Expedition to the ' Khon Pa' (Or Phi Tong Luang ? ) พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda   







                                 Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda
                                     Julian Hartland-Swann

          On  August 5, 1962, an  expedition under the  auspices of  the
Siam   Society   to  investigate  the  Phi  Tong  Luang (ผีตองเหลือง) or
'Spirits   of    the   Yellow   Leaves',  assembled  at  Muang  Nan. The
expedition, of  necessity   small  in  number  in  order  to  provide  the
maximum opportunity of meeting the tribe  without  scaring  them  off,
consisted of three members of the  Society under  the  leadership  of
Mr. Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda, his secretary, a photographer and   a
number of bearers. It should be mentioned  at  the  outset  that  none
of the members of the expedition  were  qualified   anthropologists  or
ethnologists. This   article   consequently  makes  no  claim in these
fields to attempt  anything  more  than  a  factual  presentation of the
expedition's findings; only in  the  linguistic  field  is any professional
assessment attempted and even this has had to be strictly limited in
the light of the very slender body of facts discovered.

          To place the subject in perspective an outline of the  historical
background   is   relevant. In   northern   Thailand  the  legend of  the
Phi Tong Luang  is  ancient  and  very  widespread. They  were  said
to be a tribe of nomads,  primitive,  shy,  suspicious and only  rarely
seen, who  practised  no  form  of  agriculture, went  around   almost
naked and lived on a diet of berries, nuts  and  small   animals. They
were said to inhabit the deep  jungle  and  to  construct   no  houses
except   small, temporary, lean-to  shelters  from  a  few sticks  and
palm-leaves. It was in  fact   these  palm-leaves, grown  yellow  after
their few days' use and  then  discovered  by  passing  Thai  hunters,
which  gave  rise  to  their  picturesque  name. Up  to 1936, however,
no qualified observer had ever  seen  them, although  Major   Seiden-
faden, during the course  of  his  extensive  anthropological  work  in
this country as a member  of  the  Society, noted  several reports of
Phi Tong Luang in the Sa valley in Changwat Nan which seemed  to
confirm   some  parts  of  the  legend1. In 1936/7 an  Austrian ethno-
logist, A.H.Bernatzik, in the course of a study of the autochthonous


1. For   fullest   account   see  J.S.S. vol XX, part  1, pp 41—48;  also  men-
tioned in J.S.S vol. XIII, part 3, pp 49-51  &  vol.  XVIII,  part 2,  pp.  142-144.






166     Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda and Julian Hartland-Swann


peoples   of   South-East   Asia, came  to  Thailand,organised an ex-
pedition into an area about 20 miles east of  Nan  and  then  claimed
to have traced, met and lived with a small group  of  Phi  Tong Luang.
He published  his  findings  in  a  book, now  translated  into  English1.
Between 1954 and 1956 two American anthropologists, Weaver  and
Goodman, also went into the Nan area and reported finding  a  small
group of Phi Tong Luang. Apart  from  this  and  several chance brief
encounters by  Mr. Garland  Bare, a  missionary  working in the Nan
area at the moment, there has been no further corroborated evidence
about these people.

          Bernatzik's   account, although  controversial  ever  since  its
publication, is certainly the  most  detailed and authoritative descrip-
tion of Phi Tong Luang and really constituted  the main evidence we
had  to  go   on  before  mounting the  expedition.We were therefore
somewhat disappointed  to find  several discrepancies  between  his
descriptions and what  we  observed  when  we  met our  own group.
These discrepancies will be brought out during  this  article since  in
many ways it is on these that hinge  the three main problems about
our  findings: were  the   people we met really Phi Tong Luang; what
relation do they  have  with  other  Phi  Tong  Luang groups such  as
those  met  by  Bernatzik,  Weaver,  Goodman and Bare; and, most
important  of  all, does  the actual  name  Phi  Tong  Luang  have  a
genuine ethnic connotation, or is it simply  a  loose coining invented
by the Thai to cover any strange or  remote  group of jungle-dwellers-
We are able to give authoritative answers to none of these questions.
However, as far as the last question is concerned, our own evidence
and that of almost every  independent  account  leads  to  what  can
almost be regarded as a firm conclusion.The name Phi Tong  Luang
is indubitably a Thai coining (it appears also  in the alternative forms
of Kha Tong Luang in Laos and Phi Pa  in   the Nan area). No group
of people in any  account   has  ever  admitted  to owning the name;
Bernatzik's group called  themselves  Yumbri, while  our own  called


          1. 'The    Spirits    of     Ihe     Yellow    Leaves', A.H.   Bernatzik,  ( Robert
Hale, 1958).






