The Bru (also Brao, Bruu, Brou, or Bru-Vân Kiều; Vietnamese: Người Bru - Vân Kiều; Thai: บรู) (which literally means "people living in the woods") are an ethnic group living in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. They are closely linked linguistically and culturally to the Mountain Khmer but are heavily influenced by Laos. [2]

The Bru are also close ethnically to Pnongam peoples of Southern Vietnam/Eastern Cambodia. Despite kinship with this group, the Bru are different politically and historically from this other ethnic group.[3] The Bru are also often associated with the Lung, Kravet and Kreung peoples because these four people groups speak similar languages and have similarly developed cultures.

The Bru speak Bru, a Mon–Khmer language, which has several dialects. Their total population is estimated at 129,559 by Ethnologue.

Settlements and villages

The Bru settled mostly along waterways. Traditionally they live in small houses that are built on stilts. The houses are arranged around a central meeting building around a circle.

In Thailand, most Bru live in Sakon Nakhon Province, and Mukdahan Province in the Isan region of Northeast Thailand.

In Laos, most Bru live in eastern Savannakhet Province, in the Sepone District,

In Vietnam, most Bru live in the Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị, Đắk Lắk, and Thừa Thiên–Huế provinces.


The early history of Bru remains somewhat obscure. Researchers believe that the ancestors of the Bru were members of the kingdom of the Khmers of Angkor which dominated large parts of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, circa the 9th century and 13th century. This is also based upon the relationship between the Mon-Khmer languages and of the Bru of the Bolaven Plateau in Champasak Province in southeastern Laos, which was once the center of the Khmer civilization of Angkor.

During the Vietnam War, the Bru had to suffer greatly as a result of the conflict that surrounded them. In 1968, the Bru in Cambodia, for the first time protested against government encroachment on their territory. The Cambodian government reacted quickly by sending in tanks and military personnel which destroyed their fields and villages. After the defeat of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in 1979, agents of the toppled government continued to control the rural areas of the Northeast. The Bru complied, but with the new People's Republic of Kampuchea and four provincial governments were set up by Phnom Penh.

During and following the Vietnam War the Bru people in Thailand were heavily involved in revolutionary activities against the local Thai governments. The Thai central government combated these activities by increasing Thai military presence as well as increasing spending for economic development.

In Vietnam, during the war, the Bru people (called Vân Kiều in Vietnamese language) provide significant support for the movement of Viet Minh and later the People's Republic of Vietnam. They later adopted the surname "Ho" to express their gratitude to President Ho Chi Minh.[4]


The Bru, (especially in Thailand), are adherents of Theravada Buddhism, which is observed as the main along religion of each village along with Animism which includes worship of ancestors, the spirits of the rice and fire spirits. Sacred objects to the Bru include relics and fragments of ancient weapons and household objects

Also the Bru have a rich heritage of myths and legends passed down orally including several stories about animals. The most intelligent being the hare, and the hero being the tiger. [5]

Economy and occupation

Some of the items traditionally used by the Bru people

The main occupation of the people Bru is manual slash-and-burn agriculture The main crop grown by the Bru and a main staple of their diet is rice. Other crops grown by the Bru are beans, and corn The Bru are also involved in animal husbandry, fishing and hunting. The Bru are also involved in various crafts works which include basket-making and in the making of straw mats.

The territories populated by the Bru include excellent conditions for prosperity, but the regions where they live lack adequate infrastructure for much needed development. Recent projects including cultivation of rubber, coffee, tobacco and cotton have struggled due to these conditions. Therefore, the Bru, both in Cambodia and in Laos are considered a marginal people group. [6] In Thailand developments of the Isan region by the Thai Government has led to somewhat better economic development among the Bru people.


Every Bru village is relatively independent of others villages. A leader Headman (who in more traditional areas is often the village spiritual advisor) leads the community.

In Thailand the village headman is democratically elected by members (usually the men) of the village

In Laos, the village headman was integrated into the state administration.


The Bru are a patriarchal society where men held to a higher status than the women of the family and where older members enjoy a higher status than their younger counterparts.

Men often practice polygamy, which although not sanctioned by the culture is accepted. Usually a polygamous man will have several wives spread out over several villages in which he travels.

The Bru are socially outgoing and love music and dancing. They are very musical and are skilled with many different instruments including castanets, drums, gongs, zithers and simple and traditional instruments that used to accompany singing tales (cha chap) and change songs (sim)


  1. ^ "The 2009 Vietnam Population and Housing Census: Completed Results". General Statistics Office of Vietnam: Central Population and Housing Census Steering Committee. June 2010. p. 134. Archived from the original on 18 October 2013. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ (Leskinen: 1999, 352)
  3. ^ (Korolev: 1957, 378)
  4. ^ [1][permanent dead link]
  5. ^ (Zhuravleva: 1961, № 6. To 54)
  6. ^ (West (2009), 112th)

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