Some Hill Tribes of North Thailand ( Miaos and Yaos) พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย John Blofeld   

 

BLOFELD, JOHN. SOME HILL TRIBES OF NORTH THAILAND (MIAOS AND YAOS). JSS. VOL.43 (pt.1) 1955. p.1-19.

 

 

                         SOME HILLTRIBES OF NORTH THAILAND
                                           ( MlAOS AND YAOS)
                                                           by

                                                 John Blofeld

There is a large and roughly circular area embracing South-
West China, the Shan States and  the  Northern  parts  of  Thailand,
Laos and Vietnam, concerning which maps give us inadequate infor-
mation.  The  frontier  lines  drawn  there  hold  good  for  what  may
roughly be called ground-level,but a second map representing only
those parts of the area lying three thousand feet or more above  the
sea would indicate no  frontiers  at  all.  Here  dwell  some  thirty  or
forty hilltribes who have only the vaguest idea  of  what  goes  on  in
the   world   at   their   feet.  Linguistically  it  is  not  easy  to  classify
some   of  them, for  their  monosyllabic, tonal  languages  differ  as
much from each other as  from  Thai  or  Chinese. Those  regarded
as constituting the "Thai" group do in fact  speak  something   more
or  less  like  Thai  or  Lao;  but  the  so-called  "Chinese"  group   is
apparently only Chinese insofar as certain items of Chinese  dress
and a few Chinese customs have been adopted by them. Of  these,
two of  the  principal  tribes  are  the  Miao  and  Yao, both  of   which
employ Chinese as a trade-language and lingua franca.  My  rather
fluent knowledge of the Chinese tongue was the decisive   factor  in
my selection of these two tribes for special study.

In  May, 1953, Mr. Braine-Hartnell, a  colleague  from  Chula-
longkorn   University, travelled   with   me   round   North  Thailand  in
search of hilltribes. We began  by  spending  a  few  days  in  a  Miao
village north  of  Chiengmai. This  was  made  possible  through  the
kindness of Mr. Prasit  Poonchuxri  of  that  city,  who  kindly  provided
us with mules and a Yunnanese guide. Our  next  attempt  to  contact
tribesmen at Mesai was hindered by bad weather and  the  unwilling-
ness of the local authorities to allow us to venture along paths which
might   lead  us  unwittingly  across  the  Burmese  border. We  there-
upon proceeded to Chiengkam, near the Laotian  border, where  my
colleague   fell   sick.  I  was  forced  to  leave  him  in  that  charming


 

 

 

 

 

2                                               John Blofeld

 

little town and ride into the mountains on horses  borrowed  from
some missionaries, who had shown us warm hospitality, with  a
Chinese guide. On that occasion, I spent a few nights in  a  large
Yao village and briefly glimpsed the homes of some neighboring
Miaos. The  following  year, I  went  back  to the  first  Miao  village,
again with Mr. Prasit's assistance, and spent a much longer time
there, familiarising myself with Miao customs and asking innumera-
ble questions about their legends and songs,etc. From all this, it
will be seen  that  my  acquaintance  with  the  tribes  is  not   very
extensive. On the other hand, my knowledge of Chinese enabled
me to question the tribesmen in great detail and to understand the
information they most willingly supplied.

All  journeys  to  tribal  villages  in  Thailand  are  much  the
same. The  first  was  more  or  less  typical  of  the  others. Leaving
Mr.  Prasit's   jeep   at    a   point   some  sixty  kilometres  along  the
Chiengmai-Fang Road, we mounted mules and entered the jungle.
Soon  the  path  began  to  rise  steeply  and, before  long, we  were
ascending a mountainside so steep that I  was  astonished  by  the
animals'  ability   to   negotiate   it.  Gradually,  the  character  of   the
forest began to change. From being a typical  Northern Thai  jungle,
it became the sort of forest one sees in illustrations to  old  editions
of Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales. Strange purples and golds gleamed
among the many sorts of green and the atmosphere became more
and more ' friendly '. Instead of the sinister sounds  I  had  expected,
there was  the  cheerful  shrilling  of  birds,  including  an  old  friend
from Peking,the 'one-more-bottle bird'and another which screamed
" Eric, Eric, Eric "   with   a   marked  Brooklyn  accent. The  guide  as-
sured us that tigers and cobras lurked near at hand, but it was impos-
sible to imagine them in that friendly atmosphere.

At last we came to a high ridge and rode along it for several
hours. For some  reason, I  was  a  little  in  front  of  Acharn  Braine
and the guide when, all of a sudden, I reached  a  spur  which  had
been completely denuded of trees and was dotted with some thirty
or forty primitive huts. Here at   last  was  a  Miao  village. As  I  rode


 

 

 

 

 

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down the spur, women and children in colourful clothes ran out  to
welcome the approaching strangers. It was an experience the feel
of which I have never forgotten. Time had slipped away and  I  was
on the threshold of a world which had hardly changed  in  three  or
four thousand  years. No  new  arrival  on  Mars  could  experience
greater pleasure or step from his spaceship with a sharper feeling
of excited anticipation.

