Blessing Feasts and Ancestor Propitiation Among the Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu) พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Anthony R. Walker   



Anthony R. Walker


          The Lahu Nyi1 or Red Lahu are one of the major divisions of the Lahu peoples. Known to the Thai as 'Mussur',2 the Lahu are a Tibeto-Burman-speaking hill folk whose village communities are widely scattered through the mountainous tracts of southwestern Yunnan, the Burmese Shan State, the westernmost corner of Laos, and northern Thailand. The total Lahu population is about a quarter of a million.3 Of the approxi-mately 15,000 Lahu in Thailand, more than 9,000 are Lahu Nyi (Young 1962: 85, United Nations 1967 : 8).


Lahu villages are interspersed with  those of other hill  communities
in   all   the   national  states in which they  are  found  (Walker 1970b : 2-3).
The Lahu possess no all-encompassing political structure above the level
of   the   village  or  small  cluster  of  neighbouring   villages  (Walker 1969 :

1) Fieldwork among the Lahu  Nyi  was carried  out in north Thailand (Phrao and
     Wiang  Pa   Pao  districts)   from   1966  to 1970, during  which time I  held the
     position  of  research  officer  at the Tribal Research Centre in Chiang Mai. My
     services to   the  Tribal    Research  Centre  were sponsored  by Her Britannic
     Majesty's  Ministry  of   Overseas Development. I take this opportunity to thank
     the  Director  and  permanent staff of the Tribal Research Centre and also the
     Ministry  of Overseas  Development  in  London  for making possible this long
     period of research.

2) 'Mussur',  written  in a variety of ways, e.g.,  Mussuh, Musur, Muso,  Musso   and
     others, means 'hunter' in the Shan, Wa, Palaung, Rumai and Riang languages
    (Johnston 1908 : 279n).
3) People's Republic of China.........180,000 (Moseley 1962 : 162)
     Burma................................................ 66,000 (LeBar et al 1964 : 40)
     Thailand..............................................15,000 (Young   1962:85,  United   Nations
                                                                                 1967 : 8)
      Laos......................................................2,000 (LeBar el al 1964 : 40)
      The figures  for Burma and Laos are largely   impressionistic. That  for Laos
      is certainly a severe underenumeration. For more detailed comments on all
      the above figures, see Walker 1970b : 40-2, 46, 49-61.




44).4    Each autonomous Lahu  village community  is  governed by  its own
headman, although  sometimes  an  influential  headman  is recognized as
the senior  among  all   headmen   within  a  particular   area  (Walker 1969 :

              Like  other  hill  peoples  of  northern South-East Asia, the Lahu are
traditionally  swidden  agriculturalists. 5  In  Thailand,  most  Lahu commu-
nities  are  dependent  upon  the  production  of  a  staple crop (dry hill rice)
and one or more cash crops (opium, chillies, etc.).


            The  present  article,  like my  previous  account  of  the  Lahu   New
Year celebrations  (Walker  1970a), is  intended  as  a contribution to Lahu
ethnography  rather  than  as an exercise in sociological analysis. Further-
more, in presenting  here  the  original  texts  of   a   number  of  Lahu   Nyi
prayers, I hope  both to contribute  to  Lahu studies in general and also  to
allow  future  students of   this  language  to  check  on the accuracy of  my


           Data  for  this  article  were  assembled  in two Lahu  Nyi villages  in
northern  Thailand  over  a  period  of  more  than  three  years. However, I
cannot  be  sure  that  my findings in these two villages are representative
of all Lahu Nyi villages either in Thailand or elsewhere.


            The two ceremonies to be considered here are known in Lahu as  awv
bo te ve6 (awvbo : blessings, te ve : to make) and chaw suh aw_ca_ve  (chaw

4) An important exception is the Lahu autonomous county of Lan-ts'ang  set  up
    by the Chinese People's Government in 1953 in the P'uerh region of   Yunnan
    (Ch'en Yin 1964 : 48, Kunstadter 1967 : 163).
5) 'Swidden'  is  an  old   English  dialect  word meaning 'a burned clearing'. The
     term is now widely used among anthropologists in particular to refer not only
     to  the  fields themselves but also to the type of agriculture commonly known
     as 'shifting' or 'slash-and-burn'.
*  I am  indebted  to my  friend  and  colleague  in   Lahu   studies,  Dr.  James A.
    Matisoff, of the University  of  California  (Berkeley)  for  carefully  checking  the
    Lahu texts which, appear in this article.
6) The orthography used for Lahu words in this article was devised  over the last
     sixty  years  by  members of  the   American  Baptist  Mission  in  Burma. Many
     Christian Lahu  (but few,  if any,  non-Christians)  are  literate  in   this   writing
     system. One   of   the  best  modern examples of it is G't/iv sha ve Lin Hpu Azvv
     Suh—, the New Testament in Lahu published by the Bible Society of Burma in
                                                                                                  [ continued, page 347. ]




Suh :    dead     men,    aw_ ca_ ve : to feed).   These   two  ceremonies  are  often,

tho   ugh   not   necessarily,   associated.    While   no   blessing    feast   may   be

performed    with    out  the   inclusion   of    the   ritual    feeding   of  the ancestors,

this    latter  ceremony   may   be   performed   either   by   itself   or  in association

with     other   ceremonies,  notably   at    the   New   Year    time   (Walker   1970 a :



                                       RITUAL AND SICKNESS IN LAHU NYI

                                        SOCIETY-AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE


           Since    both  blessing  feasts  and  ancestor  propitiation  rites  fall    within

the    realm  of   Lahu   Nyi    me    dico-ritual,  it   is   essential    to    make   some

introductory    comments    on    the   relationship     between  ritual and  sickness

in    this s   ociety.    Most Lahu    Nyi    ritual    is   associated   with   sickness and

may   be   categorized   as    diagnostic,   prophylactic  or   therapeutic  in function.

Such   categorization   is   not    absolute.  One  particular   ceremony   may   have

both   prophylactic   and    therapeutic   functions   or    may   on  one  occasion be

categorized   as    prophylactic    and     the    other    as      therapeutic.    The   two

ceremonies    to   be  described  below   are  cases  in   point : a household  may


            Lahu has    seven tones,    five   open (long vowel) and two checked (short

vowel, ending in   a    glottal    stop). In   this   orthography the open mid-level tone

is unmarked {e.g., ca) and   the   other  tones are indicated at the end of syllables

by   the  following symbols :

              superscript straight line (ca-) — high-rising open tone

              superscript wedge (cav) - high-falling open tone

              subscript wedge (cav) — low-falling open tone

              subscript straight line (ca-) - very-low open tone

              superscript circumflex (ca^) — high tone, checked

              subscript circumflex (ca^ ) - low tone, checked

For     further   information   on      this    writing    system    see    Matis   off   1970.

        In   the    present  article,  the  onlv exception to this orthography is the name

'Lahu   Nyi'.  In   formal    transcription    this   would   be    'Lav Hu_ Nyi‾',  but    in

ordinary   usage    the   syllabification   and  tone   marks  are  omitted. After  con-

sultations   with   colleagues I have adopted the more common usage, although

in a  previous  article   in    this   J   ournal   I   adhered   to  the formal missionary



offer   a    blessing    feast  not   because   it   is   at    present  suffering from  any
sickness, but   to   build   up  a   store  of blessing (awvbo) to prevent  misfortune
in   the  future. On    the   other   hand,   the   same    ceremonial   feast   may   be
offered   in   order   to    effect   a    cure    for    present    sickness.  Similarly,   the
ancestral   spirits    may   be     propitiated  either  to prevent   them from  working
their   wrath   on   the    household    in   the   future,   or   in   order  to    allay  their
present    displeasure   which   is   causing  sickness to a member or members
of the household.


            My   observations  over  several  years'   residence  among  the Lahu  Nyi
point   to  the    conclusion   that    when  a  villager   falls   sick his first  objective
is  to  secure  medicine. If   medicine  is   effective,  the villager has no  thoughts
of ritual.   However,  the    medicines _almost    all    of     which  are    imported-
which   are   available   in   a  Lahu   Nyi   village   are  generally  limited  both in
quantity     and    efficacy. If    medicine   is    either    unavailable   or   ineffective,
the    villager   may  turn  to   the   traditional    medico_ritual   practices   of    his
community.   Whether   or   not   he    does  so   will   depend   on   his   or    the
community's   opinions  of    the   cause   of   his   sickness . By  no  means  all
sickness    is  attributed   to   the  supernatural. If   a  person  suffers   stomach
pains   after    eating  too  many  mangoes,  he   will  not  say  that  a  spirit  has
attacked  him.  If  an   old    person  is   sick,   the    ailment    will     probably  be
attributed    to   generally    failing   health   rather    than   to   any   supernatural
cause. On   the   other    hand,  sickness  which   strikes an  otherwise  healthy
individual, and  for  which  there  is no   apparent  natural   cause,  is  generally
attributed   to  the  supernatural.  In   such  a   case    recourse  must  be made
to  ritual.


           In   the   majority   of  Lahu   Nyi   villages  there  is  a  hierarchy  of  ritual
officials  (Walker 1969 :   47-8,  197b  :  190-4).   The   villager   who   turns   to
ritual   for  a  cure  of  his ailments will go to one or more of  these  specialists
in   order  to determine  the   cause   of   his  illness  and  the  ceremony most
likely  to  cure  him.   Ritual   offerings   known   as   hk,aw‾ tar?  (the   verb   hk'
aw‾ ve  means 'to  humble  oneself  before  a  senior  person  or supernatural
being',   while   the   verb  tanvve  means 'to  make an offering as homage to a
senior')  are   brought  to  the  ritual  specialist.   Such    offerings   comprise  a



small   loosely    woven    bamboo   basket   (hpeuvo-)1  attached  to  which  are
bamboo  sticks  with  cotton  wool  on the  ends (hpeuvve)8   [Fig. 1]. Informants
say  that  this  hpeuvk'o_ represents a  bowl  of  flowers  similar  to   that   which
Buddhists   bring   to   their  temples. Inside  the  basket are placed  rice  grains
(cavhk'a),  beeswax   candles  (pehwhav)—),  one  or   two  coins  (hpu), a   strip
of white  cloth  (hpa   sha¯hkcv)   and   a   length  of  cotton  string  (a¯mo  hkeh).
The rice, beeswax    candles  and   money  are  offerings  to  the supreme Lahu
supernatural,    G'uivska.9    The    strip   of   white  cloth  symbolizes  the     sick
man's   wish   that   he   might live  as many years  as  there are holes between
the   warp   and  woof  of  the   cloth.   After    the   ritual   specialist   has   offered
the  basket  and   its   contents   to   G'uivsha,  the  string   will be returned to the
sick   man so   that   members  of   his  household may bind his wrist, symbolic
of   the  binding   of  G'uivsha's  blessings  in  to   the  body.  The  money   which
was   brought for  G'uivsha   becomes  the  property  of   the  ritual  specialist.

               When   the   ritual  specialist   offers  the  hpeuvk'o_and  its contents  to
G'ui v  sha, he prays that   the  cause  of   the  villager's sickness be  revealed to
him.  The   specialist  may   await  revelation   through  his  dream  experiences
or   he  may  induce  a  trance  state  (called  G'uivha awvcavya^ve) during which
he   is   believed   to   be   in    direct    communication   with    G'uivsha   (awvca^:
a rope,   ya^ve  :   come down  or join: i.e.,  the    specialist   is   joined   as   with
a  rope  to    G'uivsha).  Having   obtained   a   supernatura  l   diagnosis  of   the
sickness,   the      specialist     will   order    the    performance   of  a    particular
therapeutic ceremony.


           Some   ceremonies,   as   indicated   earlier,  are  prophylactic  i  function.
These  are   performed,  often at   considerable  personal   expense,  for   three
basic    reasons  :   tradition,   revelation,  and  personal  inclination.  The   ritual
feeding   of   the   ancestors  at   New    Year    time,  for  example, is   traditional;

7)  I have   been  unable   to  elicit from Lahu informants a meaning for the word
      hpeiiy K'o— means 'hollow object'
8)  yeAmeans 'a  flower',  and refers to the bamboo sticks with cotton wool stuck
     in a cleft in one end.
9)  The etymology of the word G'uivsha  is obscure.



the   performance   of   the ceremony on  this occasion is enjoined  upon  every
Lahu  Nyi   household  in  order  to   guard   against    sickness  in  the  coming
year.  Revelation  is  as   important   as    tradition   and  it  may   come  through
the   dreams   or    visions   either  of   ritual   specialists   or   of   the   individual
concerned. For   example,   a   man   might   decide   to   offer  a  ritual   feast  to
his  ancestors  because  a specialist so directed him, or  because  he  himself
interpreted  a  dream  of  his  dead  parents  to mean  that a feast was required.
Finally,    a   man   may   simply   feel   that   it  is  expedient   to  perform  a  parti-
cular     ceremony   at   a   particular    time.  An  example   is  the  ritual  feeding
of   the  ancestors   after   the   harvest   of   the   first   fruits  of   the   agricultural
year—maize  and    pumpkins.   In   the    village   in   which  I  was  living,  most
households   do    not     perform   ancestor    propitiation    rites   at   this    time.
However,  a    few    feel   that   it  is   expedient   to   perform  such  rites both as
a  sign  of    thanksgiving   and   as a surety  that  the  ancestors will continue to
bless   their   agricultural  endeavours.


         The  preceding  brief  comments  adumbrate  the  background  to a  large
part   of     Lahu    Nyi   ceremonial.  We   may   now    proceed   to   a    detailed
discussion  of  blessing feasts  and  ancestor  propitiation.


                                        AWvBO TE VE - BLESSING FEASTS
        The   principal   idea    behind   the  awvbo   te  ve  ceremony is  the  trans-
ference  of  some  of  the  good  fortune  of the  healthy  to the  sick  or to those
who  might   become  sick.  When a  Lahu  Nyi  villager   attends  an  awvbo te
ve  feast  he  usually   gives  as   his    reason,  'awvbo  ho_pi νe   have   noted
that  awvbo  means   'blessing'. The    verb    ptvve   means 'to give', while   the
verb ho_ve means  'to   transfer  an  attribute  or  condition of  one   substance
to another'.10
10) Thus, the  phrase 'aω_ ka^ ho_ve'  (aω_ :   cooked  rice, ka^ :  cold,ho_ ve :
       to transfer [heat] ) means 'to mix newly prepared hot rice with cold left-over
       rice  in order  to  warm  the  cold  rice'.


          There is no prescribed  time in the year  when  a  blessing  feast  must
take  place. The  performance  depends  on  the   feelings  of  the household
head  or  his  wife,  or  on the revelations or  suggestions of ritual specialists.
In  1967  there   was   an   average  of  one   ceremony   per household in the
village  in   which  I   was  living  ( see Table 1 ).  Of   the   fifteen   households
comprising  this   village  and  its   outlying   hamlet,   twelve   performed   the
awvbo  te  ve  ceremony  once  during  the  year,  one  performed  it  on  three
different   occasions   and   two   households   did   not   hold   the  ceremony
at all.


As   the   table   shows,  all  but  one  of  the blessing  feasts performed in the
village in  1967   were   therapeutic  in   aim. The   remaining   ceremony  was
prophylactic, to   ensure   an  easy  childbirth  for a  pregnant  woman. Twelve
of   the  ceremonies  were  performed  at   the in  stigation  of  a  ritual  official
while    three    were    in   itiated   by    the    particular   household   head.   All
households  but   one  slaughtered  a   pig   for   the  rite12  and  the  average
approximate   value   of   such  a  pig  was Bahts 156.


The   single   household   which   did   not  sacrifice  a  pig is that of a poverty-
stricken  opium  addict   who  has   neither   his   own  pigs  nor the money to
buy  one.


          An  awvbo  te  ve   ceremony   comprises  five  distinct  rites, as follows :
                             1. The slaughter of a pig
                             2. The feeding of the ancestral spirits
                             3. The offering of a feast to the village
                             4. The   binding  of  the  wrists of  all members of the donor

                             5. The   construction  of a  symbolic   bridge  over   the  path
                                  leading to the village
12) Household 13 killed a fowl for one of the two ceremonies it performed in 1967.
       For the other ceremony  a pig was  slaughtered.   Household   15   alone killed
       no pig.




1. Va^ tiνe :   The Slaughter of a Pig
     (va^: pig, ti νe : to kill)
             For   all   but   the   poorest   members  of   the  community,  the   slaughter
of  a   pig  is  required  for  the   performance  of  a    blessing feast.   (Those  who
cannot   afford a  pig   kill  one  or   more  fowl.)

             However,   the    Lahu   Nyi  consider   that   killing  a   pig   to  eat is a  sin
for    which    propitiation   must be     made.  The   owner  of   the  animal    binds
together   a    number    of    bamboo   sticks   on  top  of  which he places  cotton
wool. This   r  itual     object,      known    as   livtsuhν    ( liv   from   awjiv  : custom,
tsuhfive :  to bind  together),  is  made as  an offering  to  the  soul  of  the  pig.13


The   owner  of   the   pig   holds   the  livtsuh^ in   both  hands  near the fireplace
in  his  house   and    addresses   the   doomed    pig,   which  is   tied to a stake
outside, as follows :


                         Ngavnawvhta^te^nyi sheh^paw"aw_ca_leh hu ta_ve leh ngav
                         tivcavleh bo te ve, baAtavcawJav.
                        Three times in one day I have fed and cared for you, I kill you to eat
                         in order to obtain blessings, I do not sin.


The  incantation   finished,  the   owner   of   the  pig  goes out   and   throws the
liν tsuhr, in to  the bushes  near  the village.


              The   slaughter   of    the   pig   is  a   ritual   act.   It   is  in fact a  sacrifice.
The   Lahu   Nyi   say   that the  soul   of   the  pig  is  released  to  go to the land
of  the  dead   in   place  of   the  human  souls  of   the   household     members.
Before    bludgeoning    the    pig   to   death   with   a heavy   wooden   stake, the
slaughterer   should   recite   this  in   cantation : 'Chaw ta vaν  ta   k'aV     ('Go in
the    place   of   the    man (men)'). Often   this    prayer   is  omitted,   giving  the
casual   onlooker   the  impression   that this is a simple  slaughter rather than
a ritual sacrifice.
13) Informants were unable to give the symbolic meaning of the liy tsuhs, but stated
       only that   its   manufacture   for   this  and  other rites was 'Lahu custom', Lav hn-
       azuv liy

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