The divisions of the Lahu people. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Anthony R. Walker   






                                              Anthony R. Walker*


          The Lahu are a Tibeto-Burman-speaking people whose small villages

are scattered throughout the rugged Yunnan-Indochina borderlands.1
About sixty percent of their total today live in southwest Yunnan.
Originally they came from further north, and in recent centuries they
have migrated southward into eastern Burma, north Thailand and north-
west Laos.2 Although a common language and a number of shared
cultural and social traits enable us to distinguish the Lahu from other
hill peoples such as Akha, Lisu, Meo, Yao, etc., they are by no means a
homogeneous "tribe". They recognize among themselves many named
sub-groups or divisions, e.g. Lahu Na (Black Lahu), Lahu Shi (Yellow),
Lahu Nyi (Red), Lahu Hpu (White), and Lahu Sheh Leh (meaning
unknown), to mention only the better-known. The existence of such
divisions, and the variety of names given to them, has been the cause of
considerable confusion in the ethnographic literature, and even among
the people themselves. The purpose of this article is to attempt some
clarification of the available data and to point out areas where further
research is necessary.


* School of Comparative Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.

1) I conducted fieldwork among the Lahu (mostly Lahu Nyi) in north Thailand

from 1966 to 1970 while I was research officer at the Tribal Research Centre,

Chiang Mai. For making possible this long period of field research I thank my

sponsor, Her Britannic Majesty's Ministry of Overseas Development (now

Overseas Development Administration, Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and

the Director of the Tribal Research Centre, Khun Wanat Bhruksasri. I thank

Dr. James A. Matisoff, Dr. Delmos J. Jones and Mr. Jairus Banaji for allowing

me to cite unpublished dissertations, and my wife, Pauline Hetland Walker, for

her skilful editing and typing.

2) Approximate population figures for Lahu are as follows : China 180,000

(Moseley 1966:162); Burma 80,000 (Lewis 1970:80); Thailand 16,000 (United

Nations 1967:8); Laos 5,000 (Lewis 1970:80). The figures for Burma and Laos

are largely impressionistic.










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The first problem in the ethnographic accounts is that it is not
always clear what group is indicated by each name. A division has not
only the name by which its members identify themselves but also the
several names given to it by other groups, and a common mistake is the
assumption that different names represent different groups. On the other
hand, it may happen that two distinct groups use the same name.

Let us take for example the two largest divisions in Thailand, the
Lahu Nyi and the Lahu Sheh Leh. In both divisions the people usually
refer to themselves as "Lahu" or "Lahu ya" (Lahu people), and add a
distinguishing adjective only to the name of the other group. Thus a
Lahu Nyi might say, "We are Lahu; they are Lahu Sheh Leh." The
Sheh Leh in turn give the name Lahu Pa Li to the Lahu Nyi. When
pressed to distinguish their own from other Lahu divisions, members of
the first group generally call themselves Lahu Nyi.3 Those in the second
group seem to prefer the name Lahu Na rather than Sheh Leh for them-
selves,4 although they are quite different from the Lahu Na of Yunnan
and Burma, who comprise the largest of all Lahu divisions. According
to Gordon Young (1962 : 20), the author of a popular guide to Thailand's
hill peoples, the original name of the Sheh Leh in Yunnan was Lahu Na

            But these are only the Lahu names for the two divisions. Adding

to the confusion, the Northern Thai call the Lahu Nyi Mussur Daeng or
"Red Mussur" (mussur from Burmese through Shan to Northern Thai :
"hunter"; daeng : "red" in both Shan and Northern Thai) while they call
the Lahu Sheh Leh Mussur Dam or "Black Mussur" (dam : "black" in
Shan and Northern Thai). The Northern Thai names seem to be based
simply on the colour of the women's dress : both divisions traditionally


3) My information here conflicts with that of Young (see note 16).

 4) Spiemann (1969:322nl0) suggests that the Sheh Leh call themselves Lahu Na

 because the latter are the most prestigious division of the Lahu people, but it

 seems more likely that Thailand's Sheh Leh identify themselves to strangers as

 Lahu Na because their Northern Thai neighbours call them Mussur Dam, "Black

 Mussur" (see note 17).

