The population of Laos was 6,987,260 (Jan, 2015 est.). Around 85% of the population are farmers and live in rural areas. There are 3 main ethnic categories: Lao Loum (low Landers), Lao Thueng (lower mountain dwellers), and Lao Soong (high Landers) Despite its small population, Laos has no less than 68 tribal groups. 

•   About half of the population in Laos are Lao Loum, “Lowland Lao who live in the river plains and mostly along the Mekong region. Officially, this group includes the Lao Tai, who are subdivided into numerous subgroups. 

•   The Lao Theung (20-30%), or “ Upland Lao”, live on mid-altitude slopes (officially defined as 300-900m), and are by far the poorest group, formerly used as slave labor by the Lao Loum. 

•   The label Lao Sung also spelled Soong (10-30%) covers mostly Hmong and Mien tribes who live higher up in the mountains and which have been moving into Laos due to suppression in China about 200 years ago. 

•   Due to the lack of land and the warmer climate, the Lao Sung (e.g. Hmong) have been living in rougher mountain areas since than. They are also very known in the neighboring countries as well. There are also an estimated 2-5% Chinese and Vietnamese, concentrated in the cities living in Laos. 

•   And it’s getting growing, especially Chinese people who come to invest and do trade or transfer forest into plantations.

•  About 60% of the population are Buddhist, and the remaining animist, or spirit believers.  This coincides with the population who are about 60% Lao Loum (Buddhist), and  40% Lao Thueng and Lao Soung, who are made up of over 49 ethnic groups with distinct languages and traditions.  It is a lop-sided melting pot challenged and attacked for centuries by it’s neighbors.

•  Laos was originally part of the Khmer Empire and later absorbed into the Kingdom of Siam.

•  In 1893 the French incorporated Laos into “ French Indochina" .   

•  In the 1940's, major change in took place in Laos, hindered by a Communist movement. 

•  The mid-1950's the French were engaged in the Indochina War, after which Laos had gained its independence from France

•  Soon after,  a subversive militant Communist uprising,  that drew the country into an agonizing civil war.

•  Every Tribe was somehow effected by the war, or involved in the war, during the 1960’s and even into the 70’s.   They had no other option but to flee, suffer, die or resist.  Thats when the CIA  got involved with the mountain tribes preferring their style of fighting, versus the Low Land army profile who were not as competent or reliable. 

•   Due to the wide geographic dispersion of villages, some from the same Tribes became separated and resulted in villages of the same Tribe supporting opposition sides, at times, during the many wars in Laos.  Tribal identities were also sometimes confusing, especially to “ Outsiders" hearing similar sounding Tribal names and then assuming them to both be the same but only pronounced slightly differently.   

•  Tribal names, who supported the Royal Lao Government and who were supported by secret American involvement, include the Hmong (Meo / Miao), Khmu (Kmhmu), Lao and Mein Tribes. These, and other honorable Tribal identity peoples of Laos, produced self-sufficient men, women and children of great courage, who survived the hardships of poverty, drought, isolated lifestyles, who sacrificed and suffered the attributes of generations of war-after-war thrust upon their peoples by other Tribes of their own countrymen, and even by other Clans of their own Tribe, and by hundreds of years of foreign invaders.

•   One of those Tribes was then and now noted for providing the highest numbers of manpower supportive of their Royal Laos Government and supportive of our American Government objectives. That particular Tribe consisted of people respectfully ‘then’ known to us Americans as the “ Meo" (Miao), but who in recent years prefer to be called "Hmong".  From translation we learn the Miao means “savage which explains their disdain for that label used by the Low-Landers.

•   The secret war in Laos began with a few occasional hill tribe employees but by the late 1970’s had turned into a multi-U.S.-intelligence agency supported 30,000+ member “Secret Army” of irregulars who : secured villages, fought invaders, defended against civil war enemies, protected secret US installations that “ Officially” didn't exist, rescued downed American pilots from places they didn't "Officially"  fly over, etc

•   Meanwhile Laos Hill Tribes also produced manpower for a “ Secret Air Force" and countless other manpower help provided to covert US operations which kept around 100,000 invading North Vietnamese troops preoccupied while destroying tons of enemy military supplies that otherwise would have made their way westward deeper into Laos killing more innocent Laos villagers, and southward into South Vietnam to kill more Americans stationed there with related allied personnel.

