The Laotian Mlabri

Updated On: Apr 21, 2009

Refugees International focused the spotlight on the plight of the Mlabri or the People of the Yellow Leaves, one of the world’s smallest group of endangered people.

Very little is known about them. Some anthropologists postulate that they were founded between 500 and 1000 years ago.

Living in the jungles of Laos, the Mlabri is slowly adapting to some aspects of modern life, wearing old clothes instead of loincloth and live in better shelters.

Their existence is only known to local officials in Laos, especially those along the Laos-Thai border and the Hmong villagers.

400 of them remain, distinguished by their unique Khmulic dialect.

They occasionally find odd jobs to do, clearing hillsides for rice cultivation and other mainstay Laotian crops.

The Thais also known of their shadowy existence and their nomadic life.

This tribe is amongst one of the 5000 different ethnic groups, comprising of 500 million people which are considered to be on the verge of extinction.

It is quite likely that encroaching modernization and civilization will eventually overwhelm their traditional lifestyle.

Some elites including the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand are vigorously fighting their rights and way of life.

As a community, however, there is little that they can do to stave off modernization.


McBeth, John, “New Lease of Life for Endangered People” dated 16 April 2009 in the Straits Times (Singapore: Straits Times), p. A17.

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