Ethnicity and religion    

The Lao PDR is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country, with the most ethnically diverse population of mainland Southeast Asia. Not only are they diverse in cultural and linguistic terms, they are just as diverse in their adaptive responses to the natural and social environment in which they live with livelihood systems ranging from hunting and gathering, to various forms of swidden farming in the uplands and wet-rice farming in the plains. Therefore many of the socio-economic characteristics depicted in this atlas can only be fully understood when we are able to relate them to the respective ethnic groups and their religion.

Ethnic classification in the Lao PDR is highly challenging and has led to many lengthy discussions among scholars. The various Lao peoples have officially been grouped primarily by language and location into one of three categories: Lao Loum (“Low Lao”), Lao Theung (“Upper Lao”), and Lao Soung (“High Lao”). However for a better reflection of the intricacy of the country's cultural diversity, the maps presented in this atlas follow a linguistic identification. First, a depiction of the four ethno-linguistic families is presented, and then the maps show ten ethno-linguistic sub-groups or categories. These classifications are explained in detail on the following pages. Table 6 below provides the first overview of these classifications and their relation to the groups officially recognised by the Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC).

1. Lao
2. Tai-Thay
Phou Thay ; Tai; Nyouan; Lue; Yang; Sek; Tai
Neua; Lao (in Houaphanh, Xiengkhuang,
Borikhamxay, Vientiane Province, Hinboun
District in Khammouane)
3. Khmuic
Khmou; Pray; Ksing Moul (Sing Moun);
Phong in Huaphanh, Xiengkhuang,
Vientiane Province; Thène; Oe Dou;
Kri (Xayabury)
4. Palaungic
Lamet; Bit; Sam Tao
5. Katuic
Katang; Makong; Tri;Ta Oy; Katu; Kriang;
Souay; Pacoh
6. Bahnaric-
Jrou (Laven); Triang; Yè’; Brao; Halak; Oy;
Cheng; Sadang; Nya ; Heun; Lavi; Khmer
7. Vietic
Toum; Ngouan; Meuang; Kri (except in Xayabury);
Phong (except Phong assigned to
8. Tibeto-Burman
Akha; Singsily; Lahu; Sila; Hanyi; Lolo; Ho
9. Hmong
10. Mien
Lu Mien
Table 6: Grouping of the ethno-linguistic families and categories relating to the 49 groups officially recognised by the Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC).