Wild pigs cannot enter

Giulio Ongaro

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At the beginning of this year, while I was in the highlands of northwestern Laos studying shamanism among the Akha, the nearby lowland city of Muang Sing inaugurated the construction of a lak muang, a “city pillar” at its centre. Lak muang typically follow a “mandala” pattern; with a taller pillar in the middle of a square and four smaller pillars at the four cardinal points. Lak muang — less common in Laos than in Thailand — have historically functioned as a city’s axis mundi, the raised centre from which spiritual and political potency radiates outwards, in a graded way, towards the periphery.

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