I don't suppose men with blue eyes and high-bridged  noses
were a common or even a remembered  sight  in  that  village, but  the
people could not  have  behaved  better.  They  stared,  of  course,  yet
without fear, mockery or impudence. And, as soon as we dismounted,
someone ran forward politely welcoming us in to the  Headman's  hut.

Miaos are seen at their  best  in  the  open  air.  The  interior
of a  Miao hut is  not  a  pretty  sight.  The  floor  was  of  beaten  earth,
the walls of axe-hewn planks so roughly fitted as to admit almost  as
much light as if there  had  been  windows,  and  the  roof  formed  of
dried leaves contained similar gaps. ( I learn t later  that,  at  the  first
sign of approaching rain,someone would walk over to some bushes
near the door, pluck  a  few  armfuls  of  leaves  and  render  the  roof
tolerably   watertight.)  About   one   fifth   of   the  oblong  interior  was
partitioned   off   to  form  the  bedroom  of  the  senior  couple  of  the
family—a bedroom which contained a couch of split bamboo  and  a
couple of shelves for storing things. The  main  room  was  sparsely
furnished.   There    was  a  large  split-bamboo  couch  in  a  recess,
capable   of   sleeping  about  eight  people; a  huge  cauldron  in  an
earthen stove, used as a sink except when needed  for  some  great
feast; two or three wooden benches  less  than  a  foot  high; a  table
for storing oddments; and a  smaller  table  facing  a  bit  of  the  wall
where decorations of white perforated paper indicated the presence
of   ancestral  spirits.  All  eating  was  done  off  the  floor; there  was
no other  furniture  of  any  kind,  unless  we  count  a  primitive  grain-
pounder and the stone hearth, just inside  the  door, where  an  ever-
burning fire smouldered  by  day  and  flamed  by  night.  Although  it
was the height of the Thai summer, we found this fire very pleasant

 

 

 

 

4                                             John Blofeld

 

and necessary at nights; on the other hand, the  smoke  finding  no
chimney billowed about the room leaving a thick layer of black soot
on everything there.

After glancing round  this  room, my  heart  sank  a  little. It
seemed that the Miaos must surely  be  lacking  in  most  of  those
traits which make human  beings  worthy  of  study. But  almost  at
once my spirits revived. Acharn Braine  pointed  at  various  objects
I   had   not   noticed. There   were   all   sorts  of  instruments   and
utensils   fashioned  of  wood,  bamboo,  gourds  and  fibre,  which
showed great ingenuity and some of which possessed that beauty
of utter  simplicity  which  is  brought  to  perfection  by  the  interiors
of Japanese houses. Well, at least these people were ingenious.A
further example of their ingenuity was  their  excellent  water-supply.
A long bamboo pipeline brought fresh  water  into  the  heart  of  the
village  from  a  neighbouring  mountain  spring. (In  some  villages
there is a branch pipeline leading to a trough of hollowed  wood  in
every house.) The villagers were thereby  assured  of  a  more  con-
stant supply of water than the great city of Bangkok could  boast  at
that time. Unfortunately, it   was   seldom   used   for   anything   but
cooking, drinking   and   washing   clothes. Questioned   about  the
layers of dirt on their bodies, the Miaos declared that  bathing  is  a
dangerous practice which leads to severe illness. Perhaps it does,
if one is not used to the process.

As soon as our hosts had seen to our animals, they crowded
in   to   talk   to   us,  giving  us  an  opportunity  to  study  their  dress.
The men, especially the youths wearing clean, new-looking clothes,
were a fine sight—symphonies  in  black, scarlet  and  silver.  Many
of themwore  their  hair  in  embryo  queues  surmounted  by  black
Chinese skull - caps with a  red  bobble  in  the  centre. Their  black
jackets were buttoned at the side with silver  buttons  in  the  shape
of filigree balls attached to  inch-long  scarlet  frogs.  These  jackets
were so short as to leave an inch or two of flesh exposed above their
vast scarlet sashes with  embroidered  ends.  From  the  front,  their
trousers looked like the ordinary  Chinese  variety, but  what  should

 

 

 

 

 

                               Some Hilltribes of North Thailand                               5

 

have been  the  seat  hung  down  behind  to  well  below  the  knees.
This extraordinary fashion may have given rise to the Chinese legend
that Miaos possess formidable tails !There was no sort of foot cover-
ing.  Around   their   necks  hung  massive  silver  ornaments  of  two
kinds—chains and padlocks to chain their innate luck to their persons
aud great  horseshoes  to  keep  off  ill-fortune  from  outside. A  few
wore pieces of string  round their  wrists.  These  had  been  placed
there by their friends who had  a  little  good  luck  to  spare.  Acharn
Braine and I passed some of our superfluous luck to the Headman
in this  way. (Perhaps  it  wasn't  superfluous, which  would  explain
why each of us suffered severe illness at later dates.)

