Southeast Asian Religions: Mainland Cultures
SOUTHEAST ASIAN RELIGIONS: MAINLAND CULTURES
Mainland Southeast Asia has been termed the "crossroad of religions," for in this region, today divided into the countries of Burma, Thailand, and Laos, Cambodia (Kampuchea), and Vietnam, a large diversity of autochthonous tribal religions are intermingled with Hinduism, Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity, as well as the modern secular faith of Marxist-Leninism. Beneath this diversity there are many religious practices and beliefs that have common roots in the prehistoric past of peoples of the region. This is not to say, as have some scholars, that the historic religions are merely a veneer and that those Southeast Asians who adhere to religions such as Buddhism have been, as Reginald LeMay said of the Northern Thai, animists from time immemorial. Although certain beliefs and practices can be seen as linking peoples of the present to ancient Southeast Asian religions, they have often been reformulated to make sense within worldviews shaped by historic religions. The processes of religious change have, moreover, intensified in the wake of radical shaking of traditional orders taking place throughout the twentieth century.
Mainland Southeast Asia is not only a region of religious diversity; it is also a veritable Babel. Insofar as historical linguistics permits a reconstruction of the past, it would appear that most of the earliest inhabitants of the region spoke Austroasiatic languages ancestral to such modern-day descendants as Khmer and Mon. Many of the tribal peoples living in the highlands of central Vietnam and Laos, as well as a few groups found in northern Thailand and as far distant as Assam in India and Hainan Island belonging to China, speak Austroasiatic languages. Speakers of Austronesian languages, whose major modern-day representatives are the peoples of Indonesia, Malaysia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, as well as parts of Melanesia and Madagascar, were also present from prehistoric times in what is today southern Vietnam and the Malay Peninsula. Cham living in southern Vietnam and in Cambodia, as well as tribal peoples such as the Rhadé and Jarai in southern Vietnam, speak Austronesian languages. In the northern uplands of the region and in what is today northeastern India and southern China most peoples in prehistoric times appear to have spoken languages belonging to the Tibeto-Burman language family. The present-day Burmans and such tribal peoples as the Chin, Kachin, Lisu, Akha, and Lahu all speak Tibeto-Burman languages. Speakers of Tai (or Daic) languages seem to have originated in southern China and did not begin to settle in mainland Southeast Asia until much before the tenth century ce. Today, however, Thai (or Siamese), Lao, Northern Thai (or Yuan), and Shan—all speakers of Tai languages—constitute the major peoples of Thailand, Laos, and the Shan state of Burma, and Tai-speaking tribal peoples such as the Tho, Red Tai, Black Tai, and White Tai are found in northern Vietnam as well as northeastern Laos. Modern-day Vietnamese, which linguists assign to the distinctive Viet-Muong language family, is believed to have evolved from an Austroasiatic language that was transformed under the influence of Chinese. The distinctive Karennic languages spoken by peoples living on the eastern border of Burma and in parts of western Thailand are thought by linguists to be descendants of Tibeto-Burman stocks. Speakers of Miao-Yao languages, distantly connected to Tibeto-Burman and Sinitic language families, have migrated from southern China into mainland Southeast Asia only within the past century or so. Major migrations from China and India, spurred by the economic changes during the colonial period, also led to the introduction into the region of large numbers of speakers of Sinitic, Dravidian, and Indo-European languages.
People have lived in mainland Southeast Asia for as long as there have been Homo sapiens, and there is evidence of Homo erectus and even earlier hominid forms in the region as well. Paleolithic hunting-and-gathering peoples must have constructed their religious understandings of the world out of images drawn from their experiences in their environments and from the workings of the human body. Beyond this, little can be said, for there is no mainland Southeast Asian equivalent of the cave paintings of Lascaux to provide insight into the world of Paleolithic humans. It would, moreover, be quite illegitimate to project the religious beliefs of the Negritos of the Malay Peninsula, the last remaining significant groups of hunter-gatherers in the region, into the prehistoric past, for these beliefs have developed through as long a period as have other religions and have, moreover, been influenced by the religions of neighboring peoples.