                         EXPEDITION TO THE KHON PA                      167


themselves Khon Pa, at the same time  strenuously  repudiating   the
name Phi Tong  Luang. Moreover, as  a  glance  at  our   photographic
records will show and as later  described, our   group  showed   within
itself considerable differences in  physical   appearance  and  seemed
most unlikely to have stemmed from a common stock. It seems clear
in fact  that  the name  Phi  Tong  Luang  is  a  name  invented by the
Thai   and  used  indis criminately  to  refer  to  any  unfamiliar people
who inhabit the deeper parts of the jungle and who are not   members
of  any  recognised  hill-tribe  or  known  local  community. In  itself it
has no ethnic, sociological or genuine categorical meaning at all.It  is
for this reason that we have  referred  to  the  group  we  encountered
as Khon Pa and not Phi Tong Luang.


          Bernatzik met his Yumbri somewhere  in  the Wa  valley about
20 miles east of Muang Nan. We met  our  nine  Khon  Pa  in  the Sa
valley about 30 miles west of  Muang Nan. We  had  walked  into  the
jungle north from the  village  of  Fang  Min  on   the  Nan-Phrae  road
and set up a camp in Ban Pa Hung. From  here  we  had sent  out  a
scouting party consisting of two local teachers and the Phu Yai  Ban1
all of  whom  knew  the  group  of  Khon  Pa well, having  traded  with

them over a period of years. This advance party contacted  the  group
after two days' search and had then arranged for them to meet  us  at
an abandoned village called Ban Huay Kum, situated  about  10   km.
up a small tributary which  ran  steeply  down  from  the  hills  to  join
the Mae Sa. All of  us  had  carefully  put  on  the  loose  blue smock
and trousers worn by the local Thai  villagers  so  that  the  Khon  Pa
should  not  be  too  startled  by  their  first  sight of ' farang ' and city
Thais. To reassure them further  we  also  took  with   us  several   of
the local  Thai  village  maidens  as   our ' women-folk ' !  These   girls
went forward to one of the less dilapidated  of  the  houses  and    we
were delighted to see the group of Khon Pa suddenly appear,weighed
down with their mats, baskets, knives and the occasional spear,  and
make for this house. It was about 11  am., almost immediately  there 


          1. Village headman.






168   Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda and Julian Hartland-Swann


was a burst of chatter and laughter and  this continued so vigorously
that we lost no time in emerging from the  shelter  of  our own house
and joined the woman. There was a momentary pause as our  heads
appeared above   the floor level and the Khon  Pa  nervously  fingered
the  knives at  their  waists, but  talk quickly resumed  and  after that
they betrayed  almost  no  nervousness  at  all  throughout  the seven
hours   we   spent  with  them. In  fact one of  the  earliest  and  most
striking impressions that we received was their  spontaneous  vivacity
and gaiety, shown both by their  frequent  bursting  into  song accom-
panied   by  dancing   and   by  their  constant  wit  and good humour
throughout   our   questioning. (Bernatzik's  Yumbri  were  particularly
noted for their extreme shyness and almost  lugubrious   low  spirits.)
They were   not   however   either   curious  or  particularly   observant.
Despite the fact that five of us carried cameras and  that we  had  two
tape-recorders and  a  cine-camera  in  addition,  they  took very  little
initial notice of them and not only sat quite unmoved while  we   either
photographed or recorded them but allowed us to group or pose them
wherever we  wished. Throughout  the  day   they   never  asked  us a
single question about who we were, what we were  doing or  why   we
had  come. When one of  the  Thais  in our  party   pointed  to Velder
and  Hartland-Swann  and  said  'farang',  they   appeared   to  evince
neither surprise nor interest and  after  repeating   the   word   several
times in an experimental way they turned away.


          To  attempt   an  accurate   physical   description   of them  is
diffcult-both   because   none   of   us   were  trained  anthropological
observers and also because there was considerable variation  among
the nine men we met. As far as we could judge they  did   not belong
to any one identifiable ethnic group, although  it  appeared   that they
were all of mongoloid and not  negrito  stock. It  is  best  therefore  to
attempt to describe the features which they  all  shared   in  common
and then  to  qualify   this  in  individual  cases. They  ranged  in  age
from about 17 to 50 (all ages are estimates since  they were   unable
to reckon their own ages at all ) although most of  them appeared  to






























