Lao Flag 101: Did You Know About Its Fascinating Evolution?

Lao flag

Did you know that the old Lao flag (thung – ທຸງ) was the only national flag in the world at that time to feature a real-life object? Yup, you heard that right! The flag had an image of a stylized three-headed elephant (sang – ຊ້າງ) on it.

Now tell me if you aren’t hooked on knowing more about the story behind the evolution of the Laos flag. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the history and symbolism of the new Lao national flag, and maybe even learn a thing or two about those majestic creatures.

Lao flag

History Of The Lao National Flag

The Laotian flag may seem like just another piece of colorful fabric, but it has a fascinating history full of twists and turns. Let’s find out more!

The French Protectorate

The French Protectorate in Laos was a period of French rule and colonization from 1893 to 1949, during which Laos became a protectorate of France, allowing France (pathedfrang – ປະເທດຝຣັ່ງ) to control the country’s foreign affairs and national defense. The French established their authority over the local rulers and implemented policies aimed at exploiting the country’s natural resources and labor force.

Laos became part of French Indochina, along with Vietnam and Cambodia, and the French (frang – ຝຣັ່ງ) introduced their language, culture, and education system. The French Protectorate had a significant impact on Laos’ political, economic, and social development and contributed to the country’s current cultural landscape.

The flag of the French Protectorate of Laos featured a blue field with a white circle in the center, containing a stylized image of a three-headed elephant, which was a symbol of the monarchy. The elephant was surrounded by a circle of five stars (vong khong ha davວົງຂອງຫ້າດາວ), representing the five regions of Laos. The blue (sifa – ສີຟ້າ) background represented the monarchy, while the white circle (vongmon sikhavວົງມົນສີຂາວ) symbolized the French Protectorate. This Laos flag was used from 1893 until 1952, when Laos gained independence from France.

Lao flag

Ties With The Royal Family

The royal flag (thung sad ທຸງ​ຊາດ​) featured a triple-headed white elephant on a red (siaedngສີແດງ) background, symbolizing the royal family’s ties to the Buddhist religion (phudtha sasanaພຸດທະສາສະໜາ) and their role as protectors of the nation. The stylized white elephant was depicted on a pedestal, surrounded by 10 rays of the sun (ta ven – ຕາ​ເວັນ).

The elephant is not just any old pachyderm. It’s a depiction of the Phra Kaew Morakot (phuaekv mola kodພູແກ້ວ ມໍລະກົດ), also known as the Emerald Buddha, which is a highly revered Buddhist statue that was taken from Laos by the Siamese (now Thai) army in the 18th century. The statue is now housed in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, but the Lao people still hold it in great esteem and consider it a symbol of their cultural heritage.

Lao flag

The Communist Style Flags

In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took over the governance of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and abolished the monarchy. In this phase of the communist rule, the white three-headed elephant was replaced with a hammer and sickle on a red flag. Now, I’m no expert on symbolism, but I’m pretty sure a hammer and sickle don’t exactly scream ‘peaceful transition of power.’ Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the new flag, and many people were unhappy with the Communist regime.

But in 1991, the Pathet Lao agreed to share power with other political parties, and a new Lao constitution was adopted that allowed for more freedom of expression. As part of this new era of openness, the Lao government decided to adopt a new national flag that would represent the country’s cultural heritage and values.

This time, the flag featured three horizontal stripes of red, blue, and white, with a circle in the center containing a stylized white elephant on a pedestal, surrounded by 10 rays of the sun.

Flag Elements And Their Symbolism

Now, let’s understand what these flag elements symbolize. For instance, the 10 rays of the Sun depicted on the flag represented the 10 principles of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. Some of these principles were national independence, justice, socialism, unity, and democracy. Next, the pedestal comprising five levels represented the foundational law on which the country of Laos stood. Above the pedestal stood the three-headed elephant that symbolized the three former kingdoms of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Champasak. These kingdoms made up the country of Laos.

The elephant also sported a nine-folded umbrella on top of its three heads. The umbrella is taken to be a royal symbol, with its origin tracing back to Mount Meru in Buddhist cosmology. Another symbol of Phra Kaew Morakot depicted in another version of the Laos flag is seen as a composite of a wreath of rice ears and the national flower, the Dok Champa (frangipani or plumeria – ດອກຈຳປາ).

Lao flag

The Current Lao Flag: Design & Meaning

In the year 1945, Maha Sila Viravong, a member of the Lao Issara government, came up with the design of the current national flag. He was a famous Lao nationalist and scholar.

The current flag of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic features three horizontal stripes of red and dark blue with a white disc in the center. The middle stripe in blue is two times the height of the top and bottom red stripes. What’s intriguing is that despite being a communist country, Laos doesn’t carry the famous sickle and hammer insignia on its national flag.

So what do all these elements mean? Well, the red stripes in the Laos flag symbolize the blood-shed during the country’s struggle for independence. The middle blue stripe symbolizes the Mekong River (aemnamkhongແມ່ນ້ຳຂອງ) that runs through Laos. The river is a life source for the Laotians and a symbol of the nation’s prosperity. The white disc on the blue stripe represents a full moon (deuon tem duangເດືອນ​ເຕັມ​ດວງ) juxtaposed against the blue of the Mekong River. The disc also symbolizes purity and integrity.

Wrap Up

So there you have it, folks. The history of the current national flag – complete with white elephants and communist symbols. It just goes to show that even a simple piece of cloth can tell a complex and colorful story. It’s a story as complicated as a game of Jenga, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into the country’s cultural heritage and values.

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