Elephant opium weights

Not all, but surely most of the elephant-shaped opium weights are of Laotic origin.

Laos was once called LANE XANG (Lan Xang, Lan Tschang, Lanchang), the country of millions of elephants.
Thailand is called the ‘land of the white elephant’.

There are some very rare opium weights representing a three-headed elephant (Erewan). It is certainly allowed to consider these as Laotic opium weights.

The national flag of the Kingdom of Laos showed a three-headed elephant.

In 1355 the Kingdom of Lanchang was founded by Price Ta Ngum of the Lao people belonging to the Thai tribe in the area of today’s Laotic territory. After a turbulent history it was brought under the administration of the Governor of French-Indochina. In 1954, Laos achieved her independence. The royal dynasty existed more then 700 years, always more or less autonomous. The last king, Sawang Vallána, was forced to abdicate on the 28th November 1975 by the communist government which had come into power in 1974.

The flag of the “République démocratique populaire Lao” now no longer shows the three-headed elephant.

The Laotic art was originally closely related to the art of the Khmer people of Cambodia. And as well, there is the influence of Burmese and Siamese art which was strong above all during the periods when Laotic territory was occupied by her western, respectively, southern neighbours. The genuine and original character of the Laotic way of feeling and thinking, the Laotic outlook and life is expressed in verse novels which cannot be chronological classified.

The famous epic poem ‘Kalaket’ tells about innumerable adventures that the hero has to go through, together with his horse. It is not unlikely that this horse provided the motif for horse-shaped weights as the people of Laos lived in harmony with its traditions.

At any rate, the standard opium weights were shaped like elephants.

We have already alluded to the importance of elephants in the Buddhist tradition, the worshipping above all of White Elephants. Almost the whole population of Laos adheres to Hinayana-Buddhism.

We would like to conclude this page by mentioning another old Laotic custom, which ended with the communist assumption of power: At Luang Prabang, the city of the Laotic kings, the holy day of ‘That Luang’ used to be celebrated every year at the end of November. The height of the celebrations was the oath of allegiance to the king and the sermon held for the royal elephants.

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