Observations on the movement of KHMU? into North Thailand1 พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Frank M. LeBar   




                                    INTO NORTH THAILAND


                                            Frank M. LeBar


         Khmuˀ is a Mon-Khmer language spoken chiefly  in  the hills  of

                              northern   Laos.  Speakers  of   Khmuˀ   relatively unknown  to  ethno-

graphy,ally and culturally  related  to swidden-farming 2 are linguistic

hilltribesmen  who  in  Laos are called by the generic term 'Kha' and
in   Vietnam  by   the   term   'Moi.'  Remnant  Mon-Khmer  groups   in
Thailand include some immigrant Khmuˀ from Laos,as well as Lua?
(Lawa),  T'in,   Yumbri,   Chaobon   and    Kui.  Linguistically   related


1) I wish  to acknowledge the assistance of the National Research Council in
    carrying  out  research  on  interethnic  contact  and  assimilation  in  North
    Thailand, with special reference to the Khmuˀ, during the period  August  1,
    1964  through  April 30, 1965. I  am  also  indebted  to   the  Public  Welfare
    Department and  to  Nai  Prasit  Disavat, Director  of  the  Hilltribes  Division.
    Various officials in Chiengmai, in particular the Governor and Major Pairojn
    of the Border Police, have helped me  with  letters  of   introduction and  in
    other ways.I have profited from discussions with various members of the
    faculty of  the University of Chiengmai  and  with  Dr. William  Geddes and
    the staff of the Tribal Research Center. I wish  also  to  acknowledge  the
    help  of  Nai  Kraisri  Nimmanahaeminda, William  A. Smalley, Garland Bare
    and Laurence C. Judd, all of whom have firsthand  knowledge  of  Khmu?
    and share an interest in this group.

           My field work  was  conducted  under  the  auspices  of  the  Human
    Relations Area Files, Inc., an inter-university research organization centered
    in Yale University and engaged in the compilation of organized data on  a
    broad sample of the world's known cultures for purposes of  cross-cultural
    and areal research. My informants  were  chiefly  immigrant  male  Khmu?
    who had come to Thailand during the days of the European teak industry;
    I managed to interview over 50 such individuals in a variety of  situations
    and locations throughout North Thailand. I also worked for  brief  periods
    in Khmuˀ and mixed Khmuˀ-Thai villages in northern Nan Province and  in
    one or two villages south of Chiengkhong.

2) The language and culure of the Khmuˀ around Luang Prabang have been
    studied by Smalley, W.A., 'Outline of Khmuˀ Structure, 'American Oriental
    Society, American Oriental Series Essay No 2, 1961 ; 'The Khmu9,' pp. 112-17
    in Frank M. LeBar et al, Ethnic Groups of Mainland Southeast Asia Human
    Relations Area  Files  Press 1964; and  'Cyang:  Khmuˀ  Culture  Hero,' pp.
    41-55 in Felicitation Volumes of Southeast Asian Studies Presented to His






62                                            Frank M. LeBar


groups in  Burma  include  the  Palaung  and  Wa.3  The  Mon-Khmer
stratum is generally regarded as relatively old in this part of Southeast
Asia, predating the arrival of Tai speakers  and  more  recent  arrivals
such   as   Miao,  Yao,  Lahu  and  Lisu. Most  Mon-Khmer  groups  at
present occupy a foothill zone,intermediate between lowland wet rice
growers and groups at higher altitudes such as Miao and Yao,where
they  engage  primarily  in  swidden farming with supplementary  wet
rice   fields  in  some  cases.  A   long   history   of   acculturation  and
assimilation  to  dominant lowland  populations is characteristic,  for
example, of Khmuˀ, Luaˀ and Kui, and  the traditional cultural pattern
has in some instances changed beyond  recognition.Many Northern
Thai (Yuan ),as well as lowland Lao in the vicinity of  Luang Prabang,
are descendants of assimilated Luaˀ and Khmuˀ.

The present fragmented distribution of Mon-Khmer  peoples
would indicate that they were once  more  numerous  and  that  they
perhaps  occupied  a   larger   area   than  at   present. The  Luaˀ   of
northwestern   Thailand  say  they  were  once  plains  dwellers,  the
original inhabitants of Chiengmai  and  the  builders  of   Wat  Chedi


    Highness  Prince  Dhaninivat  vol 1, The   Siam   Society  1965.  Khmuˀ  in  the
    Lai  Chau -Phong  Saly  area  have  been  briefly  described  by Roux, H., and
    Tran-Van-Chu,  'Quelques   minorités  ethniques  du  Nord-Indochine,'  France
    Asie, vol 10 nos 92-93, 1954 pp. 294-357  (Reprinted  from  an  earlier  paper
    dated 1927). There  are  numerous  references  to  Khmu?  in  a  study of the
    Lamet,  a  'Kha'  group  in  Nam  Tha Province of Laos (Izikowitz, K.G., 'Lamet:
    Hill  Peasants  in  French  Indochina,'  Etnologiska  Studier   no   17,  Göteborg:
    Etnografiska  Museet 1951) and  Halpern  provides  useful  information on the
    contemporary  status  of  Khmuˀ  in  Laos  (Halpern,  J.M., 'Trade  Patterns  in
    Northern Laos,' Proceedings, Ninth Pacific Science Congress, 1957 vol 3, 1963
    pp. 242-45; 'Government, Politics, and Social  Structure  in  Laos: A  Study  of
    Tradition and Innovation,' Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, Monograph
    Series  no  4, 1964; and  'Economy  and  Society  of  Laos: A  Brief  Survery,'
    Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, Monograph Series no 5, 1964). Young
    (The  Hill  Tribes  of  Northern  Thailand  The  Siam  Society  1962  pp. 56-64)
    includes Khmu? in his survey of the tribes of northern Thailand.

