The Laos Theung (Middle Altitude Lands) also called proto-Chinese, include 58 different ethnical groups.
They are the oldest inhabitants of Laos. They are normally despised by the other "races", sometimes called kha or moï (savage) by the Thais or the Annamites.
Three Lao Theung women in traditional clothing
Three Lao Theung women in traditional clothing.
Like the Laos Thais, there are numerous Laos Theung ethnic groups; nearly sixty. Amongst them there are :
- The Kamous, the most important group and who can be found in all the provinces of Upper-Laos.
- The Bits, in the province of the Upper Mekong and to the south of Phon Saly (North-Laos)
- The Lamets and the Kuenes (black and white) in the province of the Upper Mekong
- The Mes living in the Upper Mekong
- The Phai Hoks (or Ksing Mul) living to the west of the province of Sayaboury
- The Phongs in the Muong Hua-Muong and the Muong Lan
- The Sengs above Sam Neua and in the province of Louang Prabang
- The Maabris, the most ancient of all the tribes of Laos
The Laos Theung are semi-sedentary, that means that they only move the situation of the village every 8 to 15 years once they’ve drained the earth due to their custom of cultivating on stubble burnt ground. They live on products from the forest, fishing and small local craftsmanship, cultivating rice, fruit and vegetables.
Their language is of the Môn-Khmer type and don’t know how to write. They are animists and practice the cult of their ancestors and believe in spirits, the Phis. These spirits are the basis of all their rites and traditions, and still dominate the every day life of the Laos Theung who believe in witchcraft, after-life, and hell, contrary to Buddhists.