 5) Young writes this name "Na-Muey". I prefer "Na Moe", following the

 orthography used in Burma and Thailand by Christian Lahu, who are the only

 substantially literate section of the Lahu population outside China,






256                                          Anthony R. Walker


wear a black costume, but the Lahu Nyi women sew bright red bands
on their blouses and sarongs. In Burma the Lahu Nyi reportedly are
sometimes called Lahu Meu Teu or "Southern Lahu" (from Shan meu teu
"southern country") in contradistinction to the Lahu Na who are called
Lahu Meu Neu or "Northern Lahu" (from Shan meu neu : "northern
country").6 These names refer to geographical distribution, the Lahu Nyi
living entirely in the southern area of Lahu settlement, south of Kengtung
and into Thailand. (Apparently there are no Lahu Nyi in Yunnan.)
Thus we find at least four different names for each division : Lahu Nyi/
Lahu Pa Li/Lahu Meu Teu/Mussur Daeng for one, and Lahu Sheh Leh/
Lahu Na/Lahu Na Moe/Mussur Dam for the other.

The picture is further complicated by a controversy over the Lahu
Sheh Leh. Young, as mentioned above, regards the Sheh Leh as a distinct
group, who came originally from Shunning district of Yunnan and are
more properly called Lahu Na Moe.7 Jones (1967: 16), having been
told by his Sheh Leh informants that they are really Lahu Na or Black
Lahu, dismisses the Sheh Leh category altogether and describes his study
villages as "Black Lahu" villages. Jones' claim that the Lahu Sheh Leh
and the Lahu Na are one and the same division is contested by Spielmann
(1968 : 295-7, 1969 : 326-30), who argues, on the basis of field experience
with both groups, that the Sheh Leh people of Thailand are socially and
linguistically distinct from the Black Lahu of Yunnan and the Burmese
Shan State. These Lahu Na, he shows, are represented in Thailand by
a mere seven villages, all of them Christian. My own research supports
Spielmann's conclusion that the Sheh Leh are different from the main
Black Lahu division.



            With several names for each group, and disagreement even among

                               the people themselves about which name to use, it is not surprising that


6) Information from Lahu Na Christian informants recently arrived from Burma.

 See also Young (1962:9n). Once again my spelling, following the standard

 Lahu orthography, differs from Young's "MongTaue" and "Mong Neu".

 7) Spielmann (1969:327) disagrees, maintaining that "Na Moe" is simply the name

 of the numerically dominant Sheh Leh descent group.






                          THE DIVISIONS OF THE LAHU PEOPLE                    257


the ethnographic literature is confusing. In addition to the groups

already mentioned there is a host of others.8 Which are the main divi-
sions, and how are the smaller groups related to them ?

            Many early writers have stated that there are two main divisions

of the Lahu, but few agree on the names. "The Red and the Black",
says Woodthorpe (1896:597); "the Great La'hus and the Yellow La'
hus", say Scott and Hardiman (1900:580), adding "but a commoner
division is into the Red and the Black, and there are very many subdivi-
sions of them." Writing like these authors about Burma, Jamieson
(1909: 1) regards Black and Red as the major groups and the Kwi
(Yellow Lahu)9 as an "allied tribe", while Telford (1937: 90) fails even
to mention the Red Lahu and names Black and Yellow as the major
divisions.10 Ruey Yih-fu (1948:1) multiplies the confusion by telling
us that in Yunnan the Lahu are divided into "Great Lo-hei" and "Small
Lo-hei" (Lo-hei is the Chinese name for the Lahu people as a whole)11


8) Lahu Na Hpeh, Pa Nai, Hka Hka, A Leh, La Hu (there is a tonal distinction

 between Lav hu_, the people, and Lav Hu-, the subdivision), Hu Li, Ku Lao,

 Ve Ya, La Ba, La Law, Ka Leh, Law Meh, Baw Fa, Na Moe, Kai Shi and

 probably others. All these subdivisional names were given to me by Lahu

 informants in Thailand, except for the Lahu Ka Leh and Lahu Law Meh who

 are listed by Telford (1937:90). Khin (1968:30) lists two more, the Lahu Ba

 Cho and the Lahu Mae Ne; his "Lahu Net" are presumably Lahu Na.

