Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the 18th century A.D. The unified Kingdom of Lane Xang, in the 14th century declared Buddhism as the state religion and urged the people to abandon animism or other beliefs such as the cult of spirits. The policy was meant to develop the Laotian culture around one common faith, Theravada Buddhism.
Today, this form of Buddhism is now the professed religion for 90% of the Lao people. Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on the society. Lao woman can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earning merit to lessen the number of their rebirth. Lao men are expected to become a monk for at least a short time in their lives. Traditionally, they spend three months during the rainy season in a Buddhist temple. But nowadays most men curtail their stay to one or two weeks.
The Laotians are known to be friendly and smiling peoples who love liberties with no quarrels or oppressions. They hold great respect for the nation and most live with honor and respect for others. A typical example illustrative of this well-known friendliness is the way in which inhabitants welcome strangers with a free meal.
Friendship, love and peace sit in the hearts of Lao people. They hate conflicts or oppressors and their slogan is “united we survive and separated, we die”. They enjoy literature and arts, and the country’s ancient heritage arises from the national poetry that illustrates the Laotian way of life.
Theravada Buddhism has contributed greatly to the Lao culture. It is reflected throughout the country in its temples, the language, the arts, literature, performing arts and more. Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen, a type of bamboo pipe.
Houses are built on stilts and have free space underneath the roofs with a triangle wind plates on each side. There are two types of houses; single and a double roofed. The number of steps depends on the height of the house, but traditionally they'll have an uneven number.
The dress depend on gender and age. Lao women are dressed properly and seen traditionally as the mothers of the nation. Lao women wear silk skirts, blouses and scarves to attend important ceremonies. During significant events, Lao women wear scarves and coiled hair styles. Lao men wear salong, big large pants, or peasant pants, to attend important ceremonies.
Lao People share a rich ethnic diversity, comprising such groups Hmong, Khmu, Yao, Akha, Lu, etc. Most of them have kept their own customs, dialects and traditional dress; there are 47 different groups. These can be classified into three broad groups:
• The Lao Lum (lowlanders) who make up 70% of the population and predominantly live on Mekong River level.
• The Lao Theung (uplands) who comprise 20% of the population and on the foothills with an elevation of less than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet).
• The Lao Song (hill tribes) who constitute 10% of the population and live in the mountainous areas.