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Ethnic Diversity in Luang Namtha, Laos
More than 20 ethnic groups dominate Northwest Laos’ population (Bokeo: 86.6%, Luang Namtha: 97.7%), and each has distinct customs and clothing. The most common groups are Akha and Khmu accounting for about half of the residents. Bokeo is the only Lao province with significant numbers of Lahu.
Yao Yao
The Yao moved into Laos from China bringing cultural practices and beliefs based on Taoism mixed with animism and ancestor worship. Similar to Hmong they build their houses on the ground and are masters in the art of dyeing, embroidering and sewing their distinctive costumes. The men are skilled black- and silversmiths.
|| Trekking visit yao people | More photos of Yao >>
Lolo in Luang Namtha Lolo
Lolo, the smallest minority in Muang Sing district, migrated from southern China and their language is considered a mix of ancient Lolo and Chinese. Lolo are known as farmers and traders using horses to transport goods over the mountains and practice animism with elements of ancestor worship.
Tai Nuea in Luang Namtha Tai Neua
Tai Neua (Neua means north) migrated from China to Muang Sing about 200 years ago.In the Lao PDR there are only nine Tai Neua villages of which five are in Muang Sing district. They adopted the multi-stilt houses of the Lue and are known as skilled cotton weavers and bamboo basket makers. Tai Neua practice Buddhism with a mix of spiritualism and they brought scriptures from China which they still use in their ceremonies.
Akha in Luang Namtha
akha in Muang Sing
akha in Laos
The Akha are a Tibeto-Burman speaking ethnic group that first appeared in Laos around the mid-19th century. Akha life is characterized by a ritual and ethical code which provides them with strict guidelines on how to live their lives – this is sometimes called the “Akha Way” (Akha zang).  The “Akha Way” not only includes all Akha traditions, ceremonies and customary law, but it also determines how they cultivate their fields, hunt animals, how sickness is viewed and treated, and the manner in which Akha people relate to one another and to outsiders. The Akha have an amazing knowledge of the forest and rotational agriculture, with many villages still located high in the mountains. Akha women are easily recognizable by their distinctive costumes which consist of black cotton mini-skirts and black, tight-fitting bodices covered by jackets decorated with embroidery and appliqué designs, topped by an intricate head-dress.

Akha settlements are marked by their towering swings and gates – both at the front and back of the village.  These gates mark the boundary between the human world and the outside, natural world.  The gate is usually flanked by a pair of male and female wooden figures and woven bamboo symbols. Visitors to the village can pass through the village gates, but should not touch the gate, the wooden figures or anything else associated with the gate. || More Akha information or Akha trek in Muang Sing | More Photos of Akha >>
Khmu in Luang Namtha
Khmu in Laos
Khmu in Vieng Phoukha
The Khmu or their ancestors probably settled the area of present-day Laos several thousand years ago and are one of the most populous ethnic groups in Laos. Part of the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family, the Khmu are divided into many sub-groups including the Khmu Lue, Kwaen, Rok and Ou, with the majority of Khmu in Luang Namtha being Kwaen or Rok. Like many of the ethnic groups in northern Laos, the Khmu are not Buddhist, but practice their own form of animism.

