The lâwa of umphai and middle me ping. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Rev. J. S. Holla da y and Mr. T. W. Bevan.   












                        THE LĀWA OF UMPHAI AND MIDDEL ME PING

                                   Compiled by Major Erik Seidenfaden
                                              from material supplied by
                                Rev. J. S. Holla da y and Mr. T. W. Bevan.

In  The  Lawā  in  Northern  Siam  written  by  Mr. E. W. Hutchinson
and amplified by Major E. Seidenfaden, which was published in JSS,
XXXVII,   Pt.  II,  1935,  it   is   mentioned (p. 154)  that,  lying  to
the north west of Bô  Luang , is  a  Lawā  stronghold  called  Umphai
where the population consists of pure  Lawā  who  are  primitive, are
potters and weave their  own  clothing. Two  very  good  photographs
representing   Umphai   Lawā   women  and  taken  by  Dr.  Hugh  Mc-
Cormick Smith, the former adviser  to  the  Department  of  Fisheries,
were also published in that  paper. That  was  in  1932. The  Umphai
Lawā   have   now   been   visited   (in   May  1938)  by  the  Rev.  J.  S.
Holladay of the American Presbyterian Mission, Chiangmai,and from
some notes kindly supplied by  him  the  following  is  extracted.

In   January  1938  three  Lawâ  men  came  to  Dr. Cort  of   the Mc-
Cormick Hospital,  Chiangmai,  and  asked  for  medicine, saying that
there was much sickness in and around their villages (Umphai and  Ban
Loop). They also wanted some one to come and baptize several of   their
members who had decided to become Christians. Rev. Holladay was
anxious to  go  himself  to  their  villages  but  was  not  able  to  do  so
before May that same  year. He  went  on  foot  from  Wang  Lung  (not
far   from   Müang  Hot  on  the  Ping  river) to  Bô Luang, a distance  of
31 kilometres, and from  there  in  a  north-westerly  direction  another
70 kilometres had  to  be  covered  to  Ban  Loop.  It  proved  a  difficult
march because of the early rains and the slippery  state  of  the  moun-
tain   tracks.  The   following   is   taken   literally  from  Rev.  Holladay's
notes :—






30                              MAJOR ERIK SEIDENFADEN                            [VOL. XXXII


A  little  farther  on  we  came  to  Heart  Break  Hill,  which  seems  to  have
perpetual rain, heavy forest excluding sunlight, and a  very  slippery  clay  path.
This is the hillside upon which the iron  mines  were  located. We  had  heard
all kinds of stories about these iron mines1 and the methods of milling.  One
of the most fantastic was that the iron was  mined  in  a  cave  or  tunnel,  and
that no man dared enter it.  The  spirits  would  allow  no  one  but  women  to
go in, and they  could  wear  no  clothing  at  all.2  Our  guide  was  one  of  the
chief iron workers and he told  us  that  they  dug  the  iron  out  of  the  hillside
just wherever they happened upon it. He found a piece of the  ore, and  assur-
ed us as we examined it that there is nothing mysterious about  it  except  the
spirit   ceremony   which,  with   but   little   variation, is  carried  out  before  all
major undertakings. Timber workers have very similar ceremonies.

That afternoon we decided to  stop  early  and  dry  our  clothing  and  beds.
We had passed through Oompai, and had tiffin in their spirit-house while the
rain   poured.  We  camped  in   the  spirit-house  at  Chang  Maw, the  pottery
village. The only furniture in these houses were huge drums and  a  fireplace.
The drums were made of  hollow  logs, possibly  eight  feet  long  and  twenty
inches  in   diameter. The  drum  heads  were  evidently  green  buffalo  hides
stretched over the ends and laced from end to end with thongs of green  hide.
They were always directly over the fireplace, probably to keep  them dried  out.
We were told that if we beat one we would have to  pay  a  fine  of  Ticals  5.00,
for the spirits would be angry  if  we  wakened  them  and  did  not  feed  them.
They are only used in case of ceremonies and sickness.

