Laos – old traditions, talismans, and scarecrows

Traditionnal Lao houses in Luang Prabang

Laos – old traditions, talismans, and scarecrows. Lao people are very traditional. Most of the people in the country live in little villages ruled by the village chief or shaman. It’s one of the things that are good to know (blog post here) when you are planning your trip to Laos. If you are planning to stay longer in one place, you will need to register with the village chief. Old traditions are very much alive. Lao strongly believe in spirits. Whether good or bad, they have a very special place in everyday life.

Protective gates

Some more traditional villages try to separate the safe space of the inside of the village from the outside, where potentially dangerous and evil spirits roam. Some cultures, such as Akha and Lanten build gates using bamboo, wood and symbolic amulets to physically protect the area.

scarecrow in a Lao village
Photo credit to J’vilasone Rsz

During the COVID-19 outbreak many tourists started taking pictures of the suspicious scarecrows seen on the side of the roads or at the entrance to a village. They are the extension of this tradition. You ill notice that some of them are wearing helmets and sunglasses. They are potentially meant to symbolize the tourists that in Lao peoples eyes carry the virus. Therefore the Lao are communicating that those people are not welcome in that village.

scarecrow in a Lao village
Photo credit to J’vilasone Rsz

Others might show strong protectors with wooden swords, guns, and sharp teeth added to the human figures to frighten any bad spirits or viruses that might want to enter the safe space.

Those symbolic statues play a similar role to the protective gates. They are separation the pure space of the village from the potentially dangerous outside world. Their gates can also cleanse the residents upon arrival.


taleo in Lao village
Photo credit to Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center Laos

In some villages it is also believed that every 100 years an evil spirit of illness comes around. During this time everybody needs to stay at home for a whole day and protect their house with a taleo – a symbolic structure made out of leaves and sticks that is supposed to protect the household from the bad spirit. Loads of taleos can be seen around the cities and villages during the Coronavirus outbreak.

If you are interested in Lao traditions, check Traditional Art and Ethnology center in Luang Prabang on Facebook.

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