Hotel Thailand - Discovery of Hill Tribe Culture
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Introduction | Visiting the Hilltribes | Advice to Travellers | Location of Lisu Lodge | A Rustic Retreat
The Lisu | The Karen | The Akha | The Hmong | The Mien | The Lahu


The Thais call the Lahu tribe 'Musur', which means 'hunters'. They were largely a hunting community until a lack of game and a shortage of primary forest forced them into a more agricultural means of existence. They do not have such a long history, so they are not as efficient at producing food as the other tribes. The Lahu language has almost become a "lingua franca", spoken throughout the other hill tribes, since, amongst the Lahu, hiring out labour to other hill tribes has become common.

Although the Lahu can be quite reserved initially, before long one becomes a welcome visitor to their villages. Many villages are very poor. In recent times the King's Royal Project and other aid agencies have been helping them with such initiatives as alternative crop production and the marketing of handicrafts. Times are improving slowly for some of them, despite the great difficulty of change.

The Lahu tribes originated in southwest China, and have migrated into Thailand from northern Burma. Most of their settlements are concentrated close to the Burmese border, in Chiang Rai, northern Chiang Mai, and Mae Hong Son province. There are four tribes within the Lahu - Black, Red, Yellow, and She-leh. The Black Lahu are the most reserved, but wear the most distinctive costumes. Women wear a black cloak with diagonal cream stripes. The top of the sleeve is decorated in bold colours of red and yellow, at the whim of the seamstress. Red Lahu women wear black trousers with white edging and vivid sleeves of broad red and blue stripes. Amongst the other Lahu tribes, the Thai shirt and sarong have supplanted traditional costume. Lahu men wear a plain black shirt and baggy black trousers.

Lahu villages are generally at high altitudes. The Red Lahu are the only tribe to build a central animist temple, surrounded by banners and streamers of white and yellow flags. Houses are built on high stilts with walls of bamboo or wooden planks, thatched with grass. A ladder leads to an open central living area, with a storeroom to one side and living quarters to the other. There is one large bedroom, partitioned off as necessary according to family size. The main room has a central fireplace.

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