Profile Source: Peoples of Laos, Paul Hattaway
Introduction / History
The 1995 census of Laos listed 538 ethnic Lawi people living in southern Laos, in the Laman District of Xekong Province. Another ethnographic study from the same year listed 300 Lawi people in 60 families, living in three villages.
The Lawi have lived in the same location for at least four generations. Before that they may have migrated from Vietnam. The area inhabited by the Lawi today is the traditional home of the Alak. In recent decades the Lao and the Talieng have also entered the area and built communities.
The population of the Lawi has remained stable for many years, possibly the result of poor hygiene and epidemics. Fifty years ago there were only two Lawi villages. This number increased to four villages about 15 years ago, before the people decided to combine two villages, bringing the present number of Lawi villages to three.
Lawi homes are renown for their custom of making sculptured and painted ladders that lead into the house.
The Lawi language is rare in Laos in that it is part of the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Possibly the only other Malayo-Polynesian speakers in Laos are the Cham Muslims in Vientiane. Lawi customs and legends suggest they may have originally been part of the Gia Rai (Jarai) ethnic group in Vietnam. Many Lawi today can also speak Alak, Lao and Talieng.
Traditionally, the Lawi are animists. Today, although they still focus on appeasing the spirits, their ceremonies have become far less regular. Up until about 30 years ago they also celebrated an annual ceremony of war, where they called on various spirits to heal them of sickness and to bless their community.
In times of disaster or sickness, the Lawi called in a Djamon (sorcerer) to find the offended spirit. A ceremony was held where the sorcerer counted grains of rice. If the offended spirit was a 'small spirit' the people prayed. If it was a 'large spirit' a buffalo and a pig were sacrificed.
The Lawi have no knowledge of the Gospel or the Person of Christ. The counterparts of the Lawi in Vietnam, the Gia Rai, number more than 80,000 Christians today. The Gia Rai may be best placed to focus on the Lawi in Laos.
* Pray Gia Rai Christians in Vietnam would find ways to take the Gospel to the similar Lawi in Laos.
* Lift up the needy Lawi before God's throne of grace.
* Pray groups like the Lawi would not be considered too small for consideration by churches and ministries.