Most Laotians are subsistence farmers, and rice is the principal crop. Forestry is economically important, but mining and manufacturing are limited. Barter is the prevalent method of exchange in rural commerce. The unit of currency in Laos is the new kip.
After 600 years of being a monachy, at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, Laos has been ruled by a one-party Communist Government. Although Laos is opening its door to the West, under the 1991 constitution, Laos continues to be a one-party centralised system as specified in the constitution in Article 3: "The rights of the multi-ethnic people to be the masters of the country are exercised and ensured through the functioning of the political system with the Lao People's Revolutionary Party as its leading nucleus".
For the day to day running of the country, the executive governmental power is held by a president, who is chosen by an elected National Assembly, in accordance with article 3 above, to serve a five-year term.
Other Names & Abbreviations:
Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR)
Satharlanat Paxatipatai Paxaxon Lao
Pre-1975 known as "Kingdom of Laos"
Capital: Vientiane (Viengjan)
Internet Code: 188.8.131.52 Domain: .LA
Ethnic and Religious Diversity
The people of Laos are made up of over 50 different ethnic groups with as many different languages and cultures. The ethnic groups are divided into three categories: 68% Lao Loum (lowlanders), 22% Lao Theung (uplanders), 9% Lao Soung (highlanders including the Hmong and Mien) and 1% Vietnamese/Chinese.
The lowland Lao, which make up 2/3 of the population, share a common heritage with the Thai people. Thus, modern day Thai and Lao have many cultural similarities.
The uplanders are mostly tribal Hmong: indigenous people of Southern China who have migrated over the last two hundred years from China to escape Chinese control. Hmong have settled in several Southeast Asian countries. However, Laos is the only Asian country in which they are numerous enough to be recognized as a significant minority. The Hmong resist government control and practice “slash and burn” agriculture. They have been in conflict with the government of Laos for many years and have experienced ethnic prejudice.
Although Communism officially frowns on religion, the Lao government recognizes the importance of Buddhism in Lao culture and it continues to be practiced. The population is 85% Theravada Buddhist, influenced by spirit-based religions and Hinduism
Most of the remaining 15% is animist, which is associated with the uplander tribes. Small minorities of Christians, Muslims and Confucianists exist as well.
Family is central to the Lao way of life. Families in Laos generally work together in subsistence agriculture and extended families living together is common. These may include distant relatives and those related by marriage. Both in Laos and in the U.S. family members tend to live close by and provide support, which may contribute to the low divorce rate in the U.S. Marriages are usually arranged by parents, although the bride and groom each has a right to withdraw or refuse. A bride price is generally paid by the groom’s family. Children often stay in their parents’ house after marriage until they establish their own household.
Men are considered the head of the household and the main provider although they may also share household duties. Women perform work associated with childrearing and household duties including finances. The fertility rate in Laos is 5.21 children born to each woman. Men usually hold leadership positions in the community, but women are often involved in decision making and very active in their community. Elders are important sources of information and wisdom for the family. They command respect and obedience.
Health Care Practices
Life expectancy in Laos is 53 years. Infant mortality across the country is 98 deaths to every 1,000 live births. The number is much lower in urban areas and much higher in remote villages. Chronic vitamin and protein deficiencies complicate health problems associated with malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhea. Consequently, nutrition is an important part of preventative health care.
There is no reliable widespread health care system in Laos. Traditional health care by rural Lao involves herbal medicine, massage and healing rituals. Practitioners of traditional medicine are highly valued. Little western medicine is practiced, and where it is, it coexists with traditional medicine. Although there is little preventative health care in Laos, the Ministry of Public Health has a program of vaccination reaching about 50% of targeted children. Buddhist monks often play a role in physical healing. All family members contribute to the care of the sick and physical privacy is important. The concepts of mental health and mental health care are not developed.