Ethnicity: The Hmong, also known as the Miao, are probably the best-known tribe in Laos. They originated from southern China and started to settle in Laos in the 19th century, when Chinese opium farmers drove thousands of Hmong from their poppy fields and forced them south into the mountains of Laos.
Language: The Hmong belong to the Hmong-Mien group in the Austro-Thai language family. There are two predominant groups in Laos, the Blue and White Hmong with only 15 Black Hmong villages. There are linguistic, sartorial and other cultural differences between these divisions of Hmong and they tend to live in separate village communities. Their spoken dialects are largely intelligible.
There are an estimated 256,000 Hmong living in Laos.
Location: The Hmong inhabit the mountain areas of Luang Prabang, Xieng Khouang and Sam Neua provinces. The Hmong are also found in China (7.4 million), Vietnam (750.000, Thailand (124,000) and USA, France, and Canada.
Culture: The Hmong particularly value silver jewellery: it signifies wealth and good life. Men, women and children wear silver — tiers of neck rings, heavy silver chains with lock-shaped pendants, earrings and pointed rings on every finger.
Livelihood: The Hmong practice slash-and-burn agriculture and mainly grow dry hill rice and maize. They raise animals and also hunt and forage to supplement their diet. Opium poppies is the main cash crop for the Hmong and refined opium is exported on horseback to markets in Chiang Mai. Thy also export their embroidery to the tourist markets in northern Thailand.
Religion: The Hmong believe that everything has a spirit or “da.” Shamans play a central role in village life and decision making. The “da” need to be placated incessantly to ward off sickness and catastrophe. It is the shaman’s job to exorcise the bad “da” from his patients. The Hmong also believe in household spirits. Every house has an altar where protection from the household is sought.
Openness to Christianity: Missionary work is not officially permitted in Laos. However, a number of expatriate believers are currently ministering though non-governmental organizations administering aid and relief. There was a people movement in the late 1950s through the efforts of Christian and Missionary Alliance missionaries. Many of these believers immigrated to the West as war refugees in the early 80s. Hundreds of leaders are being trained informally through radio and house churches. The church is suffering much persecution and is under constant pressure from the authorities.