The "History of the Lahu" reevaluated


Most of the books dealing with the history of the Lahu affirm that their origin lies in the present Qinghai province where their forefathers were a branch of the Di-Qiang peoples. They usually say also that about the first years of our era, flying the wars, they started a long migration that led them to the region of Erhai Lake first and to their present territory in the last term.

Recent results of genetic analysis however identify the Lahu with Yunnan local populations, without relation with the Di-Qiang peoples or their descendants.

This contradiction is the starting point of a research about the way "The history of the Lahu" was created (1), the theoretic framework in which it was inscribed, the political needs to provide to the Lahu inhabitants of the recently established Lancang Lahu Autonomous County an historic perspective of their present situation.

Following the author we learn that the main tool for search the lost home of the Lahu in Qinghai were a series of linguistic studies not always conducted in the most scientific way, that related the places mentioned in the Lahu Creation Myth and other songs sung in Lahu funerals, with geographical locations in Qinghai province, first, and along a possible migratory road consequently.

In his own fieldwork among the Lahu, Ma Jianxiong discovered that not all the Lahu keep the same mythical tradition, that not all the Lahu agree with the official interpretation given to the place names of their myths, and what is more interesting, as it opens a door for future reevaluation of past historical works, that the official history was transmitted along the Lahu communities becoming in only some decades what in the anthropological language is known as "local knowledge". This local knowledge at the end was transmitted to the academic world, as qualified informants informed researchers during their fieldwork, and through them, to the global readers interested in the culture of China minorities.

Reading the paper of Ma Jianxiong one remembers what must not be forgotten: that every political action has a political purpose, and the results of academic works politically motivated must be deconstructed to separate the real facts from the political constructions.

(1) Ma Jianxiong.- Local Knowledge Constructed by the State - Reinterpreting Myths and Imagining the Migration History of the Lahu in Yunnan, Southwest China. Asian Ethnology Volume 68, Number 1 o 2009, 111-129

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