The first significant evidence of religious beliefs and practices in mainland Southeast Asia comes from the period when humans in the region first began to live in settled agricultural communities. The domestication of rice, which may have taken place in mainland Southeast Asia before 4000 bce, led to the emergence of a powerful image that was to become incorporated in almost all of the religious traditions of the region. To this day, most Southeast Asians think of rice as having a spiritual as well as a material quality; rice, like humanity, has a vital essence and is typically associated with a feminine deity. The recognition of rice as fundamental to life among most peoples in mainland Southeast Asia has been intertwined in religious imagery with the nurturing attribute of a mother.
Neolithic burial sites, many only recently discovered, are proving to be sources of knowledge about prehistoric religions in Southeast Asia. The very existence of such sites suggests that those who took so much trouble to dispose of the physical remains of the dead must have had well-formed ideas about the afterlife and about the connection between the states of the dead and the living. In the mass burial sites of Ban Chiang and Non Nok Tha in northeastern Thailand, the graves contain many items, including pottery, tools, and metal jewelry. The items found in the graves may be interpreted, on the basis of ethnographic analogy, as constituting goods believed to be used by the dead in the afterlife. In communities in northeastern Thailand today, the dead are cremated in accord with Buddhist custom, but the practice of burning personal belongings of the deceased at the same time perpetuates a pre-Buddhist tradition.
In a Neolithic burial site in western Thailand, the grave of an old man was found to contain a perforated stone disk and an antler with the tines sawed off. Per Sørensen, the archaeologist who excavated the site, believes these items may represent the headdress of a shaman; if so, they would be the earliest evidence of shamanism in mainland Southeast Asia. Shamanism must have an ancient pedigree in the region because it is found among most tribal peoples. Among the most intriguing Neolithic burial sites are ones in central Laos where large stone jars were found containing cremated human remains. This discovery suggests either that cremation predates Indian influence in Southeast Asia or that the jars were used long after they had originally been constructed as depositories of remains by peoples who had adopted the Buddhist practice of cremation.
Sites mainly in northern Vietnam and southern China dating to the first millennium bce contain bronze drums associated with assemblages termed Dong-Son after a site in northern Vietnam. Dong-Son-type drums were later distributed widely not only in mainland Southeast Asia but in the islands of the region as well, although manufacture of the drums apparently continued to be restricted to a rather small area in northern mainland Southeast Asia. In more recent times, drums have been used by tribal peoples such as the Karen in funerary rites, and some archaeologists believe that the drums were always associated with death customs. Boat designs found on some of the Neolithic drums have been interpreted as being symbols of the means whereby souls of the dead were conveyed to the afterworld. The soul-boat image is found in a number of Southeast Asian cultures today, and a prehistoric notion may have persisted also in transformed form in the Buddhist symbol of the boat that conveys the saved across the sea of saṃsāra to nibbāna (Skt., nirvāṇa ).
The designs on the drums, including concentric circles, frogs, birds, snakes or dragons, human figures in headdresses, buildings, and in some southern Chinese drums miniature scenes of rituals, have been variously interpreted. Some understand these as indicating a type of shamanism in which the drum played a part; others have seen them as having totemic significance. It is quite probable that at least some drum designs encode a dualistic cosmology, symbolized in part by an opposition between birds and snakes/dragons. Of particular interest are the images of buildings on piles, which may probably be regarded as a type of ritual hall or perhaps a men's house, and which are clearly related both to those found in many tribal communities today and to the dinh, the communal ritual hall of the Vietnamese.
There was never a uniform Dongsonian culture in northern mainland Southeast Asia. Peoples of the region in late prehistoric times were often isolated from each other by the numerous ranges of hills and must have developed distinctive religious traditions. Even though drums were widely traded throughout the region, they were most certainly put to different ritual purposes by different peoples.
