The Khmu
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The Khmu

Spiritual Musicians

Spiritual Musicians

The word Khmu and its different derivation such as Khammu or Khamu mean "real people" or "human being". The Khmu are an ethnic group of Southeast Asia. The majority (90%) live in northern Laos. In Laos, they constitute the largest minority ethnic group covering the eleven per cent of the total population. The Khmu or Khammu are settled on mountain slopes and in upland valleys in the north and central Laos and the north part of Thailand.


  • Region is Southern Asia

  • Climate here is Tropical

  • The challenge here is Intense

  • This trip has been rated 5 by other travelers



The Khmu are an agricultural society, but they are also involved in gathering, hunting, trapping and fishing. Khmu's principal crops are corn, rice, bananas, sugar cane, cucumbers, sesame and vegetables.


Houses and villages are considered ritualized spaces: entire Khmu villages have fences and gates which separate the Khmu from their granaries and barns. Altars are placed outside the perimeter to ward off natural phenomena such as fires and storms. Traditional Khmu house must be laid long along the direction from east to west, so don't intersect the path of the sun. In addition, each home must have a door in the east and another one facing to the north or south; a large outside balcony connected from the east door and a lean room with east or north door.


Social Structure

Village leaders included: the shaman, well skilled in spiritual medicine; the medicine man, well skilled in herbal medicine; the priest, based on the family lineage of the priesthood; and the village headman. Moreover, Laotian Khmu communities have localized justice systems that are directly administered by the village elders.


Animism; some Buddhism and Christianity.


In Khmu culture is particularly important the recital of stories, often around evening fires: the story-telling sessions involve the sharing of silver pipes (now predominantly tobacco).

For decorative but also religious reasons, some Khmu are heavily tattooed.

In Laos, Khmus have a reputation for practising magic.


The Khmu language belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language family, in which several closely related dialects are grouped to form the Khmuic branch.


Khmu has a strong musical tradition. Instruments (including long wooden drums, knobbed gongs, cymbals, flutes, bamboo beaters and buffalo horns) are usually played for ceremonial purposes.

Musical instruments are often ritual gifts, especially for what concerns the wedding gift. Is this the case of bamboo clappers or long wooden drum.

There are songs for each different ritual occasions and various types of music for every season.

Kammu people are very skilful in the use of bamboo; They use it for several items including baskets, musical instruments, water containers or houses.


In the past Khmuic people celebrated four main festivals: rice planting, rice harvesting, new year, and wash festivals. At present-day the new year festival is no more practised or if it is, it goes together with the harvesting festival.

The biggest holiday for the Kammu is the three-day series of ceremonies once a year to sacrifice to the village ancestor spirits, remake the typical village house where the spirits reside, and ritually renew the village.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

Laos has 49 ethnic groups or tribes, despite its small dimension. Most of them are small (even just a few hundred members). The ethnic groups are divided into four linguistic branches: Lao-Tai languages (8 tribes), Mon-Khmer languages (32 tribes), Hmong-Mien languages (2 tribes) and Sino-Tibetan languages (7 tribes).

Photo credit Laos landscape

Photo credit Khmu woman playing flute

Photo credit Ban Lackpaed Khmu Music and Dance Group

Laotian mum and daughter

Photo credit Temple in Luang Prabang

Photo credit Luang Prabang, Laos