3) For  cultural  summaries  and  bibliographic   references  to   many  of  these
    Mon-Khmer  groups  see  LeBar,  F.M., Hickey, G.C. & Musgrave  J.K., Ethnic
    Groups  of  Mainland Southeast Asia Human Relations Area Files Press 1964.
    LeBar, ' The   Ethnography  of   Mainland   Southeast   Asia: A   Bibliographic
    Survey,' Behavior Science Notes vol 1 no 1,1966  pp. 14-43, provides  some
    additional bibliographic coverage.










64                                             Frank M. LeBar


Luang4.   According   to   Seidenfaden5 the  Khmuˀ  have  vague  tradi-
tions of a former 'Kha empire,' and  like  the  Luaˀ  they  tell  stories of
having  once  founded   a   great city.6  The   Eastern   Lao  regard  the
Khmuˀ as the original inhabitants  of  the  area, and  as  having  great
power over the indigenous spirits.Ceremonies at the Luang Prabang
court have utilized Khmuˀ in this capacity, and they  played  a   similar
role in the old principality of Nan.7The legend of the lakmuang within
the  ancient  walled  city  of  Chiengmai  likewise  portrays the Luaˀ in
the role  of  indigenous  proprietors.8 Whatever   the  basis  in  actual
fact of  such  traditions  and  legends, it  is  my   impression  that   the
content of  Khmuˀ  culture  was  formerly  richer   than  would  appear
from an examination of contemporary remnant groups.

Although they are found primarily  in  Laos  there  are  Khmu?
villages across the border in  Nan  dating  back  possibly  150  years.
There is a history of  immigrant  labor  (males) into  Thailand  during
at least  the  last  80  years, much  of  it  artificially  stimulated  by  the
requirements  of   European   teak   firms.  But   even   this   contrived
immigration took advantage of what seems to have been an existing
pattern of cultural fragmentation and psychocultural subordination to
more dominant groups-in part the result of a long  history  of  contact
with Tai-speaking Lao.9

Ethnicity in Laos

Khmuˀ speakers are found at present in the provinces of Luang
Prabang,  Xieng    Khouang,   Sayaboury,  Nam  Tha  and  Phong  Saly.
They also inhabit the Lai Chau area of North Vietnam  and  have  been
reported as far east as upper Thanh Hoa Province. Smalley estimates


4) Kunstadter, P., 'The Luaˀ (Lawa) of Northern Thailand: Aspects  of  Social

    Structure,  Agriculture,  and   Religion,'  Center   of   International    Studies.

    Research Monograph no 21,Woodrow Wilson School of Public and Interna-

    tional Affairs 1965 pp. 1-2.

5) Seidenfaden,  E.,  The    Thai   Peoples   The  Siam  Society  1958   p.  119.

6) Garland Bare, personal communication 1964.

7) Smalley, ' The Khmuˀ ' op. cit. p. 113.

8 ) Chotsukkharat, S., Thiao muang nua lae watthanatham prapheni khong muang
nua [Tour of  the  North:  Culture  and  Customs  of  the  North]  Odeon  1962
pp. 129-36.

9) A concise  summary, in  English, of Lao history is contained in LeBar, F.M.,
and  Suddard, A.  (eds)  Laos:  Its   People, Its   Society, Its   Culture  Human
Relations Area Files Press 1960.








as many as 100,000 Khmuˀ in northern Laos,10 which  would  make
them   the  largest  'Kha'  group  in  the  area. According  to  Smalley11
the name is derived from the indigenous kymhmuˀ,meaning 'people.'
There is evidence  that  Khmuˀ as  used  at  present, may  refer  to  a
variety of  named  groups  which  differ  somewhat  as  to  degree  of
linguistic    and    cultural   relationship. My  data  on   this   point   are
incomplete; additional field research  in  Laos  would  be  needed  to
arrive at  any  real understanding of the meaning, in cultural terms, of
the  convenient  category  label  Khmuˀ. My data do indicate, however,
that  this  term  and  others  such  as Pruˀ and Rɔɔk, take on different
connotations according to the speaker's  perception  of  self, and  the
relative  status  accorded  these  terms  in  different  cultural  settings.
Identification with evolving  indigenous  politico-religious  systems, in
a manner analogous to the  northern  Burma  situation  described  by
Leach,12 may be a factor here also. The present rather wide destribu-
tion of Khmuˀ speakers indicates an original prototype  subsequently
in  contact  with  a  variety  of  languages  and  cultures, with  resulting
differential acculturation and  the  evolution  of  subgroups  which  the
Thai and Lao nowadays lump together  as  Khamuk  or  Kha  Khamuˀ.
When they come to Thailand members of the various subgroups use
only the name Khmuˀ, in this respect apparently conforming to
prevalent Thai usage.

