The Khmu People

The Khmu people are known as the oldest people in Laos and they are among the most populous of the people groups, history shows that they were in the mountains of Laos even before the Lao people themselves were there. Where they migrated from is debated, some say they are from Northern Burma and Southern China, others say they originated in South Vietnam because of similarities in the Khmu language and that of some of the Southern Vietnam hill tribes. The Khmu were originally lowland valley dwellers but were pushed up into the mountains by the influx of Lao people when they arrived.

The Khmu tribes are actually made up of many sub-tribes, and many have their own independent dialect. Unlike most of the other ethnic minorities, the Khmu are not known by their weaving skills but instead purchase most of their cloth from other groups that live nearby. The Khmu usually have some sacred textiles that have been woven by them or other hill tribes that they keep for special occasions or festivals, but their normal everyday garb differs little from most Lao people, except that they tend to wear brighter, more colorful clothing than the Lao.

The Khmu grow dry rice using the slash and burn or swidden method, they have also been known to grow cotton and many types of vegetables, usually along riverbanks. The Khmu also make their own whiskey and grow their own tobacco.

The Khmu villages are made up of from fifteen to ninety houses and are usually located on forest streams or rivers in the lower mountain elevations.Their houses are built on stilts, about three or four feet off of the ground. The roofs are thatch and the walls bamboo, they usually have an earthen fireplace in one corner and do not have any windows.

Like the other hill tribes they are excellent hunter/gatherers, relying on rodents and fish for both their own food and also to sell at local markets. They raise lots of pigs and chickens but usually have only a few water buffalo, cows or goats.

As far as family life goes, Khmu men usually only have one wife, although in years past the wealthier men had more than one wife. The young men are able to court and pick their mates, but the marriages are negotiated by the elders once the mate is found.

The Khmu are spirit and ancestor worshippers, they also bury their deceased out in the forests, and in order to keep their spirits from returning to the village, the burial party makes several circles on their return trip to confuse them.

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