 9) The Shan call all Lahu "Mussur", except for the Lahu Shi whom they call


 10) Although Telford admits that his simple classification might be rejected by

 both Lahu Na and Lahu Shi, the total omission of Lahu Nyi seems strange in

 this authoritative work by one who lived with the Lahu for more than twenty


 11) This name is probably derogatory. Scott and Hardiman (1900:579) quote a

 report that the Chinese use the name Lo-hei (Scott and Hardiman spell it

 "Loheirh") "out of pure mischief". Their informant maintains that " 'La'hu

 would have been an equally easy sound, but to the Chinese mind it would not

 have been so appropriate a designation, for it would not have conveyed the

 contemptuous meaning of Loheirh.' " "Blackness" is suggested as the con-

 temptuous connotation of this name. The Chinese anthropologist Ruey Yih-fu

 (1948:1) also implies that "Lo-hei" is somehow derogatory, for he says that

 although these people are referred to by this name, it is more polite to address

 them as "Hei-chia", literally "Black Family". As the word "black" (hei) is

 present in both impolite and polite names, it is difficult to accept that it

 necessarily suggests "barbarity" as has sometimes been thought. Whatever its

 connotations, the term "Lo-hei" has now officially been dropped by the Chinese

 People's Government in favour of the indigenous name "Lahu" (SCMP 1953).




258                                      Anthony R. Walker


            while in Burma, he says, they are divided into "Red Lo-hei or Great Lo-
hei" and "Black Lo-hei or Yellow Lo-hei". Another Chinese writer, Lin
Ping (1961 : 151) writes that they are divided into "the long-sleeved
Lahu tribe, the short-sleeved Lahu tribe, etc., four or five divisions."
Young (1962 : 9-27) recognizes three major Lahu groups represented in
Thailand : the Black, the Yellow and the Sheh Leh; the Red, he maintains
(1962 : 9n), are a splinter group of the Black. Jones (1967: 16), as
discussed above, dismisses the Sheh Leh category and says that the Lahu
comprise three divisions : Black, Red and Yellow.

          One clear fact that emerges from the literature is that between

Lahu Na (Black) and Lahu Shi (Yellow) there is a major cleavage of
long standing. History, geography and language point to this conclusion.
Centuries ago, if the modern Chinese writer Ch'en Yin (1954: 46) is
right, during the southward migration of Lahu in Yunnan the Black Lahu
took a westerly route while the Yellow and the White Lahu took an
easterly one. In recent centuries the population centres of Black and
Yellow Lahu have been in far separated parts of Yunnan, that of the
Black lying towards the southwest in the present-day autonomous coun-
ties of Lan-ts'ang and Meng-lien, while that of the Yellow is further east,
in the modern Hsi-shuang-pa-na T'ai autonomous area to the southwest
of Fu-hsing-chen (Ssu-mao) (cf. Young 1962:24). The fact that the
Shan have entirely different names for these two divisions, Kwi for the
Yellow and Mussur (Mussuh, Mussö) for the Black and other Lahu, fur-
ther implies an ancient division. Territorial separation is reflected in the
markedly different dialects of Lahu Na and Lahu Shi, the latter being so
divergent, according to the linguist Matisoff (1972), that "it is not easy
for the Yellows to communicate with their brethren who speak other
dialects."12 But although the distinction between Black and Yellow is
well established, lack of data for the Yellow Lahu makes it impossible
to pinpoint the sociologically significant differences between the two.


12) Noting the differences between Lahu Shi on the one hand and, on the other,

Lahu Na and closely related dialects, Matisoff (1972) writes: "'Yellow'

Lahu ... is clearly divergent . . . The tonal, grammatical, and lexical differ-

ences are pronounced, and the system of segmental phonemes is quite idiosyn -

cratic as well . . ."






