Vanishing Nomads: Languages and Peoples of Nakai, Laos, and Adjacent Areas

Reference work entry


A large plateau that sits at the top of the Ak Escarpment in the present-day provinces of Khammouane and Borikhamxay (Nakai and Khamkeut districts, respectively) interrupts the terrain of Central Laos. Beginning at the eastern edge of the plateau, lush deciduous and evergreen forests covering some 4,000 km2 slope gradually upward to the crest of the Annamite mountain chain which forms the border between Laos and Vietnam. Numerous recently discovered mammals are found here, together with a number of languages and cultures previously unknown to linguists and anthropologists until but a short time ago. This paper describes the ethnolinguistic diversity of those groups commonly referred to as hunter-gatherers or nomadic foragers, belonging to the Vietic branch of Austroasiatic, their relevance for the proto-history of Southeast Asia, and their chances of survival amid forces intent upon destroying their ways of life in the name of civilization. The various groups are associated with river basins that are tributary to the Nam Theun River, including the basin of the upper Nam Theun itself. But to the diverse peoples who live there, the forest is divided into spiritual territories, which have natural boundaries as well as guardian spirits. For the time being, until additional phylogenetic linguistic research is forthcoming, it is convenient to subgroup the languages according to these geographical spaces.


Hunter-gatherers Vietic Endangered languages Lao ethnic groups 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.VientianeLaos

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