Who are the 'long-necked' or 'giraffe' women?
Lisu hill tribe Thailand's beautiful hill tribe women in Northern Thailand
Lisu hill tribe, Thailand
LIsu hill tribe
Thailand: 38,299 in 2003, distributed between 155 villages. This tribal group calls itself Lisu and is called
Lisaw by the Thais
Linguistic family: Sino-Tibetan; linguistic group: Tibeto-Burman
Linguistic branch Central Lolo (Yee) The Lisu spoken in Thailand is one sole dialect, of which about 30% of the words are borrowed from Yunnanese. There is no written form of the language.
4. Origins and migration
The Lisu probably originated in northwest Yunnan and the eastern part of Tibet. Their migration south along the River Salween began several centuries ago. They settled first in the Shan states of Burma, then entered Thailand at the end of the nineteenth century. A few dozen families were living in the Doi Chiang area in 1920, but the main migrations have taken place since the Second World War.
Thailand: the provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Tak Mae Hong Son and Lampang
6. Economy and agriculture
The Lisu mainly practice high-level slash-and-burn farming. They plant rice 1000 meters up, as well as millet.
sweet corn, yams, melons, pumpkins, beans, tobacco, and cotton. In the past, their main source of revenue was opium, made from poppies that were grown between 1.000 and 1.500 meters high.
The Lisu also raise pigs, which they sacrifice at weddings and funerals; cattle; poultry; and ponies for transporting foodstuffs.
Lisu men are usually good hunters. To bring down their prey, they use old rifles or crossbows whose arrowheads are tipped with poison.
Lisu society is patriarchal, and names are handed down from father to son. The basic social unit is the family, which consists of the parents and the unmarried children. The ethnic group is divided into twelve clans, of which the main ones are the Honey clan (Bya), the Wood clan (Suh), the Fish clan (Ngwa), the Bear clan (W), the Buckwheat clan (Gwa), and the Hemp clan (Dzuh). Marriage and sexual relations between members of different clans are forbidden on the grounds of expulsion.
The Lisu give the appearance of being very romantic people, or at least they are past masters of romantic performance. Young men court their girls by reciting poems to them in the fields or behind the rice barns. Once he has made his choice, the young man gives the girl a sum of money, then abducts her on a day arranged in advance. He then sends an intermediary to the girl’s parents to reassure them that she has been carried off by a man and not a tiger. The go-between gives the girl’s father rice, whisky, and tea, then comes to an agreement as to the amount of the dowry. Finally, the date of the wedding (kowtow) is fixed. The ceremony takes place in front of the altar of the ancestors. The young couple receives a blessing, and then a feast is given for the two families and their friends.
Lisu women give birth at home, on the ground, next to the central hearth. After birth, the baby is thought of as still belonging to the spirit world; it only becomes a human being after seven days. The placenta is buried next to the hearth. and a taboo sign is fixed to the door of the house. The village priest sacrifices a pig as an offering to the tutelary spirit of the village.
Death and funeral rites
The Lisu believe that the god Wu Sa sends each person a letter on the day of his or her death. The death of a member of the community is announced by letting off a gunshot. The body is first bathed, then placed in a wooden coffin. Until the burial day, meals and dances are organized by the family of the deceased so that the latter will not feel sad.
At last, on the day of the funeral, the coffin is taken in procession to the burial place and put in a grave, which is then covered with a cairn of stones. This is usually at some distance from any paths or tracks to ensure that the spirit of the dead person will not disturb passersby.
8. Religious beliefs, practices, and rites
Lisu religion is a mixture of animism and a form of ancestor worship that they brought with them from Chin. The main god of the Lisu is called Wu Sa (the Great God). He watches over the living and determines the length of their lives.
Each village has a “sanctuary of the tutelary spirit of the village” (Apa mu hi). It is the task of the latter to protect the village and its inhabitants by keeping evil spirits, robbers, drought, and sickness away. Inside the sacred precinct (which is forbidden to women) are two other altars, dedicated to the Lord of the Earth (Mi suh da ma) and the governor of the region (Ida ma).
The village priest and the villagers pay their respects at the altars in the form of offerings. Sacrifices of chickens and pigs are regularly made so as to obtain the good will and protection of the tutelary spirit (a sort of guardian angel). His protection is particularly sought from the Spirit of Water, which brings illness.
The village shaman has the task of mediating between the living and the dead. When a person falls ill, he stands before the altar and goes into a trance. He then asks the oldest and most experienced ancestor what should be done to cure the sick man.
9. Traditional dress Unlike other hill tribes
The different Lisu clans all wear the same style of clothing. Originally, their clothes were made of hemp or cotton, which was hand-spun and then woven on a loom. Today, they are nearly all made of synthetic materials or machine-made cotton.
Lisu women wear wide blue or green tunics, slit to the waist at the side, and buttoned up under the right arm. The yoke and shoulders are decorated with red, yellow, and white lines. Wide, black Chinese trousers and red leggings complete the costume. On festive days, the women put on a multicolored silk belt and a black velvet jacket covered in
silver buttons over their tunic. On their heads, they wear a flat black turban, trimmed with hundreds of cotton threads in every imaginable color, which hang over the neck and ears.
Lisu men wear a very simple costume: a short black jacket decorated with a few silver buttons, turquoise Chinese trousers, and black leggings. On festive days, a turban of red, blue, or yellow silk or white towelling completes the outfit.
In daily life, the Lisu wear little in the way of jewelry. For the New Year’s festivities, the women put on necklaces with pendants and solid silver bracelets, rings, and earrings.
The Lisu build their villages about 1,000 meters above sea level. A Lisu village will usually have between 20 and 60 houses. In the middle are the communal square and the sacred
space for the altars where the sacrifices are carried out.
The precise site of a village is chosen with great care. It should be not too far from a spring or stream, so as to ensure a good water supply, but not too close, so as to keep safe from the malevolent actions of the Spirit of Water. The Lisu like to have another Lisu village in the vicinity for social reasons. They are also happy to be close to a Thai village, where they can buy and sell goods, particularly foodstuffs.
Today, like the other hill tribes, the Lisu no longer grow opium poppies. This has led to a considerable reduction in the frequency with which villages change sites and has, in general, made the Lisu lifestyle more sedentary.
The head man
The village headman (Cewa thu pha) is chosen from among the best and wisest men of the community. He has to arbitrate in disputes, of which there are plenty in a Lisu village, mostly occasioned by the highly competitive spirit for which this people are noted. The headman consults the village elders and then rules on the case, imposing a fine of either money or alcohol. Sometimes villagers who are dissatisfied with a headman’s decision will simply quit the village.
The Lisu built two sorts of houses: stilt houses (kacha hi), built at lower altitudes, and houses built directly onto the ground (micha hi), like those of the Hmong and the Yao. In both types of houses, there is only one door, which opens onto the lower slope of the hillside. On the wall opposite the door is the altar of the ancestors (ta bya), which is always positioned in such a way that it will be above the heads of the members of the family.
The size of the house depends on the number of people who live in it. A main room serves not only as a place to entertain guests but also as a kitchen and dining room. The main bedroom is reserved for the parents and their very small children, who will sleep in the same room. Separate rooms are built for adolescent girls and for married sons who do not yet have their own houses.
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