The United States never formally declared war on Laos, but they still dropped more than 270 million cluster bombs on the country during the Vietnam War era. It is estimated that one-third of these did not explode. Nearly 50 years later, people in Laos are still killed or maimed when they encounter unexploded bombs or “ordnance” (UXO). These munitions also keep much of Laos in poverty because clearing land for agriculture or development is hazardous. Children are killed or injured when they mistake UXO for toys. Even the simple act of lighting a fire to cook a meal can set off a weapon buried underneath.
The northeastern province of Xieng-Khouang was one of the most heavily bombed areas of Laos, and it is littered with unexploded munitions. Some residents in the village of Ban Napia have turned this problem into a curious and hazardous occupation: They collect UXO, melt it down in a kiln, and fashion it into spoons and other household items using wooden molds.
Villagers in Ban Napia have made the utensils across decades and generations. The work has not been without its hazards, though: People have been killed collecting and processing the UXO. But for many, the reward is worth the risk, as the trade brings much-needed income to the impoverished region.
Need to Know
Most day tours to Xieng-Khouang's Plain of Jars archaeological site include a stop at the Spoon Village.