The Matrilineal Country of
In Laos, the majority of cultures have been matrilineal and matrilocal
right up to the present day. This includes not only the indigenous
peoples but also the main Lao ethnicity, among whom the youngest daughter
traditionally inherits the land and cares for the parents in their
According to a recent report from the UN agency CEDAW,
“daughters make up a majority of those
who inherit from their parents. In connection with this, in the majority
of Lao society, the husband moves in with the wife’s family
after marriage…This matrilineal tradition is a special tradition
of Lao society, which acknowledges the value of caring for the mother
and father until their death and of carrying out the appropriate funeral
rites after their death.”
Many of the aboriginal peoples in southern Laos follow
matrilineal and matrilocal custom. These include the Brau, Suay, Nyahon,
and Katang. They are (or were until quite recently) longhouse people,
farmers with an animist culture and ancestor veneration. The Katang
used to carve breasts on the ladder leading up to their longhouses,
which could run up to 100 meters long. These great lodges joined 30
families in one extended building walled with braided leaves.
The Brau once lived in lodges with up to six families together, but
today only those in the most inaccessible areas live in longhouses.
They treasure ancient brass gongs and hold an annual buffalo sacrifice
ceremony, and most have resisted first Buddhism and now the Christian
missionaries. So have their Oy neighbors. A missionary source comments,
“In the past, Oy society was more matriarchal than it is now.”
The Nyahon appear to have a pronounced gender-egalitarian ethic. They
are matrilineal and matrilocal, with sons and daughters inheriting
equally. Pre-marital sex is not stigmatized, and young people are
free to spend nights with their lovers in the "Flower Houses."
They too are animist farmers.
The matrilineal and matrilocal Suay live on the banks
of the Mekong river, scattered across Thailand, southern Laos and
northern Cambodia. They are esteemed as the best elephant handlers,
and work clearing land and moving timber.