We found the front portions of several buffalo skulls placed  up  over  head
in both temples, but no one could tell us why, though we asked several times
in both villages. There was quite  a  bit  of  carving  in  both  spirit-houses  but 
with no discoverable significance. One idea  repeated  several  times  was  a
man standing on a crocodile's nose, though  for  no  apparent  reason. There
were many geometrical designs whose significance, if they had any,was lost
in   antiquity.  At  both  places  there  were  two  carved  boards  about  12  feet
long planted on end  in  the  cleared  space  before  the  temple. These  were
strongly  suggestive  of  totem  poles. I  asked  if  they  alway  had  them,  and
they said yes, but could tell me nothing  of  their  significance  or  the  method
of making or planting them. There was also a post planted near the entrance
to   the    spirit-house  in    both  villages .  Flowers  and  other  offerings  were


1 identical with the mines mentioned in Mr. Hutchinson's  paper, p.  164.—

2 This same kind of superstition is found among the Khā or Moi Mnong
in French Indochina where it is said that only naked women of that tribe are
allowed by the spirits to mine the copper from which the Mnong smiths ham-
mer out quite fine figures in the shape of elephants and other animals  (see
Henri Maitre in his monumental work Les Jungles Moi).E. S.






PT. I]                   THE LAWA OF UMPHAI AND MIDDLE ME PING                   31


placed upon it. It looked  like  a  phallic  symbol  31/2  feet  high  with  only  the
top end carved,  and  that  only  slightly  and  roughly. Here  again I  could  find
no   explanation .  I   wondered  if  it  were  reticence, but  flattered  myself  that
it was really ignorance, or I should have had some clue.

The   rest   of  the  trip  was  uneventful  except  that  on  the  morning  of  the
third day we struck  our  only  leeches  and  they  served  to  hurry  the  carriers
along until we were able to make what we had expected to be one and  a  half
clay's   march   in  one  day.  The  entire  way  from  Baw  Luang  to  Ban  L'oop
was through very mountainous country.  We  saw  very  few  rice  fields  in  the
valleys, though the steep hillsides around the L'wa villages which we passed
were all covered with rice fields which have evidently been used for a  century
or more—perhaps for many centuries.

These fields are very interesting, for one  hears  of  other  tribes  using  one
hillside for three years, and moving on  from  ruined  fields  to  ruin  new  ones.
Hut the oldest L'wa cannot remember anything  about  when  his  village  was
first settled. He has heard no story of   his  tribe  ever  having  lived  elsewhere.
They seem  to  have  very  little  tradition  indeed. The  fields  are  cultivated  for
one  year  only. All  brush  and  young  trees are  cut  down  and   burned. Rice
is planted  and  cultivated  by  hand with a short, peculiarly shaped, cultivating
knife. They  keep  their  fields  as  clean  as  a  garden  until   the  rice  is  quite
high. After harvest, the field is allowed to grow  up  to  grass  and  weeds  and
brush and trees. The stumps never die in one year, and soon  send  out  lusty
sprouts. The   field  is  then  left  for  seven  years  before   it  is  planted  again.
If it can  be  left  for  ten  years  so  much  the  better, but  this  can  seldom  be
done.  This   means   that  each  village  must  have  enough  fields  for  seven
years without replanting.

There are regular rice fields in  the  valleys  which  these  people  plant,  but
they are not extensive and are used as insurance against the complete failure
of the hill rice. The people do not  like  the  rice  grown  there  as  well  as  they
like the  hill  rice. I  must  say  that  I  admire  their  taste, for  none  other  is  as
good as the rice grown on the very steep hillsides.

In cultivating their fields they  seldom  if   ever   walk  up  and  down  the  hill-
side, but usually back and  forth  in  ascending  or  descending  zig-zag  paths.
This may partially account for the fact that though  these  hillsides  have  been
cultivated for scores of  years,  they  are  still  not  badly  eroded. In  fact  many
of the fields show not the least signs  of  erosion.  It i s  a  lovely  sight  to  see
the young rice crops across the hillsides so steep that it seems as though they
must slip into the gorge far far below except fo r the  network  of  paths  which
bind them in place. The  low  hills  are  never  chosen,  only  the  highest  and
seemingly the  steepest.  I  wonder  if  in  ancient  times  this  might  not  have
proved the best protection against marauding bands, perhaps also the farthest
from mosquitoes, and so the healthiest place to live in.







32                                 MAJOR ERIK SEIDENFADEN                              [VOL. XXXII


Some of the finest jackfruit trees I have ever  seen  were  growing  on  the
tops of these high mountain fastnesses. The pomalo seems to thrive, though
judging from the sourness of the  oranges brought  me,  I  should  say  their
sugar content was probably as close to nil as possible. Otherwise I saw  very
little of any fruit or  vegetable.  Their  food  is  very  poor,  and  this  no  doubt
accounts for most of their sickness. Their rice is apt to run  short,  and  they
plant little besides peppers and corn  in  their garden  spots.  They  seldom
kill a pig aside from their ceremonial feasts, and for meat depend upon the
mountain crab, frogs and toads.  Many  of  them  eat  dogs , but  this  is  not
universal, for I believe it is true that no one at Ban L'oop eats dogs.