An older generation of scholars, best represented by Robert Heine-Geldern, posited an underlying unity of prehistoric Southeast Asian religions that stemmed from the diffusion of a cultural complex from a single European source. While there were certainly contacts among peoples widely separated in Southeast Asia in prehistoric times, and while these contacts resulted in the diffusion of some practices and beliefs, most basic similarities must be understood to reflect the ordering of similar experiences (for example, those related to death, human fertility, cultivation of rice) that follow universal modes of human thought.
Drawing on later historical data as well as ethnographic analogy, Paul Mus, a distinguished student of Southeast Asian civilization argued that the autochthonous religions of protohistoric Southeast Asia coalesced around cults he termed "cadastral." Such cults were organized around images drawn from the local worlds of everyday experience. Spirits, such as the nat s of various Tibeto-Burman peoples or the phī of the Tai, populated these worlds. Humans were able to act in their worlds because they had "vital spirits," often conceived of as multiple, as with the Vietnamese hon, Khmer praluʾn, or Tai khwan. These vital spirits, which only in some cases constituted souls that gained immortal states after death, could leave the body for periods of time, but unless called back and secured—a practice widely seen among many peoples in Southeast Asia—the person would weaken and die.
These cadastral cults constituted the religions of agricultural peoples who had long since made rice their staple, although some cultivated it by swidden or slash-and-burn methods and others cultivated by irrigation. Rice also was believed to possess a vital spirit. Even today, peoples as diverse as the Chin in Burma, Lawa in northern Thailand, Lao in Laos, Jarai in southern Vietnam, and Khmer in Cambodia all perform rites after the harvest to call the spirit of the rice to ensure that it will provide essential nourishment when consumed. Some peoples also believe that other beings—especially the water buffalo used for plowing in wet-rice communities and elephants used for war and heavy labor—also have vital spirits.
The cosmologies of protohistoric Southeast Asian farmers, like those of primitive peoples throughout the world, were structured around fundamental oppositions. In Southeast Asia, the oscillation between the rainy rice-growing season and the dry fallow season found expression in such religious imagery. The fertility of the rainy season is widely associated with a female deity, the "rice mother," although a male image, that of the nāga, or dragon, and sometimes a crocodile, is also found in many traditions. In some cases—such as among the Cham, as attested by seventh-century ce inscriptions—the female deity is a nāgī. The dry season finds expression in images of male creator gods associated with the sun. To this day, many peoples who have long been Buddhists still engage in rites that entail a dualistic conception of the cosmos. The Lao perform a rite toward the end of the dry season, heavy with sexual symbolism, at which they set off rockets to inform the gods that it is time to send the rains. At the end of the rainy season, when the rivers have flooded, another ceremony is held at which men compete in boat races. The boats, representing nāga s, serve to ensure that the earth as supreme nāga will accept the flood waters before they drown the rice. The concern with the power of the earth continues after the harvest when attention is turned to the Rice Mother, who is propitiated at the same time that the vital spirit of the rice is called.
The world in which protohistoric peoples lived was marked by uncertainty: Crops might fail as a consequence of late rains or devastating floods; women might be barren, die in childbirth, or lose child after child; and both men and women might die young. Hence, people wished to influence the spirits and cosmic forces that controlled fertility and life. The fundamental method of gaining the favor of spiritual powers was through sacrifices. Human sacrifice was rare in mainland Southeast Asia, although the Wa of northern Burma and southern China even in recent times took heads to offer at New Year rites. Most peoples sacrificed domestic animals, with lesser rites requiring a chicken and more important rites, a pig or even a carabao. In tribal groups such as those in Burma and northeastern India, those men who organized large-scale sacrifices and the so-called feasts of merit associated with them acquired not only the esteem of their fellows but also a spiritual quality that was believed to persist even after their death. Such tribal chiefs are assumed to be similar to what O. W. Wolters calls "men of prowess," who were the heads of protohistoric chiefdoms. What is noteworthy about the tribal chiefs, and presumably about the earlier men of the same type, is that because of the vagaries of life, their potency could never be firmly established. Attempts were made to fix this potency by making the remains of men of prowess objects of cultic attention, especially by those who succeeded them. Rough stone monuments associated with early Cham culture in southern Vietnam and upright stones found together with the prehistoric stone jars in Laos have been interpreted, by analogy with the practice by such modern tribal peoples as Chin of Burma and related groups in northeastern India, as monuments that perpetuated and localized the potency of men who had succeeded during their lifetimes in effecting a relationship between the society and the cosmos. Such monuments were to lend themselves to reinterpretation in Hindu-Buddhist terms when Indian influences began to appear in Southeast Asia.