The women's dress was less striking as to colour but  quite
charming.  They   wore  no  hats, but  had  massive  buns  of  various
shapes straight above their heads. Their long - sleeved jackets were
of blue  cloth  ornamented  with  many  bands  of  colour  around  the
collar,  which   came   down   in   front   almost  to  the  waist  like  the
collar   of   a  kimono  or  a  dressing-gown.  Below  these  they  wore
kilts   of  pleated  material  some  twenty - one  feet  long, which  they
swung with all the grace of Scottish  Highlanders  and  a  great  deal
more   charm.  The   upper   parts   of   the   kilts   were  of  blue  cloth
stamped with a whitish  pattern,  below  which  were  several  inches
of delicate cross - stitch embroidery. One girl told  me  that  she  had
spent   the   leisure   hours   of   seven   years   on   a  single  kilt. The
embroidery patterns resemble those of Eastern European peasants,
but the work is so fine that  the  reverse  side  is  hardly  distinguisha-
ble   from  the   side  meant  to  be  seen.  Owing  to  the  absence  of
underclothes,  the   kilts   have   to   be   weighted   down  against  the
effects  of   the  wind  by  heavy  bands  of  black  cloth  hanging  from
the belt  before  and  behind. No  shoes  were  worn, but  many  girls
had   blue  gaiters  to   protect   their  legs  from  jungle  thorns. Their
ornaments   were   all  of  silver  and  resembled  those  of  the  men.
Miao dress varies from place to place, but those described are typical
for  Thailand.  These  were  Red  Miaos ;  there  are  also  White  and
varicoloured Miaos, distinguishable by the colours of their dress aud
by their dialect.

 

 

 

 

6                                               John Blofeld

 

What follows is based not only upon our first visit, but also
upon my subsequent investigations in that village  and  others. For
the   sake  of   brevity, I  shall deal  with  each  aspect  of  their  lives
under separate heads.

 

Daily Life

 

Miaos use their villagse as headquarters. Quite a lot of their
time is spent in the opium and maize  fields,  where  they  errect  tem-
porary shelters for  sleeping  two  together.  Cultivation  is  by means
of  jungle  -  burning,  the  burnt  trees  serving  as  manure. After  per-
haps four years, the yield  begins  to  lessen ; whereupon  the  whole
village is  transported  to  new  pastures,  the  empty  huts  being  left
to the mercy of nature.  In  the  busier  seasons, the  village  contains
only old people and young  children—though  old  is  a  relative  term
including  people   in   their   late   forties, for  the  life-span  is  rather
brief. No land is cultivated much  below  a  level  of   three  thousand
feet,  the   Miaos   believing   that   the   valleys  hold  death  for  them.
This may be true as they have no  immuntiy  to  the  diseases of  the
valleys. There are no fixed meal - time—they  eat  when  hungry ; the
food is very plain and sometimes limited  to  rice  and  salt  washed
down with water. They own  quite  a  range  of  animals—pigs, cows,
chickens, cattle, mules, horses, cats and the most lovely long - haired
dogs like Yorkshire terriers ; but  they  feel  themselves  too  poor  to
eat meat, except during  feasts  and  afters  sacrifices,  unless  they
manage to kill some game. Maize is   their  traditional  diet,  as  they
are unable to cultivate rice on those hight slopes,but those who can
afford   it   eat   rice   purchased   from  the  Thais  below.  They  also
cultivate  a  little  crude  tobacco  and  gather wild tea - leaves. Grain
spirit is drunk during festivals, but  the  Miaos  I  saw  struck  me  as
normally very abstemious.  My  hosts  had  to  hunt  for  some  spirit
when I asked to try a  cupful. They  are  a  very  hardworking  people
who toil from dawn till  dusk, after  which  the  elders  gather  round
their fires to chat and exchange stories ; the younger people go out
lovemaking, and lhe children fall asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                               Some Hilltribes of North Thailand                              7

 

There is no written language, so the children have no educa-
tion in our sense of the word. Their earlier years are  spent  in  one
long game of Robinson Crusoe, roaming the jungle with their  little
crossbows in search of birds or playing  games  among  the  trees.
Gradually they are broken in  to  domestic  life  and  to  work  in  the
fields, which they take as another sort of game. They are generally
pink-cheeked, happy,  healthy  and  intelligent-so  much  so  that  I
would like my children to live  with  them  if  it  were  not  an  unsuit-
able   preparation  for  their  adult  life. I  never  saw  Miao  children
quarrelling or fighting, nor even exhibiting signs of jealousy  when
some received the presents I had brought and  others  had  to  go
without.

Economy

The principal crop  is  opium,  yet  I  saw  very  few  signs  of
addiction   among  them. When  questioned,  they  answered  simply :
"Who eats his own money ?" Having a wise  disbelief  in  the  lasting
value of paper-money, they sell the opium for silver Burmese rupees,
with which they purchase horses, mules,  needles,  coloured  thread,
rice, steel and salt. Of  these  only  the  last  two  are  necessities, the
steel being  used for implements, knives  and  so  on. Given  a  good
supply of steel and  salt,  they  could  live  quite  independently  of  the
rest    of    humanity.  They  weave   their   own   cloth   and   make   all
their own utensils, weapons,  agricultural  implements  furniture  and
other   requirements,  often   showing  admirable  ingenuity.  Much  of
the silver is retained to be made into ornaments and for bride-money,
a   bride   costing   between   three   and   five  hundred  silver  rupees.
Formerly Chinese traders roamed the hills selling various necessities
and pretty oddments such as plastic toothbrushes; now Chinese are
unable to cross the border,  so  sometimes  the  elders  walk  or  ride
down to the  main  road  and  take  a  bus  to  the  nearest  city. I  often
noticed that, unlike other people, they put  on  their  oldest  and  most
tattered   clothes   for   journeys   to   town,   probably  to  convince  the
shopkeepers of their poverty. Thus  their  economy  is  a  simple  and
uniform process of selling opium for silver and exchanging  silver  for
whatever they happen to want. Though delighted to  receive  presents

 

 

 

 

 

 

8                                                  John Blofeld

 

in the form  of  mirrors,  torches,  plastic  bowls  and  so  on,  they  are
wise enough to waste almost no money at all on anything inessential
to their traditional way of life.

 

Arts and Amusements

A   totally  uncivilised  people,  the  Miaos  are  by  no  means
uncultured. Of visual arts  they  have  none  besides  embroidery  and
simple silver-work, but there are several  others.  They  play  pleasant
tunes   on    a   sort   of  'Jew's   harp'  with   which   they  prelude   their'
extemporary   lovesongs;   and   they  have  a  delightful  form  of  ' kan '
with  horizontal  bamboo  pipes  attached  to  a  vertical  mouth - piece
which descends into a  sort  of  hollow  wooden  bulb  which acts  like
the  bag  on  a  set  of  bagpipes.  A  youth  will  play  a  merry  tune  on
this, dancing very slowly as he plays.  Gradually  the  dance  quickens
and he whirls round  and  round,  somehow  finding  the  breath  both
for violent movement and the music to which he dances. The effect is
rather like that of a butterfly dancing, the horizontal bamboos  forming
one wing and the  musician's  left  leg  stretched  out  behind  to  form
the other. Many Miaos can recite long poems  committed  to  memory
solely by ear and, best of all, the youths and maidens  are  adepts  at
improvised lovesongs, alternately capping each other's with rhyming
refrains in similar metre.  The  greatest  of  the  world's  poets  would
be hard put to it to  improvise  at  such  a  speed. Their  other  amuse-
ments include a performance with sword-sticks or swords, somewhere
between fighting and dancing, and competitions between men  or  boys
armed with crossbows. For the  elders, there  is  the  solace  of  their
heavy  bamboo  water-pipes,  which  gurgle  throughout  their  nightly
fireside discussions, and the occasionally indulged in  pleasures  of
opium and grain-spirit. The happiest time is a  week  or  ten  days  of
fun   ushered   in   by   the   (Chinese)  New   Year.  T hen,   everybody
hastens back to the village prepared for ten days of feasting, drinking,
music and merriment. Second to  this come  the  great  family  feasts
when chickens and animals  have  been  sacrificed  to  appease  the
spirits in times of sickness and death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                 Some Hilltribes of North Thailand                            9

 

Religion

Properly speaking, the  Miaos  and  Yaos  have  no  religion.
They worship nothing and  offer  no  prayers  or  sacrifices  except  in
times of trouble. They   are  doubtful  about  the  existence  of  ghosts
or demons, excepting the spirits of their own ancestors who seem a
rather   unkind   lot,  very  different   from   the   warm-hearted,   kindly
living   Miaos. When   a   man   dies,  the   Meng-goong   ( Magician ?
Priest? Doctor ?) is called  in. By  means  of  certain  pieces  of  horn
or pigs' bones, he discovers where the dead man wishes to be burried.
Within ten days, the corpse  is  escorted  to  his   chosen  place  and
burried   in   the   centre   of   a  ring  of  stones.  For   three  days  the
mourners remain at his side feasting his spirit  with   the  savour  of
many  sacrifices. On  the  fourth, they  return  home, but  not  without
leaving   him   a   water-dipper  and   a  rice-container  together  with
instructions as to where to find the sweetest water and the best grain.
There the spirit remains for three years, after  which he goes to rejoin
his   ancestors   in   their  'home-place'.  But  during  that  period  he
watches   over   the   survivors  with   a   jealous   eye.  Any    fancied
discourtesy to him, any departure from custom is met  with   severe
punishment in  the  form  of  misfortune  or  sickness. Nothing   will
appease him but the sacrifice of the number of animals he indicates
to  the  Meng-goong. For  example, my  taking  photographs   of  the
villagers  infuriated  the  ancestor-demons; to avert calamity, I  paid
for several chickens and a small pig to be sacrificed for thei r pleasure.
On another occasion, somebody fell  seriously  ill.  Hour  after  hour,
I heard the booming of the Meng-goong's drum proceeding  from  a
neighbouring house.

" May I go and see ? '' I asked.
"Why not?"

So I strolled over and  walked  into  the  dark  chamber. The
Meng-goong, wearing a black mask and dressed entirely in sombre
black, was seated facing the spirit-shrine. He was thumping a drum
and gabbling some sort of ritualistic chant. Now and then he  would
scream and rise some four feet into the air-this movement by a seated

 

 

 

 

10                                               John Blofeld

 

man appearing so uncanny that I felt  myself  shiver. The  sick  man
was lying on skins spread on the  floor.  Soon  after I  came  in , his
wife   raised   him   into   a  sitting   position;  some   youths  quickly
slaughtered some chickens and piglets and the fresh blood was rubbed
on. his back. More of the blood  was  placed  on  a  divining-horn  to
discover the omens, and then the chanting and drumming went on
as before. There was something about the whole procedure which
was obscurely frightening to me, but to the Miaos  it  seemed  quite
devoid of terror, The victims had hardly  ceased  to  live  when  they
were  being  prepared  for  the  pot. I  left  quickly, unwilling  to  stay
there longer, but not before I had noticed how tender and affectiontate
they all were to the sick man.

 

Administration

Each village elects a Headman, who has very few duties
beyond keeping in touch with the Thai Authorities as represented by
the Nai Amphur, to whom he reports all changes of  location  and
acquisitions of virgin jungle. Internal administration  is  dealt  with
by the Elders. It is they who decide the amount of the  fines  to  be
paid by thoughtless young people who break the custom in some
way, or for the very rare offence of wife-stealing. In general, Miaos
and Yaos are singularly free from crime. They  have  no  word  for
'to lie' and do not seem ever to  resort  to  lying. Offences  against
personal property are nil, for fear of ancestral wrath and, no doubt,
because in a small community consisting of groups of some twenty
people confined in the space of an ordinary 'civilized' diningroom,
stealing would be almost  impossible. Larger  property  offences
would not make sense. The jungle is huge and every man free to
take as much land as his family can cultivate. Sexual crimes  are
very rare for reasons explained below, and the Miaos have a horror
of fighting and scolding. It displeases  the  Ancestors  too  much.

"But what would you  do  if  some  other  people  attacked
you ?" I asked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                           Some Hilltribes of North Thailand                                   11

 

"We   should   run   away. The   jungle  is  big.  It   goes   on
forever. There   is   plenty   of   land  for  all." I   obtained   this  sort  of
reply   in  several  villages,  and  I  imagine  it  is  the  truth.  Certainly
I never witnessed a fight or a squabble, though I  lived  at  such  very
close quarters with numbers of them. Twice  I  heard  an  old  man's
voice raised scoldingly, but everyone else laughed so much that the
poor old fellow couldn't keep a straight face himself.

Sex

Between the age of puberty and the time of marriage, young
people   are   prefectly  free  to  sleep  with   whom   they   will. Every
night, at dusk, they gather together in small groups  and  spend  an
hour or two making fun of each  other  or  competing  in  verse  and
song. Then, gradually,  they  slip  away  in  pairs,  returning  to  their
houses at about three or four  in  the  morning. Their  parents  have
not the least objection, so long as they do not show  disrespect  by
cohabiting under the same roof as their elders. Very often a couple
will   be   faithful to each  other  from  puberty  to  marriage. In  other
cases, varied degrees of promiscuity take place,according to indivi-
dual preference. The  only restriction  placed  on Miaos (it does not
exist among the Yaos ) is that  no  relationship, casual  or  serious,
shall  be  formed  with  non-Miaos.  Even  Varicoloured  Miaos  are
beyond the pale, though White Miaos are  permitted  to  court  Red
Miaos  and   vice-versa.  This  objection  to  the  former  is  strange,
because al1 three types of Miao are designated as Meng (human-beings),
whereas Thais, Chinese and other races do not qualify for that name.

 

Such promiscuity is shocking judged by our standards, but
it does seem to  have  some  advantages  in  addition  to  being  the
universal practice of man in  his  natural  state. By  the  time  a  Miao
youth seeks a wife, he is more or less free of ' love's blindness 'and
chooses a girl who will be a good manager and a suitable  addition
to his family in  other  ways,  being  thrifty,  hardworking,  and  so  on.
Divorce   is  very   rare, in  spite  of  being  easy,  and  unfaithfulness
scarcely more common. Besides, as women are married  for  them-
selves rather than  for  their  faces,  there  are  hardly  any  would-be

 

 

 

 

 

12                                           John Blofeld

 

wives debarred from marriage for lack of physical charm. In those
few cases where a wife does run off with another man, the husband
is generally willing to relinquish her, for he considers  that  a   wife
held against her will does not make  a  very  good  mate.  Besides,
whoever runs off with her is forced by the Elders to reimburse him
to the exact extent of  the bride-money paid by him  to  her  parents
at the time of his marriage.  The  commonest   form  of  irregularity
is the elopment of a pair who cannot get their  parents' consent  to
their marriage. With  such  cases,  the  Elders  deal  very  leniently,
merely stipulating  that  the bride-money be ultimately  paid  either
in cash or by work done on the land of the girl's parents.Curiously,
very few children are born of premaritial unions; those who do get
born are warmly welcomed by the girl's parents. The  possession
of one or more potential farmers increases her value and puts the
bride-money up by a considerable  amount. On  marrying, the  girl
takes her children into her new home.