                        EXPEDITION TO THE KHON PA                        169


be   in  their  30's. They   were  (with  one  exception)  small men about
5' 2"  in   height   with  sturdy   well-built   figures,  particularly well-deve-
loped chests and strong  shoulders  and  thighs. Their  hair  was  black,
thick   and   straight,  although   it   was  usually  matted and  very dirty.
They   wore   it   quite  long,  almost   to   their  shoulders, hanging in  a
slight   wave  (three   of   them  had  cropped  it  short  just by the neck)
and most of them had applied some sort  of  animal  grease  to  it. Their
forehead   was   high  surmounting  strong  eyebrows, though  the  latter
had  little  trace  of  bushiness. The  eyes  were  large,  mongoloid,  with
long   curling   eyelashes, while   the  nose  was  generally  pronounced,
strong   and   high-bridged  with  narrow  nostrils (three  of  them  had  a
rather   broader   and  flattened  nose). The  mouth  was  generally large
with lips  which  were  thickish  though  not  negroid; the  body well-built
as described although there was some tendency to bowing in  the   legs.
The colour of the  skin  showed  some  variation  but  was  in  general  a
pale   yellowish   tan,  quite  similar  to  the  colour  of  the northern Thai.
They appeared to be quite  healthy  with  no  sign  of  undernourishment,
although  they   were  extremely  dirty   and   smelt   highly- Several   of
them, however,  were  suffering  quite  severely  from  ring-worm  on  the
waist and groin, and two of  them  had  suffered  some  damage  to  one
of   their  eyes (one of them  explained  that  he  had  been  stung  by a
hornet   in   the   eye  in  early  youth). They  wore no form of body orna-
ment at all although all of them had  the  lower  lobe  of  the ear pierced
into a half-inch diameter hole which in some cases had actually caused
the  lobe  to  break. Four  of  the  group  also  had a  blue tattoo worked
onto their chest and back  and  one  actually  had a watch tattoed  onto
his  wrist. These  tattoes  they  explained  had  been  done for  them by
some Thai visiting the valley a few years  earlier  and  was  in   a conven-
tional   Thai   pattern    consistent    with    this  explanation. They  were
mostly smooth-skinned though some  had  traces  of  body hair  on  the
arms and legs. None of them had beards or  any  observable facial  hair.
None   of   this   is   in  direct  contradiction  with  Bernatzik's  physical
descriptions of  the Yumbri, though  a  comparison  of  the photographs
he took and our own make it  unlikely  that   the two groups are closely
related. It  is  possible   that   they   might   have come  from  a  similar
original   mongoloid   stock   a   long  time  back, but no more than this.






170     Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda and Julian Hartland-Swann


Unfortunately we  had  neither  the  time  nor  the  equipment to  take
detailed   measurements  and  other  vital  observations  which  might
have  made  their  origins  clear. We  can  only  hope  that  a later op-
portunity to do this will present itself.

          On  their  arrival  at  the  meeting  place, they were all wearing
something   in   addition   to   their   loin-cloths.  They  presented  an
extraordinarily motley sight as they  tramped in, one  in  an old moth-
eaten cardigan  and  a  tattered  pair  of  shorts, another  in a grubby
tee-shirt and two of them with bright pieces of green and blue  plastic
material   flapping   grotesquely   about   their  waists. All  of this had
been given to them by our advance party. They told  us  that normally
they simply wore their loin-cloth, a  filthy  piece  of  twisted rag which
they   either  begged  or  picked  up  by  barter  from  the Thais.Once
provided  with the extra ' clothes ', however, they  appeared curiously
loth  to  remove  them  when  asked  and  said  they  were ashamed.
Certainly  when  they  left  us  that  evening,  having  stripped almost
every   garment   off   our   backs  even  down to asking  for Velder's
pyjamas they  appeared  in  high  spirits. Gleefully wearing  all  their
trophies they strutted off down the track like a  troop  of over-decked
scarecrows. They   definitely   wove  no  cloth  themselves, both  on
their own evidence and corroborated by the Thais, though  how they
kept themselves warm at night still remains as  much  a mystery to
us as it did to  Bernatzik. Unlike  the  Yumbri the Kkon Pa seemed
to possess some skill in handicrafts. They  all  carried with them  a
sort of string-bag made from knotted vine fibre,in which they carried
tobacco, root pipes, dried banana leaf  for  rolling  cigarettes (which
they   smoked  constantly alternately with their pipes),  fire-making
equipment  (a  flint  and  steel)  and  beeswax  which they used for
trading. Almost all  of  them  carried  at least one knife tucked  into
their loincloth. These were small and  crudely   fashioned with both
sheath and handle covered with plaited  rattan. One  man carried a
spear about 7' long and tipped at one end with  an  unbarbed  point;
on the other end he had already bound the large forged spear-blade
which had formed the chief gift  carried  by our advance  party.They


1. see   Bernatzik's '   Die   Geister    der   Gelbern    Blätter '    ( Verlag F.
Bruckmann 1938 ) illustrations No. 58 & 59.