                            THE DIVISIONS OF THE LAHU PEOPLE                       259


As for the other groups, large and small, it appears likely that they
are either subdivisions or splinter groups of the Yellow Lahu or the
Black Lahu. Certainly among the Lahu Shi (Yellow) there are subdivi-
sions. In Thailand I was told of three of these : Lahu Shi Ba La, Lahu
Shi Na Keo and Lahu Shi Ba Keo. Telford (1937 : 90) mentioned these
three (listed by him as Balang, Namkyo and Banceau respectively) and
added a fourth, Lahu Shi Meukeu. Young (1962:24) says that the A
Do A Ga and the Na Tawn are other subdivisions of the Yellow Lahu
in the Burmese Shan State. My own experience of Yellow Lahu (limited
to Christian converts) is that these people identify themselves first as
Lahu Shi and then as a member of a particular subdivision. A man does
not announce that he is a Lahu Ba La, but rather that he is a Lahu Shi
Ba La.

Other groups do not identify themselves by name with a parent
division as do the Lahu Shi subdivisions, but it is probable that many of
them are splinter groups of the Lahu Na.13 This is particularly so of
the Lahu Nyi and Lahu Sheh Leh. In the absence of adequate linguistic
and sociological data from Yunnan and the Burmese Shan State, which
are the chief Lahu settlement areas, it is impossible to determine the
relationship of all groups with any certainty. Nevertheless, I believe it
is possible to untangle some of the threads in the material we have.




            According to Ruey Yih-fu, as mentioned above, the Lahu in Yunnan
are divided into "Great Lo-hei" and "Small Lo-hei". This classification
is almost certainly Chinese rather than indigenous. Bruk (1960 : 31), a
Soviet ethnographer who had access to modern Chinese sources, reports
that the Lahu of Yunnan are divided into the more familiar Lahu Na
and Lahu Shi. Ch'en Yin (1964 : 46) mentions these two divisions but
includes also the Lahu Hpu (White Lahu). In the Burmese Shan State
the picture grows more complex. In the northerly areas of Lahu settle-
ment, it is reported, the major distinction is between Great Lahu and


13) The first syllable nav (low-falling open tone) in the divisional names Na Moe,

Na Tawn, Na Hpeh, is not to be confused with the word ?na^ (high checked tone)

meaning "black".






260                                          Anthony R. Walker


Yellow Lahu; in the south it is between Black Lahu and Red Lahu (Scott
and Hardiman 1900 : 580).

These variations in nomenclature may be less complicated than they
first appear. The available evidence suggests that the people whom the
Chinese call "Great Lo-hei" are the people who call themselves Lahu Na
or Black Lahu, while the "Small Lo-hei" are the people who call them-
selves Lahu Shi or Yellow Lahu. The basis for assuming that "Great"
and "Black" Lahu denote the same division is that the Lahu Na are the
most numerous Lahu division and that some writers, particularly Young
(1962:9), refer to the Lahu Na as the "great" or "root-stock" Lahu.
Moreover, the Great Lahu of Burma are said to have come from Mien-
ning and the Yellows from Ch'ing-tung T'ing (Scott and Hardiman 1900 :
580); that is, respectively west and east of the river Mekong, as has been
reported for the Black and Yellow Lahu. Thus in the north of the
Burmese Shan State (near the Yunnanese border) the major distinction
among the Lahu people is, as in Yunnan, between Black and Yellow

                 Further south in Burma, it appears, a major splinter group of the

Lahu Na has come to be called the Lahu Nyi.14 The fact that their two
dialects are extremely close is the basis for my assumption that the Lahu
Nyi come from the Lahu Na. I assume further that the Red Lahu broke
away from the parent Black Lahu in Burma rather than in the original
Chinese homeland, for there is no mention in the literature of Lahu Nyi
in Yunnan. The fact that they are also known as Lahu Meu Teu or
"Southern Lahu" (as opposed to "Northern Lahu" for the Lahu Na)
suggests that they have always been a southerly extension of the Lahu
people. Today, in fact, they are located in the southern areas of Lahu
settlement in Burma, east of the river Hsim and concentrated in the two
districts of Muang Hsat and Muang Ton, whence they stretch through
into the Thai provinces of Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son.
The idea that the Lahu Nyi are an offshoot of the Lahu Na is by no
means new. Young (1962 : 9n) was the first, to my knowledge, to


14) Whether they first adopted the name "Red" Lahu (nyi : "red" in Lahu) of their

own accord or because their Shan neighbours called them "Mussur Daeng"

 (daeng : "red" in Shan) is unknown.






