The 9th-13th-century Khmer Empire spawned today’s Lavene, who mostly live in the Bolaven Plateau. They practice modern agriculture, and cultivate rice, maize, peppers, yams, vegetables, cardamom, and cinnamon. The Lavene excel in woodworking, but do not weave. They reside in thatch and wooden/bamboo stilt houses, and each has its own vegetable-and-herb garden. The Lavene practice a mix of Buddhism, ancestor worship, and animism.
Originally mountain people, the Ngae have migrated to river valleys in recent years, and share villages with Suay and Ta Oy ethnic groups. Ngae infants cannot leave their houses until after a buffalo sacrifice, and the youngest child must live with his or her parents for life. Shamans perform sacrifices in the communal/spirit houses and oversee spirit world contact.
The Suay have their own language and are among Champasak’s earliest inhabitants. Though never part of the Khmer civilization, they wear Khmer khamas (chequered cotton fabric). Once known as skilled blacksmiths, most are now rice farmers, who also raise livestock and gather forest products. The Suay live in bamboo and thatched houses on stilts in villages away from their fields. They believe in a mix of animism and Buddhism.
The Ta Oy of Champasak mostly inhabit the eastern part of the Bolaven Plateau near Sekong. They practice animism and shamanism, and perform sacrificial rituals. One custom entails burying the dead in their best clothes and jewellery. After several years, they exhume, wash, decorate, and place the remains in funeral houses outside their former homes.
A few thousand Katou inhabit Champasak’s forests, and live in long rectangular houses. They often share villages with the Ngae and Ta Oy. Katou women once tattooed their faces, and though most families are monogamous, some men have more than one wife. However they must pay a dowry equal to 15 buffaloes, or live with their wives’ families to work off the debt. The Katou sacrifice buffaloes to the spirits, which protect their villages, and they employ shamans who are paid with chickens or silver.
Laos’ sixth largest ethnicity, the Katang, are spread throughout the country’s south. Extended families live in braided-leaf longhouses, reaching 100 metres in length, as newlyweds add rooms for their families. Champasak’s Katang are known for intricate weaving. Though the tradition is fading, Katang once pierced their ears and inserted bamboo tubes.