According   to  Smalley  the  Khmuˀ term  for  subgroupings  of
this kind is tmɔɔy.13  Around  Luang  Prabang  and  in  Sayaboury  the
Tmooy Mee are most numerous, while the Tmooy Ksak are a smaller
subgroup   southeast   of   Luang   Prabang.  North  of  the  Nam  Hou
(generally between the Nam Hou and the Nam Tha) Khmuˀ speakers
are   reportedly   known  as   Tmɔɔy  Rɔɔk  (in  Lao, Hok  or  Kha  Hok).
My Thailand informants at times used tmɔɔy  rɔɔk, tmɔɔy  mee, tmɔɔy
in   opposition   to  tay-haem, i.e., '  strangers  ' or '  outsiders '


10) Smalley, 'The Khmu9', op. cit. p. 113. This figure agrees closely with  the

       total of various provincial population  figures  for  Khmuˀ in  Halpern, J.M.,

      'Population Statistics and Associated Data,' Laos Project Paper no 3, Los

      Angeles,    University        of         California       (mimeographed)      1961.

11) Smalley, 'The Khmu9', op. cit. p. 113.

      Leach, E.R., Political Systems of Highland Burma Harvard University Press


13) Smalley, 'The Khmuˀ', op. cit. p. 113.






66                                            Frank M. LeBar


(members of an ethnic category  or  inhabitants  of  a  specific  locality)
as   opposed   to  'relative'  or  'insider.' The  terms  tay ('elder  brother')
and haem ('younger brother') in  this  context  express  oneness  or  in-
group solidarity. They can refer to  members  of  the  same  or  related
lineages,and probably by extension to  those persons who sacrifice to
related ancestral spirits. In a  still more extended  sense  they  appear
to encompass the idea of  'those who  follow  the  same  customs,' i.e.,
participate   in   a   common   ritual   tradition. The   actual  category   or
group labeled tmɔɔy this-or-that as opposed   to  tay-haem  seems  to
depend on the circumstances and self-identification of the speaker  at
the time. I frequently encountered the term Pruˀ, used interchangeably
with   Khmuˀ  as   a  self-identifier —  presumably  another  somewhat
broader   term   expressive,   like  tay-haem,  of  'selfness'  or  in-group

The appellation Rɔɔk or  Hok  can  be   used  broadly  to  mean
'backwoods' Khmuˀ, i.e., less acculturated Khmuˀ speakers  wherever
they   may   be;  thus  acculturated  Khmuˀ  living  in  mixed  Lue-Khmuˀ
villages in the middle Yao river valley  in  Nan  Province  refer  to  those
on the upper Yao  as  Tmɔɔy  Rɔɔk,  saying  that  the  latter  live  higher
in the hills  and  retain  more  of  the  old  customs including the men's
loincloth.14   In   this   sense  Rɔɔk  appears  to  be  a  generic term  or
category; I  lack  the  necessary data at present to judge whether there
is indeed a  specific  Rɔɔk  subgroup  inhabiting  a  definable  territory.
My  data  do  indicate,  however,  that  Khmuˀ  speakers  in  the  region
between the Nam Hou and  the  Nam  Tha  are  generally  called  Hok
and that this  seems  to   be  a  rather  distinctive  culture  area. Khmuˀ
in Thailand  expressed  a  feeling  of   relatively  close  relationship  to
Kha   Hok;  although   the   Hok  have somewhat  distinctive   customs
(possibly  customs  no  longer  shared  by  other   Khmuˀ,  particularly
those subject to much acculturation)  and  a  slightly  different  dialect,
it was felt that 'we  were  once  probably  the  same  people.' They  did
not appear to have this feeling about the Lamet.


14) I never met a Khmuˀ speaker in Thailand who would identify  himself  as
      Rɔɔk or Hok. Although many individuals were pointed out to me as such
     by other Khmuˀ, later questioning invariably produced a  flat  denial.  This
    tends to confirm the supposition that in some circumstances the term carries
    a pejorative connotation.








North of the Nam Tha, in the region of Vien Phu Kha, Muang
Sing, Muang Nam Tha and Muang  Sai,  Khmu speakers  refer  to
themselves   generically  as  Khmuˀ  or  Pruˀ, but  also  distinguish
categories  such  as  Khmuˀ Lü  (Lue),  Khmuˀ Yuan  and  Khwaen
(possibly Khuen). These names apparently reflect  culture  contact
with a variety of Tai-speaking immigrant groups from the Sip Song
Panna and northern Thailand. Here the Khmuˀ by all accounts  live
in closer contact with a  lowland  environment  and  with   Buddhist
lowlanders.  Immigrants   into   Thailand   from   this  area   appear
generally more successful (in Thai terms) than those who have come
in from south of the Nam Tha,that is from the Rɔɔk (Kha Hok) area,
the apparent center nowadays of a socio-economic ritual complex
involving   status  mobility  through  acquisition  of  wealth, and  the
consumption and display of wealth at periodic sacrifices to ancestral
spirits. Here wealth, in the form  of  bronze  drums,  buffaloes  and
silver, confers a kind  of  ritual  endowment  and  without  it  a  man
cannot perform the proper sacrifices.

My data  indicate  a  marked  similarity  between  this  Rɔɔk or
Hok culture type and the Lamet (Khamet or Rümet) in the mountains
south  of  Tafa  on  the lower  Nam Tha, described by Izikowitz.15 The
cultural parallels are  so  many, and  so  detailed, that  one  wonders
whether, in fact, the Lamet and Khmuˀ should not be considered  as
originally belonging  to  the  same  culture  type. Either  this, or  there
has been extensive borrowing by Lamet from Khmuˀ or vice versa.16
The two languages, although related, are not mutually intelligible — at


15) Izikowitz op. cit.

