The Khmou are one of the oldest inhabitants of northern Laos. They arrived in the area by the early first millennium A.D. It is still a mystery from where these people came from, but some anthropologists believe they migrated from northern Burma. Others believe that perhaps the Khmou migrated from Vietnam or the Yunnan area.
After the majority Lao, the Khmou are the next largest ethnic group in Laos. According to the 1995 census, the population of the Khmou in Laos is 500,975, of which 253,517 are female. This is 11 percent of the country’s total population. The Khmou can also be found in neighboring countries such as China, Vietnam and Thailand.
Khmou, like other ethnic groups in Lao believe in spirits. They believe in the house spirit (hrooy gang) the spirits of water (hom), the spirit of the forest (hrooyprri) and others. Among the most feared are the hrooy poop and the hrooy suu because of their ability to take possession of people, turning them into dangerous individuals. Therefore, each village must have at least one spiritual master to defeat these spirits. There are abundant festive traditions within the year. For example, after the completion of upland and paddy rice harvesting, there will be buffalo herding festival. There is also a rice planting festival and a New Year’s festival.
The Khmou also practice ancestor worship. They have clans that are built on the patrimonial line. These lines are named after different animals or plants such as the tiger line, bird line, fern tree line, and many others. Each clan line will have some restrictions and taboos such as do not touch, kill or eat the creatures that represent the clan. They believe of a person does commit a taboo, bad things may happen such as their skin may fall off, their teeth fall out, or suffer insanity. Also, all members of the same clan must always assist and odder aid to each other, no matter how far away they are from each other.
Courtship is fairly free among the Khmou, and they choose whom they like a marriage. However, if a women becomes pregnant before the wedding ceremony the father of the baby is scolded for not respecting the village customs as well as offending prominent figures and elderly people. Elderly people give names to newborn babies according to the day, month or year they are born. The Khmou have a short ceremony for the dead. Sometimes if a person dies in the morning, there will be a funeral in the afternoon of the same day. When a person dies, a pig will immediately be killed by using the rice pestle to hit the head of the pig at the foot of the house’s stairs. This is offered as a sacrifice. A bamboo mat will cover the body, then the body is carried by bamboo sticks to the gravesite. People who carry the body do not wear clothes, only loincloths. A close make member of the family carries a sword.
Some Khmou groups have a poem for recitation that direct the deceased in the afterlife. To confuse any bad spirits that may follow the funeral party back to the village, the people return to the village by walking in large circles. Art and culture is also abundant. Each branch has many kinds of chanting and singing. There are a number of musical instruments made of bamboo. In addition, they have folk tales, proverbs and dances of their own such as the sword dance (Phom darp), and the bamboo-slapping dance (Phorn thung bung).
The Khmou generally have practiced slash-and-burn agriculture for growing dry-land rice. They also grow crops such as cassava, maize, peanuts, and other vegetable. They also grow tobacco. They have some buffalo, goats and pigs and chickens are also popular. They also like to fish and hunt, catching small rodents that they sell or eat. In addition, the Khmou collect non-wood forest products for sale and exchange at market places or for exchange with their neighboring groups.
Their villages are found near streams in lower mountainous areas. The villages very in population from 10 to 90 houses. Traditionally, the village has a communal house where the young boys will live.
The Khmou like to build their houses on low wooden stilts. The walls are made of woven bamboo with no windows. There are two rooms; the inner room will be for their parents, which has a fireplace for cooking rice. The outer room with a separate fireplace will be for receiving the guests. Visitors to the house will be allowed to stay in the outer room only. During daytime, a taboo state that it is not allowed to carry raw meat to the house without wrapping it first. After celebrating festivals, Khmou people then restore and maintain their houses or build new houses. After completing the maintenance or building a new house, they celebrate again with rice wine that is made in clay jars.
The Khmou have limited weaving skills, so most of them buy their cloth from the Lue or Phuan people, or other Tai groups who weave. The festive dresses of the women are dark vests that are long sleeved with a dark sarong that has some motifs and colors embroidered in it. Usually they wear ordinary Lao sarongs and blouses, preferring bright colors. They like silver and cropper bracelets. The older women cover their hair with a headscarf. Traditionally the men wore a loincloth and a long-sleeved jacket which are embroidered. However, today they generally wear cheap factory made clothing.
Different groups of Khmou refer to themselves with slightly different accents on the first syllable as “Keum”, “Kher”, “Kha” or “Kum”, but all groups pronounce the second syllable clearly and exactly the same as a distinct “Mu”. The official Lao government name is “Khmou.” The word ”Khmou” means “a person”. The Khmou have many different groups which go by the names Khmou Rork, Khmou U, Khmou Leu, Khmou Kwaen, Khmou Nyuan, Khmou Cheuang, Khmou Khrong, Khmou Mae, and Khmou Kasuck. Khmou language us classified into the Mon-Khmer language group, the branch is the Khmuic branch. There are distinct regional dialects among the language. Khmou also like to learn the languages of other ethnic groups. In 1980s, linguists carried out some studies and used Latin alphabets to write in Khmou dialect. This alphabet still exists and is being used.
Source: ປື້ມບັນດາຊົນເຜົາໃນ ສປປ ລາວ
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