Compliments to the Vang Clan Website.

The word Hmong or Hmoob do not appear in any Chinese historical texts.  To the Chinese, they were always known as Miao or Miao-tsu.  The Hmong considered the terms used by the Chinese to be offensive and derogatory, with good reason, read on.  Therefore, the Hmong called themselves Hmong.

It is debatable as to where this word came from or its original meaning or even when the Hmong began using this term.  There is a well known book entitled "Hmong Means Free."  While it is not certain that this is the correct definition of the word, it was certainly more acceptable than Miao which meant “ Savage or something less than human."  

Another unsubstantiated claim is that the Hmong were distantly related to the Mongolians.  Other than the phonetic similarities in the names, no historical evidence exists to prove a connection.  Since earlier groups may not have called themselves Hmong, scholars have had to rely on connecting similarities in culture, physical artifacts, and language to piece together our collective history.

A very old culture.   The earliest evidence of Hmong society appeared around 2700 AD.  Chinese history records a king named Chi You who ruled the Juili Kingdom, also known as the Nine Li Tribe.  Chi You is believed to be the father of the Hmong.  

To the Chinese Hmong, he was known as Txiv Yawg which means grandfather.  Chi You was beloved by his people.  However, he was reviled by the Chinese who sought to conquer him and his people.  During an epic ancient battle, Chi You defeated the Yan Emperor, Yan Di.  Desperate, Yan Di turned to the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di for assistance.  

In the small town of Zhuolu, Chi You and his forces were defeated.  Chi You died as a villain to the Han Chinese.  However, over the centuries, Chi You has become a revered mythical figure.  He has even been worshipped as a god.  Today, the town of Zhuolu still exists.  A statue of Chi You stands to memorialize him. 

After the Li Kingdom fell, the Hmong ancestors fled from their valleys for the mountains.  Lesser Hmong kingdoms rose and fell.  But the next great Hmong kingdom arose during the Warring States Era.  

Around 475 BC, there stood a great kingdom to the South known as the Chu Kingdom.  This was a period of great struggle for control of China.  Seven mighty kingdoms were at war with each other.  

Evidence strongly suggests that the Hmong were in the middle of the fight.  Scholars have said clearly that whatever the Chu Kingdom was, it was not Chinese.  Most Chinese scholars agree that the Chu Kingdom was indeed a Hmong kingdom.  Early on during the Warring States Era, the Chu Kingdom was the largest and most powerful.  However, after a several decades of war, the Chu along with all of the other kingdoms fell and the Qin Kingdom stood victorious.  Qin Shi Huang became the first emperor of the new country of Qin, China.

Over the millennia, the Hmong were pushed further and further south.  During the 18th century, the final Hmong kingdom stood in the mountains of China.  However, like so many times before, Chinese designs on Hmong land put the Hmong in jeopardy.  The last Hmong king named King Sonom sought peace.  In exchange for a full surrender by King Sonom and his court, the Chinese vowed peace.  Unfortunately, when Sonom and his court surrendered they were taken to Peking where they were betrayed and murdered.  

As part of a festival, Sonom and his court were tortured then cut into little pieces.  The military was dispatched to quell any Hmong uprising and to stomp out the Hmong culture altogether.  The Hmong were separated into different camps and forced to wear different color clothing.  

This is the reason for why today we have White Hmong, Green Hmong, Striped Hmong, Flowery Hmong, Black Hmong, and others.  This probably also explains the differences in the Hmong dialects.  After several generations in the concentration camps, the Hmong written language was lost.  The Chinese had forbidden the use of written language under penalty of death.  Hmong women cleverly hid the language in their daily tapestry (or paj ntaub).  Unfortunately though there are none left who can decipher it.



