Review article. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Anthony R. Walker   

WALKER, ANTHONY R. REVIEW ARTICLE : GORDON YOUNG, THE HILL TRIBES OF NORTHERN THAILAND (A SOCIO-ETHNOLOGICAL REPORT). JSS. VOL.63 (pt.2) 1975. p355-370.

 

 

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Gordon Young, The Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand (A Socio-Ethnologi-
cal Report).
Bangkok: The Siam Society. 5th edition, 1974. xiv + 96 pp.,
98 photographs.

It is a good measure of the continuing popularity of Gordon Young’s
small book on the northern hill peoples that our Society has seen fit to
publish a fifth, only slightly revised, edition of the work. The book
first appeared in 1961 under the imprint of USOM (United States
Operations Mission, Bangkok) for whom the author was working at the
time. The following year our Society published a second edition, to
which it added a third in 1966, a fourth in 1969 and now a fifth in 1974.

During the thirteen years since Gordon Young wrote this book
some thirty-odd professional anthropologists have worked among the
northern hill peoples.1 But to this day it is Young's book rather than
the work of the professionals which remains not merely the only accep-
table popular introduction to this ethnographic area, but also the
standard anthropologicdal text.2 And yet, as I am sure Young would
be the first to admit, The Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand is far from
being a work of professional anthropology.

Oliver Gordon Young (his first name is dropped in all but the first
edition) is the grandson of the late William Marcus Young (1861-1936),
pioneer American Baptist missionary among the Lahu people, first in the

                      _________________________________________________________

1 ) See Social Science and Related Research in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai : Tribal
     Research Centre, Bulletin no. 2. s.a. [ 1972 ?].

2) The northern hill peoples, among others, are treated in a recent U.S. Army
    publication, Minority Groups in Thailand, Washington D.C. : Headquarters,
    Dept. of the Army, 1972. But besides its limited availability, this work suffers
    from being a library study conducted by people who, though skilled as library
    detectives, seldom have sufficient personal experience of the area to evaluate
    the data they discover. A book of data papers which I have edited, Farmers in
    the Hills : Upland Societies in North Thailand, has recently been published in
    Penang. But this too is largely a library project, conducted by three of my
    students and myself and published primarily for the benefit of our students at
    Universiti Sains Malaysia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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former Shan State of Kengtung and then across the border in Bana, in
the southwest of China's Yunnan province.3 Gordon Young's father,
Harold, and his uncle, Vincent Young, followed in their father's footsteps
and worked as missionaries, particularly among the Lahu and Wa
peoples.4 Gordon Young was born in China in 1927. His earliest years
were spent in the mission field and Lahu was the first language he learned
to speak. Since then he has spent most of his life in northern Southeast
Asia, and his knowledge of the peoples, the flora and particularly the
fauna of the area is widely recognized.5 Gordon Young's qualifications
to talk of the hills of southern Yunnan, the Burmese Shan State, Laos
and north Thailand are thus considerable. He and his younger brother,
William, are possibly the only westerners who have ever been able to
claim Lahu as their native tongue. And besides Lahu, Gordon Young
speaks several other languages of both the hill peoples and the valley-
dwellers in this part of the world.

But despite Young's indisputable knowledge of the northern uplands
and their peoples, he has had no training in anthropology or in the
rigours of ethnographic observation. Consequently, by professional
standards The Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand is rather seriously defec-
tive both in the data themselves and in the manner of their presentation.
Of course it may be argued that the book should not be judged by pro-
fessional standards. That I do so is indicative of the importance the

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3) See A.H. Henderson, "William M. Young, D.D.", The Burma News XLIX no. 5

      (May 1936), pp. 76-7; J.H. Telford, "William M. Young, D.D.", The Burma

      News XLIX no. 6 (June 1936), p. 90; and J.C. Robbins, "The Passing of a Mis-

      sionary Pioneer", The Watchman-Examiner, April 30, 1936, p. 527.

 4) For a brief account of the American Baptist Mission's work among Lahu and

      Wa in Burma and south China see Saw Aung Din and E.E. Sowards, "Work

      among Lahus, Was, Akhas" in Maung Shwe Wa, G. and E.E. Sowards, eds.,

      Burma Baptist Chronicle, Rangoon : Board of Publications, Burma Baptist

      Mission, 1963.

 5) Gordon Young has also written a delightful book on his experiences as a hunter

      and game-collector in the northern Thai hills : Tracks of an Intruder, London:

      Souvenir Press, 1967. In his love of the hunt and his great knowledge of wild-

      life Gordon is a true son of the Lahu, who are known to their lowland neigh-

      bours as the "Mussur" or "hunters".

 

 

 

 

 

 

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professionals still attach to this work. Seldom, in fact, does one pick
up a report, thesis, book or article on upland society in the north which
makes no reference to Gordon Young's book.