                          EXPEDITION TO THE KHON PA                    171


also carried, rolled in a mat, one  other  shorter  spear  about 5'  long.
This  had  a  more  complex  attachment  which  looked  rather like a
narrow   bladed  hoe  or  spade  implement. Several  of  them  carried
lidded baskets on their  backs  made  of  dried  split r attan  and  of a
design quite similar to those made  by   several  hill-tribes-particularly
the Meo. Here the Yumbri  provide  an  interesting  comparison  since
they were noted as  making  baskets  of  an  almost  identical  design
which they  had  learnt  from  the  Meo. The  Yumbri  also made mats
from the same  material  which  again  sounds  very  similar  to  those
brought in by the Khon Pa and used by  the latter as  a staple trading
product   with   the   valley  Thai. The  Khon  Pa  said that  they could
work iron and were eager  to  aquire  this  material, one  of  the  group
met by our advance party  having  specifically  requested  a  gift  of an
iron   bar, which   we   in   fact   ultimately  provided. We nevertheless
had   great   difficulty   in   determining   any  definite  product of  their
forging  and, apart  from  the  two  crudely  fashioned spear-points, all
their   implements   may   well  have  been  obtained  from  local  Thai
sources   and   not   made  by   them  at  all. Other  examples of their
craftsmanship  were available  in  two  small,  bamboo,  lidded  boxes,
used to hold tobacco and fire-making equipment;  these  were  carved
and decorated with a simple design of stroke patterns  and  we  found
similar   designs   carved   on   two  of   their  pipes. Their  skills were
crude and the design simple, but it  seems  an  improvement  on   the
Yumbri who, apart from the baskets and mats, attempted  nothing  in
this sphere.

        As far as their diet is concerned much of our evidence is second-
hand  by  way  of  our  indefatigable  Thai  guides.  Although,  as men-
tioned, they did not appear  to  be  undernourished, almost  their  first
request to us was  for  food. This  the  Thais  said  was  habitual  with
them and they always went through an elaborate  begging  patter   for
food when they arrived  at  a  village. We  put  before  them meat, fish,
tinned   sardines   and   glutinous  rice-all  of   which  they ate readily.
They   used   their   fingers   throughout   and   were certainly  hungry.
They ate cleanly and seemed familiar with the  type  of  food, working
the   rice  into  a  ball  with  their  fingers  and  using  it to pick up the






172   Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda and Julian Hartland-Swann


pieces of fish or meat in  the normal northern Thai fashion. We also
gave   them   some  coffee  to  wash  it down with.This they treated
with great suspicion but in the end most of  them drank it,under the
impression, playfully fostered by the Thai bearers, that it was a rare
new   form   of   aphrodisiac. From  oblique  references  of their own,
confirmed later  by  our  guides, their main diet at that  time of  year
was a small nut called ' makhom ',Pittosporopsis Kerril Craib, which
grows profusely in the area and is ripe during the  months  of July to
September. To   our  taste  it  was bitter  and rather unpleasant.This
they  supplement  with  wild  mango, various  roots, fruit, wild honey
which they extract from  the  combs  by pressing them through their
vine bags,and small animals such as  porcupines,bamboo-rats   and
snakes. The  Khon  Pa  said  that  they also occasionally organised
hunting parties accompanied by their  dogs and  killed  barking  deer,
pigs and even  bears. They  had  no  knowledge  of   traps and never
used them, nor did they make any attempt  to  store food but simply
lived   from   day   to  day. They  had  no  cultivation and appeared to
dislike  the idea  of  it  acutely; when  we asked  if they would like to
be like us and have all the  things  which  we  had, they rejected  the
idea with great distaste saying that it  would  entail  tilling  fields and
this they would hate. All that  they  wanted in  this line was to bacco
and this they could obtain in plenty by  helping  themselves  from the
plots of deserted villages, When they  mentioned  their  hunting  trips
with their dogs we began to  question  them  further  about  the latter
since we still had no clue as to where they were kept and hoped that
this might give us a line on  the  most  tantalising  question  of  all —
where the Khon Pa lived. Now in  a  matter of  fact  way, they replied
that they kept their dogs behind permanently in their villages.

          Here,  indeed,  was  the  most  significant  departure from Phi
Tong Luang mythology. But when we  began  to  cross  question the
group for  details  the  curtain  descended  again. Apart  from saying
that it was situated up on the ridge behind, above the  pine  line  and
that there were five or six houses they prevaricated. When we asked
to be taken  to  it  they  hedged, saying, that the trail crossed many


















