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The Lahu

Population: 645,000

Localization: In China, Yunnan Province, Simao, Lincang, Shuangjiang, and Menglian. Also in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Lahu people inhabit the hilly regions of the southern part of Yunnan Province, and Thailand, Laos, and Burma. Usually living isolated in the remotest areas of these territories, they have kept part of their traditional culture.

Basic Facts about Lahu Culture

Introductory Articles in Ethnic China

The equalitarian Lahu: They still preserve in his cultural, social and religious life, numerous remains of the gender equality

Lahu history: From the women's kingdoms to the continuous uprising

The "History of the Lahu" reevaluated: 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.

Dog and snake in Lahu symbolic universe: They have several myths that remember the contributions of dogs to human welfare.

Creation myth of the Lahu: Creating Heaven, creating earth tries to provide a mythic explanation to the world where the Lahu people inhabits. To doing so the main episodes of the process of creation, creation of heaven and earth, sun and moon, and human beings.

Academic Materials about the Lahu

The Lahu language

Richard Cook. PTB and PLB reconstructions noted in The Dictionary of Lahu (Matisoff 1998)

James A. Matisoff.- Syntactic Parallelism and Morphological Elaboration in Lahu Religious Poetry.

Partly as a compensation for the homophony problem caused by the monosyllabicity of its morphemes, Lahu makes extensive use of compounding, adding phonological bulk to words by hitching extra syllables onto their roots. Elaborate expressions are freely sprinkled into ordinary Lahu conversation, but they are especially characteristic of the archaic ritual language used in animist prayers,

James A. Matisoff.. Areas and universal dimensions of Grammatization in Lahu.

James A. Matisoff. The cognate noun/verb construction in Lahu.

Lahu Mythology and religion

Sombat Boonkamyeung.- The Lahu Symbolic Universe and Reconstruction of Ethnic Identity.

The Lahu Nyi (Musue Daeng) is an ethnic group that has its own unique ritual forms and symbolic instruments regarding their religious beliefs... in the last decade, Lahu Nyi have mounted revitalizing movement by building haw yeh (village religious hall), appointing religious leaders to teach, and revitalizing customs, beliefs, and practices in everyday life.

Jaquetta Hill, Nannaphat Saenghong, and Kate Grim-Feinberg. Dance or Change Your Religion: Conservation of Dance Music “Awhui” and Ethnic Identity Among Lahu Na Shehleh of Northern Thailand.

The central place of dance and music for LSN culture is clearly signaled by the political geography of the village. Every village has an earthen dance circle surrounded by a fence and each dance circle is the emblem signaling the existence of a separate religio-political unit.

Yoichi Nishimoto.- The Religion of the Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu) in Northern Thailand: General Description with Preliminary Remarks.

The majority of the Lahu Nyi are still followers of what is considered, both by outside observers and the people themselves, their "traditional religion"

Yoichi Nishimoto.- Myth and Ambiguous ldentity among the Lahu of North Thailand: Legends and the Loss of Letters

This study takes up the case of the Lahu of northem Thailand and explores the classification and categorization of the world by the Lahu as opposed to lowlanders and more over by two Lahu groups with different religious interest. This study assumes that the Lahu perception of the world is reflected in the myths or stores told by them.

Anthony R. Walker.- Cultural Exchange in Southwest China: The Mahoeyoenist Movement among Lahu Mountain People in Southwestern Yunnan

As for Lahu "religious" culture (in so far as the term "religion" presumes a major divide between sacred and secular worlds, is not in the Lahu context a particularly useful one), the indigenous situation, asalready observed, is one common throughout the greater Southeast Asia region.

Anthony R. Walker.- Shi- Nyi Lon: Great merit days among the Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu) of North Thailand. ( Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 43, 1984, 275-302.)

This article describes three major ritual occasions in the annual ceremonial cycle of the Lahu Nyi, or Red Lahu ...through ritual, these Lahu Nyi villagers reaffirm their village-wide communal
identity and so modify, to some degree, the intense household orientation of everyday life.

Anthony R. Walker.- Sha- LaA Te Ve: The Building of a Merit Shelter Among the Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu) of the Northern Thai Uplands. (Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 44, 1985, 51-80.)

In this article I examine an important ritual event which follows immediately after at least one, and sometimes all, of these shi- nyi lon-. This is the construction of a rest shelter along the pathway to a Lahu Nyi village.

Lahu History and Culture

Liu Jing-Rong.- A Study on the Culture of the Dance of Lahu Nationality.