The book is divided into sections (one might call them chapters,
but they are not numbered) which deal respectively with the Akha, Lahu
(three sections), Lisu, Meo, Yao, Lawa, Kha Mu, Htin and Kha Haw,
Mrabri, Karen (four sections) and Haw Chinese peoples. The data for
each ethnic group or, in the case of the Lahu and Karen, division of an
ethnic group, are presented under a number of subheadings, viz. "affilia-
tion", "location", "population", "language", "religion", "villages",
"physical description", "economy", "contact", "social customs", "village
government" and "trends". The subheadings do not necessarily appear in
the same sequence for each of the groups discussed nor are all of them
inevitably used. The advantage of this procedure is that it facilitates rapid
reference which, in the absence of an index, is useful. The disadvantage
is that it makes for a disjointed presentation. One never gets a rounded
view of what life is really like in those northern hills. The fact that
there is neither an introduction nor a concluding section to the book
only emphasizes its "bits and pieces" nature. And the data which
appear under each head vary considerably both in their quantity and
quality. Thus, for example, we are offered a page and a half on the
religion of the Lahu Nyi and Lahu Na and eleven lines on that of the
Lahu Shehleh, while for the Lahu Shi there is no "religion" head at all.

Although Young thanks a number of people, mostly American
missionaries, for their "constructive criticisms and valuable informa-
tion" (p. v), the book is essentially a report of what the author himself
has seen and heard during his extensive travels in the northern uplands.
Basically it is a collection of fieldnotes. Young made no attempt to
survey the substantial, if qualitatively uneven, literature available when
he wrote the book thirteen years ago and in this new edition makes no
attempt to survey the mass of data collected by those thirty or so anthro-
pologists who have lived in hill communities over the past decade. At
the very least, it would not have been difficult in this new edition to

                      have given a guide to further reading, for many of the recent reports

                  and publications are accessible to members of our Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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        In this fifth edition as in earlier ones, some revisions have certainly
been made and these are much appreciated. But considering the amount
of new data available to him, I would suggest that Young could have
done much more.

        Population statistics, fortunately, have been updated on the basis
of 1973 figures and Young has noted in particular (p. 1) that his original
estimate of the Akha population as 25,000 scattered in 88 villages6 was
way off the mark. Recent counts, as he notes in the new edition, indicate
around 9,900 in 75 villages. Similar revisions have been made for all
the groups, except that the figure of 650 (1962 p. 24) for the Lahu Shi
(Yellow Lahu) has been left unchanged in the text of the new edition

(p. 24), although corrected to 600 in Table 1 (p. 89).

        A number of rather more substantial emendations have been made
throughout the text. The first section, on the Akha, contains several
much-needed revisions. It is good that Young has removed his original
statement that "Each Akha village or a circle of villages has an official
'male' or 'Aw Shaw' whose duty it is to prepare all virgins for marriage
by deflowering them at certain ceremonies each year" (1962 p. 6).7
According to all ethnographers who have worked with them, Akha
strongly deny that this is or ever was their custom.8 Indeed it is almost
certainly a Lahu tall story, the very term aw shaw being Lahu, not Akha.
I assume Young heard it, as I have myself, not from Akha but from Lahu
friends. It is also good that some of the worst kind of travelogue
reporting has been removed. No longer must we read that the Akha
are "a malodorous and filthy people on the whole" (1962 p. 3), and the
statement in early editions that "The Akha are not a friendly people on
the whole" (1962 p. 5) has happily (particularly for those of us who

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6) 1962 edition, p. 1 (the 1961 edition is unavailable in Penang). Subsequent

      citations of early editions will appear in the text; where no year is given the

      reference is to the edition under review.

 7) In the 1966 edition (p. 6) Young changed present tense to past in this sentence

     and added "This custom is now practically out of use."

 8) See in particular, Paul Lewis, Ethnographic Notes on the Akha of Burma, New

     Haven : HRAF, vol. IV, pp. 843-4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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have enjoyed their hospitality) been amended to "The typical, remote-
living Akha are a timidly friendly people on the whole" (p. 5). But
some of the revisions are cosmetic at best. For example, where
the second edition (1962 p. 7) has "The morals are high, since marriage
is so easy and also because virgins cannot be defiled until the 'Male' has
first pronounced them marriagable", the removal of the reference to "the
'Male' " in subsequent editions (1966 p. 7, 1974 p. 7) leaves the sentence
reading "The" morals are high, since marriage is so easy and also because
virgins cannot be defiled." Insofar as this implies that premarital
sexual liaisons are not permissible in this society, it is still incorrect.9

However, it is not the Akha section which I want to treat in the
most detail in this review, but rather the three Lahu sections and parti-
cularly the first on the Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu) and Lahu Na (Black Lahu).
These are the people I happen to know best; they are also the people
with whom Young has the most intimate contacts going back to his
childhood in southwestern China. For the latter reason in particular, it
seems fair that my judgement of Young's book should rest rather heavily
on the Lahu data.

