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Home About Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand Lahu

The Lahu

The Lahu
Most people in Thailand call this Hill Tribe "Museur", however, the group refer to themselves as "Lah-fvu" or "Lahu". This name came about because one day, an animal came out of the forest and attacked some livestock. The owner was able to shoot the animal but could not recognise it. He asked everyone that passed, but there was no-one that knew what it was until one man passed by and said that it was a tiger, La in Lahu language. After that, the man and the rest of his people were referred to as Lahu, hu being the sound of the tiger. In turn, Museur is Thai for the hunter, due to their skill in hunting. Lahu originated in Tibet, migrating to southern China to escape Chinese aggression. The migration continued to Burma, some groups continuing to Northern Thailand and Laos.

There are four main groups of Lahu in Thailand, often named after the dominant colour in their traditional costimes. Red Lahu (Lahu Nyi) is the largest group in Thailand. Black Lahu (Lahu Na) is the second largest group. The third largest group is Cheleh Lahu (Lahu Cheleh) and is siimilar in culture to Black Lahu. Yellow Lahu (Lahu Shi) is the fourth main group. Other smaller Lahu groups include Lahu Balan and Lahu Bakio.

Amongst the Hill Tribes in Chiang Rai, Lahu is the central language. This is because the Lahu language is easy to say and understand. Lahu also mix easily with other Hill Tribes, and most Hill Tribe villages have Lahu people living there.

Lahu villages are usually located high in the mountains at an altitude of approximately 1,000 meters. In the past, Lahu people practised shifting cultivation, planting upland rice and corn as well as small amounts of a range of food plants and vegetables. Until Government restrictions were enforced, opium was an important cashcrop for the people. Profits from the sale of opium were used to buy salt, iron and other products which they could not grow themselves. Villages comprise of 10 or more houses, generally built on the mid-slope. Houses are built from bamboo, wood and cogon grass. Each village has a traditional leader (Ka sere), village elders and a spiritual leader (Doo boo), a female spiritual leader (Mee boo maa) and spiritual doctor (Nee de baa). When the villagers have a problem this group is consulted for a fair solution.

Lahu food is strong in flavour. Food tends to be very hot and spicy, and/or very salty and/or very sour. Meals are easy, they do not plan for taste, thinking rather of the benefits and having sufficient to eat. However there is never a meal without chillies.

The origins of Lahu:
A long time ago when animals and humans were created, Lafvu people were born inside a gourd, with no way out. The Lafvu thought and wondered how they would get out. At this time the animals and humans spoke the same language, so the Lafvu tried shouting for the animals to help. One day a small bird flew past and heard the calls for help. The bird looked to the right and to the left but couldn't find where the noise came from. Suddenly the bird saw the gourd. It flew down and peered at the gourd and said "Oh this is where you are, what are you doing?". The Lafvu replied that they could not get out of the gourd and asked the bird to help them by pecking at the gourd. "If I help you, what will I get out of it?" was the bird's reply. The Lafvu promised to plant rice, beans and sesame and let the bird eat from the crop first if they could get out. The bird agreed to help and started pecking a hole in the gourd. The bird kept trying to peck open the gourd, until its beak was short and the bird was tired and had to rest.

While the bird was resting, a singing rat passed by. The rat was curious and asked "Lovely bird, what are you doing? Why do you have such a short beak?". The bird replied "Oh with all your power, you have come at the right time, come and help me get the people out of this gourd. The people who are in the gourd said they would let us eat from their crops first, if we help them out of the gourd". The rat was happy and asked "Really?". "Really", replied the people, "we wouldn't lie". The rat hurried and started grinding at the gourd with its long teeth. Finally the gourd opened at the Lafvu people could get out. The Lafvu did not forget their promise to the bird and rat and to this day, when Lafvu plant corn and rice, they allow the birds and rats to eat before them.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 27 April 2010 12:52)

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