Palanquins and Kings

25 Mar

The generational differences between me and Z never cease to amaze me. We went to the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang, Laos, yesterday, former home of the kings of Laos.

We were pacing down a corridor in our bare feet, trying to work out the sense of the legend of the Lao prince who became a hermit and gave away everything — most challengingly, his two children to a slave-taking Brahmin. We were talking about Abraham and Isaac when Z stopped dead in absolute horror.

“What is it?” I say, thinking that stories of enslaved children must have set off some sort of panic.

“Look, Mum,” he says.

I look. I can see a decorated palanquin, some of the beautiful metallic glass mosaics they create, oh, yes, and an ivory tusk. Nothing strikes me as horrific.

“Just look what they do to elephants!” he says.

Ivory, to me, is not a particularly problematic substance. At least in a historical context. The trade in it is, the poaching is, but I just take the decorative use of ivory in the context of Laos, the Kingdom of a Million Elephants as AN other historical curio.

Z, however, is genuinely outraged by it. “What is it that bothers you so much?” I say.

“They kill elephants just for their tusks!” he says.

I ask whether it would be better if, as with leather, tusks were a by-product of animals that were eaten, and why ivory is such a taboo. I point out that at the period the owner of the tusks was killed (late nineteenth century), elephants were not an endangered species but working, fighting animals.

“I think it’s the fact that it’s worthless,” he says.

“Well, it’s not worthless,” I say. “It’s very valuable. But, yes, it doesn’t have any particular use.”

“Yes,” he says. “If you kill an animal to eat them, that’s sort of OK. But if you kill them just for their tusks, it seems really, really wrong to me.”

It’s odd. Ivory sets off a massive taboo reaction in him, whereas crickets, which panicked me a little, did not.

Plan is to visit the elephant camp today. He is worried they will be maltreated. I think we should go, regardless.

One Response to “Palanquins and Kings”

  1. smartass300 March 26, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    I’m also a tad shocked at the size of those tusks. Good post though. 😀


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