                        EXPEDITION TO THE KHON PA                       173


streams, was   difficult   to   navigate  and would take too  long.Finally
they put us off by  saying  that  they would  take us to it if we returned
in  the  dry  season. The  only  other  fact we  gathered from them was
that   their   women   and   children   remained  there permanently and
would flee into the  surrounding  trees  on  the  approach  of a stranger,
warned    by   the   dogs   who  were  kept   there  for  that purpose.No
stranger was ever  allowed  to  see  or  meet  them. Three of  the Thais
in Ban Pa Hung later told us that they had  on  several occasions been
allowed to  visit  the  village  and  supplied  us  with  a variety of details.
We record them here although  none  of  it  could  be varified of course.
They   estimated  the  total number living  there at about  fifty although
the   number   of  houses  was no more than  five  or  six.  The houses
were   simply   and  crudely  made: an  earth  floor covered  with  bark;
two  sloping  roofs  going  up to the middle  but not meeting, leaving  a
gap   for  the  smoke  of  a  centrally  placed fire to go out through; the
roof is made of palm leaves laid  flat and  held  there by tree branches;
and each house surrounded by a small enclosure made of further piled
branches. This   was  their  only  defence  against   tigers  which  were
their   greatest   enemy  and of  which  they  were  terrified.  They  had
lived in  this  particular  village  for  just  over  a  month and had moved
there  from  a  previous  village  at  the  source  of the Huay Tha where
they  had  lived  for  about  four  months. In  fact  this group had a long
history   of   having   lived  and  traded  in  the  Sa valley for a period of
over   thirty   years. The  only  exception  was a disastrous move three
years ago over  the  ridge  into  Changwat  Phrae. They stayed there a
year   despite   hostile  treatment  from  occasional police patrols until
they   were  finally  driven  out  by  a particularly brutal attack by some
Thai   villagers   who   raided   their village and burnt it  to   the  ground
together    with   all   their stocks  of  rattan. They  moved   their  illage
normally   when  they  had  stripped  the surrounding area of  food. As
for the famous leaf shelters; certainly they made  them, but only when
they   were   on   a   trading or hunting  expedition  down in the valleys.
Several more of  the  villagers  confirmed  having  seen  these shelters
themselves when hunting,but unfortunately we  ourselves  never  came
across  one  throughout  the  trip. Our  attempts  to get details of their







174          Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda and Julian Hartland-Swann


tribal organisation, social customs or taboos proved  almost  completely
barren — whether because so little of a real social structure existed  (as
we think) or   simply  because  of  their  obvious  difficulty  to express or
communicate   ideas  of  this  nature, we  never  discovered.  The  group,
during   the   time  we  observed  it,  showed  little  sign  of  cohesion  or
organisation, although they told us  that  the  eldest  of  them  was  their
leader.  They    did,   however,  go    into    a     brief,  vague  description
of   the  spirits  whom  they  believed  ruled  their  lives  and whom  they
worshipped after a fashion. There were  two  main  manifestations:   one
a  general  tutelary  deity  and  the  other  a  more  specific spirit whose
particular province was to protect the  eyes  and  give  them  keen  sight.
They   sacrificed   to   both, pigs  to  the  former  and ducks to the latter.
A curious and perhaps  significant   feature  of  this  was  that  both pigs
and   ducks   had   to  be  domesticated  ones  and  not wild, and these
pigs   and   ducks   were  the  main  things  which  they approached the
Thai   villagers   for. This  might  indicate  a  survival  from  a  time when
they were in a more civilized state and reared their own stock.

          Quite    the   most    interesting feature of  the  group  was  their
language   and   singing. At   first   our   questioning  proceeded  slowly
and    with   some  difficulty,  although   they  spoke  to us in Thai Yuan.
The  Thai  Yuan, Thai  Yon  or   Thai   Yonok  are  the  people  who  live
in   the   northern   provinces   of   Thailand today, i.e.  Chiengmai, Lam-
poon, Lampang, Chiengrai, Phrae and Nan, which are  also  referred  to
as Lanna Thai. Their language is also sometimes called Phasa  Muang
(the  language  of  the townspeople). Our  group  spoke  this  quite well
but with a  strong  Khamuk  accent. When  asked about  this they then
said that  they  were  in  fact  Khamuk  themselves (the  Khamuk are a
hill tribe of  whom  there  are  large  numbers  in  the  Nan  area). Khun
Kraisri,  happening   to   know  a  few  words  of  Khamuk, shot them a
few more questions  in  Khamuk  and  they  promptly  replied  in it.One
of   our   servants, who   was  a  local  Khamuk, told  us that they were
indeed   speaking  Khamuk, but  with  a  pronounced accent  and  later
one   of   our  guides, Kamnan  Ka  Srikampha,confirmed  that  he  had
heard some  Khamuk  villagers  living  at  Ban Nam  Mae  or  Ban  Pae
(village No. 4, tambol  Yap  Hua  Na ) say  that this  group  of Khon Pa