In the matter of pleasures, they all smoke pipes and are as free in lending
their pipes as we are in lending our pencils. The babies  cut  their teeth  on
big brother's pipe, when big brother is  hardly  large  enough  to  carry  both
baby and pipe. Almost all of them drink a  home - made liquor,  and  this  is
one of the big items in their feasts and ceremonies. The Government does
not try to stop them, but collects one baht per year from each house for  the
privilege of making all  they  can use.This may be on reason  why  they  are
apt to run out of rice. About the only play among  the  children  was  walking
on stilts. Of   course  I  was  there  when  they  were  all  busy  with  the  rice
crops, and so I probably did not see all  of  their  pleasures  and  pastimes.
However I feel sure that  they  have  very  little  in  the  way  of  amusements
aside from those mentioned.

Their clothing is quite different from that of most  of  the  other  hill  tribes.
The women wear a large loose shirt which looks like an inverted sack with
holes for the arms and neck. They can sit down  on  the  floor  and  pull  the
shirt down over their feet, pull their arms inside  and  really  be  quite  snug
and warm in spite of a cold wind. Pulling the  shirt  down  over  their  knees
also seems to be a matter of modesty, for the  skirts  are  quite  short.  Asa
protection against gnats which are quite voracious,  they  wrap  a  piece  of
cloth around each arm above the elbow, and around each leg below the knee.
These are tied with a string. They love strings of silver or glass beads,  and
are often quite loaded down  with  them.  The  beads  of  silver  are  the  old
Siamese tical shape—that is the bead-shaped tical. Heavy silver  bracelets
are also worn quite generally, these ornaments probably representing their
savings banks.

The men wear a loose bag-like pair of trousers which look as if they had
kicked the corners out of a sack and  walked  off  in  it.  The  tailoring  is  not
of a very high order, though the weaving which they do is very  durable,  and
rather pleasing in design, — design being chiefly confined to  the  women's
skirts. The men also wear a coat with real sleeves in it, which is one  of  the
few evidences of an effort at  tailoring, but  may  be  a  purchased  article  at
that. One of the most noticeable  things  characterizing  this  people  is  that






PT. I]                        THE LAWA OF UMPHAI AND MIDDLE ME PING                     33


they always put on their oldest and most ragged  clothing  when  they  go  to
market. I wondered  whether  they  did  so  because  they  felt  that  travelling
was hard on clothing, or because they got better bargains when they did not
look too prosperous ; or is it protection against robbers ?

Quite often they wear a head cloth—not a turban — which  I belived  to  be
mainly protection for the head when carrying  with a  head  band. They  carry
everything with a head band, but when going long distances, the  men at  least
have cleverly shaped pieces ofwood which protect their shoulders from the cut-
ting of the ropes which they use as  shoulder  straps  to  help  distribute  the
weight of the load. This piece of wood  is  shaped  to  fit  the  body,  and  has
a hole  for  the  rope  burned  through  the  length  of  it.  By  pushing  on  this
piece-with the hands,it is possible to take the entire weight off the head and
shoulders, and so rest without stopping. The load is carried well up  on  the
shoulders. It is most handy when going  through  brush,  and  a  good  load
can be carried without much trouble. The hand can be free when  the  going
gets steep. I carried one for several  kilometres,  and  found  it  very  comfort-
able,—preferable to the carrying pole.

The funeral customs, with one exception, are  not  peculiar. In  the  village
where we stayed (Ban L'oop), and I presume  in  all  other  villages  as  well,
no one would have anything to do with burying the corpse. They always  get
someone from outside to come and do the work, preferably from another tribe,
or perhaps necessarily so. There are a few Christians in Ban L'oop who  do
not hesitate to bury their own dead, or in case of need help their neighbours,
for   they   have   no  fear   of   the   evil   spirits.  Burying   is   the   method   of

The   language   is  a  puzzling  thing.  It  seems  that  every  village  has  a
slightly  different  dialect,  until  villages  two  days  journey  apart  can  hardly
understand one another. I presume that  every  village  thinks  it  speaks  the
purest   dialect. Our  guide  from  Baw  Luang  could  hardly  understand  the
people of Ban L'oop. They often conversed  in  Lao.  Most  of  the  men  know
Lao as well as Karen, though the women and children are not  so  proficient.
I was unable to take clown a satisfactory vocabulary, but noted  many  rough
breathings like the Greek aspirate, and several other indistinct and unusual
sounds which I could imitate, but not commit to paper.