Prior to the adoption of Indian or Chinese models, there appears to have been no priesthood in any Southeast Asian society capable of enforcing an orthopraxy among peoples living over a wide area. As the ritual effectiveness of men of prowess waxed and waned, so did the relative power of the polities they headed, thus giving rise to a classic pattern of oscillation between "democratic" and "autocratic" communities found among tribal peoples such as the Kachin of Burma even in recent years. What made it possible for Southeast Asians to imagine themselves as parts of communities whose members, both living and dead, were not all known personally was the introduction of religious conceptions fixed in written texts.
Some evidence, especially from among tribal peoples in what is today southern China, suggests that writing was invented independently by Southeast Asian peoples. However, the historical fact is that the earliest written records are either in some form of Indian script or in Chinese logographs. With these borrowed writing systems came Indian and Chinese texts, rites rooted in the texts, and institutions to perform the rites and perpetuate the textual traditions.
Chinese influences appear first in conjunction with the Han conquest of what is now northern Vietnam. Between the first Han movement into the area, in 124 bce, and 43 ce, when the Chinese suppressed a rebellion led by the legendary Trung sisters, Chinese influence appears to have lain rather lightly on the Vietnamese. From the first century ce, however, the Vietnamese came increasingly to see themselves as part of a Sinitic world, which they knew through the same texts as were used in China proper. This sense of belonging to a Chinese world remained even after the Vietnamese gained independence from China in the eleventh century.
The Chinese model was most significant for literati—the Confucian mandarinate, Mahāyāna Buddhist monks, and even some Daoist priests—who derived their cultural understanding of the world from Chinese and Sino-Vietnamese texts. As none of these literati ever attained the role of a dominant priesthood in the villages, pre-Sinitic traditions, centered on a multitude of local spirits and deities, continued to be perpetuated by spirit mediums, soothsayers, and sorcerers (thay ). Those Vietnamese who moved out of the Red River delta in the "push to the south" that began in the thirteenth century and continued into recent times came into contact with other traditions—those of the hinduized Cham and Khmer, the Buddhist Khmer, and local tribal peoples. In part because of significant non-Sinitic influences in southern Vietnam, the impress of Chinese culture was somewhat less evident in the popular culture of that region than in that of northern Vietnam. Vietnamese in southern Vietnam have to the present often turned to non-Sinitic religious practitioners—montagnard sorcerers and Thera-vāda monks, for example—for help in confronting fundamental difficulties in their lives. Many of the religiously inspired peasant rebellions originating in southern Vietnam as well as some modern syncretic popular religons have drawn inspiration from non-Chinese sources. This said, Vietnamese religion in all parts of the country has assumed a distinctly Sinitic cast, being organized primarily around ancestor worship in the Chinese mode. Elsewhere in mainland Southeast Asia, only migrant Chinese and those tribal peoples such as the Hmong and Mien who have lived long in Chinese-dominated areas show similar concern with ancestor worship.