The folk dance of Lahu traces back long into the past. Its coming into being, evolution and development are closely related to its centuries-old cultural tradition. The widely popularized dances include "the Lusheng Dance"

Tatsuki Kataoka.- The formation of ethnic and national identity: a case study of the Lahu in Thailand

This paper intends to examine two aspects of the issue. First, I will take the Thai intellectuals’ arguments on the ‘local wisdom of the hill tribes’ into account. Then I will consider different views of ‘alternative knowledge’ as shown by the hill tribes themselves in the process of socio-cultural change.

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

This study aims to question such presumptions of locality by investigating how official history was disseminated locally and how it was reinterpreted and represented by Lahu communities as local knowledge for ethnographic research. Therefore, books on Chinese minority nationalities that were published thereafter all state that the Lahu in Yunnan came from the Qinghai Lake area; "Lahu" in the Lahu language literally means "the hunter of tigers." The knowledge that "the Lahu came from Qinghai and were tiger hunters" has thus become firmly established in intellectual circles and is widely accepted in China. However, as a result of research conducted on the genes of the Lahu people in Lancang County, there are rather conflicting ideas as to the origins of the Lahu. The results of fifty-five sample cases revealed that their genes showed no evidence that they came from the north. In other words, genetically speaking, the Lahu should be a group that originated in the south.

Ma Jianxiong.- Marriage and land property: bilateral non-lineal kinship and communal authority of the Lahu on the southwest Yunnan frontier, China

Power relationships or communal authority over the bilateral non-lineal system correlate closely with E Sha belief and land property redistribution, because all Lahu couples are equal due to the ideology of gender equality and the neat bilateral descent from the upper generation. Irrigated rice farming in the valley and on mountainsides has set the environmental conditions for the source of communal authority over the kinship network, aside from the frontier’s history.

Ma Jianxiong.- Shaping of the Yunnan-Burma frontier by secret societies since the end of the 17th century

After the Sino-Burma wars monks of the Big Vehicle Religion established a Five Buddha District system among the Lahu and some Wa villages in western Mekong River, until the system was destroyed by the Qing government in 1880s. The monks became the leaders of the Luohei/Lahu through millenarianism and many Han immigrants also became involved in the movements to become the Lahu or the Wa. The monks performed critical roles as social activists in Lahu cultural reconstruction

Shanshan Du.- Frameworks for Societies in Balance: A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Gender Equality

Shanshan Du. Lahu: The Cultural Logic that Identifies “Two” as “One”

The Lahu “pair” is both one conjoined entity and two distinguishable entities. In this sense, one is two, and two are one. Importantly, the one paired entity tends to outshine the two distinguishable entities, as reflected in Cal Thid’s identification of Xeul Sha when he was obliged to choose between one and two. It is this dyadic principle that integrates the Lahu worldview, which revolves around the cosmological ideal: “Everything comes in pairs.”

Anthony Walker.- The divisions of the Lahu People.

They recognize among themselves many sub-groups or divisions, e.g. Lahu Na (Black Lahu), Lahu Shi (Yellow), Lahu Nyi (Red), Lahu Hpu (White) and Lahu Sheh Le (meaning unknown) to mention only the better-known.

The Lahu in the present world

Chalathon Choocharoen, Pornchai Preechapanya and Andreas Neef.- Palong and Black Lahu Ecological Knowledge of the Sustainability of Forest Watershed Management and Agroforestry Ecosystems

For decades, land use practices of ethnic minority people in the uplands of northern Thailand have been blamed by many scientists and policy-makers as being unsustainable and causing degradation of natural forests and watershed functions.

Chupinit Kesmanee and Kulawadee Charoensri.- Case study on the effects of tourism on culture and the environment. Thailand.

Converging of a large number of tourists of different background on a historic monument or site and location of tourist facilities on the cultural heritage sites have often resulted not only in altering of the original.

Lynn Larsen. Education for Lahu and Akha Slum children: benefits and barriers. 2002.

Educational opportunities such as Thai literacy are mportant for this population becuase they can help children escape life in poverty or in slums.

Sanit Wongsprasert.- Opiate of the People? A Case Study of Lahu Opium Addicts

There can be no doubt that the principal reason why people smoke is not only that opium is available but that a general sense of malaise and hopelessness pervades much of the highland world. Broad structural issues that define their precarious position in wider society exert an overall negative influence on their daily existence.

Thesis and dissertations

Chaninthon Sawanaphakdi.- The Thai naturalization of the Lahu people in Chiang Rai province 2003

This study aims to find out the process and problems occurred in the status categorization process of Lahu people in Chiang Rai province as case study,

Amber Morris.- Selected Discourse Features of Lahu Si Folk Narrative

The object of this thesis is to apply these discourse features to four Lahu Si texts. Each of these texts are animal folk narratives elicited from native Lahu Si speakers in the Chiang Rai province of Northern Thailand. The goal of this thesis is to look broadly at several different aspects of discourse analysis of Lahu Si.