 16) Izikowitz (op. cit. table 5 pp. 119-25) presents detailed data on household

      composition  in   the  Lower  Lamet  village  of  Mokala  Panghay.  Analysis

      of these data reveals that nine out of a total of 21 households, accounting

      for 36 percent of the village population, were headed by Khmuˀ who  had

      immigrated into and married within the  village. These   Khmuˀ  households

      were extremely well connected through intermarriage with the families of

      the village chief, the chief priest and the most  powerful  of  the  class  of

      wealthy men, lem. Mokala Panghay is stated  by  Izikowitz  to  have  been

      one of the more conservative villages among the Lower Lamet—who in turn

      are said to be less subject to Khmuˀ influence than the Upper Lamet to the

      northeast. In light of the above facts the  description  of  Mokala  Panghay

      might be interpreted as a point in time within an evolving situation wherein

      a surrounding Khmuˀ population  is  gradually  expanding  and  'Khmuizing'

      a Lamet minority.






68                                               Frank M. LeBar


least   the   Khmuˀ   maintain   that   they  cannot  understand  Lamet.
Izikowitz quotes his Lamet as saying  that  they  and  the  Khmuˀ  are
brothers; my informants in Thailand, however, expressed considerably
less feeling of relationship vis-a-vis the Lamet.

I interviewed and gathered data on over 50 Khmuˀ immigrant
males in various parts of northern Thailand, eighty percent of  whom
had come originally from the area encompassed between the  water-
sheds of the Nam Tha and Nam  Hou. The  reason  for  this  may  lie
simply in  the  fact  that  recruitment  for  the  old  teak  industry  could
most conveniently draw on  this  area; but  it  also  appears  that  this
distribution   reflects   cultural   patterns   characteristic  of   the  Nam
Tha-Nam Hou area, i.e., the ritual importance of  wealth,  mentioned
above, and the emigration of young men to Thailand in order to earn
money for the brideprice. In this way the  young  man  is  enabled  to
found a family, the first step toward the cultural goal of  becoming  a
wealthy man  able  to  sacrifice  properly  to  the  ancestral  spirits. A
similar  pattern,  with   emigration   of   bachelors  to   Thailand,  was
observed 30 years ago among the Lamet by Izikowitz.17

The legend of the gourd — an origin legend accounting for the
peopling of the earth by Khmuˀ, Meo, Lao and so on, and containing
a deluge motif as well as brother-sister incest — is similar in outline to
the same myth as recounted by the Lao.18 Although versions I have
collected vary in detail, they are also remarkably similar to the origin
legend of the  Lamet  reported  by  Izikowitz.19 The  Khmuˀ  also  tell
stories featuring a culture hero, cyang,20 some of which account for
culture traits such  as  the  custom  of  swiddening  on the  hillsides.


Entry into Thailand

The entry of Khmuˀ into Thailand in relatively large numbers
appears to date from about 1880 or 1890, when increasing demands
of the European teak firms  for  forest  labor  stimulated  the  annual
recruitment of young men from their  villages  in  Laos. Prior  to  this


17) Izikowitz, op. cit.

18) LeBar and Suddard, op. cit. p. 8.

19) Izikowitz, op, cit. p. 22.

20) Smalley, 'Cyang: Khmuˀ Culture Hero' op. cit.








Burmese foresters had for some decades been working the teak forests
of North Thailand  under concessions  granted  by  the  local  princes.
I have  been  unable  to  determine  to  what  extent  they  might  have
utilized Khmuˀ labor. It is reasonable to suppose that  the  early  Lao
kingdoms, such as Lanna Thai in the north, made use of 'Kha'  tribal
peoples as labor in the construction of city walls and as bearers and
auxiliary forces during warfare, and  that  they  were  obtained  during
population raids on surrounding territories. There is some  evidence
that the prince of Nan about  1830  raided  up  toward  the  Sip  Song
Panna, bringing  back  prisoners  of  war. And  it  is  said  that  Khmuˀ
and   T'in  helped   to  build  the  old  city   walls  of   Nan. But  refugee
villages in northern Nan are relatively recent and it  is  impossible  to
date the entry of other Khmu? into  Nan  Province  much  earlier  than
about 150 years ago.

Recruitment for the Teak Industry

By the 1890's, and continuing into the 1930's, recruitment of teak
labor was well organized and on a relatively large scale. During the
height of this recruitment period an estimated 300-400 Khmuˀ  entered
Chiengmai  annually. World  War  II  interrupted  this  pattern, but  it
was renewed on a lesser scale in the years immediately  following.
With the gradual phasing out of European concessions  and  the  emer-
gence of the government-controlled Forest Industry Association,the
old role of the Khmuˀ as forest labor and mahout has largely  been
taken over by Northern Thai  and  Karens. Until  the  closing  of  the
Lao border in recent years Khmuˀ continued to come into Thailand
in relatively large numbers, chiefly as seasonal hired labor in connection
with the tobacco industry.Despite recent restrictions on illegal entry,
Khmu? still cross the borde r and  those  resident  in Thailand have  little
difficulty communicating with their relatives back in Laos.