In those areas of mainland Southeast Asia where Indian influences first appeared in the early centuries of the common era, individuals were rarely apotheosized for being apical ancestors in a line of descent. If, however, a man (but rarely a woman) succeeded in his lifetime in demonstrating through effective action in ritual and in warfare that he possessed some charismatic quality, this quality could continue to be influential after the individual's death by giving him a cosmic body to replace his worldly one. The earliest monuments of indianized civilization in Southeast Asia appeared in significant numbers between the fourth and eighth century ce. Particular examples are Śiva liṇgā of the Cham in southern Vietnam, the Buddhist semā (Skt., sīmā ) or boundary markers with scenes from the life of the Buddha or from the Jātakas in bas-relief found in Dvāravatī sites in northeastern Thailand, and the stupas at Beikthano and Śrīkṣetra in central Burma, Thaton in lower Burma, and Nakhon Pathom in central Thailand. These monuments can best be interpreted as having been put up to elevate a man of prowess to a divine form. Whereas an older generation of historians often associated early historical sites in mainland Southeast Asia with large kingdoms, most historians now accept that there were many petty kingdoms in the area whose power waxed and waned much as did that of the chiefdoms that preceded them. The proliferation of monuments, a pattern that climaxes in the classical civilizations of Angkor in Cambodia and Pagan in Burma, most likely represents a continuing effort by new kings, their families, and their rivals to establish their own claims to be identified with divine and cosmic power.
Influential mainland Southeast Asians who worked with Indian texts made minimal use of the Indian idea that one's place within the world was fixed at birth by some cosmic plan. The caste system did not survive the voyage across the Bay of Bengal except in a very modified form, whereby kings claimed to be kṣatriya ; even then a man of quite lowly origins could become a kṣatriya by successfully usurping the throne and clothing himself in sacralized regalia.
The process of indianization in Southeast Asia included identifying a power believed to be embodied in a local shrine with divine or cosmic powers known in Indian texts. This made possible the creation of larger polities, since peoples in very different parts of a realm saw themselves as part of the same cosmos and worshiped the same gods, often gods who were also equated with the rulers. The polity was a maṇḍala, the "circle of a king," a domain in which a particular ruler succeeded in being viewed as the link between the world and the cosmos. The kings who founded Angkor near the Great Lake in Cambodia in the ninth century were notably successful in establishing a cult of the devarāja, a god-king, whose maṇḍala included at its height all of present-day Cambodia, the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam, and central and northeastern Thailand. The devarāja cult centered on the assimilation of the king to Siva, as represented by a lingam. The capital was a place where, through erection of temples, dedicated not only to Śiva but also to Viṣṇu and other Hindu gods and to bodhisattva s, each king could ensure that his maṇḍala was a microcosm of the cosmos. While the Angkorean empire experienced a number of defeats by rulers of other maṇḍalas, it was not until the fifteenth century that it finally ended; by this time, the religious orientations of the populace had begun to change radically.
On the western side of mainland Southeast Asia, Burmese kings also succeeded in establishing a maṇḍala, that of Pagan, that between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries rivaled the splendor and power of Angkor. Although the Burmese kings promoted cults that usually equated them with the Buddha rather than with Hindu gods, the stupas and temples they built were like the Hindu and Mahāyāna temples at Angkor; they were both funerary monuments in which the kings became immortalized, albeit in this case in Buddhist terms, and recreations of the sacred cosmos. In both Pagan and Angkor, Meru, the sacred mountain that lies at the center of the universe and is also an axis mundi, was represented in the temple or stupa erected by a king.
The maṇḍala organized around a shrine that served as an axis mundi became the model for villages as well as capitals. In nearly every village in Buddhist Southeast Asia, a stupa has been erected. Those who contribute to its construction believe they gain merit that will ensure a better rebirth and perhaps even rebirth at the time of the next Buddha, Metteyya (Skt., Maitreya). The localized cults of the relics of the Buddha link Southeast Asians not only with early Indian Buddhism but also with the cosmographic practices of the rulers of the classical indianized states and beyond that with the cadastral cults of pre-indianized Southeast Asia.
The cult of the relics of the Buddha does not constitute the whole of Buddhism as practiced in Southeast Asia. Between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, missionary monks established a Theravāda Buddhist orthodoxy among the majority of peoples, both rural and urban, living in what are today Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. In a sense, orthodox Buddhism made sense to Southeast Asians because of the pre-Buddhist idea that religious virtue is not a product solely of descent from particular ancestors but also a consequence of one's own religiously effective actions. In Buddhist terms, this idea was formulated so that people understood that although they were born with a certain karmic legacy of both merit and demerit they also continually acquire new merit and demerit from morally significant acts.
