Turning bombs into spoons – relics of the secret US war in Laos

For nine years during the 1960s and 1970s, the United States unleashed millions of bombs on Laos, making it the most bombed nation on earth

Ban Napia, in Xiang Khouang province in the northeast, is known as the war spoon village.

The spoon makers of Ban Napia epitomize a can-do-make-do spirit that is fashioning a way forward for this nation of seven million people, where there have been more than 20,000 deaths and injuries because of unexploded bombs (known as UXOs) since the war ended.

UXOs are everywhere, and while they are still killing people, they have also been woven into the fabric of everyday life. The photo above documents how Xieng Pheang, and his wife Toiy Pheang, make utensils at their home in Ban Napia. 

La lok Phengparkdee (pictured above, left) has been turning bombs into spoons since he was eight, a craft he learned from his father, who began working with UXOs in 1978.

“There were bombs everywhere then,” La lok says. “The UXOs were just another resource. They were everywhere, so we decided to make the most of what we have.”

Son Mia Seeonchan disarms UXOs, melts them in a homemade kiln and then recasts the metal as spoons and other household items for sale.

Seeonchan learned the craft from his parents and is now teaching his children. “It was very difficult after the war and we had to use any resources we could, even bombs,” he says, “but maybe that’s starting to change. Maybe my children will be the last generation that have to work with the bombs.

Photographs: John Dennehy