There   are  many  villages  in  that  district,  but  they  are  quite  scattered
owing to the fact that not every hill seems to be  high  enough, and  water  is
not obtainable near the summits  of  others.  At  Ban  L'oop  there  were  two
springs within ten minutes walk from the village.  These  springs  had  about  the
same flow the year around, and were said never to fail. Each had a stream about
the size of a large finger. The method  of  carrying  water  to  the  house  and
storing it there was by use of bamboo joints with strings attached  by  which
they could be hung on the wall or  placed  in  a  rack. It  is  a  common  sight
to see a woman with seven or eight such joints,which are two feet long and








34                                MAJOR ERIK SEIDENFADEN                               [VOL. XXXII


six inches in diameter, hung from her head and spread  fanwise  down  her
back, as she climbs the steep hill to her home.

There are two metal tablets said to be of gold, and to be buried in or near
the village of Oompai, and to contain the following story : —

The loveliest maiden of all the earth,  whose  name  was  S'Mang  Roh-eh,
was much sought after and admired. The loveliest feature  of  this  wonderful
beauty   was   her   hair,  which  hung  to  the  ground.  When  it  was  combed,
there was such music as   had  never  been  heard. It  entranced  all  creation
until,   as   the   comb  was  drawn  through  it,  the  birds  sang  for  sheer  joy,
chickens cackled and crowed, dogs  howled,  babies  ceased  their  crying  to
listen in wonder, and the very trees waved  their  branches  in  gentle ecstasy.

It so happened that among all of her  admirers  the  only  one  who  caught
her fancy and  captured  her  heart  was  a  youth  from  the  spirit   world. This
was awkward,  for  no  one  but  the  girl  herself  could  see  him.  After  much
discussion and many tears,it was decided at last to celebrate the wedding in
most elaborate style. The relatives of the bride and  groom  were   all   invited,
and they were many,but the relatives of the bride could not see nor  converse
with those of the groom. The feast was set however, and  the  required   num-
ber of plates heaped with rice and   the most  delicious  of  fruits  and  meats.
The guests fell to with a will, and  the  plates of  the  spirit  guests  had  to  be
refilled as often as those of their more tangible fellows.

After the feast, the bride disappeared and was not seen again  for  some
time. At last   however, she did  come  back  bringing  her  young  child  with
her for a visit. She also  brought  a  chest  of  gold  as a  gift  to  her  parents,
who were more delighted to see their lovely daughter and  her  child than to
see the gold. However they ran their hands through  the  gold and  admired
it too, for it was not only pieces of gold but golden ornaments as well,—more
gold than they had seen in all their lives. Their joy was short  lived  however,
for their daughter announced  that  she  and  her  child  must  return  to  her
husband  in  the  spirit  land.  Even  the  thought  of  all  the  gold  could  not
comfort them in the least.

After S'Mang Roh-eh and her child had disappeared, her parents were sad
and lonely. Thinking to take pleasure in  the only  thing  left  to  remind  them
of their daughter, they went into the house and opened the  beautiful  chests
in which the gold had  been  brought  to  them,  but  the  gold,  even  as  their
hearts, had been turned  into  wood  and  dust  and  dry  leaves.  There  was
nothing left but a sad memory.

It is said that S'Mang Roh-eh and her husband Kho-era Glawm Sai had a
large garden at Doi Câm,  near  Maa  Chaem,  and  that  whenever  a  weary
passer-by wished for any of the delicious fruits which grew in  the  garden  it
invariably seemed to pick itself and come without visible agency to the hand








PT. I]                     THE LAWA OF UMPHAI AND MIDDLE ME PING                     35


of the traveller. Mangoes, pineapple,  sugar  cane  and  any  number  of  other
refreshing fruits thus cheered the heart of the wayfarer according to  his  wish.

It is also said that the descendants of this woman never eat dog flesh, and
that is the reason that the headman  of  each  village  and  his  family  may  be
the only people in that  village  who  do  not  eat  dogs.  The  headman  is inva-
riably a descendant of S'Mang Roh-eh and Kho-era Glawm Sai, and  may not
eat such things. It is also said  that no  one  in  the  village  of  L'oop  indulges
in   this   particular  delicacy,  though  I  could  not  find  out  whether  this  was
because of kinship with the lovely lady of the singing hair or not.

