Brao in Laos

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Cambodia Research Network  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source:  Anonymous
People Name: Brao
Country: Laos
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 28,000
World Population: 39,500
Primary Language: Brao
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Christian Adherents: 1.00 %
Evangelicals: 0.76 %
Scripture: Portions
Online Audio NT: Yes
Jesus Film: No
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Mon-Khmer
Affinity Bloc: Southeast Asian Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The word bru literally means "mountain." They probably gave this name to them regarding their geographical location. Their villages are typically along the banks of rivers or streams.

The ancestors of the Brao were part of the great Khmer Empire that flourished from the 9th century to the 13th century. The empire, which encompassed present-day Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and parts of Vietnam, declined after the Thai and Vietnamese invasions. The center of the Cambodian Kingdom, known as Angkor, was in the Boloven region, where there are ruins dating from the 8th to the 12th centuries.

The Brao now live in the fertile Boloven Plateau region of southern Laos. At an elevation of approximately 3,500 feet, the plateau was once very productive. However, civil wars, poor transportation and plant disease have combined to destroy coffee, cotton and tobacco experiments. They are building back what they have lost.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Today, most of the Brao are rice farmers who use the slash and burn method of cultivation. Since much of the area is covered with brush and tall grass, they first clear the plots by burning off the vegetation. Then they grow crops on it for three or four years before moving to new territory. Their principal crop is dry rice, but cassava, sweet potatoes, and bananas are also major products. Fishing provides a reliable source of protein.

Besides farming, the Brao gather many products from the forest to sell or trade. There are vast bamboo groves throughout the area, and the forests contain a variety of hardwoods such as wild date, mahogany, teak, and rosewood, as well as berry, bean, and rubber trees. For additional income, the Brao may also engage in crafts such as pottery.

Because of internal conflict, the Brao live in large, fortified villages during the dry season. Each village is an independent unit governed by a village elder or headman. The headman oversees the affairs of the community, judges disputes, and decides on important issues. Although the Brao people are citizens of Laos, most of them have no viable representation in the government.

Within the village, they arranged huts in a circular pattern, with a large community house at the center and the villagers' huts arranged around it like the spokes of a wheel. During times of peace, the large villages split into five to ten smaller villages and occupy makeshift shelters, tilling their fields until the harvest season arrives.

Brao society is basically patriarchal (male dominated), and the eldest male directs family leadership. Polygyny (having multiple wives) is a common practice.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Virtually all the Bru are ethnic religionists, practicing their own traditional religion. Ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for prosperity, guidance, and protection) is the most important activity. Each clan has a common worship place in which they offer the dead uncooked rice, water and broken bowls. If not properly appeased, these ancestral spirits cause illnesses. The Bru also believe in various spirits of nature and that each village has a particular "guardian spirit." They placate forest and mountain spirits for good harvests and protection.

What Are Their Needs?

The Brao land still needs to be cleared from landmines dropped during the Vietnam War 50 years ago. These still can kill innocent people who are hoeing a field.

Prayer Points

Pray for gospel workers to catch a vision for reaching the Brao people for Jesus and that in God's sovereign timing their hearts would be open and ready to follow him.

Pray for Jesus movements to bless extended Brao families so the gospel will spread rapidly among this people group.

Pray for the spiritual lives of the Brao people to become fruitful as they follow Christ.

Pray for the lives and culture of the Brao people to evidence the rule and reign of the Kingdom of God as they open to the gospel, and for the beauty of Jesus to be seen in them.

Text Source:   Joshua Project