone cults: first for the Sekong city pillar, and then for the Ong Keaw stupa (both parades occurred in 2018).

In this chapter of Stone Masters, I report and interpret the various versions of the myth of Lady Sii Mueang, Lady Luck of the City. Wat Sii Mueang, located in the south-eastern fringe of Vientiane’s historic area and wedged between the busy thoroughfares of Samsenthai and Setthethirat roads, is a popular temple that offers a colourful mix of Brahmanic (phaam) and Buddhist activities. Wat Sii Mueang houses the city pillar of Vientiane. Lady Luck of the City is said to be the deity of this pillar and the city.

The myth of the city pillar condenses elements of everyday contradictions into the ambiguous and powerful figure of the Lady Luck of the City.

Holly High, Stone Masters

Stone Masters: Power encounters in Mainland South East Asia

Where to buy Stone Masters

Order a copy through the National University of Singapore Press.