Not All Waters Are Equal; The Mekong River’s Influence On Southeast Asian Cultures

by bria4123 on October 10, 2012


The mighty Mekong captivates imaginations as much as any other river on the planet.

It captivated mine as I boated on it in Laos for 2 days. It seems both primal and spiritual, and it gave me insights about how many Southeast Asian societies developed their thought and art.

Many mainland Southeast Asian communities in ancient times lived and migrated along rivers.

When large states formed which could forge iron tools and store rice surpluses, they grew in planes of great rivers in Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and Cambodia. So the flow of water has helped shape thought in Southeast Asia. It also did in Greece and ancient Egypt, but not in the same way.

Ancient Greeks were encouraged to think in terms of distinct entities, linear relationships and clear boundaries. But the Mekong has different attributes than the Aegean Sea, and it converged with other features of the natural landscape to create a different but equally fascinating cultural landscape.

The Aegean is an open sea, but the Mekong and other rivers in Southeast Asia undulate like a snake. It thus seems to envelop you in nature’s primal energies.

The mountains that line both of the Mekong’s sides also seem to wriggle.

So does the vegetal growth along the Mekong’s banks. Trees and plants don’t stand out as distinct. All flow together like a vibrant river of nature’s energies.

Clouds over the mountains also seem to roll like a snake.

The Mekong encouraged people to develop different models of reality than the West’s. The most basic patterns in the world aren’t straight lines. They curve and flow like rivers–they’re dynamic rather than abstract, and they’re infused with the energies in nature which generate all life. Though this view of reality is different than the Western mainstream’s, it inspired many great cultures. So we’ll explore it more in the next post on the Mekong.

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