Population and Society, Ethnic Groups
Khamu, Lao Lum, Lamet, Lao government, Sedang
More than a hundred indigenous ethnic groups and subgroups inhabit Laos, many spilling across borders into neighboring countries. Small minorities of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indians also live in Laos, mostly in urban areas.
The Lao government has classified Laosís many indigenous groups into three broad categories: the Lao Lum, the Lao Thoeng, and the Lao Sung. The Lao Lum (lowland Lao) account for 66 percent of the population and comprise those groups who live at lower altitudes, speak Tai languages, and practice wet-rice cultivation. Major groups in this category include the ethnic Lao, who make up just over 50 percent of the total population of Laos; the Leu and the Phu-tai; and the Black Tai and the Red Tai, so called because of the colors of their traditional costumes. Modern Lao and Tai ethnic groups descended from Tai peoples who migrated to the Southeast Asian peninsula from the north, arriving in the area of present-day Laos by the 10th century.
The Lao Thoeng (Lao of the mountain slopes) make up 24 percent of the population, live at medium altitudes, speak Mon-Khmer languages, and practice slash-and-burn agriculture. They are believed to be Laosís earliest inhabitants, having migrated to the area from the south in prehistoric times. The principal members of this group are the Khamu and the Lamet in northern Laos, and the Laven, Sedang, and Nyaheun of the Bolovens region in southern Laos.
The Lao Sung (Lao of the mountaintops), who make up the remaining 10 percent of the population, migrated to Laos beginning in the early 19th century, making them the most recent arrivals among the ethnic groups. They live at high altitudes in northern Laos, where they also use slash-and-burn methods of farming, and speak either Tibeto-Burman or Hmong-Mien languages. The Hmong (also known as the Meo or Miao) are the most numerous and politically influential of the Lao Sung. Others include the Mien (or Yao), Akha, and Phu Noi.
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