Savannakhet Ethnic Diversity

Get up close to the people of Savannakhet. The Phouthai live in lowland river valleys, and you’ll find small pockets of ethnic Bru, Tri, Laha, and Katang in the mountainous east in remote Nong District.


The province’s Phouthai often mix with the similar Tai people, and many consider them as a separate group. Though several practice Buddhism, they cling to their traditional animist beliefs. Each Phouthai village has one or more female shamans, called moi yau, who mediate between the people and spiritual worlds by going into a trance. Their most sacred festival is Pi Tian (Spirit of Heaven) in which the community offers sacrifices and prayers to the spirit that they believe resides in paradise above.

Savannakhet’s Bru live the province’s far eastern mountainous area, and are descendants of the Khmer Empire. In fact, “Bru” means “Mountain”. Villages are situated in valleys along rivers and streams, and their houses are built in a circle around a communal centre. Most are rice farmers, and apply both terraced and slash-and-burn techniques. They also hunt, fish, and weave. The Bru practice their own traditional religion, based mostly on ancestor worship.

The province’s Tri continue to be "slash and burn" communities and move to establish new settlements once the soil is no longer viable. They remain animists, but Buddhism is growing in prominence because of influence from the Lao and Phouthai. Fewer Tri women wear traditional clothing such as colourful scarves and distinctive dresses, though they continue weaving intricate patterns.

The Katang are best known for their extended families that dwell in longhouses up to 100-metres-long. Whenever a family member marries, the house is lengthened to accommodate the new family. The Katang are Laos’ sixth largest ethnic group, and live in isolated areas of Savannakhet. Both men and women once stretched their earlobes with large bamboo tubes for decoration, but this practice is now rare.

Savannakhets’s small Laha population have trickled over from Vietnam. Many remain in the mountains though some have reached as far as the Mekong. They live in houses on stilts with two entrances and ladders at both ends. Many villages cultivate rice and grow cotton. They believe there are many supernatural forces including spirits of the forest, water, mist, and the house. Tradition requires that a dead person be buried with their money. In each family, only the soul of the father, which will turn into the spirit of the house after his death, is worshipped.


The Savannakhet Historic Trail
Main Category: 
DestinationsCentral LaosSavannakhet