Those who became adherents of Theravāda Buddhism also retained pre-Buddhist beliefs in spirits and deities. These beliefs were given new significance in the context of a Buddhist worldview. Some of the supernatural beings were universalized and identified with Hindu deities also known to Buddhism. More significantly, spirits and deities were accorded a subordinate place within the Buddhist cosmic hierarchy generated by the law of karman. Beliefs in pre-Buddhist concepts of the vital spirit—the leikpya of the Burmese, the khwan of the Tai, the praluʾn of the Khmer—also remained and continued to be part of ritual. These beliefs were, however, reformulated to take into account the Buddhist teaching that the soul is not immortal and that "consciousness" (Pali, viññāṇa ) links one life with the next.
The Theravāda revolution in mainland Southeast Asia did not lead to the demise of the maṇḍala ; on the contrary, it led local lords to demonstrate their effectiveness by claiming to be righteous rulers and validating such claims by asserting their independence or even embarking on military ventures to extend their domains at the expense of other lords. Despite the political fragmentation of premodern Buddhist societies, all could conceive of being part of a common Buddhist world. Such a conception was expressed, for example, in the recognition of important pilgrimage shrines—ones containing relics of the Buddha—that lay in other domains.
The success of Theravāda Buddhism led to a much sharper distinction between the religious traditions of the peoples of the western part of mainland Southeast Asia and those east of the Annamite cordillera. Not only were the Vietnamese becoming increasingly sinicized, but the Cham, who had once had an important indianized culture in southern Vietnam, turned from this tradition and embraced Islam, a religion that was becoming established among other Austronesian-speaking peoples in major societies of the Indonesian archipelago and on the Malay Peninsula.
Tribal peoples in Southeast Asia, mainly located in highland areas where they practiced swidden cultivation, did not remain totally isolated from the changes occurring in the lowlands. A myth among many tribal peoples in the northern part of the region tells of a "lost book" or "lost writing." The Kachin version of the myth is typical. Ninggawn wa Magam, the deity from whom humans acquired culture, called all the different tribes of humans together. To each tribe he gave a book to help them in their lives. Shans and Burmans received books written on palm leaves; Chinese and foreigners (i.e., Westerners) received books on paper; and Kachin received a book of parchment. The Kachin, not truly understanding the significance of the book, ate it and have been without writing ever since. The myth reveals a sense on the part of tribal peoples of being culturally deprived relative to those who have writing.
When tribal peoples have turned to expand their horizons, they have tended to do so through acquiring access to the literature of their lowland neighbors. The Lawa, an Austroasiatic tribal people in Thailand, see themselves as Buddhists, like their Northern Thai neighbors, but unable to practice the religion in the hills where they have no monks to instruct them. When they move down from the hills, however, they quickly transform themselves into Northern Thai. Mien, who are found more in southern China than in Southeast Asia, long ago developed a tradition of craft literacy, with ritual specialists being able to read Daoist texts in Chinese. An interesting variant on the myth is found among some Karen in Burma, who were converted in significant numbers to Christianity beginning early in the nineteenth century. Their myth tells how the book will be returned to them by foreign brothers who are identified with the Western missionaries. Even among Karen, however, more have become Buddhist than have become Christian.
Missionization—not only by Christians but in recent years by Buddhists—and the spread of modern systems of compulsory education have rendered tribal religions increasingly peripheral. So, too, have improved health care and secular education undermined beliefs in spirits that were previously elements of the religions of Southeast Asian Buddhists and Vietnamese. Moreover, as agriculture has been transformed by large-scale irrigation works and the introduction of new technology and new high-yield varieties of rice, peoples in the region have become less inclined to credit supernatural powers with the control over fertility. They may continue to perform traditional rites, but these are becoming more secular celebrations than sources of religious meaning. Nonetheless, even as the worlds of Southeast Asians are radically transformed by political-economic forces and cultural changes that have occurred over the past century and a half, there still remains among many the ancient idea of cultivating virtue through morally effective action.