Recruitment for the teak industry was carried on by naaj  hɔɔj
(Thai  naaj   rɔɔj,  Lao   naaj  hɔɔj,  'leader of 10's'). These  men  were
themselves Khmuˀwho had worked in Thailand and knew the routes
from Laos to such places as Chiengmai and Lampang. Young bachelors
(average age about 17)were recruited in groups of 15 to 30 or  more,
chiefly  in  the  Nam  Beng-Nam Tha area and to the north as  far  as






70                                             Frank M. LeBar


Phong  Saly. Usual  routes  were  either  via  Chiengsaen  to  Chiengrai
and thence south to Chiengmai via Doi Saket, or else via Chiengkhong
or Chiengkham and thence south to  Lampang. The  naaj  hɔɔj  was  by
agreement responsible to a boy's parents to get him safely to  Thailand,
find him employment, and  at  the  end  of  a  two  or  three  year   period,
to   bring   him  back  safely  to  Laos. For  this  he  received  a   sizeable
commission, taken as an advance against the  boy's  annual  wage   at
time  of   employment.  Having   disposed  of  a  group  in  this   fashion,
the naaj hɔɔj returned to Laos where  he  spent  the  following   season
recruiting. These men usually  operated  within  a  limited  area   where
they  were  known  and  trusted. Their  return  from  this  business  was
not inconsiderable, and some retired with their  savings  and  set  them-
selves up  in  Thailand  as  small  merchants  or  traders. On  occasion
their   recruiting  activities  took  them  through  portions  of  Burma  and
it was not uncommon to set oneself up as a trader in  Burmese  goods,
traveling back and  forth  periodically  to  Burma  for  the  purpose. As  a
result,  there  are  Khmuˀ  now  resident  in  Thailand  who  have  some
knowledge of Burma or possess contacts  there. Some  have  married
Shan or Haw women and are able to speak   Burmese, Shan  or  Haw.

In  Chiengmai  and  Lampang, centers  for  the  European  teak
firms, there  developed  the  institution  of  the  naaj hɔɔj nyaaj ( the 'big'
naaj  hɔɔj). These  were   Khmuˀ  who  had   'made   good'  in  Thailand—
owners  of  shops  and  men  of  considerable   prestige    among   their
fellows—to the extent of being well known back in Laos  as  owners   of
many  bronze  drums  and  other  goods  so  dear  to  the  Khmuˀ.  They
acted as 'clearing houses' for new arrivals seeking employment; these
were assured a place to stay in the compound  of  the  naaj  hɔɔj  nyaaj
until they found  jobs. In  Chiengmai, the  original  naaj  hɔɔj  nyaaj  has
been dead for some years but another Khmuˀ shop owner has inherited
this position, and although teak labor recruitment and  the  organization
that went with it have long since  disappeared, this man's  shop  is  still
a   clearing   house   for   news , and  for  Khmuˀ moving  in  and  out  of

Khmuˀ who came to Thailand to work received a   small   annual
wage plus housing and rice.Those who managed to save some money
used it for the purchase of gongs, drums, cloth or  silver   and   returned







to their home villages, where many presumably concluded  successful
marriages and rose to the status of rich man, akamool ('to have silver').
Others, less fortunate, lost their money in gambling  and  drinking  and
these  for  the  most  part  never  returned  to  Laos. A  good  proportion
of  these  'failures'  (in  Khmuˀ terms) married  Thai  women  and   their
descendants are today in the process of 'becoming Thai.'

Number of Khmuˀ in Thailand

During some nine months in North Thailand I was able to  visit
personally most  of  the  areas  where  there  are  known  to  be  Khmuˀ.
The following figures represent an 'educated guess' as to the number
of   ethnic   Khmuˀ  (born   in   Laos   or   Thailand  of   Khmuˀ  parents)
presently   living   in   North   Thailand. These   estimates, which  have
consciously been kept on  the  conservative  side, do  not  include  the
south; there are said  to  be  Khmuˀ in  the  Bangkok  area  and  some
around Kanchanaburi, but I have no knowledge of how many.

Changwat Chiengmai.  Total  800-1000. In  Chiengmai  munici-
pality alone there are an  estimated  200.  There  are
Khmuˀ living in mixed Khmu?-Thai hill  villages  and
working   on   miang   plantations   in  the  Maetaeng-
Chiengdao area, and at the tin mines  at  Baw Gaew.
Some engage in trade and other pursuits in Amphur
Fang. There are also Khmuˀ in mixed villages in  the
hills between Li and Lamphun.


Changwat Chiengrai.  Total  1500-2000.  This   figure   includes
the hills between Doi Saket and Wiang Pa Pao, where
there are perhaps 100 Khmuˀ living  in  khon  myang
villages along the road and on tea plantations and in
mixed miang villages in the hills back from  the  road.
There are an additional 100-200 in the Wiang Pa Pao—
Mae  Suai  area. Chiengrai  municipality  contains  an
estimated 100, and in Amphur Chiengsaen there are
between 300 and 500 Khmuˀ working on tobacco sta-
tions, hauling   water, and   working  in  hotels. In   the
Chiengkhong area an estimated 200-300 are found in
villages south of  the  town, on  tobacco  stations, and






72                                                    Frank M. LeBar


hauling water and working at menial jobs in town.
There are probably at least another 300 in the
Chiengkham-Phayao area.