                         THE DIVISIONS OF THE LAHU PEOPLE                        261


suggest this. He maintains that these two divisions have been geo-
graphically separated for some 150 years, but unfortunately he gives no
evidence to support his estimate.

In Thailand, the recent literature refers to four major Lahu divi-
sions : Na, Nyi, Shi and Sheh Leh. It is now clear how the first three
may be related to each other. The Lahu Nyi appear to be a group who
have broken away from the Lahu Na, representatives of the "Great Lahu"
of the western areas of Lahu settlement in Yunnan. These two divisions
resemble each other closely in language and custom. The Lahu Shi are
very different from both the Lahu Na and the Lahu Nyi, and it is a
reasonable conjecture that they represent a southerly extension of the
"Small Lahu" of the more easterly areas of Yunnan.

The Lahu Sheh Leh probably fit into this picture somewhere between
the Lahu Na and Nyi on the one side and the Lahu Shi on the other.
Language is the chief factor in this hypothesis. The dialects of the Lahu
Na, Lahu Nyi and Lahu Sheh Leh are all quite similar, while the Lahu
Shi dialect is highly divergent. Of the three first-named dialects, Lahu
Na and Lahu Nyi are very close to each other, while Lahu Sheh Leh
differs somewhat, particularly in tone structure (Young 1962: 10, 22;
Matisoff 1972).

This linguistic evidence also suggests a chronology for the fission
of the Lahu people. First, there must have been a break between Lahu
Na and Lahu Shi. At a much later date, it appears, the Lahu Sheh Leh
broke away from the Lahu Na, while in more recent times still, there
was a break between Lahu Na and Lahu Nyi (see diagram). Historical
and geographical evidence cited earlier seems to fit this chronological








262                                           Anthony R. Walker


Numerically, the dominant division in Thailand is the Red Lahu,
with Sheh Leh second; Lahu Na and others comprise a very small minori-
ty.15 In Burma and Yunnan, however, Lahu Na are by far the most



While this analysis helps to clarify the data from Thailand, it fails
to show how the Lahu Hpu and numerous other sub-groups (Lahu La
Ba, Ve Ya, etc.) are related either to each other or to the two major
divisions, the Lahu Na and the Lahu Shi. There is little in the existing
ethnographic record that will help us. Telford (1937 : 90) includes the
Lahu Na Hpeh, Hu Li, Ku Lao, La Law, Ve Ya, La Ba, Hpu and Ka Leh
as subdivisions of the Black Lahu. Until further research has been
conducted, I can only assume that he is right. Probably all these groups
have at one time or another broken away from the Lahu Na. However,
unlike the Lahu Shi subdivisions which seem to consider themselves
Lahu Shi first and a particular sub-group second, the Lahu Na splinter
groups do not necessarily recognize themselves as parts of a larger
entity. A man who is a Lahu La Ba does not call himself a Lahu Na
La Ba.

            The position of the Lahu Hpu or White Lahu is even less certain.

According to Lewis ( 1970 : 81), a missionary with many years' experience
among the Lahu, these White Lahu are more properly called Lahu Ku
Lao and are known as "White" Lahu "since the men wear short, white
jackets." If these people are the same as the Lahu Hpu mentioned by
Ch'en Yin, and if Ch'en Yin himself is right in suggesting that they were
with the Lahu Shi during their southward migration several centuries
ago, then their relationship with the Lahu Na must have been severed at
a very early date. Unfortunately I have no linguistic data for the Lahu
Hpu which might help us sort out this problem.


