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The Lahu

As they move out of their traditional forest home into a modern environment they face a variety of influences wich theaten to their unique culture. However the Lahu are people born into fiercely indepent hunter-warrior tradition wich never receives such threats passively. By retaining the traditional Lahu way of life the jalae villagers feel they can fight these influeces and keep their cultureal identity alive. The people of the Jalae village know they must adapt in order to survive in a changing world, but they believe that by remaining strong and united they can keep the spirit of the Lahu alive in the hearts and minds of their people.

It is a Lahu tradition that a man will live with his wife's parents, at least for a few years, and provide labor. The labor may be provided for a longer time if it is given in lieu of a dowry payment for his bride. Since it is not uncommon to have ten or more children, the house can get very full! Usually, though, as soon as the next daughter gets married, the previously married couple will build a new house for themselves in the wife's village.

The Chinese refer to the Lahu as tiger hunters. No-one is certain how this designation originated, but the La in their name means tiger in their own language and, to this day, much of the meat they eat comes from hunting wild animals - including tiger. The Thai name for the Lahu, mussur, also means hunter. The technology may have changed from crossbows to guns, but they hunt with the same enthusiasm. Most of us have never experienced hunting in the part of the world where the Lahu live. Dense, semi-tropical, monsoon rain forest, this land is home not only to wild tiger but also boar, deer, lethally poisonous snake and dozens of other species which make a fine meal. One Western man who has experienced hunting alongside the Lahu is Gordon Young. His fascinating book, Tracks of An Intruder, documents the years he spent living and hunting with them. (The full reference for this book is given at the bottom of this page.) The tiger also features in a somewhat bizarre part of Lahu mythology, which recounts the first solar eclipse when a tiger ate the sun!

These days many Lahu have adopted the festive calendar of whatever country they live in. In Thailand I saw these Lahu children throwing just as much water during the Thai New Year Songkran festival as their Thai neighbors! However, New Year is also a time when the Lahu celebrate their own heritage. In village after village men and women, young and old wear traditional Lahu clothes, made anew for the occasion, and sing, dance and drink all day and night. Children walk from house to house with offerings of uncooked rice for the head of the household, which are later cooked together, symbolizing village unity. Traditional music is played on wind instruments made from gourds and bamboo stalk. This is also the time when young men begin seeking a wife.

Lahu Village  

Hill Tribe, North of Thailand