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The Province of Life and Nice Waterfall

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Saravanh Travel Info
Ethnic Diversity
Ethnic Diversity in SaravanhSalavan Province is home to 10 distinct ethnic groups, many of which have small populations and unique languages and dialects. Their lifestyles, houses, beliefs, rituals, handicrafts, and ways of making a living vary, and a village visit provides excellent insight into cultures few have seen.
Ta-OyThe Ta-Oy mostly inhabit the eastern mountainous district sharing the same name, though many are migrating to the Bolaven Plateau. They practice animism and shamanism, and perform sacrificial rituals. One custom entails burying the dead in their best clothes and jewelry, and after several years, exhume, wash, decorate, and place the remains in funeral houses outside their former homes.
Originally mountain people, the Ngae have migrated to the river valleys in recent years, and share villages with Souay, Lao, Alak, and Ta-Oy ethnic groups.  Some are living around the Tad Lo area. Ngae infants cannot leave their houses until after a buffalo sacrifice, and the youngest child must live with his or her parents for life. Many start smoking tobacco as young as eight years of age. Shamans perform sacrifices in the communal/spirit houses and oversee spirit world contact. The Ngae hold a seven-day celebration in April to worship their ancestors.
The 9th-13th-century Khmer Empire spawned today’s Lavene, who mostly live Lavenein the Bolaven Plateau. They practice modern agriculture, cultivating 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.
Katou in SaravanhA few thousand Katou inhabit Salavan’s forests, and live in long rectangular houses. They often share villages with Alak, Ngae, and Ta-Oy. Like the Alak, Katou women once tattooed their faces, and though most families are monogamous, some wealthy 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 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 meters in length, as newlyweds add rooms for their families. Salavan’s Katang mostly live in Toumlan District, and are known for intricate weaving. Though the tradition is fading, Katang once pierced their ears and inserted bamboo tubes.
PhuthaiThe Phuthai are animists and worship 25 distinct spirits. During their annual Pii Tian (Spirit of Heaven) festival, they pray and offer sacrifices to the spirits, which they believe live in the heavens. The moment they think the spirits have descended, the normally reserved Phuthai dance and jump for joy.
The Souay have their own language and were among Salavan’s earliest inhabitants. Though never part of the Khmer civilization, they wear Khmer khamas (checkered cotton fabric). Once known as skilled blacksmiths, most are now rice farmers, who also raise chickens, pigs and cows as well as gather forest products. The Souay live in bamboo and thatched houses on stilts in villages away from their fields such as those around Phou Tak Khao Mountain. They believe in a mix of animism and Buddhism, and wear strings around their necks, wrists, and waists for protection against evil spirits.
PakoThe Pako dwell in Salavan’s mountainous Samouay District near Vietnam, and mostly subsist by slash-and-burn farming. They do not weave, and most only speak their unique language. Many have adapted metal war relics into useful tools through their blacksmithing skills. The Pako reside in ten, stilted-house clusters, and each village has a communal house. Traditional Pako songs express joys, sorrows, and their forefathers’ oppressive lives, and they also have poems and proverbs about good and evil, and love. They are animists and construct spirit houses in village outskirts.
Many of southern Laos’ 17,000-plus Alak live in Salavan, having migrated from Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Their palm and thatch houses encircle communal/spirit houses on stilts. Several clans – named after animals considered sacred – comprise the Alak’s matriarchal society, in which women once tattooed their faces. They hold annual buffalo sacrifices and festivals to honor spirits protecting their villages, and shamans examine chicken livers to determine the cause of bad luck.
Salavan’s Tong live in northern Salavan District and Vapi. They are animists, and as one missionary said some 100 years ago, “They acknowledge no god, but gods many, both good and bad, more numerous and varied than those of the ancient Greeks.” They blame any unusual occurrence, even if it can be explained, on upsetting evil spirits.

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Copyright © 2009-2012 Saravanh Provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department, Laos

Power by: Mr. Somsavath NAMINTHA, Technical officer of of Luang Namtha Information, Culture and Tourism Department, Mobile: +856-20-22 39 01 97
E-mail: coo_vath@hotmail.com; Update by: Mr. Thippavong Technical officer of of Saravanh Information, Culture and Tourism Department