                               EXPEDITION TO THE KHON PA                                175


had   visited  their  village  frequently. They  used   to   speak  Khamuk
to them just as they used Thai Yuan  when  they  visited  Thai  villages.
The  Khamuk  villagers  had  added,  however,  that  their  accent  was
certainly a strange one and made it clear that the  Khon  Pa  were not
in fact  Khamuk. We  returned   to  our  questioning  and the Khon Pa
now, quite suddenly, said  that  they  were  Thai  Yuan. Again we had
to go through laborious cross-checks,such as asking them what  lang-
uage   the   Thai   Yuan  spoke; to   which  they replied 'Kham Muang'.
Even their names they carefully rehearsed to  us   in Thai Yuan  ( and
in fact appeared to  have  no  others). These  names  appeared   quite
random coinings and were almost as if they had  been  bestowed   on
them  in  fun  by  the  Thais :— Pan,   Paeng, Muang, Ouan, Mun,Pa,
Ta,  Kham  and  La.1 With   all  these  contradictions, it was quite ob-
vious   that   they   were   not   telling  the  truth. Further  tedious and
frustrating questioning followed and we were  on  the  point  of   giving
up   when  suddenly one of the Khon  Pa  admitted  that  they had  a
language of  their  own. This language, he  said, was  old, never used,
and he could  barely  remember  it. Armed  with  this new information
we called the nine Khon Pa  in  to  us  one  by  one. If  two agreed on
a   word  we  accepted  this as  sufficient evidence of its probable cor-
rectness; if   only   vouched   for  by one of  them  we  disregarded  it.
Unfortunately our time with them was too  limited; they  had  come at
11 a.m. and left us at 6 p.m. that evening, and we had too many other
questions to ask them apart from those dealing  with   their  language.
On the  basis  of  the  evidence  gathered  Khun  Kraisri  was able  to
prepare a list of words said  to  be 'their  own'  language  (Appendix I).

          There are  several  interesting  features  about  this vocabulary,

all too  brief  though  it  is. All  but  four  of   the words have the prefix

' tok ' or ' to ' for  which   they   could   give   neither  reason or  exact

meaning. This prefix is applied both to  the  names  of  animals   and

to the various parts  of  the  body  and  it  may  be  possible that it is

linked with the Thai word ' tua ' ( ตัว )  which  is used  as  a  classifier

or numerator for animals  and  some  parts  of  the  body. Out  of  the


1. These   can   be   loosely   translated   as:— give,  expensive,  mango,
bamboo rat, hoard, fish, eye, gold and youngest.






176    Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda and Julian Hartland-Swann


forty-eight   words   noted, three   are  quite  close to  their   Khamuk
equivalents : dog,  elephant   and   land-leech. A  comparison  of this
list   with   Bernatzik's reveals   no   obvious  similarities. Certain of
the Yumbri words are  readily  identifiable  with  Khamuk  words  and
their language,as far as one can judge,is probably of  the Mon-Khmer
group,  despite   the  addition  of   a  certain  number of  Laotian loan-
words. But the Khon  Pa's  vocabulary, apart  from  a  similar number
of Thai  loan-words,  shows no  apparent  link  with  any  other known
Southeast     Asian   language. It   is   certainly  too  soon  to decide
whether  it  is  directly    related  to  either  the  Mon-Khmer  group of
languages   or   the   T'ai. They   themselves   were   clearly  in some
difficulty trying to recall a language  which they normally  never  used.
Their   repeated   self-contradictions   and   disagreements   between
themselves during our questioning also made the task  of  elucidating
it more difficult and diminished the value  of  the  words  we  did  note
down. Definitive results  can  only  come  after  a  lengthy analysis of
the   recorded   tapes   and  in  a  later  study. On  the other hand the
Khon   Pa  showed  a  remarkable  ability  in  the  use  of flowery and
poetic    Thai    Yuan, despite   their  Khamuk  accent.  Many of   the
words and phrases which they used are now obsolete in modern  con-
versation and literature, such as บ่ห่อนเคยหัน (ไม่เคยเห็น), Furthermore
there is a  notable  incidence  of  paired  words. Some  examples  are:
ชุผู้ชุคน   (ทุกผู้ทุกคน), ทะรงคัพพะ  (ทรงครรภ์), แต้มหนังสือ  (เขียนหนังสือ),
ทางภูทางตอย (สักผู้สักคน) เข้าป่าเข้าดง เยียะไฮใสสวน (ทำไรทำนา) โละเต่า-
โละแลน   (หาเต่าหาตะกวด),  คนทุกข์คนยาก, คนเจ้าคนนาย,  สะเล็กสะน้อย,

          If   they  were  not  born  with  Thai as their first language, it  is
certainly   remarkable   that  they  should  have  reached  such a high
level   of   accomplishment   in   it. This   was  even  more remarkable
when we discovered that they seemed unable  to  count  at  all  above
the number three, could not  reckon  their  own  ages  and  showed  a
complete    inability    to    grasp   any   question  involving   a  simple
hypothesis. Yet they were  using  a  language  of  poets  and  learned
monks which  even  the  Thai  villagers  whom  they  visited  could  no
longer use or fully understand.