Changwat  Nan. Total    2000-3300.  There   are   mixed    Khmuˀ-
Thai villages near  Saa, south  of  Nan  town ; in  Com-
mune Baw along the road between  Nan  and  Pua; in
the hills east of Pua ; and along the  middle  Yao  river
valley  west  of  Pua.  Above  Muang  Ngaup  there  are
refugee villages of pure Khmuˀ stock, and both mixed
and pure stock villages at the headwaters of  the  Yao.
Young21 reports a total of 30 villages with about  3300
persons. However, if one  is   counting  ethnic   Khmuˀ,
this figure may be somewhat high.

Changwat Lampang. Total 500-1000. Includes  an  estimated
50 or more Khmuˀ in Lampang municipality. Others
in outlying areas and in the foothills   of   the   Wang
River drainage. These  estimates   may  be  too low.

Elsewhere. Total   200-300.  Including   Amphur   Phrae,  Mae
Hongson and Mae Sariang areas.

The above estimates total 5000 minimum and 7600 maximum. Since
these are on the conservative side, it would probably be safe  to  say
that ethnic Khmuˀ presently in North Thailand do not  exceed 10,000.
Their  numbers  then  would  be less than those for Meo, Yao, Karen
and Lahu ; but they are probably more numerous than either Akha or
Lisu. They   appear   to   total   about  the  same  as  Luaˀ.22  I  would
estimate that of this total, between 800 and 1000 live in a city or town


Assimilative Roles

The Thai stereotype of the Khmuˀ is that  of  a  slow  but  steady
worker, somewhat slow-witted but at the same time  honest  and  loyal.
Khmu? are said to make good watchmen, gardeners, 'boys' and cooks,
and many, apparently content to conform to  this  stereotype, are  found


21) Young, op. cit.

 22) Comparative figures taken from Young, op. cit.








in just such positions where they may have worked  years  for  one
family. Others are employed as rent collectors in urban markets, a
tribute, apparently, to their reputation for honesty. I have  been  told
repeatedly, by  Thai  and  Europeans  alike, that  Khmuˀ are  easily
'trained' — that they have no self-confidence, no  pride, and  no  ini-
tiative.Those who immigrated during the old teak days,in particular,
appear at least outwardly to conform to these stereotypes, seeking
situations where they can rely on a  protector  or  employer  and  in
which  they  are  required  to  do  little  thinking  for  themselves.  In-
dividuals of this type are most often found  in  urban  environments
married to Thai women. Their children find jobs  in  the  city,  marry
other Thai, and pass as khon myang — known as luuk kɔɔng ('half-child')
only to those acquainted with their history.

Many find their way into the foothills  or  come  directly  to  the
hills from Laos, and in these areas they  are  typically  employed  as
mine or  plantation  labor. Others  have  settled  permanently  in  hill
villages of mixed Thai and Khmuˀ ethnicity, engaged in  the  picking
and processing of wild tea, miang. At least two such villages in  the
hills east of Wiang Pa Pao  were  reportedly  settled  first  by  Khmuˀ
with later Thai increments. In other cases, at the Commune Baw and
Yao River areas of Changwat Nan, Khmuˀ  and  Thai  are  found  in
mixed villages growing rice by supplementary  swiddening  on  sur-
rounding hillsides.23 The Khmuˀ or part-Khmuˀ households in these
villages resemble those of their Northern Thai neighbors. There  is
little  in  the  way  of  house  type, furnishings  and  style  of  living  to
distinguish one from the other. In mixed households the husband and
wife invariably speak Northern Thai, kam myang; a wife of Northern
Thai origin rarely knows more than a few words of  Khmuˀ, and  the
children even less. Although Khmuˀ men in these  Commune  Baw
villages told me that they hoped to teach their children the old legends,
they affirmed in the same breath that they wanted  their  children  to
grow up Thai. Among partly assimilated Khmuˀ of this type  the  old


23) For a detailed survey of swiddening in Commune Baw see Judd, L., 'Dry
     Rice Agriculture in Northern Thailand,' Cornell University  Southeast  Asia
     Program,  Data  Paper  no  52, 1964.  Judd's  Ph. D.  dissertation  (Cornell
    University   1961) contains   additional  information   on   the   history  and
    socioeconomic characteristics of mixed Khmuˀ-Thai villages  in  this  area.






74                                              Frank M. LeBar


named, totemic patrisibs, ta, although known are no longer  functional
and the old ceremonies are fast disappearing. Even in a  village  such
as Wang Maw in Commune Baw, in which 18 of 28 houses contain at
least one Khmuˀ parent, the language is  predominantly  kam  myang.
This is true regardless of whether the husband or  the  wife  is  Khmuˀ.
Even in  some  households  in  which  both  are  Khmuˀ  (i.e.,  born  in
Wang Maw of Khmu? parents) the  family  reportedly  speak  Northern
Thai   together. It   would   appea r  that  the  Khmuˀ  element  in  such
villages   will   disappear   within   another  two  or  three  generations.
When children of these mixed  marriages  move  to  the  town   or  city
they   may (often   successfully) pass  as  Thai, denying  entirely  their
non-Thai heritage.

Males who have come alone to  Thailand  within  the  past  20
yeare-since World War II-are most often found in urban environments
as pedicab drivers or as coolie labor in ice plants, sawmills and  rice
mills. Those who have married typically have large families of  young
children.They live precariously in flimsy houses,sometimes crowded
together in the compound  of  a 'patron,' e.g., someone  who  worked
for the old teak  firms  and  associated  with  Khmuˀ. They  may  seek
release in alcohol and at times find  themselves  in  trouble  with  the
law. They are not as settled as their older compatriots, the  holdovers
from the old teak days, who may own their  own  homes  or   perhaps
a shop and who enjoy the respect of the Khmuˀ  community  and  are
at least accepted as ' honest Khmu?' by the Thai.

Among the newer arrivals the youngsters of 18 or 19 and  the
young men of  20 or 25-resident  in  Thailand  for  a  decade  or  less —
appear the  least  settled  of  all. Frequently  'caught'  in  Thailand  by
the turn of political developments in Laos, they have  few  remaining
ties at home and have not yet put down roots in Thailand.  Relatively
few are married;they live,often together in groups,on the compounds
where they work—gasoline stations,tobacco stations,hotels,and the

The Patron Relationship

It is my impression that a  good  many  Khmuˀ  situations  in
northern  Thailand  are  structured around  what  might  be  called  a
patron relationship,whereby an individual subordinates himself to a








person of some wealth or influence in return for a kind of paternalistic
care and patronage-ranging from economic security to the making of
marital  arrangements  and  provisions  for educating children. Khmuˀ
of the older  type, in  particular, appear  to  seek  relationships  of  this
kind, and a single relationship may ramify to include a succession of
individuals over  a  period  of  several  decades. It  is  not  infrequently
the case that contemporary residence patterns among Khmuˀ, as  in
Chiengmai, reflect the  existence  of  patron  relationships  no  longer

This pattern may represent the adaption of a somewhat similar
arrangement  in  northern  Laos, the  institution  of   the  lam, where  by
wealthy   or  influential  Lao  acted  as  middlemen  and  protectors   for
populations of hilltribesmen in their trading  relations  with  lowlanders.
My  informants  were  unable  to  confirm  this  pattern   in   Laos, but  it
is  mentioned  for  Khmuˀ  north  of   Luang   Prabang   by   Halpern .24
Alternatively, the patron relationship  as  I  found  it  may  be  related  to
much older patterns of feudal patronage in Thai society.


The male Khmuˀ physical type is not markedly different from
that of the Northern Thai, particularly those  Northern  Thai  who  are
themselves  by   all   accounts  the  result  of  mixture  with  an  older
Austroasiatic   stratum,   chiefly   Luaˀ. That   is   to  say, many Khmuˀ
would fall well within  the range  of  the  Northern   Thai   somatotype.
The Khmuˀ on  the  whole have darker skins than the Thai, but  there
are  Thai  with skins  as  dark  as  most  Khmuˀ. Khmuˀ men  on  the
whole appear to  vary  in stature more than do Thai men as a  whole,
but again there a   re  many  who  are  well  within  the  Thai  average.
Khmuˀ faces are characteristically somewhat 'craggy' in appearance,
with prominant supraorbital ridges, deep set eyes, heavy cheek bones
and rather wide nostrils. But  again, these  features are present, either
singly or in combination, in many rural Thai faces. These considera-
tions  have  probably  contributed  to  the  relative  ease  with   which
Khmuˀ and other Mon-Khmer speakers have intermarried with Thaiˀ
and the impressive number of such unions over the years. It would


24) Halpern, 'Trade Patterns in Northern Laos', op. cit






76                                               Frank M. LeBar


also seem a reasonable supposition that the Khmuˀ genotype, when
mixed with that of the Northern  Thai, would  produce  offspring  more
'Thai' in appearance then would, for example, that of a  Meo-Northern
Thai intermarriage.

Given  this  relative  similarity  of   physical   type, it follows that
there are Khmuˀ who, if dressed in Thai costume, could pass on first
inspection as Thai. The real test, and the one actually used  by  most
Northern Thai, is that  of  language, i.e., degree  of  accent  and  know-
ledge of stereotyped speech patterns.Most males among Khmuˀ and
other hill tribes speak some Northern Thai, but usually with an  easily
detectable   accent. The   Thai   ear  is  keenly  attuned  to  slight  differ-
ences and nuances in speech and many of the standard ethnic jokes
poke fun at the person's accent or misuse of  words. The  Thai  enjoy
playing with words and with double meanings — most of which is lost
on the tribesman who knows only market Thai. But  there  are  Khmuˀ
who, if they learn kam  myang  sufficiently  well, can  relatively  easily
pass as khon  myang. And  the  children  of  Khmuˀ men  married  to
Northern Thai  women  invariably  grow  up  speaking  Northern  Thai
at home and with  their  peers-usually  children  of  Thai  or  part-Thai

Immigrant   Kbmuˀ   marrird   to  Thai  women tend  to  marry
somewhat  outside  the  normal  Thai  pattern. Their  wives  are  very
often girls who have left their own families or whose parents are  no
longer living — girls who have migrated into urban centers to find work
and who live (like the Khmuˀ) within the compound  of  the  family  or
firm employing them. In about  10  per  cent  of  my  cases  the  girl's
parents (either one or both) are non-Thai, e.g., Karen, Haw Chinese,
Khmuˀ. However, cases  of  intermarriage  among  descendants  of
Khmuˀ are relatively rare. As a result of this  marriage  pattern  most
families   live  neolocally, i.e., apart  from  the  families  of  either  the
husband or wife.  Moreover  the  wife's  family  is  frequently  poor  or
far away and visiting back  and  forth  rare  or  completely  absent. As
a result the children of such marriages are not normally reared within
an extended family milieu-as is the case  with  many  Northern  Thai








marriages where the  couple live  near  or  with  the  wife's  parents. In-
tensive research within a sample of such households would be needed
in order to state with any  degree  of  assurance  the  meaning  of  this
pattern for the psychocultural development  of  offspring, and  whether
assimilation necessarily takes place more or less rapidly under such
circumstances. The  influence  of  the  Thai  wife  in  a situation of this
kind may in  fact  be  even  stronger than it is  normally. Presumably  a
naturally strong presonality, when  thrown on its  own  in  this  fashion,
would react with assertiveness and vigor.

