11/2010 - Laos 4th part: Laotian Ethnic villages

20-day trip to Laos visiting Huay Xai, Luang Namtha, Muang Sing, Pangthong, Nam Ha, Oudomxai, Luang Prabang, Ban Xang Hai, Pak Ou caves, Tat Kuang Si waterfalls, Van Vieng, Phou Khoun, Ventiane, Ang Nam Ngum artificial lake, Pakse, Tat Fan waterfall, Tat Lo waterfall, Pha Xuam, Champasak, Kingfisher, Don Khong Isle, Muang Khong village, Don Khon island, Li Phi waterfalls, Khon Phapheng waterfalls and the villages of the following ethnic groups: Hmong, Yao, Thai, Akha, Alak, Katu, Kamu, Khmu, Kanu Akha, Landlam, Mong, Phonsaad

Before describing the ethnic villages I must write an introduction: the ethnic groups have multinational origins, in fact they may come from Vietnam , Cambodia, Burma, China and Laos. Practicing nomadism they are divided into a huge variety of groups and subgroups, so it is difficult to outline clear profiles, with regard to their names too. I was able to find some information, even if uncompleted, about some ethnic groups and, on the contrary, nothing about others.

The Hmong Ethnic group, in Laos, is the most numerous group and they are known to be aggressive and belligerent . Their religion is still the Animism of their ancestors. Their way of life is influenced by the altitude of their settlements. Their main activity is the cultivation of non-irrigated rice and of corn grown in soils obtained by burning the forests. They have the custom to dye their clothes blue indigo.

Since it is a Hmong ethnic group again, I repeat the description of the previous gallery:

in Laos it is the most numerous group and they are known to be aggressive and belligerent . Their religion is still the Animism of the ancestors. Their way of life is influenced by the altitude of their settlements. Their main activity is the cultivation of non-irrigated rice and of corn grown in soils obtained by burning the forests. They have the custom to dye their clothes blue indigo.

The Yao ethnic group is also known by the name of Lanten ethnic  group. This is an ethnic subgroup whose homeland is China. The first migration waves date back to 1300. They are known for the beauty and elegance of the women who wore austere indigo robes; moreover, since puberty , women have the habit of shaving their eyebrows.

This ethnic group is closely related to the Hmong one.

The Thai ethnic group is divided into various groups (including the Black Thai and Thai Lu); they distinguished themselves by the colour of the traditional dresses. They settle in sedentary agglomerations , placed at the foot of the hills, near wooded areas  with water and hunting reserves . They still follow ancient animist beliefs together with the Theravada Buddhism .

The Akha ethnic group is a small ethnic group of Tibetan – Burmese origin, located on the hills in the area of Muang Sing . They are simple, merry and social people. They wear clothes made of handmade cotton dyed indigo . Men wear large trousers, a jacket and a flat turban. Women wear a typical cap embellished with coins, silver discs, pendants and beads. They wear skirts long to the knee and a sort of white spats on their calves.

The Alak ethnic group belongs to smaller ones  of the same ethnicity of Austro- Asiatic Mon-Khmer .

Little is known of their origins and they are supposed to come from the central Vietnamese area.

They live in villages usually formed by a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 60 families. They dedicate to agriculture and their main crop is rice. Not only they eat agricultural products but mainly eat fish and mushrooms. They practice animism and, in most of the villages, there are shamans who take care of the sick, make propitiatory ceremonies and predict the future.

The Katu ethnic group lives mainly in the Bolaven table-land; in their villages, the houses are made of straw and palm leaves and have a circular shape. Women are loosing the habit of having a facial tattoo.

This ethnic group is known for honoring the spirits by sacrificing water buffalos .

The Khamu ethnic  group is the most numerous group of the ethno-linguistic family of Austro- Asiatic Mon-Khmer .

They practice rice farming , hunting, gathering of wild fruits and tubers . The social structure is based on the family unit. They worship the ancestors from which they draw a  great spiritual strength .

The Khmu ethnic group finds its origin is Mon Khmer . To give an idea of the mixing between the various ethnic groups I list other names which define them: kho mu, kmhmu , khomu , khamu , mun xen , xa cau , cau kha , cam mu, mu kho . Therefore they come from the Khamu group described in the previous gallery .

I was not able to identify any ethnic group that matches the name given to me: ” kanu Akha”. Not even  searching the name “khanu” or “khan” followed by “Akha” .

I can only conclude that this group come from the ethnic group Akha already described in the photo-gallery nr 5.

I could not even identify the Landlam group; this name was given to me to identify the people of the village of Ban Namleu which I visited just before entering the town of Luang Namtha .

I can only make one comment : considering the costumes worn, this is certainly an ethnic group linked to the Hmong group .

Even about this ethnic group, named Mong , I could not find any reference. I believe they belong to the Hmong group to which I invite you to refer (see photo gallery nr 1 and 2) .

The last ethnic group is named Phonsaad; nothing could be found about them. I can only say that the visited village is located in the southern  Laos, near the area of the four thousand islands. It was a very poor village, almost deserted, and the access stairs were detached to prevent the entrance to animals.