The 7 Villages Initiative
Learn about the Hmong, Khmu and Tai-Lao ethnic groups
A pioneer project of Fair Trek, the 7 Villages Initiative is a perfect introduction to the vibrant ethnic diversity that makes Laos so unique. On this trekking tour, you’ll have local encounters with villagers and learn about their culture and social environment.
About the villages
Across the Nam Khan river just outside of Luang Prabang are several neighboring villages that make up the 7 Villages Initiative. Tai-Lao, Khmu and Hmong people live in these communities and are distinct in their own way. The cultural and ethnic identities of each community can be seen in the structure of their homes, the dress worn by residents and the language(s) spoken throughout the village. In Laos, different ethnic groups often live in the same village and some of the 7 villages are marked by this diversity.
Tai-Lao, Khmu and Hmong
Khmu and Hmong
Tai-Lao, Khmu and Hmong
Community-based tourism in action
Our first community-based tourism program, the 7 Villages Initiative supports local residents eager to be tourism managers in their own communities. These village representatives oversee different community-based tourism activities such as homestays.
Fair Trek also helps villages directly benefit from tourism through a Fair Trek Fund, a collaborative project between villagers, partner tour operators and the Luang Prabang Provincial Tourism Department.
The Fair Trek Fund is distributed among the villages to help them fulfill their own community needs, including the management of tourism activities in their villages.
The Fund has helped local communities build much-needed village infrastructure including new toilets, and funded English language training in their villages to improve job prospects. The 7 villages also put the Fair Trek Fund towards maintaining the trekking path that leads to their communities.
For a truly experiential and memorable experience, get to know the villagers and the natural environment during your trip. Here are a few tips to learn the most about the people and places you’ll visit:
- Ask your tour guide to tell you more about the biodiversity you come across on the trekking path.
- If you stay overnight in a homestay, ask your host if you can help cook a traditional meal.
- Learn how to say a few words in Hmong, Khmu and Lao before you arrive at the villages – you’ll surely impress the locals!
The Khmu – also commonly written as Khamu or Kammu – are thought to be the original inhabitants of Laos, having migrated from Indonesia hundreds of centuries ago. Today, the Khmu represent the largest ethnic minority group in Laos with over 600,000 people residing predominantly in the north.
The practice of totemic ancestry (smta) differentiates the Khmu from other ethnic groups in Laos. Named after plants or animals, these totem symbols distinguish patrilineal family lines, which dictate social structure and family life.
The Khmu believe in animism, the idea that objects and phenomena, such as the home and nature, have spirits. There are two kinds of spirits according to the Khmu: those that reside in the village and those that reside in nature. Much of life’s occurrences are believed to be the work of spirits – good health means spirits are watching over you; illness means spirits are working against you. To maintain the balance between the human and spiritual worlds, the Khmu perform rituals, or trnual.
Even the cultivation of rice, an important staple in Khmu culture, depends on spirits. The process of harvesting rice is steered by rituals and ceremonies to rice spirits. For example, at the start of the harvest season, the blood of a sacrificed chicken is poured over rice seeds and a ‘prayer’ is said to the spirits to bring a bountiful crop.
The Khmu language is a member of the Mon-Khmer language family. Like the Akha, the Khmu do not have an official written language. Consequently, the history of this culturally and politically significant indigenous group has not been well documented.
However, the absence of a written language has resulted in a folklore weaved by a rich oral language. The Khmu are well known for their tales and stories, which tell the compelling – and sometimes melancholy – history of their rise and fall as Laos’ founding fathers.
But these folktales are not only vibrant interpretations of their place in history. They reflect their hopes and aspirations for themselves and their people as well. Khmu folktales truly are an expression of their collective human experience.
Learn about the origin of the Khmu people in this celebrated tale: