The Khalô or Mae Rim Lawa a Remnant of the Lawa Population of northern Thailand. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Gebhard Flatz   




                              THE KHALÔ OR MAE RIM LAWA
                                    A REMNANT OF THE LAWA


                                               Gebhard Flatz


In northern Thailand there are several populations who are
linguistically affiliated with the Mon-Khmer or austroasiatic group of
languages. The most important of these groups are the L a w a, called
Lua8 in northern Thai, a group of several thousand people settling on
the high plateau west of Hod8 (Chiang Mai Province), the K h a m u
and T i n (Khatin) in Nan Province, and small groups of K h a m e d
(Lamet) in Chiang Rai Province who are part of the large Khamed
population in the Hua Khong Province of Laos. Due to the preser-
vation of ancient cultural characteristics and linguistic relations with
austroasiatic groups in Burma (Wa) the Lawa have received much
attention2,4,5. In addition to the main group southwest of Chiang
Mai there are a few Lawa villages5 in the district of Viang Papao8.
During a recent visit (1968) by the author no speakers of the Lawa
language were found in these villages although they are still called
Lawa villages ('Ban Lua') by the Thai population. It seems that their
assimilation to the Thai community has been completed in the pre-
sent generation.

In contrast to this, a group of people who call themselves
Khalὀ or Phalὀ, and who are referred to as Lua by the Thai settling
in adjacent villages, was discovered in the western part of Mae Rim8
district (Chiang Mai Province) in 1968. No reference to this group
was found in the literature and it seems that this isolated remnant of
the Lawa population has escaped the attention of ethnographic
research. In order to facilitate a more complete study of these people





88                                            Gebhard Flatz


the location, and the results of a preliminary survey of their language
and of certain anthropogenetic characteristics will be described in this



The Doi Pui8 massif west of Chiang Mai is mentioned as a
stronghold of the Lawa in old chronicles6. This prompted us to ask
people whether they had any knowledge of persons speaking the Lawa
language during a survey of genetic traits in Tambol Pong Yaeng8
(Mae Rim District). This subdistrict is located in the hills north
of the Doi Pui range. In Village No. 5 (Ban Pong Kai8) information
was received that a man described as 'Lua' had come to settle in this
village. A language test showed that the native language of this man
had a strong resemblance to the Lawa spoken in Bὀ Luang8 (Hod
District). He reported that in his own village, located beyond the
mountain range north of Pong Yaeng, only Lawa was spoken and that
there were two more villages with a substantial Lawa population.
Questioned as to the name by which his people call themselves he
stated that this was Khalὀ or Phalὀ. In view of the differences be-
tween Lawa and the language spoken in the Mae Rim villages (v.i.)
the name Khalo, or the specifying term 'Mae Rim Lua' should proba-
bly be used for these people. In two excursions the three 'Lawa'
villages were visited in August and September 1968.


Geographic location

The three villages are Ban Pang Hai8, 98°50.1' E, 18*57, 7'N;
Ban Ka8, 98049, 3'E, 19°00, 7'N; and Ban lak8, 9848. 8 E, 19002. 3'N.
These villages are located in the mountain range extending north from
the Doi Pui massif as shown on the accompanying map. Topogra-
phically, this area is characterized by small valleys breaking off in a
step-like fashion into the Mae Ping valley. This break-off creates
waterfalls and rapids at the site of the steep incline, e.g. the Mae Sa
falls west of Mae Rim. The three Lawa villages are located in the
valleys 300 to 500 metres above the base of the step-like rise from the
Mae Ping valley floor. Probably, this location resulted in a relative






                                                TH KHAL OR MAE RIM LAWA                               89


seclusion in which the ethnic character of the population was pre-
serve duntil today. The village group of Pong Yaeng to the south of
the Lawa villages has a similar location but is less isolated due to its
connection with the road from Chiang Mai to Samoeng8. No autoch-
thonous Lawa speakers are present in Pong Yaeng today.


Linguistic examination

In order to determine the nature of the non-Thai language
spoken in the three villages a word list was presented to three differ-
ent persons from two villages. All three stated that they refer to
their own language as Khalὀ or Phalὀ, and that they are called 'Lua'
by the Thai in neighbouring villages. By questioning the village head-
men it was determined that the population is predominantly Khalô
in the villages Pang Hai and Man Ka. Only a few Thai who migra-
ted from the valley reside in these villages. The population of the
larger village, Ban Iak, consists mainly of people speaking northern
Thai. 'Pure' Khalô are rare in this village but many people state
that one of their parents was 'Lua'.

The result of the language tests is shown in Table 1. Origi-
nally, the list contained 200 words. The words for which no Khalô
equivalent was known by the test persons, or for which a Thai word
was used, and a number of words revealing no additional information
(e.g. pork=pig meat) were omitted, leaving the list of 140 words in
Table 1. The Khalὀ words are compared with four austroasiatic lan-
guages spoken in northern Thailand. Lawa (Bô Luang), Khamed and
Khamu were transcribed from the word lists collected by Kraisri
Nimmanaheminda3; Lawa (Umphai) equivalents were taken from the
list reported by Sanidh Rangsit4. The Lawa (Bô Luang) given by
K.N.3 differs slightly from that collected by S.R.4; this may be due
in part to the time difference of 25 years. In order to facilitate com-
parisons only one version of Lawa (Bὀ Luang) is shown.

A few conclusions emerge prima facie from an inspection of the
word list. Khalὀ does not seem to be identical with either B Luang
or Umpai Lawa or Khamed; but there is a great number of coinciden-
ces and similarities between these three languages. A calculation of






90                                             Gebhard Flatz


the percentage of coincident words shows that Khalὀ is intermediate
between the Lawa and Khamed languages. The percentage of iden-
tical or very similar words in Khalὀ is 39.2% when compared with
Lawa, and 37.5% when compared with Khamed. In contrast, there
are only 17.2% similar words between Khalὀ and Khamu. With a
coincidence of less than 40% of basic words it is not expected that
Khalὀ is interintelligible with Lawa or Khamed, although much infor-
mation could probably be exchanged between the speakers of the three
languages in slow, grammatically simple conversation.

Several features deserve special mention : in Khalὀ, Lawa and
Khamed there are a number of words exhibiting regular changes of
vowels, similar to a German 'Ablautreihe'. Some of these are shown
in Table 2. The upper part of the table seems to establish a regular
relation ὀ : ua : e for Khalô : Lawa : Khamed. The other series,
ai : ia : ai, a : ua : a, and u : e : i, are not as well documented. With
respect to these series Khalô seems to be closer to Khamed than to
Lawa. In contrast Khalô, as Lawa, lacks certain terminal conso-
nants, especially 'l', that are present in Khamed, as shown in Table 3.
It is interesting to note that the short vocabulary of Viang Papao Lawa
given by Sanidh Rangsit4 contains two words with terminal 'l', one
of which has a similar form without the '1' in Lawa and Khalô (sa
nga : cha ngal). This suggests that Viang Papao Lawa may have been
even closer to Khamed, at least in some phonemes, and that there
may have been a continuous linguistic cline from Lawa (Bô Luang) to
Khamed. Examples are 'sax'='wife', and 'jax'='shirt'. The conson-
ant 'x' does not seem to occur in Lawa or Khamed. Another observa-
tion concerns consonant changes of the type 'r' : “l” : “-”, : e.g. in the
word for 'forest' where Khamu and Khamed retain the probably orig-
inal form 'bri' or 'pri', whereas Khalὀ has 'pli' and Lawa 'pi'. This
could be inherent linguistic developments or changes mediated by
similar developments in or assimilation to the northern Thai language.





                                            THKHAL OR MAE RIM LAWA                              91


Anthropogenetic examinations

Morphological measurements were not taken because it is not
expected that they differ much from the northern Thai population
who has presumably absorbed much of the preexistent Lawa after
migrating to the area of northern Thailand. It was of interest, how-
ever, to determine the distribution of certain genetic traits, in parti-
cular blood groups and abnormal haemoglobins, because these traits
show a characteristic distribution in many populations of Southeast
Asia1. Table 4 shows the distribution of ABO blood groups in the
Khalὀ people in comparison with Thai people from the same and
adjacent villages, with Lawa from Bὀ Luang, and other populations
of Thailand. In general, the distribution of blood groups in Southeast
Asia is characterized by a preponderance of the blood group gene O,
and a greater proportion of B than A. The distribution of ABO
groups in the Khalὀ and in adjacent Thai villages is further evidence
for the frequent local deviations from the general pattern. The
relatively high proportion of group 0 in northern Thailand is exag-
gerated in the two village groups. There is evidence for selective
forces acting on the blood group genes. In small groups chance ef-
fects play an additional role and may be decisive in groups numbering
only a few hundred people. Only if it could be shown that the
observed high proportion of group 0 is present generally in hill vil-
lages at the altitude of the Khalὀ villages, would this distribution of
blood groups appear to be caused by selection in favour of group 0
rather than by chance ('genetic drift'). In general, the blood group
distributions listed in Table 4 demonstrate the very limited usefulness
of the ABO groups as markers of ethnic affiliation or race.


Haemoglobin Anomalies

The findings concerning abnormal haemoglobins and beta-
thalassaemia are listed in Table 5. Both anomalies are common in
many tropical and subtropical countries. The most common abnormal
haemoglobin in Southeast Asia is Haemoglobin E (HbE). The differ-
ence between the normal adult thaemoglobin, HbA, and HbE is an
exchange of two aminoacids per haemoglobin molecule (two out of a
total of 572 aminoacids). This gives the abnormal haemoglobin







92                                            Gebhard Flatz


differing chemical and physical properties which facilitate its detec-
tion (e.g. by electrophoresis). Abnormal haemoglobins are usually
produced at a rate lower than normal HbA. Therefore, anemia is
often present, especially when a persons carries two abnormal hae-
moglobin genes of a certain type (homozygotes). Thalassaemia is
also characterized by an abnormally low haemoglobin production
although no abnormal haemoglobin is formed in this condition. In
view of the disadvantages (severe anaemia) conveyed by the abnormal
haemoglobin genes it is surprising to find them in high proportions
in many human populations. A selective advantage of the mildly
affected heterozygotes, carriers of only one abnormal haemoglobin
gene, has been mentioned as the most likely cause for these high gene

Haemoglobin E may be considered as typical for Southeast
Asians. There is an association between high frequencies of HbE
and ethnic affiliation with the austroasiatic group1. In contrast,
beta-thalassaemia is common in all populations of the tropical zone.
There is no or only very little HbE in the different population groups
of southern China whereas its frequency is high in Burma, Laos,
Thailand and Cambodia with the exception of recent immigrant
groups from southern China (e.g. Chinese, Thai Yong, Thai Ya and
certain tribal groups in Thailand and Laos). It was, therefore, of
interest to examine the haemoglobin types of the Khalὀ whose affilia-
tion with the austroasiatic group is suggested by the language test,
and compare the findings with those of Thai in adjacent villages and
with the general population of northern Thailand. Table 5 shows a
high incidence (16.2%) of carriers of HbE in the Khalὀ group. The
Thai living in adjacent villages at the same altitude have only 5.2%
HbE. In the Thai population of Chiang Mai and Lamphun 8.9% have
HbE. The differences between the Khalὀ and the two Thai groups
are statistically significant. The probability for a chance deviation
as a cause of the difference is less than 1 in 1000 for the comparison
Khalὀ : Thai in hill villages, and less than 1 in 100 for Khalὀ : Thai
Chiang Mai/Lamphun. Because of the strong selective forces acting
on the haemoglobin genes a 'drift' phenomenon, likely in case of the





                                        THE KHAL OR MAE RIM LAWA                             93


blood groups, is improbable as a cause of the high frequency of the
HbE gene among the Khalὀ. This is additional evidence in favour
of the hypothesis that HbE was present in high proportion in the
originalaustroasiatic population of northern Thailand and was acquired
by the Thai, immigrating from the present southern China, by mixing
with the local population. In order to demonstrate the association
between HbE and austroasiatic language the following list of percen-
tages of HbE carriers is shown :

Austroasiatic groups : Thai groups :

Khalὀ 16.2% Thai, northern Thailand 5 to 9%

LawaBὀ' Sali 12.8% Thai, Chiang Tung 4 to 5%

Mὀn Pasang 13.5% Thai, Sipsong Panna 0 to 1%

Khamu Nan 17.2%

Tin Nan 19.5%



The anthropogentic examinations were supported by a grant
from Stiftung Volkswagenwerk, Hannover, Germany. I thank Miss
Barbara Voss, Miss Sybille Voss and Miss Wanida Chaimongkol for
their assistance.



  1. FLATZ, G., C. PIK and S. SRINGAM, Haemoglobin E and
    beta-thalassaemia : their distribution in Thailand. Ann. hum.
    Genet. 29, 151,1965.-FLATZ, G., Hemoglobin E : distribution
    and population dynamics. Humangenetik 3, 189, 1967.

  2. HUTCHINSON, E.W., The Lawa in Northern Siam. J. Siam
    Soc. 27, 173, 1935.

  3. NIMMANAHEMINDA, KRAISRI, Notes on the Mrabri lang-
    uage. J. Siam Soc. 51 183, 1963.

  4. RANGSIT, PRINCE SANIDH, Beitrag zur Kenntnis der Lawa-
    Sprachen von Nord-Thailand. Anthropos 37-40,688, 1942-45.

  5. SEIDENFADEN, E., The Thai peoples. Siam Society, Bang-
    kok, 1958.







94                                                   Gebhard Flatz

 6. STEINMANN, A. und SANIDH RANGSIT, Denkmalformen

    und Opferstatten der Lawa. Z. Ethnol. 64, 163, 1939.

7. YOUNG, G., The hill tribes of northern Thailand. Siam

    Society, Bangkok, 1962

8. Annotations concerning the transcription of Southeast Asian

     languages are contained in Table I. Transcription of geogra-

     phical names with exception of the most common names (e.g.

     Chiang Mai) follow here :


Ban Iak                       บ้าน เอี๊ยก                     Lua                     ลั๊วะ

Ban Ka                       บ้าน ก๊ะ                          Mae Jaem         แม่ แจ่ม

Ban Pang Hai           บ้าน ปางไฮ                   Mae Raem        แม่ แรม

Ban Pong Kai           บ้าน โป่งไก๊                    Mae Rim           แม่ ริม

Bo Luang                   บ่อ หลวง                       Mae Sariang     แม่ สะเรียง

Doi Pui                       ดอย ปุย                          Pong Yaeng      โป่ง แยง

Hod                             ฮอด                                Samoeng          สะเมิง

                                                                            Viang Papao     เวียง ป่าเป้า

Dr. Gebhard Flatz Postal address :

Human Genetics Laboratory P.O. Box 116

Department of Pathology Chiang Mai

Faculty of Medicine
Chiang Mai University
Chiang Mai, Thailand
































































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