15) A rough estimate is Lahu Nyi 10,000, Lahu Sheh Leh 3,500, Lahu Shi 700,

and Lahu Na 400. The Lahu Nyi and Shi figures are approximations from Young'

sold figures of 9,200 and 650 respectively (Young 1962:89); Spielmann (1969:

322) is the source for the Sheh Leh and Na figures,







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Among the major Lahu divisions for which we have some modern
information-the Black, Yellow, Red and Sheh Leh-it is evident that
these groupings are cultural rather than structural. Membership of a
division determines how a Lahu will speak, dress, perhaps build his house,
placate the spirits and worship his supreme supernatural, G'uiv sha.
The divisions have no corporate existence. There are neither divisional
chiefs nor divisional territories. A man need not necessarily marry
within his division, although he usually does, nor is it necessary that he
live with members of his division. The tendency is for each Lahu village
to be inhabited by members of a single Lahu division, but it is not
uncommon in a village to find a number of persons whose divisional
heritage differs from that of the majority. Members of other divisions
may comprise one or more households in the village, or they may be
spouses of members of the dominant division. Although they conform to
the customs of the majority and are identified with the majority by out-
siders, within the village these people—in my experience—continue to be
recognized as members of the group in which they were reared. But
although their "difference" is noted, there seems to be no restriction on
their participation in village affairs.

In fact divisional affiliation shares many characteristics with ethnic
affiliation. It would appear that birth and, more importantly, childhood
rearing, are the chief factors in determining both the ethnic and the
divisional allegiance of an adult. But he is free to move elsewhere, to
marry into another division or ethnic group, and to identify himself with
another people if he so wishes. Alternative options may be kept open.
For example a Lahu man who marries a lowland Thai girl and settles
in a Thai village may be considered by himself and by other Lahu to have
"become Thai", but if he returns to the hills he can easily reestablish
his Lahu and drop his Thai identity.

Why colour identifications-Black, Yellow, Red, White—came to be
used is unknown. A common assumption is that they refer to the
dominant colour of the people's clothes (cf. Woodthorpe 1896 : 597;





264                                          Anthony R. Walker


Spielmann 1969 : 321). This may be true for the "Red"16 and even for
the "White" Lahu, but I have found no convincing evidence that the
designations "Black"17 and "Yellow" refer to costume, either today or
in the past. Telford (1937 : 90) suggests skin pigmentation as the basis
for the names, Black Lahu having swarthy skins and Yellow Lahu "being
of a yellowish turn". Young (1962:25) also mentions the relative
fairness of the Yellow Lahu. But such racial explanations are difficult
to sustain in view of the oft-reported intermarriage among Lahu of all
divisions and indeed between Lahu and other ethnic groups. We should
note that colour identifications, especially Black and White, are very
common among the peoples of southwest China. But, as Feng and
Shryock (1938 : 106) observed, "the connotations must be separately
determined in each case."18 In some cases the designations are Chinese
rather than indigenous and refer either to the dominant colour of the
national dress or to the people's relative sophistication in Chinese eyes,
black signifying barbarianism and white, sinicism (Clarke 1911: 17).
In other cases the colour names are indigenous and ancient, and their
meanings may be quite different from those of the Chinese. Among the


16) But even this is disputed. Certainly my own Red Lahu informants indicated

 the bright red stripes of their women's blouses and sarongs as the reason for

 their name, which they accepted as a reasonable identification both in their own

 language ("Lahu Nyi") and in Thai/Shan ("Mussur Daeng"). However, Young

 (1962:9) suggests that some Lahu Nyi resent this designation which is, he says,

 a direct translation into Lahu of the Shan and Northern Thai "Mussur Daeng"

 in which daeng : red refers to "rawness" rather than colour of dress. I suspect

 that this was an explanation given to Young by Christian Black Lahu with whom

 he grew up.

 17) Although Lahn Na do wear predominantly black clothes, this does not disting-

 uish them from the Lahu Shi, Sheh Leh and several other Lahu divisions who

 also dress basically in black. It appears that the Sheh Leh are called "Mussur

 Dam" by the Northern Thai because of their black clothes.

 18) Banaji (1972), analysing the widespread use of colour names throughout Inner

 Asia, shows that their symbolism is variable and complex. In his wide-ranging

 survey of the literature he finds, for example, that "black" connotes variously

 "uncivilized, barbarian ... of superior descent, of pure descent . . . poor,

 simple, common, base, low-born, vulgar . . . great, foremost".







