Fear and Loathing in the Laotian Highlands
Guido Sprenger (Heidelberg University)
Paper short abstract:
Among Rmeet in Laos, proong are said to live as ordinary villagers by day and blood-sucking half-humans by night. What does this tell us about concepts of humanity and sociality, when social spaces harbour the inversion of the social?
Paper long abstract:
Concepts of destructive and dangerous, yet person-like beings point to an unsettledness of the sociality of humans. The ambivalence which they represent is heightened if these beings shift between roles, being ordinary members of society in one context and dangerous monsters in another. This paper elaborates upon the proong in upland Laos, a category of people who turn into half-humans at night, eating corpses and sucking life out of sick persons and newborn children. Villagers of the Rmeet acknowledge that some of their neighbours might be proong, however today this hardly ever leads to open accusations or banishment. For most of the time, their existence is made intelligible by stories and precautionary measures, but the identities of local proong remain undetermined. This paper explores how the social and the non-social person emerge as a whole, how frightening ambivalences and concepts of social order are related to each other and how social space might harbour the inversion of the social.