Lao people

Lao people

Infobox Ethnic group

poptime= 5 million (est.)
4.5 million
ethnic Laos and Hmongflagcountry|Vietnam:

langs=Lao, Isan, Thai and English
rels=Predominantly Theravada Buddhist with strong animist tradition as one
related=Thais and other Tai ethnic groups
The Lao (Lao: ລາວ, IPA: laːw) are an ethnic subgroup of Tai/Dai in Southeast Asia. The vast majority of Lao people live in Laos (approximately 4 million). The number of Lao people in significant regions are those who come from Laos which include those of ethnic Thai, Hmong, Chinese, Kinh etc. who emigrated from Laos.


The Lao people, like many other Tai peoples refer to themselves as "Tai" (Lao: ໄທ, IPA: tʰɑj) and more specifically "Tai Lao" (ໄທລາວ, ไทลาว).


The Lao people are descended from Tai peoples from what is now southern China and northern Vietnam beginning approximately three thousand years ago, where many Tai peoples remain to this day. Population pressures, finding suitable habitat for wet-rice cultivation, and escape from the growing tensions of Chinese settlement and Mongol invasions pushed the Tai tribes further south along the Mekong river valleys. Evidence of these migrations are included in legends of Khun Borom, a possibly mythical king whose descendants begot the various Tai peoples. [Wyatt, David K., Thailand: A Short History, New Haven (Yale University Press), 2003] Although Lan Xang (Lao: ລ້ານຊ້າງ, Isan: ล้านซ้าง, IPA: laːn saːŋ) is usually considered the first Lao kingdom, other kingdoms and principalities in what is now Laos and Isan flourished before this date. [Eliot Joshua "et all". (2002). "Laos Handbook". London: Footprint Publishers.] The Tai peoples pushed out earlier groups of Austronesian and Mon-Khmer peoples and established their own kingdoms. The ethnic Laos are actually the same as ethnic Thai of Thailand today.

The areas were subject to many pressures from surrounding kingdoms, such as Siam, Vietnam, and the old Khmer Empire. After the split of Lan Xang, the three successor kingdoms were severely weakened and over-ran by Siam, which lead to massive population transfers into what is now Isan, which was also formerly part of various Lao kingdoms, and to Central Thailand, where many groups are descendants of Lao slaves and corvée labourers. The 19th century and early 20th century, when much of what was Lan Xang was ceded to Thailand and the rest became a French colony led to the modern-day divisions of the Lao people. [Hattaway, Paul. (2004). Peoples of the Buddhist World: A Christian Prayer Guide. Pasadena: William Carey Library.] "For the history of the Lao people after the late 19th century, see History of Laos, History of Isan, and History of Thailand."


There are around 3.6 million Lao in Laos, constituting approximately 68% of the population (the remainder are largely hill tribe people). The ethnic Lao of Laos form the bulk of the "Lao Loum" ("Lowland Laotians") (Lao: ລາວລຸ່ມ, Isan: ลาวลุ่ม, IPA: laːw lum). Small Lao communities exist in Cambodia, residing primarily in the former Lao territory of Stung Treng (Xieng Teng in Lao), and Vietnam. There are also substantial, unknown numbers of Lao overseas perhaps as many as 500,000 people. Most of the latter were refugees from Laos who fled during the Vietnam War (Second Indochina War) from the Pathet Lao. Places of asylum for the Lao refugees are the United States, France, Japan, Australia, Germany, Canada, Singapore, and the United Kingdom; many also live in Argentina, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Switzerland and Myanmar.

The 2000 United States census figure of 168,707 Laotians and the 2005 figure of 200,000 exclude Hmong, but include Mien, Thai Dam, Khmu and other groups in addition to the Lao.


The Lao and Isan languages are related to other languages which it is often debated whether they are languages or just dialects of Lao that are spoken by distinct sub-groups or different ethnic groups, but whose languages are often mutually intelligible as well.


Laos is very rural areas, and most of the people support themselves by agriculture, with rice being the most important crop. [Mackill, D.J. "et al". (1996) "Rainfed Lowland Rice Improvement." International Rice Research Institute. IRRI Publications: Manila.] . As inhabitants of river valleys and lowlands that have been long-settled, ethnic Lao do not practise swidden agriculture like upland peoples.

Lao people are generally Theravada Buddhist, as is common in much of Southeast Asia, with most villages containing a "wat" or temple (Lao: ວັດ, IPA: wat). Animism is also practised to various degrees. Spirits, generally known as "phi" (Lao: ຜີ, Isan: ผี, IPA: pʰiː) are commonly revered, and include tutelary spirits, ancestors, as well as ghosts and demons. Although Brahmanism was also introduced and one the predominate religion of the Khmer that ruled much of what is now Laos and Thailand, its presence alongside Buddhism is not as pronounced as it is in Thailand. Despite this, the Hindu epic Ramayana, known as "Phra Lak Phra Lam" (Lao: ພຮະລັກພຮະຮາມ, Isan: พระลักษมณพระราม, IPA: pʰaʔlak pʰaʔlaːm) is a well-known story and Hindu iconography depicting such deities as Brahma, Shiva, and others can be found at many temples, many of which were built on top of former Hindu temples.

Lao cuisine is heavily influenced by their neighbours, Thailand. The main dish contains rice and vegetables.

The traditional folk music is "lam lao" (Lao: ລຳລາວ, IPA: lam laːw), although it is also known as morlam (Lao: ໝໍລຳ, IPA: mɔːlam) which is the preferred term in Isan language. Artists from Thailand are also popular in Laos and vice versa, which has re-enforced Lao culture in Isan despite heavy Thaification. The music is noted for the use of the khene (Lao: ແຄນ, Isan: แคน, IPA: kʰɛːn) instrument. [Taylor, J.L. (1993). "Forest Monks and the Nation-State: An Anthropological and Historical Study in Northeastern Thailand." Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.]

ubdivisions of the Lao people

The main division of Lao people is between the Lao people of Laos and the Isan of northeastern Thailand. In Laos, distinction between the Lao and other closely related Tai peoples with mutually intelligible languages are grouped together as "Lao Loum" or 'Lowland Lao' (Lao: ລາວລຸ່ມ, IPA: laːw lum). Most of these groups share many common cultural traits and speak dialects or languages that are very similar, with only minor differences in tones, vocabulary, and pronunciation of certain words, but usually not enough to impede conversation, but many of these groups, such as the Nyaw and Phuthai consider themselves distinct, and often have differences in clothing that differentiate them [ The Thai and Other Tai-Speaking Peoples] ] .

ee also

* Laotian American
* Laotian Canadian
* Laotian French


* [ Lao settlement patterns in the U.S.]
* [ Reports on languages spoken in Laos and Thailand, from]
*Thongchai Winichakul. "Siam Mapped". University of Hawaii Press, 1984. ISBN 0-8248-1974-8
*Wyatt, David. "Thailand: A Short History" (2nd edition). Yale University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-300-08475-7

External links

* [ Lao Embassy]
* [ Lao Government Links]
* [ Understanding Lao Culture]
* [ Lao people/culture/issues]
* [ Isan Travel Guide]

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