Ethnic Groups

Laos has a rich diversity of cultures, lifestyles and arts, which the Riverside Boutique Resort strives to showcase and promote. The country’s 17 provinces stretch 1,162 kilometres from the North to the South, and its 7 million inhabitants come from 49 officially recognised ethnic groups and four main language families. The Tai Lao people, from whom the country gets its name, make up only about 55% of the population.

A simple classification dating back to the 1950s divides the country’s people into three categories, based on where they traditionally live: Lao Loum (lowland Lao), Lao Theung (Lao of the mountain slopes), and Lao Soung (highland Lao). This classification is too simplistic and no longer use by either the Government or ethnologists. However, the terms are still popular and regularly heard in casual conversations today. It is more appropriate and culturally sensitive to use specific ethnic group names, such as Hmong, Akha, or Kmhmu.

The 49 different ethnic groups found in Laos have very different customs, religions and lifestyles. For example, the Tai Lao traditionally live in wood houses on stilts along riverbanks, practicing a blend of Buddhism and spirit worship, and farming paddy rice fields. By contrast, the Hmong traditionally live in wood houses on the ground with thatched roofs, practicing spirit and ancestor worship, and planting dry upland rice.

Despite these differences, trade and interaction between communities have always existed. The Kmhmu, for instance, have often lived close to Tai Lue communities, bartering their basketry and metal tools for cloth.

The 49 ethnic groups practice a variety of traditional arts and crafts, from silk and cotton weaving, dyeing, embroidery and applique to basket weaving, carving and music. One of the best ways to appreciate Laos’ cultural diversity is to observe these handicrafts and arts, including those on display at the Riverside Boutique Resort.

Language Families of Laos

  • Austroasiatic. 24% of the population. Includes Kmhmu, Katu, Ta Oy and other groups.
  • Hmong-Yao. 8.5% of the population. Includes Hmong, Yao Mien and Yao Mun (Lanten).
  • Sino-Tibetan. 2.8% of the population. Includes Akha, Lahu, Phounoy and other groups.
  • Tai-Kadai. 65% of the population. Includes Tai Lao, Tai Dam, Tai Deng, and other groups.

This section of the website was prepared by the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, a museum and cultural organisation in Luang Prabang dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of the ethnic diversity of Laos. To know more about the Centre and what it offers, go to www.taeclaos.org.

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