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Keywords:

  • opium;
  • symbolism;
  • Laos;
  • minorities;
  • Akha

This article is concerned with the campaign to eradicate opium consumption and cultivation among highland minorities of northern Laos. The campaign has attracted political explanations that emphasise external pressure and enticements from the United States and the United Nations as part of the global War on Drugs. I argue that such explanations ignore the symbolic aspects of the domestic process of Laoisation in post-socialist Laos that has marginalised ethnic minorities and has transformed opium into a key symbol of primitiveness and backwardness and into a fetishised cause of poverty.