Ancestors, article on Ancestor Worship; Boats; Buddhism, article on Buddhism in Southeast Asia; Burmese Religion; Drums; Folk Religion, article on Folk Buddhism; Islam, article on Islam in Southeast Asia; Khmer Religion; Kingship, article on Kingship in East Asia; Lao Religion; Megalithic Religion, article on Historical Cultures; Merit, article on Buddhist Concepts; Nāgas and Yakṣas; Nats; Negrito Religions; Pilgrimage, article on Buddhist Pilrimage in South and Southeast Asia; Saṃgha, article on Saṃgha and Society in South and Southeast Asia; Stupa Worship; Thai Religion; Theravāda; Vietnamese Religion.
Robert Heine-Geldern interprets archaeological and ethnographic evidence with reference to a diffusionist thesis that posited the source of a prehistoric "megalithic complex" in Europe. His most recent formulation of his position appears in "Some Tribal Art Styles in Southeast Asia," in The Many Faces of Primitive Art, edited by Douglas Fraser (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966), pp. 161–214. Kenneth Perry Landon, in Southeast Asia: Crossroads of Religion (Chicago, 1969) and Pierre-Bernard Lafont, in "Génies, anges et démons en Asie du Sud-Est," in Génies, anges et démons (Paris, 1971), provide introductions to Southeast Asian religions in other than diffusionist terms. By far the most detailed comparison of beliefs and practices relating to agriculture found among peoples not only in mainland Southeast Asia but also on the islands of the region is Eveline Porée-Maspero's Étude sur les rites agraires des Cambodgiens, 3 vols. (Paris, 1962–1969). Also see in this connection P. E. de Josselin de Jong's "An Interpretation of Agricultural Rites in Southeast Asia, with a Demonstration of Use of Data from Both Continental and Insular Asia," Journal of Asian Studies 24 (February 1965): 283–291. A general introduction to Southeast Asian religions with reference to their social context is provided in my book The Golden Peninsula: Culture and Adaptation in Mainland Southeast Asia (New York, 1977).
The volume Early South East Asia: Essays in Archaeology, History, and Historical Geography, edited by R. B. Smith and William Watson (Oxford, 1979), contains information on prehistoric and protohistoric religion; the work also has a good bibliography. H. G. Quaritch Wales's Prehistory and Religion in Southeast Asia (London, 1957), although dated and relying too heavily on diffusionist theory, still remains the only work to attempt a synthesis of prehistoric evidence. Per Sørensen reports on the find he interprets as evidence of prehistoric shamanism in "'The Shaman's Grave,'" in Felicitation Volumes of Southeast-Asian Studies Presented to Prince Dhaninivat, vol. 2 (Bangkok, 1965), pp. 303–318. The model of the "cadastral cult" was advanced by Paul Mus in India Seen from the East: Indian and Indigenuous Cults in Champa, translated by I. W. Mabbett and edited by I. W. Mabbett and D. P. Chandler (Cheltenham, Australia, 1975). O. W. Wolters, in History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives (Brookfield, Vt., 1982), proposes the notion that "men of prowess" was a general type in prehistoric and protohistoric Southeast Asia. His interpretation is based, in part, on A. Thomas Kirsch's argument developed in a comparison of Southeast Asian tribal ethnography in Feasting and Social Oscillation: A Working Paper on Religion and Society in Upland Southeast Asia (Ithaca, N.Y., 1973). Kirsch, in turn, has elaborated on the idea of oscillation between "democratic" and "autocratic" chiefdoms first advanced by Edmund Leach in Political Systems of Highland Burma (Cambridge, Mass., 1954).
