Introduction / History The Western Bru of Laos live along the borders of Thailand, while the Eastern Bru live along the borders of Vietnam. Though the two groups speak the same language (Bru), their dialects are not mutually understood. In fact, the dialects may even vary within the same village. Bru belongs to the Katuic branch of the Mon-Khmer language family. Some of the Bru are bilingual, speaking both their native language and Lao.
The Bru are descendants of the great Khmer Empire which flourished between the ninth and thirteenth centuries and encompassed present-day Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and southern Vietnam. Its power declined after being conquered by the Thai and Vietnamese. About 400 years ago, the Bru were pushed out of the best valley lands in northern Laos and forced southward by the Thai-speaking peoples.
In recent years, Laos has been the location of numerous battles and invasions. It has also become the object of political competition between China, Russia, and Vietnam. For the Bru, recurring warfare and resettlement have disrupted their traditional way of life.
What are their lives like? Most of the Bru are wet-rice farmers. They have borrowed their agricultural techniques from the Lao, replacing their traditional "slash and burn" method with terrace irrigation. The fields are prepared with plows drawn by buffalo or oxen; very few farmers use modern equipment. Many of the Bru who live in the mountainous regions or highlands continue to practice "slash and burn" farming. Many also hunt and fish to supplement their incomes. Others have become skilled merchants.
The word "Bru" literally means "mountain." This name was probably given to the Bru in reference to their geographical location. Their villages are typically located along the banks of rivers or streams. The houses are usually arranged in a circle, surrounding a central "community house." Each home, which stands on stilts, is divided into several rooms to accommodate the extended family. The first room is used to receive guests. It also includes a sacred shrine for spirit worship. Each house contains a fireplace for preparing meals.
Most of the Bru have adopted the Laotian way of life. For instance, their clothes, culture, and social organization are much like the Laotians. Only a few special characteristics remain, such as the traditional white scarf that the Bru women wear over their hair. Today, the Laotian government supplies the Bru with textiles, clothing, blankets, mosquito nets, and other necessities.
The Bru live in small, self-governing villages that are usually limited to a single valley. Each village is under the control of the chao muong, or prince, to whom the commoners pay taxes. Although the Bru are considered citizens of Laos, very few of them have any representation in the government. The village headman, who is the eldest male, decides all important issues. All marriages are monogamous (one husband, one wife), and each family is under the leadership of the oldest male.
Bru folk art and literature are fairly well developed. They have a variety of musical instruments, which they play skillfully, accompanied by singing and narrative readings.
What are their beliefs? Virtually all of the Bru are ethnic religionists, practicing their own traditional religion. Ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for prosperity, guidance, and protection) is the most important activity. Each clan has a common worship place in which the dead are offered uncooked rice, water, and broken bowls. These ancestral spirits are thought to cause illnesses if they are not properly appeased. The Bru also believe in various spirits of nature and that each village has a particular "guardian spirit."
What are their needs? Today, the area inhabited by the Bru is peppered by land mines and by cluster bomblets that were dropped by U.S. warplanes during the Vietnam War. Deaths and injuries most commonly occur when villagers are working in their fields or gardens. The wet rice farmers use traditional hoes to turn the soil. If a bomblet is struck with a hoe, it often explodes, injuring or even killing those nearby. Many children have been seriously injured while playing in the fields as their parents worked.
Although the Laos Bomb Removal Project is in place, it has not yet reached the area where the Bru are located. However, mobile teaching teams have begun traveling to these sites, making the people aware of the problem and teaching them mine clearance techniques.
The villagers daily need God's protection over them as they work in the fields laden with bomblets. They also need more education teams that can teach them how to clear the mines. Medical help, especially with prosthesis and physical therapy, are desperately needed. Perhaps these needs will provide opportunities for Christian medical missionaries to gain access to these people.
Prayer Points Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into Laos to live and work among the Bru.
Ask the Lord to call forth medical missionaries to work among the Bru and share the love of Christ with them.
Pray that God will open the hearts of Laos' governmental leaders to the Gospel.
Ask God to raise up teams of intercessors who will faithfully stand in the gap for the Bru.
Pray for the salvation of key Bru leaders who will boldly declare the Gospel among their own people
Ask the Lord to raise up strong local fellowships of believers among the Eastern and Western Bru.