You are here
Home > Laos > The border demarcation commission > The encounter with the French
A- A+ Print

LAOS

The encounter with the French

To foil the Siamese project of a great Thai kingdom encompassing Laos, France established a foothold there on the pretext of combating the Chinese bands. It stated it had come to defend a territory belonging to Annam. After violent engagements with the Black Pavilions which had attempted to block their route and which they had pushed back to the North, the column led by Colonel Pernot took the town of Lai. Pavie, whose mission companions had not yet arrived, tried to join the column and set out on 28 January 1888 in pirogues. The countryside on the left bank was devastated. "It will be necessary to skimp on meals this year, no potatoes or peanuts, beans or cucurbits have been sown anywhere. For resources we will have forest yams, bamboo shoots and rattan stems." "We no longer have anything to sell, not a chicken or even an egg. However we are getting nearer, sad, a little confused to be found lying under these shelters of branches and dried grasses. No singing or laughing is heard in the fields and on the slopes like last time."

Pavie entered Theng on 15th February. The column which had been there for twenty days had left the day before. Pavie set off again swallowing up the stages. "I made two very hard stages into one, the people are worn out, one is still en route, and I am exhausted." He left some of his baggage in Theng and left with a small column.

On the 18th February Pavie finally rejoined the French troops. "Your courageous march has filled us with joy. The colonel is extremely happy and praises your energy. We all offered to come and fetch you." The march by the column had also been difficult. Pierre de Séménil who was with it recounted, "It was necessary to make a stop deep in the forest, under a cold rain, without shelter or fire. I stretched out at the foot of a tree after having drunk a little wine warmed by a candle flame and all night long I was devoured by small fluorescent leeches. The next day we had to leave behind the cadavers of several coolies, who had died of cold. Our men, at least more robust and better clothed, had not suffered too much. But the natives! Their fatigue was so overwhelming, the discouragement so deep that at every moment a space opened up in their ranks. Suddenly in the middle of marching some put down their burden where they were and fled as fast as possible without thinking of the danger. Deserters are fired on with no pity, and it was rare, very rare that someone missed them." Pavie accompanied the expeditionary column as far as the Black River, which he did not yet know, where it rejoined without hindrance the Oudri detachment, itself firmly established in Son-La.

As a result of the march by Colonel Pernot Tonkin was connected to the Mekong. The pacification of the Black River had removed the reason for the Siamese army to be present in Luang Prabang.

Pavie left for Luang Prabang going through the territory of the family of Deo Van Seng, the masters of Lai. The population was wary and Pavie endeavoured to conquer it for France. "I know that you are relations and friends of the masters of Lai hidden in the woods, fleeing the French. The role played by the populations of this great district, the ruin of which like you I deplore, is excused, I understand the reason. The continuation of their resistance makes me unhappy. How happy I would be during my presence on their territory if I found them pressed like children subject to France all around me like you here. You can be sure that I will do there what is possible to achieve this result!" The post of Lai was totally destitute. "All we have left is a little flour, a sack of coffee and some preserves! No wine at all or tafia or sugar! The post herd has only six bullocks. Before long I will be reduced to rice to feed the troops, even those who are ill," was the excuse of Captain Cornu, post commandant. All the surroundings were burnt. As conciliation for Deo Van Seng, Pavie hoped to obtain the release of his sons taken hostage by the Siamese armies. He wanted to assert that they were French, because Laos belonged to Annam and Annam was under French domination. On the 16th March he arrived at Theng once again occupied by a Siamese detachment. Pavie managed to insist on the position of France and to make by the officer commanding the detachment recognise it. "This officer's mission is evidently to try to have us accept the presence of his troop, and if not successful to withdraw with me on the pretext of escorting me. He has made an act of authority, called together the village chiefs, denied our taking possession, given orders and troubled their minds."

At Luang Prabang where he finally rejoined Cupet and Nicolon, Pavie learnt that the sons of Deo Van Seng had been released. He found them in Ngoi under the guard of the head of the Siamese army. The first contact under the eyes of the Siamese was prudent. "Seeing that when they arrived people took a long time to show them where their camp was to be, thinking they would leave them to look after themselves as usual, the Captain and I thought of offering them space in our dwelling. Our approach was enough to make the Siamese agents find them somewhere to live quickly as they doubtless feared us meeting them too soon. We did not consider it wise to make advances to them whilst they were under Siamese dependency, but this occasion seemed to us a good one to show them our feelings of benevolence, and favourable for forcing the Siamese agents to show these people and ourselves that their instructions still did not allow contact between us and the hostages who they said would be delivered to us. This was useful to note." Deo Van Seng showed his recognition. Two of his sons, Kam Houil and Kam Doi went to Pavie and said, "You are the father of our family and our people. We salute you as children who do not know the laws of your country which are now ours, resolved to please by limitless devotion in all our countries." The submission of the powerful master of Lai was close. However, there were still some bands of Flags camped between the Black and Red Rivers who fought the French.