The Hmong had enough.  Around 1850, the Hmong began to immigrate out of China and into southeast Asia.  Millions settled into Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.  Over the next 100 years, millions of Hmong would leave China.  Most of the Hmong in Laos settled into mountain villages in Xieng Khouang, Houa Phan, Luang Phrabang, and Sayaboury provinces in northern Laos.  

Despite centuries of war and ethnic persecution by the Chinese, the Hmong maintained their culture and their way of life.  In southeast Asia, the Hmong continued to live a simple but free life.  In Laos, the Hmong made a living as slash-and-burn farmers.  The primary crop for Hmong farmers was rice grown in watery rice paddies.  However, other crops like corn, cucumbers, bitter melon, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and opium were carefully grown and consumed or sold.  

By the end of the 19th century, western colonization reached Laos.  The French moved in and took control of the whole of IndoChina.  In 1918, a Hmong rebellion erupted.  This rebellion was known as "The Madman's War" or Rog Phim Npab and stemmed from Hmong opposition to French taxes.  A Hmong leader named Pa Chay  led the uprising which lasted for two years.  One benefit came of this failed rebellion.  The conflict made the French cognizant of the Hmong.  

Once peace had been restored, the French reached out to the Hmong and raised Lo Bliayao  to a position of leadership within the Lao government.  As a Kaitong, Lo was the first Hmong to hold such a position of prominence in the Royal Lao government.  

When Lo died, his son Lo Chongtou replaced his father in government.  Lo Chongtou proved ineffective as a leader and the French quickly threw their support behind Ly Foung (Lis Foom).  This turn of events led to deep seeded strife and conflict between the Lo ) and Ly  clans.  In 1938, Touby Lyfoung ascended to the position of Kaitong, inheriting his father's mantle of leadership.  

In 1943, the Japanese invaded mainland Asia.  Japanese occupation of Laos further split the Ly and Lo clans and much of the Hmong population.  The Ly clan remained loyal to the French while the Lo clan threw their support behind the Japanese invaders.  

After WWII, the Ly clan remained in Laos and supported the Royal family.  The Lo clan fled to Vietnam and joined with the communist Pathet Lao.

When WWII ended, Christian missionaries returned to the region.  In 1952, the  Catholic missionary Father Yves Bertrais, American linguists, Dr. Williams Smalley and Pastor Dr. Linwood Barney with the help of two Hmong, Yang Yeng  and Thao Hue , in Luang Prabang in Laos, invented the Romanized Popular Alphabet.  

In 1954, the French surrendered control of all its colonies in .  That same year, civil war broke out in Laos between the constitutional Lao Monarchy and the communist Pathet Lao.  The Cold War was raging all across the world and Laos was not immune.  

In 1961, before leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned incoming President John F. Kennedy that Laos was the first domino in Southeast Asia.  Eisenhower was articulating his Domino Theory.  He believed that if Laos fell into the hands of the communist, the rest of Southeast Asia would follow suite.

In 1961, President Kennedy began the secret CIA buildup in Laos.  In 1962, 14 countries including the United States, China, the Soviet Union and several other countries signed a treaty in Geneva recognizing Laos as a neutral country.  The treaty remained in effect on paper only.  

The first wave of Hmong immigrants arrived between 1975-1980.  A second wave of immigrants arrived between 1980-2003.  The Hmong settled into America with the largest communities in southern California, the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and Wisconsin with smaller pockets in Michigan and North Carolina.  Like all immigrant groups, the Hmong had their share of challenges as well as their victories assimilating into American life.  

Language was the greatest challenge.  The vast majority of Hmong could not speak English.  Learning English was difficult for most Hmong.  Education was a foreign concept.  In Laos, the opportunity to be educated was rare.  Most had never even held a pencil and a piece of paper much less been inside of a classroom.  

Fortunately, the Hmong had help.  Many of the NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations), primarily Christian churches, that sponsored Hmong families over to the United States continued to provide assistance.  The Hmong were qualified for social welfare programs, job placement programs, and ESL classes.  