The Desire to Emigrate

The fact that Khmuˀ males do leave their home villages is well
established. There are probably a number of reasons, some of  them
undoubtedly   interrelated, for  this observed  phenomenon. It  may  be,
for example, that this pattern is not unrelated to  the  pai  thiaw  pattern
among   Tai-speaking   lowlanders25  whereby   young   men    before
marriage go off seeking wage labor or  simply  to  have  fun  and  'see
the  world.' The desire for fun  and  adventure  was  also  a  motivating
factor  in   a  number  of  the  life  histories  I   collected  among  Khmuˀ
immigrant males  in  North  Thailand. From  this  standpoint   the  emi-
gration of young men could  be  regarded  as  at  least  in  part   an  ex-
pression of a cultural pattern learned in Laos by association with Lao,
Lue and other lowland Tai speakers. However, I am  inclined  to  think
that there may be additional explanations for this emigrating tendency
among Khmuˀ. I would mention two in particular :

Ecological and cultural correlates of intermediate zone occu-


The  Laos  Khmuˀ, like most other Mon-Khmer tribes, occupy
an intermediate zone of low forested hills, above the plains-dwelling
Lao and  Lue  but  below  the mountain-dwelling Miao and Yao. This
is  by  all  accounts an ecologically  disadvantageous  zone, a  prime
breeder  of  malaria vectors and a  poor area  for  agriculture  due  to


25) For a discussion of pai thiaw in northeastern Thailand, see Kirsch, A.T.'
     'Development and Mobility among  the  Phu  Thai  of  Northeast  Thailand,'
     Paper read at the Annual Meeting, Association for Asian Studies, New York






78                                           Frank M. LeBar


dense jungle regrowth and the ravages of insec t pests  and  animals.
Culturally, it may be considered a  primary  contact  zone-the  meeting
place of lowland traders going up into the hills and mountain peoples
coming  down  to  the  plains. Considerable  mobility  and  contact   of
diverse ethnic groups characterize  this  zone, particularly  during   the
dry season; and culture  contact  and  the  need  to  communicate   for
purposes  of   trade   fosters   multi-lingualism.  This    diversity     and
intensity of outside stimuli might be supposed over time to have   con-
tributed   to   cultural   fragmentation   and   a  certain  loss  of   cultural
identity-thus predisposing these intermediate zone inhabitants to  the
adoption of  alien  values  and  to  migration  out  of  their  ecologically
disadvantageous habitat to the plains below-where they undergo rapid
absorption by dominant lowlanders such as the Lue and Lao.


Disruption of indigenous culture patterns

The  Khmuˀ  cultural  inventory  was  presumably  at  one  time
richer than  it  appears  in  many  areas  today. Judging  from  what  in-
formants were able to tell me, the indigenous culture pattern south of
the  Nam  Tha  resembles  strongly  that  of  the  Lamet  in   the  same
general area. Prominant in both  cultures  is  a  socioeconomic   ritual
complex involving status mobility through  acquisition  of   wealth  and
an  attempt   to   control  wealth  by  marriage  within  related   families.
The desire for wealth-in order to contract an advantageous   marriage,
achieve status  as  a 'wealthy  man,' and  honor  the  family   ancestors
in periodic sacrificial feasts and ceremonies-motivates a large segment
of behavior in both Khmuˀ and Lamet.

It   is    possible  that  this  traditional  pattern  was  undergoing
disruptive changes,or was experiencing the culmination of a series of
such changes, about the time that the teak industry expanded in North
Thailand   with   a   consequent   demand   for   immigrant   labor.  The
gradual expansion of  the  Lao  northward, the  coming  of  the  French,
increasing   contacts   with   Thailand,  the   gradual   introduction  of  a
money economy, changes in traditional trading patterns, new markets
and lessened demand for traditional products from the  hills-all  these
could have had a disruptive effect  on  the  old  patterns  whereby  new
wealth   was   brought   into   the   system. As  a  result young  men,  in









particular, were motivated to go outside in search of  new  sources  of
wealth   with  which  to  return  and  participate  effectively  in  the  tradi-
tional and expected fashion. Certain it  is that  in  the  1930's  Izikowitz
found Lamet young men eager to go to Thailand to  earn  money  with
which to purchase bronze drums and other forms  of  wealth; and  my
Khmuˀ life histories collected in Thailand contain many references to
precisely this same behavior, similarly motivated.

In summary, the study of Khmuˀ culture presents a number of
challenging problems — in the field  of  ethnohistory  as  well  as  the
dynamics of  culture  contac t and  acculturation-meriting  more  atten-
tion from ethnographers and ethnologists than it has thus far received.
Their   scattered  and  marginal  situation  in  a  war-torn  land  would
certainly   place   the   Khmuˀ high  on  the  list  of  'fast  disappearing
cultures' deserving of more intensive field work.



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