                         THE DIVISIONS OF THE LAHU PEOPLE                         265


Lolo, for instance, the Black Lolo are the aristocratic class, who some-
times (at least in the not too distant past) marry their daughters to the
sons of Chinese officials or into distinguished Chinese families, while
all other Lolo belong to the White division and are (or were) subservient
to the Black Lolo (Feng and Shryock 1938 : 106). Among the Lahu the
designations of the two major divisions, Black and Yellow, appear to
relate neither to dress nor to Chinese opinions. They are accepted by the
people as indigenous, but their connotations are unknown.



Amid the profusion of ethnic minorities in northern Southeast Asia,
names alone have too often proved a source of confusion. It cannot be
lightly assumed that different names represent different groups, or that
similar names denote the same group. Not long ago in Thailand, Lahu
hit the national headlines because of their part in a rebellion against the
Burmese administration of the Shan State. Some otherwise well-informed
people I met at the time were under the impression that there was a
"Mussur rebellion" in addition to the "Lahu rebellion". Again, I know
of Red Lahu, patients at a Thai government hospital, who identified
themselves as "Mussur Daeng" and were castigated for their illegal
political affiliations. (The Thai press frequently labels those Meo who
supposedly have collaborated with Communist insurgents as "Meo
Daeng", Red Meo.) And the confusion is not confined to laymen.
Several students of Lahu society (cf. Scott 1906 : 96-7, Soulie and Tchang
1908 : 355n, Grierson 1927 : 80, Seidenfaden 1930: 85) have mistaken
Musso, a variant spelling of Mussur, for Moso, which is another name
for the Na-hsi people of northwestern Yunnan. This confusion led
several of them to claim for the Lahu a recorded history dating back to
the eighth century (cf. Scott 1906 : 96, Seidenfaden 1930 : 85).


           The existence of divisions19 compounds the problems of identifica-

tion and description. To compare Lahu villages belonging to different


19) There are divisions also among other ethnic groups in this region, e.g. Blue Meo,

White Meo, Black Meo, Red Meo, Flowery Meo (de Beauclair 1970:60-61 ); and

Skaw, Pwo, Thongdu and Kayah among the Karen (Hinton 1969:1).







266                                      Anthony R. Walker


divisions without recognizing that the people themselves consider their
heritages to be significantly different simply confuses the ethnographic
record. Whatever they call themselves or are called by others, the
subdivisions of the Lahu people maintain certain distinctive social and
cultural forms.20 If Sheh Leh communities prefer to call themselves
"Black Lahu" this fact in itself is significant, but it does not mean that
they are the same people as the Lahu Na of Burma and Yunnan. Of
course it may yet develop' that the Lahu Na are not a homogeneous
division, and that attempts to categorize them as such, in the way that
Sheh Leh or Nyi are classified, are mistaken. Further field research
alone will solve this problem.

More ethnographic and linguistic field research is needed in all
areas of Lahu settlement, in order to identify and compare systematically
the salient characteristics of each division. Information from the Burmese
Shan State and southwest Yunnan, where the majority of Lahu live, is
particularly vital but also difficult to obtain. North Thailand has for
years been open to Western scholars, but unfortunately the two oldest
divisions, Lahu Na and Lahu Shi, are only sparsely represented; the lar-
gest divisions in Thailand are Lahu Nyi and Sheh Leh, probably offshoots
of the Lahu Na.

The variety of socio-cultural patterns among the divisions militates
against any facile generalizations about "the Lahu". In gathering and
collating data, students of hill societies in northern Southeast Asia must
be alert to divisional as well as ethnic distinctions.


                             20) Compare, for instance, Jones' study of the Lahu Sheh Leh (Jones 1967) with

                             my study of the Lahu Nyi (Walker 1970).







                          THE DIVISIONS OF THE LAHU PEOPLE                       267



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              Chiang Mai : Tribal Research Centre. Mimeo.

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               also Knoivn as Lahus. Ethnographic Survey of Burma, pamphlet 3. Rangoon.

Jones, D.J. 1967. Cultural Variation among Six Lahu Villages, Northern Thailand.

               Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Cornell University.

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               Magazine 15:29-32.

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268                                             Anthony R. Walker


Scott, J.G. 1906. Burma: A Handbook of Practical Information. London.

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Young, G. 1962. The Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand.




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