The Khmu in Luang Namtha generally practice mixed economies, growing rice, hunting, gathering forest products and producing handicrafts to generate some cash income.   Because the Khmu are highly knowledgeable about medicinal plants and are highly-skilled producers of woven rattan and bamboo basketry, many Khmu villages are regularly visited by tourists that purchase handicrafts and hire local guides to lead them on forest treks. Tourism has become a new and important source of income for a number of Khmu villages in Namtha and Vieng Phoukha District, especially in the villages located on the Ban Nalan Trekking Trail.
Tai Dam in Luang Namtha Tai-Dam
Characterized by colorful head-scarves and tight-fitting shirts adorned with silver buttons, Tai-Dam women are easily identified. The Tai-Dam in Luang Namtha are believed to originate in north western Viet Nam, and began to migrate to the Nam Tha Valley in the late 19th century. Today there are 13 Tai-Dam Villages in Luang Namtha and they are one of the Nam Tha Valley’s main ethnic groups. Tai-Dam differ from many other Tai groups in that they are not Buddhist, instead practice a form of ancestor and spirit worship. They make potent form of lao lao that is consumed socially and used for ritual purposes. Well-known producers of fine quality silk and cotton textiles, many local Tai-Dam women export directly to markets in Japan and the USA.
Tai Lue in Luang Namtha Tai-Lue
The Tai-Lue are linguistically linked to the lowland Lao and other Tai-Lao speakers such as the Tai-Dam and Tai-Daeng. Originating in southern China, the Tai-Lue began settling present day Muang Sing (Xieng Kaeng) in the 15th century. They are known for their beautiful, many-stilted houses with long sloping roofs, potent alcoholic spirits made from rice, and intricately woven cotton textiles. Tai-Lue practice Theravada Buddhism and every village will typically have a Buddhist temple and monks. Most Tai-Lue males are ordained for at least a short time at some point on their lives. In the center of each village is a sacred Village Pillar where rituals that predate the arrival of Buddhism are held.
Hmong in Luang Namtha
Hmong in Luang Namtha
Hmong traditionally locate their villages on the top of mountains, although today most Hmong communities are situated at lower altitudes. Hmong people are known for their knowledge of the forest, proficiency as hunters, ability to prepare herbal medicines, and for their expertise at raising animals, particularly horses. Hmong traditional dress is adorned with intricate embroidery and heavy silver jewelry and some villages still know how to produce batik on hemp or cotton textiles using beeswax and indigo dyes. During Hmong New Year in December/January numerous festivities take place including top-spinning competitions, trade fairs, singing and tossing of the mak kone (a small ball made of fabric) by young men and women as part of a courting ritual.  Known as industrious and shrewd traders, the Hmong trade a variety of forest products and agricultural goods. In fact, the first village to experiment with the commercial rubber production that is so prevalent in the province today was Had Yao Village, a Hmong community located just north of Luang Namtha Town.
Lanten in Luang Namtha
Lanten in Laos
The Lanten wear distinctive black indigo-dyed cotton clothing with pink trim and silver jewelry. They too have migrated south from China over the past hundred years or so, bringing cultural practices and beliefs based on a mix of Taoism, ancestor and spirit worship. The Lanten live primarily along the province’s smaller rivers and streams, and are sometimes referred to as Lao Houay, meaning “stream Lao.” The Lanten produce high quality cotton cloth, wooden ceremonial masks and durable bamboo paper. Like the closely related Yao, they have a well developed writing system based on ancient Chinese characters. Men record religious texts, rituals and legends on bamboo paper that is produced by Lanten women.

One place that Lanten ceremonial masks are still being made is in Nam Lue Village. Mr. Lao Lee, a Lanten shaman that lives in Nam Lue village reports that the production of these masks almost completely stopped from the mid 1970’s until the late 1990’s, when it was revived due to a combination of support from the government to strengthen cultural industries and tourist’s interest in purchasing them. || More Photos of Lanten People | Homestay in Lanten Village >>
Lahu Lahu
The Lahu originated in southern China and now live across parts of Myanmar, Thailand and northern Laos. Most Lahu villages in Laos are located in Bokeo Province and Luang Namtha’s Vieng Phoukha and Long Districts. The name Lahu is derived from the word la hou, which means to breed tigers in the Lahu language.  Like the Akha, the Lahu practice their own distinct form of spirit and ancestor worship, with good and bad spirits associated with natural phenomena, the house, livestock, the forest, and many other things.  Rituals and celebrations associated with the agricultural cycle, marriage and house-building take place throughout the year. The most colorful is the New Year festival that usually takes place during January/February each year.


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Laos Travel Guide-Laos Tourists Information-Laos Ecotourism Info, Guide to Laos, some info from:
| Eco-Tourism | Laos National Tourism | Phongsaly | Luang Namtha | Bokeo | Khammouane | Xieng Khouang | Saravanh | Savannakhet |
| Luang Prabamg | Sayabouly | Oudomxay | Houa Phanh |

The website offer info, design & edit by: Somsavath NAMINTHA, Luang Namtha Tourism Department
Tel/Fax: +856-86-312 047; Mobile: +856-20-22 39 01 97, E-mail: coo_vath@hotmail.com
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