The Phunoy people are little known outside the province of Phongsaly in northern Laos. They are unexpected in the anthropology of the Asian highlands in that they do not appear to accentuate their difference from lowland national society. Phunoy peoples have been entangled with state administration for centuries, and their religious practice includes Buddhist monks, texts, and temples. Recently, they have been leaving their villages, moving to lowland areas, and they are increasingly indistinguishable from the national Lao majority. Vanina Bouté's study of the Phunoy, Mirroring Power, is a fascinating historical anthropology that offers a profound challenge and a much-needed corrective to the overdrawn hill-valley contrasts (animist versus Buddhist, nonstate versus state peoples, kinship versus stratification and territoriality) that have long animated the anthropology of mainland Southeast Asia.

It seems that the Phunoy became an ethnic group in the late 1700s, from a range of highland peoples speaking related...

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