Oliver Tappe is a Senior Researcher at the Global South Studies Center, University of Cologne, and Associate of University of Hamburg. His research interests include the history of the Lao-Vietnamese upland frontier and the past and present dynamics of labour migration in Southeast Asia. He is co-editor, with Vatthana Pholsena, of the volume Interactions with a Violent Past: Reading Post-Conflict: Landscapes in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (2013) and co-editor of the volume Bonded Labour: Global and Comparative Perspectives, 18th-21st Century (2016; with S. Damir-Geilsdorf, U. Lindner, G. Müller, M. Zeuske).
From coolies to migrants: Historical trajectories of Vietnamese labour mobility to Laos
Vietnamese labour migration to neighbouring Laos spans generations. Already under French colonialism, labour-intensive sectors such as mining, plantations and infrastructure construction in Laos relied on Vietnamese labour. The tin mines of Khammouane province constitute a case in point. The project investigates this specific case of labour mobility in Southeast Asia from a historical perspective. So-called ‘coolies’ in the colonial economy as well as today’s transnational work migrants from Vietnam share experiences of precarity, mobility, hope, and resilience.
This project combines historical and anthropological research methods. With regard to the colonial period, I will investigate state-organized indentured labour as well as so-called free labour migration. The French colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence hold countless files and documents on the issue of main-d’œuvre related to the Lao tin mines and to Vietnamese labour migration in general.
The historical part will be complemented with an anthropological study of present-day variants of Vietnamese labour migration to Laos and transgenerational dynamics of the Vietnamese diaspora in the mining regions. I will conduct interviews and with members of the Vietnamese community in Khammouane and with Lao and international employers of Vietnamese labour.