Vietnamese scholars have shown considerable interest in recent years in tracing the Southeast Asian origins of Vietnamese civilization. Much of their work is discussed by Keith Weller Taylor in The Birth of Vietnam (Berkeley, Calif., 1983). The process of "indianization" and the relationship between this process and what H. G. Quaritch Wales called "local genius" in the shaping of Southeast Asian religious traditions has been most intensively explored by George Coedès in The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, edited by Walter F. Vella and translated by Susan Brown Cowing (Canberra, 1968); H. G. Quaritch Wales in The Making of Greater India, 3d rev. ed. (London, 1974) and The Universe Around Them: Cosmology and Cosmic Renewal in Indianized Southeast Asia (London, 1977); O. W. Wolters in "Khmer 'Hinduism' in the Seventh Century," in Early South East Asia: Essays in Archaeology, History and Historical Geography and in History, Culture and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives (both cited above); Hermann Kulke in The Devaraja Cult, translated by I. W. Mabbett (Ithaca, N.Y., 1978); and I. W. Mabbett in "Devaraja," Journal of Southeast Asian History 10 (September, 1969): 202–223; "The 'Indianization' of Southeast Asia: Reflections on Prehistoric Sources," Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 8 (March 1977): 1–14; "The 'Indianization' of Southeast Asia: Reflections on the Historical Sources," Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 8 (September 1977): 143–161; and "Varṇas in Angkor and the Indian Caste System," Journal of Asian Studies 36 (May 1977): 429–442. O. W. Wolters, in History, Culture and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives, discusses the maṇḍala model, a model also discussed at somelength under the rubric of the "galactic polity" by Stanley J. Tambiah in World Conqueror and World Renouncer (Cambridge, 1976).
A. Thomas Kirsch in "Complexity in the Thai Religious System: An Interpretation," Journal of Asian Studies 36 (February 1977): 241–266; Melford E. Spiro in Burmese Supernaturalism, 2d ed. (Philadelphia, 1978); and Stanley J. Tambiah in Bud dhism and the Spirit Cults in North-East Thailand (Cambridge, 1970) discuss the relationship between pre-Buddhist and Buddhist beliefs in Thai and Burmese religion. Similar attention to pre-Sinitic religious beliefs in Vietnamese religion is given by Leopold Cadière in Croyances et pratiques religieuses des Viêtnamiens, 3 vols. (Saigon and Paris, 1955–1958). See also Pierre Huard and Maurice Durand's Connaissance du Viêtnam (Paris and Hanoi, 1954).
Kirk Endicott's Batek Negrito Religion (Oxford, 1979) describes the religion of the last remaining major population of hunting-and-gathering people on the mainland. Karl Gustav Izikowitz's Lamet: Hill Peasants in French Indochina (Göteborg, 1951), Peter Kunstadter's The Luaʾ (Lawa) of Northern Thailand: Aspects of Social Structure, Agriculture and Religion (Princeton, 1965), and H. E. Kauffmann's "Some Social and Religious Institutions of the Lawa of Northwestern Thailand," Journal of the Siam Society 60 (1972): 237–306 and 65 (1977): 181–226, discuss aspects of religious life among Austroasiatic-speaking tribal peoples. Among the more detailed accounts of the religions of Hmong (Meo) and Mien (Yao) peoples are Jacques Lemoine's Yao Ceremonial Paintings (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1982); Guy Morechand's "Principaux traits du chamanisme Méo Blanc en Indochine," Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient 54 (1968): 58–294; and Nusit Chindarsi's The Religion of the Hmong Ñua (Bangkok, 1976). Theodore Stern in "Ariya and the Golden Book: A Millenarian Buddhist Sect among the Karen," Journal of Asian Studies 27 (February 1968): 297–328, and William Smalley's "The Gospel and Cultures of Laos," Practical Anthropology 3 (1956): 47–57, treat some aspects of religious change among tribal peoples.
Benjamin, Geoffrey, and Cynthia Chou, eds. Tribal Communities in the Malay World: Historical, Cultural and Social Perspectives. Singapore, 2002.
Do, Thien. Vietnamese Supernaturalism: Views from the Southern Region. London, 2003.
Kipp, Rita Smith, and Susan Rodgers, eds. Indonesian Religions in Transition. Tucson, 1987.
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"Southeast Asian Religions: Mainland Cultures." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 2, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/southeast-asian-religions-mainland-cultures
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