1. The   Yumbri   vocabulary   is   published   only  in   the   original    German
edition on pp. 237-240


















                       EXPEDITION TO THE KHON PA                      177


          Their  expertise in singing and chanting  was  little  less extra-
ordinary.  All   nine   of   the  men could sing, chant and dance most
skilfully.  Their   songs   can   be   divided  into  two  types: the  'soh'
(ซอ)  corresponding   to   a  real  song  and the 'joi'  (จ๊อย) correspon-
ding to a simple  chant. Of  the ' soh ' which  we  recorded  there are
four song-tunes which can be identified as being related to the songs
of the Thai in north-eastern  Thailand  and  Laos,although  none  can
be definitely  named. Local  experts in this  subject who  listened  to
the recordings  were  of  the  firm  opinion that  although  these  links
with   the   north  eastern  songs  exist,  they are nevertheless  quite
separate and not directly derived  from  them. Nor do they  have  any
close relationship with the  'khab'  (ขับ)  of  the  Thai Lue of  Sipsong
Panna, (the Khon Pa are at this moment living among villagers   who
are Thai Yuan or  Thai  Lue  migrants  from  Sipsong  Panna). It  has
not yet been  possible  to  compare  the  Khon Pa's songs with  Lao
songs of the Saiyaburi and Luang Prabang districts—the  other area
which some of the Khon Pa hinted at having come from.— but  it  is
hoped  to do  this  later. A  transcription  of  two   of   these  'soh' ac-
companied by a free verse translation is given in Appendix II.

          The origins  of  the  Khon  Pa's  'joi' are immediately clear.It
is definitely Thai  Yuan  and  the  air  is  called ' the old Chiengmai
air' (จ๊อยทำนองเชียงใหม่โบราณ) which is still chanted in the country-
side around Chiengmai as well as in many other parts of the  north.
The ' joi ' is a chant which is always associated with a story told in
verse, called in the North 'Lao Khao' (เล่าค่าว), and derived  from the
Pannasajataka (ปัญญาสชาดก) which originated in Chiengmai about
four   hundred  years  ago. The  'joi'  is  also  used  as  a vehicle for
emotional themes such as  love, joy  or  melancholy. The standard
metrical pattern   of   the  old  Chiengmai  'joi' is  given in Appendix
III. Our  first   impression   was   that   both   the   'soh'  and the 'joi'
were traditional forms handed down to the Khon Pa by  their ances-

tors, or else simply learnt by heart from other groups of people with

whom they  had  come  into  contact. It  was soon evident that this







178         Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda and Julian Hartland-Swann


might   not  be  the  case  when  we  heard  their  final  song (No.  2  in
Appendix II)   which   was   indubitably   extemporised, yet    in   perfect
form. In   it   is   mentioned  our  main  guide, the  Phu  Yai  of  Ban  Pa
Hung, Ka   Rangphai, and   it   was   composed  by   way  of  a  parting
tribute   to   us   as   they  left.  Nevertheless  it  is  hard  to  escape  the
conclusion that most of these songs were   either  learnt  from  people
more sophisticated than themselves with whom  they  had  come  into
contact, or were some sort  of  a  legacy   from   a   previous  period  of
more   civilised   life.  In   most   of   the  songs  occurred  many  words
which   were  quite  foreign  to  the  jungle  culture  of  the  Khon  Pa  in
their present state — gold, silver, books—and such abstract words as
poverty,  friendship,  gratitude   and  commerce. It  was  impossible  to
determine whether they understood the meaning of these words.

          Their own accounts of  their  past  were  almost  equally  baffling.
They   had  never, they  said, heard  of  the  Yumbri  and  the  only  part
of the name which they  could  understand  was  the  second  syllable
bri,  which   they   said,  correctly,  was   the   Khamuk  word  for  forest.1
They gave only one account  of  their  origin  in  the  form  of  a  legend :
"there  were  once  two  brothers  living  near  the  edge  of  the  jungle.
The younger brother grew rice and vegetables — he  became  the  an-
cestor of  the Khamuk; the  elder  brother  went  deep  into  the  jungle
and lived on fruit, roots,  yams, insects  and  small  wild  animals—he
became the ancestor of the  Khon  Pa." Three  of  them, at  one  stage,
however, mentioned   the  names  of  several  towns  and  districts  in
Saiyaburi and western Laos. They said they knew about these places
even  though  they  had  never   been  there. Later  they  asserted  that
they were born somewhere in the deep jungle near the source of  the
Mae Sa.

          A   final   curiosity   remains. Among   the   people  living   around

Phrae and Nan there  is  a  strong  legend  still  curent  about  the  Phi

Tong Luang. " Once upon a  time, one  of   the  ruling  princes  of  Nan,

wishing to gain merit, released a group of his slaves composed  of  a


1. Professor   Condominas   also   notes   the   word   'bri'   meaning     forest
in   use   among    the   Mnong  Gay   tribe  in South Vietnam in his book 'Nous
avons mangé la forêt ' ( Mercure de France, 1957 ).