Manners

In the literal sense of the word "manners", the Miaos and
Yaos possess none at all. There are no  words  for 'please, 'thank
you',  'excuse  me ', etc. Yet  they  are  most  genuinely   polite.  The
hospitality of their village is free to all comers;  everything  is  done
to see to the visitors' comfort, but without intrusion, so that  guests
feel able to do exactly as  they  wish; there  is  no  rude  staring  or
rude jests at the 'ignorant   stranger's' expense;  and  the  artificial
laughter and smiles of social intercourse are as foreign to them as
smiles  of  derision. There  is  nothing  boorish  about  them; they
behave as a 'gentleman' would behave if shorn of every shred  of
artificiality. The only phrase corresponding  to 'goodbye' is ' come
again soon'. If you wave your hand and shower smiles upon your
hosts at the time of departure,you will get no answering waves or
smiles—merely an expression of bewilderment, but there is something
in their manner which lets you know you will be very  welcome  to
return.

 

 

 



s1

 

 

 

 

s2

 

 

 

                               Some Hilltribes of North Thailand                              13

 

Yaos

So far, I have  hardly  mentioned  the Yaos, because in  most
respects  everything   said   about  Miaos  applies  to  them, too. There
are, however, some differences. The  most  obvious  is  that  of  dress.
The   men   dress  in  dark  blue  clothes  almost  identical  in  cut  with
those of Southern Chinese peasants-skull-cap, jacket buttoning at the
side, and floppy trousers. The women, on  the  contrary, are  gorgeous.
They wear enormous black turbans, the size  of  which, a grand  Vizier
of Bagdad might envy, long  jackets  with  scarlet  lambs-wool  collars,
reaching to the ankles behind, but  worn  under  the  belt  and  trouser
in   front.  Every   inch  of   their   vast,   full-length  trousers  is  covered
with  gay  embroidery.  If    the   Miao   kilts    represent     seven   years'
leisure, these must take  some  fifteen  years to produce, or  else  the
women have more leisure.

I  liked  the  Yaos  enormously, but  found  them  falling  short
of   "my''  beloved   Miaos   in   just  one  respect. They   have   taken  on
rather more of Chinese culture  and  lost  a  corresponding  amount of
spontaneity. In some villages  Chinese  teachers  are  employed  from
time to time to teach the elements of writing, and Chinese wall-scrolls
and mirrors decorate some of the houses. I have  already  mentioned
that   the   Yaos   do   not  limit  promiscuity  to  their  own  people,  and
thereby hangs a tale.

On my first night in a  Yao  village, I  noticed  that  only  men,
boys,  and   eldery  women  dropped  in  to  have  a  chat. The  lovely
girls whose beauty I   had  so  often  heard  praised  were  strangely
absent. Finally, I found the courage to ask where they were.

"Girls?"   answered   the  old  Headman-Magician. "Wait
until   tomorrow.   You'll   see'' There  was  something  sinister  in
the way he spoke, something  I  didn't  much  care  for. When  we
were left alone for the night, I asked my Chinese guide to explain.

"It's  like   this", he   said. " Yao  maidens  consider  they
have a right to the person of any male stranger who catches their
fancy.  Tomorrow, they   will   come  and  examine  us. If  they  like

 

 

 

 

 

14                                            John Blofeld

 

the look of us—well, I'm all right, an old man  like  me—if  they  like
the look of a man they may detain him  here  until  they  tire  of  him.
Sometimes it takes days." He sighed in a manner which indicated
he had been among Yaos in his youth.

"But, Good Heavens ", I said. "Surely  the  menfolk   won't
stand for a guest being held here against his will."

"Ah, they will  know  nothing  of  it. On  the  way  down  the
mountain, the women kidnap a departing guest and take him to a
hut in the fields. "

I was fortunately so tired that I slept  well  in  spite  of  this
disquieting news. The  next  morning  soon  after  breakfast, I  was
startled to see a bevy of women from fourteen to  about  twenty-five
come crowding into the room and gaze at me in silence. Presently
a hand was stretched out and rubbed across my chest. They were
not at all unattractive  in  feature, but  covered  with  thick  layers  of
dirt and, in some cases, open sores which might have been yaws or
worse. For once I was delighted with my few wrinkles and one  or
two grey  hairs. " I'm  old  enough  to  be  their  father, " I   reflected,
but I wasn't too reassured. Suddenly  it  occurred  to  me  that  this
would be a wonderful chance to snap some pretty faces, Yaos being
terribly camera-shy and normally difficult to approach with  a  camera.
I had no sooner produced my camera, opened it up and begun  to
focus it upon the prettiest girl when consternation broke  out  among
them. Before I could  say "Jack  Robinson" in  Chinese,  the  room
was   cleared   of   the   whole   bevy   and   my   virtue   was  saved !

