National Geographic : 1974 Jan
Scorched earth of the Hmong heals with the balm of new growth (above). A rugged and independent people, about 350,000 of them make up roughly 10 percent of Laos's population. They traditionally settle near the summits to grow corn, rice, and opium poppies. Crops are fertilized by the ashes of trees felled and burned to clear the forest, but monsoon rains soon leach the thin soil. The Hmong must con tinually relocate their villages. Now bomb craters also scar the land (right fore ground), pitting the ridge below a Hmong outpost. As war swept their homeland, nearly a third of the Hmong found themselves in Communist-controlled areas. Many sought refuge in the lowland territory of the ethnic Lao, who scorn them as "primitive." Yet in this prejudice lurks a measure of uneasiness, for the Hmong prize hard work and ambition-the sinews of political success. Piping the day's finale, a Hmong plays his home crafted khene above the village of Teu La-a moment of peace in a war-ravaged life.