Upai Jasa.- Aspects of Discourse Cohesion in Lahu si folk tales. 2009

A discourse is a connected speech which contains sufficiently clear and specific cultural elements that tie it together into a unified whole. Thus, cohesion is the primary means to make a discourse coherent or allow it to make sense by using different types of grammatical devices.

Judith Pine.- Lahu Writing and Writing Lahu: An inquiry into the value of literacy. University of Washington. 2002

This dissertation explores the concept of 'literacy' as it is constructed in discourses within Thailand, in international contexts, and in anthropological theory, illustrating the impact of this construction on those who are perceived as "without-writing".

Tan Aik Lye Brian. Translocal Village Networks: A Study of the Lahu People in Northern Thailand. 2009

This thesis explored the translocal village networks of the Lahu people in Northern Thailand. The concept of the translocal village which was adapted from Appadurai's (1991) concept of translocalities was used to analyse four Lahu villages. Ethnographic techniques were used and a total of 40 interviews were conducted. I argued that through the production of translocal imageries, the maintenance of translocal flows and networks, and the (re)production of local, the villages extend beyond its physical boundaries and have become a more virtual translocality through its networks. Socio-spatial transformation at the villages is a result of developing translocal networks while retaining a sense of the original identity through the conservation and reproduction of a sense of the local. In this process of change, each individual, family and village community participate as subjects with varying degrees of agency who continue to live and create new contexts from the wide experiences of mobility and immobility.

Strassen, Carina Zur. Lahu Ethnicity And Meanings Of Social Space. Chiangmai University. 2007

The thesis proves that local people’s self-confidence can be effectively enhanced so as to better participate in, and provide inputs for, multi-ethnic society construction. In realizing short-comings and benefits of conventional implementation schemes, more appropriate research and development approaches will be envisaged in conjunction with local highland communities and their representative institutions.

Nishimoto, Yoichi. Northern Thai Christian Lahu narratives of inferiority : a study of social experience. Chiangmai University. 1998

In the long history of ethnic relations, in which the Lahu have had to face overwhelming powers of lowland majority groups, a peculiar form of narrative has been formed, which I call “Lahu narratives of their own people’s inferiority”. An analysis of the narratives reveals that behind the apparently negative self-definition there exists a positive perception of the people, too.

Books and references

Bibliographic materials

Free books about the Lahu.

Matisoff, James A. English-Lahu Lexicon.

Lahu is an important minority language of Southeast Asia, belonging to the Lolo-Burmese subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan language family. It is spoken by over 500,000 people in China, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
This English-Lahu Lexicon (ELL) is a computer-aided but manually edited "reversal" of the author's monumental Lahu-English dictionary (The Dictionary of Lahu, UCPL #111, 1988, xxv + 1436 pp.). ELL contains nearly 5400 head-entries and well over 10,000 carefully arranged subentries. Every Lahu expression is provided with a form-class designation to indicate its grammatical function. Eight useful Appendices (e.g. Plant and Animal Names) round out the volume's 450 pages.

Some books about the Lahu

Chinese Bibliography of the Lahu

A nice book about the Lahu: Du Shanshan's "Chopsticks only work in pairs"

The Lahu Minority in Southwest China A Response to Ethnic Marginalization on the Frontier:

This book, based on extensive original research including long-term anthropological research among the Lahu, provides an overview of the traditional way of life of the Lahu, their social system, culture and beliefs, and discusses the ways in which these are changing. It shows how the Lahu are especially vulnerable because of their lack of political representatives.

Anthony R. Walker: Publications on the Lahu peoples 1968-2014:

A complete bibliography of one of the most interesting scholars researching the Lahu.

The Lahu in the Art, art of the Lahu

Photo Exhibitions

Ethnic China photo exhibitions
Photo exhibitions about the Lahu


Lahu music

Films and Video

Documentary Films about the Lahu: Some of the most interesting documentary films about the Lahu Nationality.

Image of the the Lahu in the cinema


Art Exhibitions


Travel to Lahu lands

Lahu woman in Lancang
Lahu old woman in Lancang
Lahu women in Lancang Market
lahu bracelet
Lahu bracelet
lahu popular image
Official image of the Lahu in the streets of Kunming
lahu creation
Creating Heaven, Creating Earth
The Lahu minority in Southwest China

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