A Yao Legend

"Long, long ago we  lived  in  a  land  far  away, we  the
children of the Emperor's dog. Ah, the dog ! Of course you know
nothing of him. In the earliest times, a Miao prince ruled  in  that
land, whom the Emperor of China detested. One day the Emperor
said to that dog 'Bite me the  Miao Prince to death and I shall be
pleased with you ! 'Good', said  the dog, 'but what  reward  shall
I have?' The Emperor answered that it   was  early  to  speak  of
that. Let the dog do his bidding aud the reward should be as he

 

 

 

 

 

 

                           Some Hilltribes of North Thailand                             15

 

chose. So the dog swum the great water  and  came  to  that  land
and bit the Miao Prince so that he died. This done, he swam back
to land and  came  quickly  to  his  Master  again.  'Well?' said  the
Emperor.   'It  is  done',  answered  the  dog.  'Name  your  reward,
my good dog. Whatever you ask, that you shall have. ' So the  dog,
being wise, asked for the Emperor's daughter. The Emperor was
not too glad to give his only daughter to such a queer  son-in-law,
but what could he do? He had spoken and a  word  must  always
be kept. So the marriage took  place. The  dog  returned  with  his
bride to the land of the Miao, where many children  were  born  to
them. We   Yaos  are  the  offspring  of  those  children. Now  you
know of the dog.

" As I was saying, we children of the dog were once hungry.
There was no food  in  the  land. We  grew  thin  and  died.  Some
there were who tried to  cross  the  great  water  in  boats. But  the
winds blew and they died in the water. Then  came  nine  families
to the shore, carrying three boats. These had  the wisdom to  pray
to   the   Great  Devil, Pan. 'O  Pan',  they  said,  'Take  us  safely  to
the other shore and we will give you a  pig.' So  Pan  carried  them
across   the   water   and   they   went  up  on  the  land.  Then  they
remembered that there was no pig. So they fashioned a pig out of
paper and other things and offered  it  to  Pan,  who  was  pleased.
Since then, we Yaos have had but nine surnames among us, and
since then we have offered pigs to Pan and honoured our pigs  by
keeping their thigh-bones in our houses. "

This story has one important point of contact  with the Miao
story to the effect that, their ancestors " came out of a  cave  bearing
torches   of   flax  and  crossed  the  great  water ". For   this  reason,
together   with   the   fact   that  their  migrations  have  always  been
westward,and the resemblance between the dress of Miao women
and the Formosan aborigines, all  tend  to  support  the  theory  that
both Miaos and  Yaos  came  originally  from  Formosa (Taiwan), or
Hainan, or from both. Of course, a comparison of languages would
be needed to confirm this theory.

 

 

 

 

16                                              John Blofeld

 

Conclusions

The people of these two tribes, but especially the Miaos,
struck me as being the hardest-working, least quarrelsome, kindest,
and most cheerful people I had ever met. Given the civilized
man's solace of a few good books, I believe I could live among
them for years in the greatest happiness. Nevertheless, it must be
admitted that they have certain qualities and habits of which it is
difficult to approve. The squalor of their houses and persons is
fortunately   less  harmful   than   it   sounds; no  doubt   the   clean
mountain   air  robs  it  of  dangerous  effect.  Their  superstition  is
primitive in the extreme, but it must be confessed that all of us  are
more   or   less  guilty   on   that  count. I  know  'civilized'  men  who
have a childish faith in the great god  Vitamin, and  my  own  father
would put  on  his  hat  while  still  within  the  doors  of  the  church
where he worshipped rather than risk his life  by  baring  his  head
for half a second to the fresh air—yet he was a highly civilized  and
cultured   man.  In   any   case,  other  people's  dirt  and  particular
brands of superstition call for no  outside  interference. The  same
applies to their sexual life. Judging  from  their  appearance, it  un-
doubtedly suits them; and there would  seem  to  be  fewer  disap-
pointed wives and spinsters among them than in any community I
have ever known.

There remain two very serious  drawbacks  to  their  way  of
life which cannot be lightly dismissed, because they do or ultimately
will    affect   the   lives  of   other  people. The  first  of  these  is  their
wasteful method of agriculture which entails the systematic destruc-
tion of valuable jungle. Complaints have already been  made  about
this   by   Thai  persons  in  places  of  high  authority. To  me,  these
complaints seem a little premature, in view of the enormous area of
jungle in Thailand which has hitherto been put to  no  use  whatever.
All the same, such  complaints  are  right  in  principle  and  the  day
must surely  come  when  every  inch  of  the  earth's  cultivatable  or
afforrested surface will be required.

