The Khmu (also referred to as Khamu, Kammu or Kemu) were the indigenous inhabitants of northern Laos. There are more than 500,000 Khmu around the world, with populations of 450,000 in Laos, 43,000 in Vietnam, 10,000 in Thailand, 10,000 in China, and 8,000 in the United States. The Khmu of Laos reside mainly from the Northern most to the central part, include 10 provinces and 1 Capital such as Phongsaly, Oudomxay, Bokeo, Luangnamtha, Saynyabury, Samneua, Luangprabang, Xiengkhuang, Vientiane, and Bolikhamxay provinces and Vientiane Capital City. The Khmu are the second largest ethnicity by the whole and the first largest ethnicity in the 5 Northern provinces of Laos especially Luang Prabang, Phongsaly, Oudomxay, Bokeo and Lungnamtha Provinces. The Khmu of Thailand are clustered near the Thailand-Laos border. Most Khmu villages are isolated, and only slowly receiving electricity. In many areas the Khmu live alongside the Hmong and other regional minority ethnic groups. A large number of Khmu live in Richmond, California, having come as refugees from the Vietnam War. California is home to both the Khmu National Federation, Inc., and the Khmu Catholic National Center. Most Khmu in Thailand arrived recently from Laos and Vietnam as refugees, also around the outset of the Vietnam War.
The Khmu are an agricultural society, although gathering, hunting, trapping and fishing are parts of the Khmu lifestyle. Khmu crops include rice(especially white and black sticky rice), corn, bananas, sugar cane, cucumbers, beans, sesame and a variety of vegetables. Most of the agricultural work in Khmu villages is done communally, so as to combine the strength and finish the work quickly. Harvesting of wild rice is generally performed by the village women. Rice is stored outside the village in elevated structures to protect from mice and rats. Khmu elders are traditionally the most important people of the village, and are responsible for resolving all village disputes. Village leaders included the shaman (knowledgeable in spiritual medicine), the medicine man (knowledgeable in herbal medicine), the priest (based on family lineage of priesthood), and the village headman (in modern times chosen by the Laotian government). Laotian Khmu communities generally have localized justice systems administered by the village elders.
Khmu culture is traditionally passed down by the recital of stories around evening fires. The story-telling sessions involve the sharing of silver pipes (originally opium, but now predominantly tobacco). Some Khmu are heavily tattooed for both decorative and religious reasons. In Laos, Khmu are reputed for practicing magic, and some families still engage in the casting of spells and telling of fortunes. According to the animistic practices of the Khmu, reverence is offered to the house spiritHroi gang. Villagers believe that a Khmu house, village, and its surroundings are integrated with the spirits of the land, and so houses and villages are considered holy or ritualized spaces. Typically, entire Khmu villages are enclosed in fences with three or four gates which separate the Khmu from their granaries and barns. Altars are placed outside the perimeter to ward off fires and storms. In the past, each Khmu family was believed to be under the protection of a totem such as a boar or an eagle who had originally helped an ancestor and would continue to protect the family. In the ancient time Khmuic people celebrated 4 festivals namely: crop planting, harvesting, new year, and wash or get rid of sin festivals. In ancient time Khmuic people celebrated new year festival on the first waxing moon day of the first lunar month. At present day the new year festival is mostly not practice or if it is done, it is integrated with the harvesting festival. An ancient Khmuic house must be laid long along the direction from east to west and never intersected the direction of the sun, however there are least Khmuic people built their houses intersecting the sun direction. Each house must have a door in the east and another one facing to the north or south, this depends on the situation of the area where the house was built and never build a door in the west side of the house. A house with strait leans must have a large outside balcony(attached with a 5 or 7 step stair) connected from the east door and a lean room with east or north door(attached with a 5 or 7 step stair). A house with bent leans must have a large outside balcony(attached with a large 5 or 7 step stair) connected from a small and short lean room connected from the north or south site of the house, and an inside balcony(attached with a 5 or 7 step stair) connected from the east door. Ancient Khmuic people believed and worshiped the sun spirit for safety and healthy. In the early morning whichever day the sky is clear and when the sun starting to rise, Khmuic people opened the east doors of their houses to let the sun shine into their houses. There are three beliefs of this practice: 1. to expel devils, ghosts and bad spirits out of the houses (ancient Khmuic people believed that devils, ghosts or bad spirits are fear of sunlight); 2. to expel and wash out bacteria and any kinds of small insects dangerous to body and health; 3. Khmuic people also believe that the early morning sunlight is pure and fresh so, exposing ones own body to the early morning sunlight makes ones own mind fresh, good temper, healthy and active at work. Nowadays, most Khmuic people forget the beliefs and rules, and don't practice this way of building their houses. Roofs of houses covered with wooden tiles or thatch. Khmu cemeteries are traditionally divided into four sections; one for natural deaths, one for accidental deaths, one for children, and one for those who died away from home. The Khmu do not generally believe in rebirth. Traditional Khmu animism puts emphasis on the concept of taboo, as villagers believe that violations of taboo result in vengeance of spirits. Forbidden activities include touching the altars or the amulets representing the house's spirit, birth ceremonies for children born feet-first, and entering a house without permission.