Luang Prabang's Ethnic Diversity
The Khmu came to Laos thousands of years ago, with many settling in Luang Prabang. They rely on the forest for growing rice, hunting and gathering, and producing woven rattan and bamboo basketry, tools, and net-bags, as well as lao hai (jar alcohol). They practice animism and worship spirits.
The Hmong migrated from China to Luang Prabang in the 19th century, establishing hilltop villages with thatch-roofed houses throughout the province. They are skilled at hunting, mixing herbal medicines, and raising animals. Intricate embroidery and heavy silver jewellery adorn women’s clothes. Some villages create batik designs using beeswax and indigo dyes. The Hmong New Year in December/January features top-spinning competitions and couples in love tossing mak kone (small fabric balls).
Ancestors of Luang Prabang’s Tai Dam migrated to the old capital’s valley from north-western Vietnam in the late 19th century. Unlike Buddhist Tai groups, the Tai Dam worship phi (spirits) and their ancestors. Women wear colourful head-scarves and tight-fitting shirts with silver buttons. They make potent lao khao rice alcohol, and produce fine silk and cotton textiles.
The Yao, also known as the Mien, are highland people, who migrated from China in the 19th century. Their houses are made of durable hardwood, and known to be large and sturdy. They grow rice and corn, and gather forest products such as resin and honey. Young men study the Chinese alphabet to express Yao concepts. Yao women embroider garments with detailed natural motifs. The men wear earrings and embroidered tunics, while women dress in elaborate costumes with bright red collars. The Yao worship their ancestors, and hold animistic and Tao beliefs.
The Tai Daeng migrated from China and mostly settled along river banks, living in houses on stilts. Women specialise in silk weaving, and visitors can see the entire process from boiling cocoons to working a vertical loom. Aside from weaving, the labour division tends to be equal between men and women, with both engaged in ploughing, rice farming, fishing, cooking, caring for babies, and cleaning. Many Tai Daeng combine animism with Buddhism, and villages usually have a temple.
The Tai Lue began migrating to Luang Prabang from southern China in the 15th century. They live in stilt houses with long sloping roofs, distil strong lao khao liquor, and weave intricate silk and cotton textiles with looms under homes. Tai Lue practice a mix of animism and Buddhism, and most villages have a temple and monks, as well as a sacred pillar where they hold rituals for natural spirits.