 

 

 

                                 Some Hilltribes of North Thailand                            17

 

The second drawback can hardly be separated from the first,
being at once its cause and its result-the planting of  opium. So  far,
we can hardly dare to criticise the Miaos and Yaos for this on moral
grounds, since the governments of Burma, Thailand, Laos  and  all
the countries concerned have been (and  in some  cases  still  are)
willing    to    purchase   this   product.  But   everybody   knows   that
opium, although  in many  ways  less  pernicious  than   alcohol,  is
exceedingly harmful at least insofar  that  addicts  of  small  means
are compelled to deprive themselves and their families of the good
things of life  in  order  to  have  the  money  to  satisfy  their  craving.
The time must come quite soon when the growing of opium will be
prohibited   or   narrowly  restricted  in  every  country  in   the  world.
But merely to pass a law and then restrict the growth  of  opium  by
force would be tantamount either to  condemning  the  hilltribes  to
death and   extinction, or  to  turning  them  into  dangerous  armed
smugglers and bandits like the so-called Haws (Yunnanese) with
whom the Thai police are often in conflict.

The extinction of the hilltribes would be a shame and  a
disgrace, and not only from the humanitarian - Buddhist point  of
view. Thailand is fortunate to have side-by-side  with  its  present-
day culture another culture hardly changed in thousands of years—
a rich source of material for anthropologists and all students of the
human race. It is my humble opinion  that  individual members of
the Siam Society, in the name of humanity and culture, should make
use   of   any  available  opportunity  to  draw  the  attention  of   the
Government to this matter and to suggest some means of keeping
this ancient people  alive and  happy. Some  may be  in  favour  of
educating the tribesmen and absorbing them into the Thai way of
life. This   would  not  only  entail  the  destruction  of  their  unique
culture, but would have even worse results, Experiments in  India
and elsewhere have shown that any  attempts  to  bend  primitive
tribesmen   to  another  way  of  life  completely  demoralize  them,
turning them into fourth or fifth class citizens  unable  to  compete
with others and riddled with newly acquired vices  and  diseases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

18                                               John Blofeld

 

I am quite certain that there is only one solution reasonably
sure of promoting the happiness both of the tribes and of  their  Thai
neighbors . For  this   the   Government   requires  a  long-term  plan.
The  tribes should  be  notified that, in a  certain number of years, all
opium-planting   must  come  to  an  end, on  pain  of   the   severest
penalties; but the intervening period should be at least  ten  and  pre-
ferably twenty years.  During  that  time,  agricultural  experts  should
be sent up to make a prolonged study of the capabilities of  the  soil
in those areas. It will not be enough to  say  to  the  tribes "Plant  tea
or tobacco or coffee", because without expert aid  they  will  certainly
be   unable   to  produce  anything  of  the  kind  which  will  compete
favourably   with   similar   products   from   elsewhere. In  any  case,
they would not have the means of processing such things for them-
selves. It is  essential  that  their  products be  easily  transportable
over narrow mountain and jungle  paths, and  that  they  be  readily
marketable on arrival at  the  nearest city. The  tribes  do  not  grow
opium from  choice. Hundreds  or  thousands  of  years  ago,  they
were pushed off the best land by their Chinese and other neighbors
and forced to take refuge in the mountains to which they have  now
become accustomed. On those high slopes they find it impossible
to grow anything but opium, for which  there  is  sufficient  demand
to provide them in return  with  the  necessities  of  life. The  substi-
tution of other crops will take years  to accomplish, and  can  never
be accomplished at all without expert help and guidance.

 

Each  time  I  have  visited  those  delightful  people  in  their
lovely airy  surroudings, I  have  left them  with  deep  regret, and  my
affection for them is such that I may perhaps be excused for utilizing
this address to a learned audience not only to describe what  I  saw,
but also to plead  the  cause  of  those  who  afforded  me  so  many
pleasurable nights and days.


 

 

 

 

 

                               Some Hilltribes of North Thailand                           19

 

TWO MIAO LOVE - SONGS, taken down at the time of their
improvisation.

The boy: Goo tsa gao; I sing to you;

Goo yoh gao; I love you;

Gao na, gao tze, jirr-k'ng. But your parents won't

give you to me.
Gao yoh ha-li joang ? What do you say ?

Gao da jia, ' Goo yoh gao ' ? Oh, do say ' I want you' !
Gao yiu goo jirr-yiu ? Will you take me or not ?

Gao jirr yoh, goo jia gu-doh If not, I shall die.
Gao yoh goo, i-meng or-nao. If yes, we shall go and

plant our own field.

 

The girl : Hlung gao. A girl's song ( sung for )

you.

Gao na, gao tze jirr-k'ng Your parents won't let me
goo yoh gao; love you;

Goo na. goo tze jirr-k'ng My parents won't let you
gao yoh goo. love me.

Nu-noh i-jirr i-meng Now let us run away and

on jiorr, become Thais,

I shirr yoh, Sure of our love,

Gao dou goo, goo dou gao. You with me and I with

you.

 

 


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