Houaphanh’s Ethnic Diversity
The Hmong migrated from China to Houaphanh in the 19th century. Most live in hilltop villages, and are skilled at hunting, mixing herbal medicines, and raising animals, particularly horses. Intricate embroidery and heavy silver jewellery adorn their clothes, and some villages create batik designs using beeswax and indigo dyes.
The Khmu came to Laos thousands of years ago, with some settling in Houaphanh. They rely on the forest for growing rice, hunting and gathering, and producing woven rattan and bamboo basketry, tools, net-bags, and lao hai (jar alcohol). They practice animism and worship spirits.
The Tai Daeng, who migrated from China, specialise in silk weaving, and visitors can see the entire process from boiling cocoons to working a vertical loom. Aside from weaving, the labour division tends to be equal between men and women, with both engaged in ploughing, rice farming, fishing, cooking, caring for babies, and cleaning. Many Tai Daeng combine animism with Buddhism, and villages usually have a temple.
The Tai Phuan wandered to Houaphanh’s highland plains from southern China during the 13th century. They established a small principality, Muang Phuan, with its capital in Khoun Town in Xieng Khouang. They are mostly rice paddy farmers, who also fish and collect non-timber forest products.
The Yao, also known as the Mien, are highland people, who originated in China. Their houses are made of durable hardwood, and known to be large and sturdy. They grow rice and corn, and gather wild jungle products such as resin and honey. Young men study Chinese characters to express Yao concepts. The men wear earrings and embroidered tunics, while women dress in elaborate costumes with bright red collars. The Yao are influenced by their ancestors, as well as their animistic and Tao beliefs.