Stories from Kmhmu’ People in Central and Northern Laos

The Kmhmu’1 are one of the original, old lines of indigenous inhabitants of Laos. Linguistically, the Kmhmu’ belong to the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family. There are currently about 700,00 Kmhmu’ living in the Lao PDR, Northern Vietnam, Xichuang Panna (Sipsong Panna) Prefecture in China and the border region of Thailand (Simana and Preisig 2006: 1). The population of Kmhmu’ in Laos is estimated to be about 610,000, which equals 11 percent of the total population of the country (DoS-MPI 2005).

The Kmhmu’ depend mainly on agriculture, especially shifting cultivation, and supplementary hunting, fishing and collecting non-timber forest products (NTFPs). To the Kmhmu’ people, forests are where they live and obtain food, as well as the base of culture and religion (Simana and Preisig 1998; 2006). The Kmhmu’ have long histories of conducting shifting cultivation and have a rich knowledge about forests. They have long collected NTFPs and utilize them in various ways, including for subsistence and generating income. The Kmhmu’ believe that the world can be divided into human and spirit spheres, and that people belong to both (Simana and Preisig 1998: 7).