Lao ethnic group



Lables: Ethnic Groups, Lao ethnic group, Tay-Thai Group

Proper name: Thay, Thay Duon, Thay Nhuon.

Other names: Phu Thay, Phulao.

Local groups: Lao Boc (on- soil Lao), and Lao Noi (small Lao).

Population: 9,614 people (1999 census).

Language: The Lao language belongs to the Tay-Thai language group (Tai-Kadai language family).

History: The Lao immigrated into Vietnam from Laos.

Production activities: The Lao practice wet rice cultivation with a well-developed irrigation system. In addition, they also farm on terraces and raise cattle and poultry. Family craft making is highly developed. The Lao make good quality pottery products, such as different kinds of jars and earthen pots. There is high value brocade weaving products, which also display distinctive artistic value. Metal smiting and silver work also bring good incomes for many families. However, the gathering of fruit still plays a certain role in the Lao economy.

Diet: Sticky rice is the main food. The Lao like to eat fishy food; there is a famous dish of preserved fish called paced.

Clothing: Lao women wear wrapped skirts that hang from their waist to mid-calf length. The fringe of the skirt has either flower embroidery or just colorful printed flower. The women’s shirts are short. Lao silver hairpins are skillfully carved; the turban women wear around their head is also carefully embroidered. Lao men wear clothes in a style similar to that of Thai men.

Housing: The Lao live together with the Thai, the Lu, and the Kho Mu in Dien Bien and Phong Tho districts (Lai Chau), and Song Ma district (Son La). They live in stilt houses. The inside of the house is big and airy, and the columns are meticulously carved. The house roof extends to create a shaded verandah area where the loom and other tools for weaving are placed.

Transportation: The Lao carry baskets; they are especially good at using boats. In some places, they use horses to carry goods.

Social organization: In the past, Lao society was dependent on the administrative machine of the Thai, but they were self-ruled at the village level. There was a head person in each village called chau ban to represent the interests of that community. Self-ruling was also effective in other aspects of life, such as economic activities, spiritual life, and traditional moral values.


Like the Thai, the Lao believe that there are three important kinds of kinship relations: Ai Noong – Lung Ta – Dinh Xao. Each kin line has its own taboos linked to totemic religious beliefs.


Marriage: The Lao obey the one-way principle on marriage. Young men of Dinh Xao family are allowed and encouraged to marriage young women of Lung Ta family, but not vice versa. There is no tradition of marrying one’s wife’s sisters, nor one’s husband’s brothers. The Lao family, no matter how large or small, is highly patriarchal. However, the women are praised. After the marriage, the bride moves to her husband’s family. Family life is very stable; there are very few cases of polygamy, adultery, or divorce. Relationships within a family are fair and peaceful; children-whether boy or girl – are treated the same.


Funerals: The custom of cremating only applies to the head of a village (chau ban). ‘Others are buried under the ground. The chau ban cremating ritual is done by chau hua (the monk), with many Buddhist ceremonies, which have been adjusted to fit in with Lao tradition. The Lao usually don’t cry at funerals because they believe that death is only a change to a different universe.


Festivals: The Lao use the Buddhist calendar, and have their New Year every April of the Lunar calendar (Bun Pi May). Every month, on the first day and the full moon day, they have the custom of offering gifts to the Buddhist tower; the gift is only various kinds of fruit. They also have other agricultural rituals and ceremonies such as praying for rain (Xo Nam Phon), or new rice celebrating.


Beliefs: Each family has an altar to worship their ancestors. Each village has a religious specialist (mon) to arrange rituals when someone is sick. Buddhism has a heavy influence on the culture and social life of the Lao.


Education: The Lao’s script uses the Sanscrit alphabet. Today, there are still many books written on the leaves of palm trees that are kept by the religious specialists (mo lam). In the past, all young men had to learn Buddhist sutras from 3 years to 7 years. When finished learning, if the teacher called his student Sieng, it meant that he is an outstanding student.

Artistic activities: Lao culture is rich with traditional literature that include legends, folktales, fairy tales, folk songs, etc. Lao women are not only good at singing, but also at traditional dancing.


Because they have lived together with the Thai for a long time, Lao culture is heavily influenced by Thai culture – a factor that makes their literature and art even richer.


Entertainment: Shuttlecock is a fun community game that is always present on every festival occasion. Lao children also like to play spinning top and weathercock