So   far   Rev.  Holladay.  Since   then   the   Umphai   Lawā  have  been
visited twice  and  for  a  longer  period  by  His  Serene  Highness  Prince
Sanit  P.  Rangsit, a   young    and    promising   anthropologist   from   the
University   of   Zürich.  Prince   Sanit   has  made   a  very  thorough  study
of most of the  Lawā  living  there  and  on  the  Bô  Luang  plateau  during
the latter part  of  1938  and  the  beginning  of  this  year.  Besides  taking
a large numbers of excellent photographs and cinema records the Prince
has collected a  good  number  of  ethnographica  in  the  form  of  jewelry,
ornaments   and   household   articles.  The   material  collected   will   be
used by  the  Prince  for  his  doctor's  thesis.  It  will  then  be  possible  to
obtain   a  scholarly  and  well  documentated  description  of  this  very  in-
teresting  and  sympathetic people  which once in olden days constituted
the bulk of the population of Northern Siam.

In   the   above   mentioned  paper  by  Mr.  E.  W.  Hutchinson  and  the
writer there is mentioned on p. 182  the  so - called  capital  of  the  Lawā,
Müang Soi (according to Colonel Gerini), of  which  remains  should  still
exist   not   far   from   Keng   Soi  in  the  Me  Ping.  According  to  Mr. T. W.
Bevan  of   the   Bombay   Burmah   Trading   Corporation,  Ltd.,   who   fre-
quently does  the  trip  from  Raheng  to  Chiengmai  in  order  to  inspect
his   firm's  teak  logs,  there  are,  at  Keng  Soi,  ruins  of  an  old  temple,
behind  which  are  three  prachedis.  From  the  photos,  kindly  sent   me
by  Mr.  Bevan,  it   is   clearly   seen   that   these  monuments  are  in  the
ordinary   North  Thai-Burmese  style  and  therefore  cannot  be  of  great
age,  and   they   certainly   cannot  be  associated  with   the  Lawā.  How-
ever,   north   of   Keng  Soi  and  behind  it  are  traces  of  what  look  like
bunds. A   careful   examination   of  these  bunds  might  perhaps  prove
that    this   is   the   site  of   the  much  talked  of  Miiang  Soi.  The  place-
names in this region such as Um Lū  and  Um  Pā  show  their  associa-
tion   with   the   Lawā   (um   meaning   water   in   the   Lawā   language).
This   part   of  the  country  is  also  full  of  iron  ore.  Mr.  Bevan  in  1936






36                                MAJOR ERIK SEIDENFADEN 


was given an old iron hammer found on  Doi  Ngām,  and  there  are
evidently many iron mines round about, which were worked formerly
by the Lawā who are noted as iron miners and blacksmiths.  An  old
Lawā iron mine is situated at Huei Hom Sen at  the Ping river  above
Kaw.   In   the   photograph   illustrating  that  mine  the  two  persons
there  are  pointing  at  old  crowbar  marks  where  the  ore  was  de-
tached.  The   Kamnan   of   Kaw  said  that  the  Lawā  used  to  take
the ore upstream to be smelted at Um  Pā,  where  the  ground  was
found to be littered with  slagheaps.  Mr.  Bevan  also  found  behind
Ban Gaw Chok a piece of pottery which is ornamented with  a  head-
less person sitting down with a dog seated beside him. It would  be
very interesting to have this piece of pottery closely examined by  an

Mr.  Bevan  further  mentions  that  up  in  the  hill  country  behind
Um Pā is rolling land  where  the  B. B. T. C.  used  to  rest  their  ele-
phants and that the headman told him that there is the remains of an
old temple and a round  shallow  depression  in  the  ground  which
possibly was a kind of meeting place.

Finally  Mr.  Bevan  was  told  that  about  one  day's  march  (from
Keng Soi) towards the Burmah border there is said to  be  the  ruins
of   a   city   called   Müang  Phya  Udom.  Would  this  be  the  fabled
capital of the Lawā ? or some other old Lawā town ?  In  the  temple
in Ban Nā there is said to be some information about Keng Soi, but
whether in writing or only as an oral  tradition  (kept  by  the  monks)
Mr. Bevan does not say.


Bangkok, 20th June 1939.





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