Ir in Laos

Photo Source:  Copyrighted © 2022
Asia Harvest  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source:  People Group location: IMB. Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.
People Name: Ir
Country: Laos
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 6,200
World Population: 6,200
Primary Language: Ir
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Christian Adherents: 0.00 %
Evangelicals: 0.00 %
Scripture: Translation Needed
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: No
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Mon-Khmer
Affinity Bloc: Southeast Asian Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The East Katuic language group consists of a number of separate tribes living in southern Laos near the border of Vietnam. These groups include the Ir, the Kantu, the Katang, the Lor, the Pacoh, and the Upper Taoih. Although they speak distinct dialects, they all belong to the East Katu branch of the Mon Khmer language family. Of these minority peoples, the Kantu are most closely related to the Katu. In fact, they are even referred to as the "High Katu," or "those who live in the hills."

It is said that the Mon Khmer-speaking tribes were the original settlers of this region; however, they were pushed out of the best valley lands in the early centuries A.D. by Thai-speaking peoples. Although the Khmer civilization existed before other people groups moved into the region, their power declined after being conquered by the Thai and Vietnamese.

In modern times, Laos has been the location of numerous battles. It has also become the object of political competition between China, Russia, and Vietnam. After many invasions by these countries, Laos has finally entered into good relations with its neighbors.

What Are Their Lives Like?

For thirty years, recurring warfare in this region has disrupted the traditional way of life for the East Katuic-speaking tribes. Today, half of the land in Laos is peppered by cluster bomblets that were dropped by U.S. warplanes during the Vietnam War, and by landmines. Both are still a serious problem.

Deaths and injuries most commonly occur when villagers are working in their fields or gardens. The wet rice farmers use traditional hoes to turn the soil. If a bomblet is struck with a hoe, it often explodes, injuring or even killing those nearby. Many children have been seriously injured while playing in the fields as their parents worked.

Although the Laos Bomb Removal Project is in place, it has not yet reached the Saravan Province, where the East Katuic-speaking tribes are located. However, mobile teaching teams have begun traveling to these sites, making the people aware of the problem and teaching them mine clearance techniques.

Most of the East Katuic-speaking tribes live in the mountainous regions or highlands where they practice slash and burn farming. Many also hunt and gather to supplement their diets. Some groups, such as the Katang, have been encouraged to cultivate rice in irrigated fields; however, they too continue to use the slash and burn method.

East Katuic families are patrilineal, which means that the line of descent is traced through the males of the family. Villages are made up of extended family units, who usually live in "longhouses" (long, communal dwellings that have central corridors with family compartments on either side). These long houses are built on stilts and strategically organized in geometric patterns as a means of protection. Pigs, chickens, and ducks are raised under or near the houses.

Each village is governed by a loosely organized council of elders, one of whom is considered the "village headman." He is the link to the central government, but his role is not clear. In Buddhist settlements, the core of the village is a Buddhist temple where a monk lives.

The villagers are largely self sufficient. They grow their own rice; have their own vegetable gardens; gather fruit from the forests; and fish in the nearby ponds, rivers, or even in the rice fields! Surplus rice and produce can be exchanged in the market for salt and other necessary items.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The overwhelming majority of the East Katuic-speaking tribes are ethnic religionists. Although they may recognize a creator god, they also worship and fear a large group of spirits called phi. These spirits have much influence over the daily activities of the people.

The East Katuic peoples are known to be very skilled in dealing with the spirits that inhabit the rivers, forests, and mountains. Sacrifices are used to manipulate and appease the phi. The High Katu (or Kantu) were still involved in human sacrifices until recent times.

What Are Their Needs?

The villagers daily need God's protection over them as they work in the fields laden with bomblets. They also need more education teams that can teach them how to clear the mines. Many of the children play in the fields while their parents work and eventually get injured by the explosions. Medical help, especially with prosthesis and physical therapy, are desperately needed. Perhaps these needs will provide opportunities for Christian medical missionaries to gain access to these people.

Prayer Points

Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into Laos to live and work among these tribes.
Ask God to raise up prayer teams to break up the soil through intercession.
Ask the Lord to call forth medical missionaries to work among these tribes and share the love of Christ with them.
Pray that God will open the hearts of Laos' governmental leaders to the Gospel.
Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among these tribes.

Text Source:   Bethany World Prayer Center