Hmong children were placed into schools to begin their education.  In 1977, under the leadership of General Vang Pao, the first Lao Family Community Based Organization was established in Santa Ana, California.  In subsequent years, Lao Family Community would be established all over the United States in various Hmong communities to assist with assimilation process.  Despite its recent issues, Lao Family had many great accomplishments, including assisting Hmong refugees and creating greater community awareness of the Hmong.  

Through community based organizations like Lao Family and others, Hmong New Years and annual summer festivals featuring soccer tournaments and other sports became established events.  Today, the calendar is peppered with Hmong summer festivals and New Years gatherings starting in October through December.  Large Hmong community events draw tens of thousands of people over the course of a weekend and fill huge venues like the Metro Dome in Minneapolis.

Assimilation did not come easy.  Many Hmong youth grew up feeling trapped between cultures.  They were not fully American.  Yet, they did not feel fully Hmong.  In the early years of re-settlement to America, many Hmong youth found it most difficult to be accepted into American society.  

In the 1980's in large Hmong communities, like so many immigrant groups before them, many young Hmong men and boys formed into Hmong street gangs.  They dealt in small time racketeering, auto theft, drugs, human trafficking (often of young Hmong girls who were runaways), and armed robbery (often from elderly Hmong who lived in their neighborhoods).  

However, the gangs also proved to be extremely violent.  Often gang battles took place in public arenas like the July 4th Sports Tournament in St. Paul, MN, or the New Years Celebration in Fresno, CA.  The violence culminated in several deaths and injuries throughout the 1990's at various Hmong gatherings.  

Coordinated efforts by local law enforcement along with the FBI proved successful in quelling Hmong gang activity.  While Hmong gangs might still exist, the atmosphere within the Hmong community is not as it was during those days in the late 80’s and 90’s and substantial changes has taken place.

Other issues came with re-settlement to America.  Hmong parents wanted Hmong children.  They wanted children who could speak Hmong, understand Hmong culture, and show them proper respect at home.  However, the children were growing up Hmong at home but American at school.  The American culture was instilling independence, individuality, and the desire to have fun.  

Meanwhile the Hmong culture stressed family, discipline, and education.  The great culture clash led to much familial strife and discord in many Hmong homes.  Other issues such as the lack of education, the trap of social welfare programs, and teen marriages plagued Hmong communities and retarded the development of the Hmong as a whole.  Those who persevered were better for it. 

Over the past 35 years, the Hmong have made great strides.  Even though recent studies show the Hmong lag slightly behind other Asian sub-groups in education level and socio-economic status, tens of thousands of Hmong have become educated and it is an upward trend.

MY OPINION:  I have simple personal beliefs I try to instill.   America is a land of opportunity where most of the time you are judged by your intuition, wisdom, and knowledge.  And the elders have to understand that.  I use, quite frequently,  something told to me years ago, in our society there is religion and law.  Congress called it the separation of church and state.  There is room for both in the Hmong world.

The religion teaches the moralities, substance and personal conduct of the individual, the laws make it equal for all.  As the ethnicities become more and more assimilated into being Americans, there is still a need to relish, harbor and retain those good principles their religion and ethnic beliefs inspire.

Many have earned high school diplomas or GEDs and moved on to college level degrees.  Several hundred have even obtained Master's level and Doctorate level degrees.  The Hmong have put their education to use in a variety of fields from business to law to medicine to all of the technical fields.  The Hmong have even engaged the American political process.  

Engaging the political process within a generation is rare among immigrant groups.  However, the Hmong have had a measure of success at the state and local levels.  In 2001, Mee Moua became the first Hmong woman to be elected as a state senator in Minnesota.  In 2003, Cy Thao was elected as a state representative in Minnesota.  

Others rose to become city council members in various cities with large Hmong populations, including Blong Xiong.  In 2012, Xiong generated much interest within the Hmong community.  As a city councilman in Frenso, CA, Xiong ran for California's 21st Congressional District.  Although Xiong did not succeed, his attempt showed the Hmong community the vast possibilities in America.  They can be competitive, they just have to learn how to play the game right.

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