By Ajarn Khamchong Luangpraseuth
The Lao as a person, differs in many ways from other citizens of Laos descending from non-Lao origin.
A Lao has a long, long name. If possible, he prefers to eat sticky three times a day. Fish, vegetables and a large quantity hot peppers are the usual ingredients of his menu. His beloved musical instrument is called the Khen, a mouth organ mode of bamboo tubes which he plays in evening courting-sessions (social activity hours).
A Lao is not a great traveler and tradition ally cannot live too far away from the river, any river. Rivers not only provide the Lao with food, they are their “freeways” and have substantially shaped their way of life. The Lao systematically pursue their two most important goals in life: religious merit for the sake of an eventual future life, and personal pleasure on earth for a more practical purpose of life. Flexibility and relativity are important elements in a Lao mind. They produce that moderation in attitude which is so characteristic of the Lao people. The smiling faces, already mentioned earlier, are the expression of the same philosophy.
The word Lao, as an affective, should not be mistaken with another adjective: Laotian. The first denotes qualities or disqualifies of the Lao ethnics and only the Lao ethnics. The second denotes the qualities and disqualities of the Laotians, which includes every citizen of Laos, whether he or she has descended from a Lao or non-Lao origin.
For Instance, Laotian food may consist of many kinds of food from different ethnic groups, but the Lao food has to be really Lao. Padek, a strongly smelling fermented fish Is a Lao delight which not every Laotian can eat. A plain-water soup consisting of only fresh water in a bowl is very popular among the Hmong people. You may call It a Laotian soup because a Hmong is a Laotian. But actually, no Lao that l know has fully appreciated the freshness and the cooling effect of the water mixed with rice In a bowl. The Lao would always says it is a Hmong soup.
You have learned what is Lao and what is not Lao, Therefore, you may no longer say “Do you speak Laotian?” Instead, you will ask “Do you speak Lao?” because there is no Laotian language, but there are Laotian languages.
The Hmong tongue as well as Khmu, lu-Mien, Tai, etc. are all Laotian languages. Also, you will no longer ask a person if she or he is a “Laotian or Hmong?” because a Hmong from Laos is a Laotian. The right question should be: “Are you a Laotian?” If the person says “Yes,” and if you would like lo know more of the person’s cultural background or language, then ask: “Are you a Lao or a Hmong or a Khmu etc…”
The same thing will apply to songs, musical Instruments and garments. This is a purely semantic convention. Not everyone agrees upon it, but I sincerely hope tihs short discussion will assist you to see the difference between the various ethnic groups from Laos.
The Lao, Khmu, Hmong etc… are Laotians.
The Laotians are Indochinese; so are the Cambodians and the Vietnamese.
The Indochinese are Southeast Asians, the Indonesians are Southeast Asians as well, but they are not Indochinese.
Indochina is a region.
Indonesia is a country.