Asia Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU)
Asia-Pacific Database on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH)

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Performing Arts
Lao P.D.R.


Khmu flute


The tot is used by Khmu to provide music that accompanies a number of animistic rituals.
A common occasion for it to be played is during traditional ceremonies.

Reasons for selection

Culture and customs of minorities in Laos are still under-researched. The tot is a Khmu musical instrument, which may be in danger of extinction.

Area where performed

Northern Laos: Phongsali, Xieng Khouang.

Essential elements of the performing art


Detailed explanation

The tot is an ancient wind instrument played by the Khmu of Northern Laos, especially around Phongsali and Xieng Khouang provinces. The tot can easily be made on the spot using fresh, green bamboo. For example to make tot flute models, all one needs is a small thin bamboo tube with two or three holes, one of them in the middle to blow in, and one at each end.

Playing techniques
The player holds the tot in the hand, left index finger is on the hole. The right index finger is on the second hole. Blowing into the pipe produces sounds. The tot flutes without reeds the men play are of a different type from those played by women. The various differences are also due to the fact that the melodies and sound production techniques and harmonies which differ from place to place. The musical sound of the tot is resonation of the mouth, the throat and the lips combined with various instruments, following various rhythms of fast or slow tempo.

Occasion for performance
The Khmu society revolves around ancient beliefs and customs that are intricately interwoven with nature. Facts of life, the imaginary and religious beliefs become mixed and inextricably intertwined. This is all based on the conviction that humans and spirits live similar lives. According to this, spirits know how to eat, they live and have dwelling places comparable to cities and countries, and they need to have fun and enjoyment just as humans do. For this reason, the Khmu also have a special set of instruments and a special type of music that can bring pleasure both to human beings and the spirits and that can be used.

Publication and textual documentation


Audio documentation


Visual documentation

not yet available

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

National School of Music and Dance

Data provider

Mr. Douangchampy Vouthisouk
National School of Music and Dance
Address: Vientiane, Lao P.D.R.