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Laos forum

Hill tribe reference book recommendation?

Posted by dkosh on 12/4/2018 at 20:58

will be in Northern Laos next Feb on an independent trip with car and driver, visiting many different hill tribe villages of different ethnicities.

Can anyone recommend any reference books detailing customs, dress, particulars of the different tribes?

As an anthropology major in college 40 years ago and knowing many Hmong who have resettled here in California, I feel my visit would be improved if I could know a little background information before we go

#1 dkosh has been a member since 25/3/2018. Posts: 1

Posted by SoManyMiles on 13/4/2018 at 10:34 TF writer

Hi dkosh,

Will you be starting in Luang Prabang? I would highly recommend visiting TAEC (Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre), a museum in the town. The permanent exhibition covers the ethnic distribution and goes into depth on several hill tribes, including the Hmong, Akha and Yao. They always have a special exhibition as well that changes every year. The museum has a small library -- books cannot be taken out but visitors are free to browse/read there. They have a book for sale at their shop "Cultural Diversity in Laos: Stories from the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre" (100,000 kip) that highlights one unique aspect (silversmithing for Akha, religious ceremony for Yao) of some groups.

White Lotus Press has published a series of books on the ethnic groups of Laos. I have read "Meet the Akhas" and some of the volumes of "Ethnic Groups of Laos". They are quite dated by now and bland reading, ok for referencing. Unfortunately I haven't come across any good general books specific to Lao hilltribes, just good ones on niche topics like textiles, handicraft. The exception is Hmong, there's quite a number of books to be found about Hmong people, culture and the diaspora. Hmong: A Guide to Traditional Lifestyles by Robert Cooper is an example, and another is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

Hope this helps.

#2 SoManyMiles has been a member since 7/2/2014. Posts: 147

Posted by telmi on 16/4/2018 at 18:40

Yes Dr. Robert Cooper's book is good to read and can be found in the bookshop he runs in Vientiane on Hengboun Street. He probably would be glad to have a chat with you and give some tips as well as sources of further info. If you pass thru Chiang Mai on the way to Laos you can visit the Hilltribe Museum there and also visit the new section where authentic traditional houses have been constructed and you can explore them in detail. Always nice to have an idea what kind of villages you pass by on the road just by knowing their traditional style of buildings. You may also want to research the many kinds of spirit gates used around hilltribe villages. I collect photos of the ones I've seen in Northern Laos and they're all unique. The Thai government now seems to use the term "Highland People" rather then Hilltribe People.

#3 telmi has been a member since 1/1/2013. Posts: 38

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