Laos is a multiethnic society. Ethnic minorities constitute about 40 percent of the population. Precisely how many groups there are is unknown. Estimates range from as low as 68 to as high as 120. These groups are distinguished by their own customs, beliefs, and rituals. In remote areas, they have preserved traditional social structures and value systems. For example, they practice varieties of animism, rather than Buddhism; and they identify themselves through distinctive garments that distinguish them from other groups.
Today, deforestation, growing pressures to settle closer to accessible transportation, and other factors have begun to affect these traditional practices. Ethnic minorities face the challenge of striking a balance between embracing the economic and educational benefits of shifting their primary allegiance from the village to the nation and of preserving their traditional cultural identities.