                               EXPEDITION TO THE KHON PA                         179


hundred men and a hundred women. They were sent deep into the
jungle,  cursed    to  remain  there  and  never  return  to  civilisation.
They were to get their livelihood only from  what  they  could  find  in
the   jungle;  if    they  started  any  form  of  'agriculture, their  plants
would  wither and dry  up. They  would  have  to  beg  for   whatever
they needed from the villages. "We asked the Khon  Pa  about  this
and they quickly agreed that they were indeed cursed people. This
and tradition forbade them from carrying on any form of agriculture.
Their curse had been laid upon them thus : "ปลูกข้าวสาลี หื้อได้กินแต่
แกน ปลูกมะแตง หื้อได้กินแต่ก้าน" meaning ' if they plant corn  they  will
reap only empty husks, if   they  plant  cucumbers  they  will  gather
only the fruitless vines'.

          The   encounter   was   fundamentally  a  tantalising   affair. It
provided us with a host of new details,yet simultaneously destroyed
the   mass   of   our   preconceptions. We  had  started  with  a well-
documented myth, we were left with the fragments  of  a dozen  im-
probable theories,each supported by its own slender contradictory
piece of evidence. The only certainties appear to be that  the  Khon
Pa, or Phi Tong Luang, are not a homogeneous ethnic group  and
that they are numerically fast on  the  decline. (Only  a  month  after
our expedition ended came the news that two of our group had been
caught raiding fields, shot at and at least one seriously  wounded).
All the rest is still in doubt.


































184  Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda and Julian Hartland-Swan


                                      APPENDIX II

                                         ซอบทที่ ๑

          อันจะนอนก่อนไผ ขอเตอะนายเท่าตัว  อ้ายฟันไฮ่  เฮาบ่ห่อน
เคยคนเคยค้า ฮบป่าลาเมือง ตั๋วยังคนเจ้าคนนาย เต๊อะหน่อไท้


          อันข้อยติ๋นเท่านี้ก็คือต่างบ้าน หันค่อยทักขอสานเป็นมิตร ร่วม
คิดเป็นหน่อย   มีแต่ขึ้นทางดอยทางภู   ค่อยอยู่ค่อยฟัง   นอย  นอย
นอยแท้ น้อยแท้ ไฮ้


          โปรดจูทั้งป่าทางยังคนทุกข์คนยาก  แม่หญิงก็บ่พอหลาย  นับ
เป็นชายก็บ่พอนัก นับบ่าพักก็บ่พอแก่   อันแม่เถ้าที่เป็นคนเยอ (ใหญ่)




                                          ซอบที่ ๒

          ผู้ใหญ่หยังได้กินปลา ข้าอยู่ป่าลาเมือง คนทุกข์คนยาก ขอมา
กินท่านเป็นบุญ   เป็นคุณสักเล็กสักน้อย  กูก็บ่มีเป็นเจ้าเป็นนาย  เป็น

          อันต่อนี้อย่าไปละเหียสักผู้ กับพวกข้าคนขอ  ได้หมูแล้วก็ไป
สานสาด  ขอฟั่งค้าหมั่น  อันผู้ใดฟัน ไฮ่ใส่สวน นับมีเงินมีคำ  ไปซื้อ
ไปหา ขอเจ้านาย.







                                                         EXPEDITION TO THE KHON PA                  185


                                          APPENDIX II

            English Metrical Version of Hon Pa's Songs


                            W.A.R. Wood, Chiengmai


                                            Song No. I

Which of us is to go to sleep,

Passing before the other ?
Sing a song of the forest deep,

Sing of the wilds, my brother.
We know nought of the tricks of trade,

We know nought of the city.
Fighting the forest, deep in the glade,

My Lord, we crave your pity !
Please, my Lord, wild men are we,

We are ready your slaves to be.


Where I can set my two feet down,

That is my real home.
You, who hail from the distant town,

Pray be my friend, pray come !
Talk to me now, teach me to think;

That path leads to the hill;
Sit with me by the streamlet's brink,

Stay and hark to me still.
Stay and listen, for night is nigh,

Noi, noi, noitae, noitae, hai !


We forest folk ask for help from you,

Few are our women, our men are few,

Our pumpkins still are hard and green;

There our grandmothers may be seen;

There they sit together, behold !

All our grandmothers, grand and old.







186        Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda and Julian Hartland-Swan


                                                  Song No. II

Why does the Phu Yai feed so well,

Far away in the city,
While we poor forest-men starving dwell?

Master, we crave your pity.

Give us food, or a rag or two;

Thankful to you we'll be;
We seek not to be great like you,

Poor and humble are we,

Now we beggars must take our leave;

Give us a pig, we pray;
Then we'll go home our mats to weave,

Wishing you luck. Good-day !

You grow padi and fruit to sell,
Give what you can afford;

We poor folk in the forest dwell;
Don't forget us, my Lord.







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