Muang Sing is home to nine different ethnic groups, and each has its own customs and clothing, nowadays often mixed with ‘modern’ attire.
The Tai Lue people are part of the larger Tai-Kadai linguistic family and began migrating into Muang Sing from southern China in the 15th century. They are known for their multi-stilt houses with long sloping roofs, strong lao lao liquor, and intricate silk and cotton textiles. Tai Lue practice a mix of animism and Buddhism. Most villages have a temple and monks as well as a sacred pillar where they hold rituals for natural spirits. Each village also has its sacred tree which harbours the village’s guardian spirit.
Tai Neua (Neua means north) migrated from China to Muang Sing about 200 years ago.In the Lao PDR there are only nine Tai Neua villages of which five are in Muang Sing district. They adopted the multi-stilt houses of the Lue and are known as skilled cotton weavers and bamboo basket makers. Tai Neua practice Buddhism with a mix of spiritualism and they brought scriptures from China which they still use in their ceremonies.
Ancestors of Luang Namtha’s Tai Dam migrated to the Nam Sing Valley from northwest Vietnam in the late 19th century. Unlike Buddhist Tai groups, Tai Dam worship phi (spirits) and their ancestors. The traditional house building style, especially the distinctive semi-circular turtle-shaped roof, has been given up by the majority of the Tai Dam, nowadays constructing their roofs in a rectangular shape. Women wear colorful head-scarves and tight-fitting shirts with silver buttons. They make potent lao lao rice alcohol, and produce fine silk and cotton textiles.
The Akha, a Tibeto-Burman-speaking ethnic group, live in the mountains, and follow a cultural code called Akha Zang, the “Akha Way”, which defines traditions and laws, as well as how they farm,hunt, treat illnesses, andrelate to each other and outsiders. Villages feature tall swings anduntouchable gates marking the boundary between the human and natural worlds. Visitors to the village can pass through the village gates, but should not touch the gates. The Akha have no written history and traditionally do not use letters. Instead, their history is preserved in more than 10,000 lines of poetry, which for centuries have been memorized and transmitted orally by an unbroken chain of storytellers known as pimas. Women wear black cotton miniskirts, tight-fitting bodices, embroidered jackets, and intricate head-dresses decorated with beads, silver, and seeds. | more about Akha, try www.akhatrek.com >>
The Hmong migrated from southern China sometime during the nineteenth century and established hilltop villages. They belong to the Hmong-Mien group and are the most numerous single ethnic minority group in Laos. Hmong are skilled at hunting, mixing herbal medicines and raising animals, particularly horses. Hmong believe in a variety of natural, ancestral and supernatural spirits and their religious practices incorporate elements of ancestor worship. Intricate embroidery and heavy silver jewelry adorn their clothes. The Hmong New Year in December/January features top-spinning competitions and courting couples tossing mak kone (small fabric balls).
Lolo, the smallest minority in Muang Sing district, migrated from southern China and their language is considered a mix of ancient Lolo and Chinese. Lolo are known as farmers and traders using horses to transport goods over the mountains and practice animism with elements of ancestor worship.
The Yao moved into Laos from China bringing cultural practices and beliefs based on Taoism mixed with animism and ancestor worship. Similar to Hmong they build their houses on the ground and are masters in the art of dyeing, embroidering and sewing their distinctive costumes. The men are skilled black- and silversmiths.
Ancestors of the Phunoi migrated from the Tibetian highlands bringing a religion based on animism and ancestor worship.
They settle near streams in forested mountain areas, build houses on stilts and live on farming, gathering forest products and hunting.