        The first point to note when examining Gordon Young's Lahu
material-particularly that on the Lahu Nyi and Lahu Na-is that it
represents an inside view, a view from within the culture itself. Thus
far no complaint; but the problem, as I see it, is that this inside view is
by no means representative of all Lahu or even of all Lahu Nyi and Lahu
Na. It is specifically the view of the Lahu Na, and among them parti-
cularly of the Lahu Na Christians with whom Gordon Young grew up.
This is why, I suggest, a number of Young's statements on the Lahu
make little sense within the context of north Thailand where the Lahu
Na are unrepresented except for a few Christians, immigrants from the
Burmese Shan State. Thus, while it is true enough in terms of the
whole Lahu people scattered through Yunnan, western Laos, the Burmese
Shan State and north Thailand that the Lahu Na are the premier
division (p. 9), in Thailand this is certainly not the case. It is by no

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9) See, for example, Paul Lewis, Introducing the Hill Tribes of Thailand, Chiang

     Mai University, Faculty of Social Sciences (mimeographed), 1970, p, 37.


 

 

 

 

 

 

360                                            REVIEW ARTICLE


means true of Lahu in Thailand that they all look to the Lahu Na as
some superior type of Lahu. Indeed many tend to view the Christian
representatives of the Lahu Na as scarcely "Lav hu_ tehv tehv" ("real
Lahu"), because they have abandoned many of the chaw maw^ awv liv or
"customs of the ancients". But it is true that many a Lahu Na (and not
without ethnological support) views his division as the premier Lahu
group.

         That Young's view is specifically that of the Black Lahu likely
explains why, having noted the Tibeto-Burman linguistic affiliations of
the Lahu people, he goes on to say that "Lahu traditions would place
themselves closer to the Karens, having as they claim, been 'brothers of
the same clans' at one time" (p. 9). What Lahu traditions? I have
repeatedly questioned Lahu Nyi informants about this possible affiliation
with Karen and have always received a clear denial. But it is a tradition
I have heard from Gordon Young's father, the late Harold Young, and it
appears to have its origin among Lahu Na in the Burmese Shan State.
So far as I have been able to discover, Lahu views on their close affiliation
with Karen were first reported from Kengtung by the Rev. Ba Te, a
Karen assistant of Gordon Young's grandfather.10 This view seems to
have been accepted by the senior Young.11 Could it be an isolated
tradition of a few Lahu in Kengtung which has been passed down the
generations of Youngs, rather than a widely-accepted Lahu view?12

          Another opinion which is probably derived from Christian Black
Lahu is that Red Lahu, called "Mussur Daeng" ("Red Hunters")13 by the

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10) Ba Te, "Karens and Musos", The News XVIII no. 6 (June 1905), p. 26.

11) W.M. Young, "The Awakening at Keng Tung", The Baptist Missionary Review

      XI no. 12 (Dec 1905), p. 469. He writes : "A closer study reveals that the

      Karens and Lahu are but different branches of the same people."

12) Icertainly have not come across any statement of possible Lahu-Karen affilia-

      tions elsewhere in the literature on either ethnic group.

13) "Mussur" (romanized in a multitude of ways) means "hunter", apparently not

        only in Shan but also in Wa, Palaung, Ruai and Riang; cf. R.F. Johnston, From

        Peking to Mandalay : A Journey from North China to Burma through Tibetan

        Ssuch'uan and Yunnan, London : John Murray, 1908, p. 279 n.l. But according

        to another authority, the word is not Shan but derived from the Burmese word

        of the same meaning, mokso; cf. J.G. Scott's concluding note to R.G. Wood-

        thorpe, "The Country of the Shans", Geographical Journal VII no. 6 (1896),

        p. 602.

 

 

 

 

 

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Shan and Northern Thai, resent the "red" designation because it "comes
from a rude meaning of the word 'red', denoting 'rawness' rather than
the color of the Lahu Nyi women's skirt, as popularly believed" (p. 9).
But Young fails to account for the fact that the Red Lahu, in their own
language, call themselves Lav hu_ Nyi__, and nyi__, in Lahu means
"red". Secondly, the Lahu Nyi I know seem in no way dissatisfied with
the appellation, although it is true that they usually prefer to call them-
selves simply Lav hu_ ydv or "Lahu people" and only add the qualifying
nyi__, when pressed to distinguish themselves from other Lahu divisions.14
My own Lahu Nyi informants did indeed ascribe their name, both in
their own language and in Shan/Northern Thai, to the colour of their
womenfolk's dress. Whether or not this is the true etymology I cannot
determine. The fact is that colour designations are widely used to
identify ethnic divisions throughout northern Southeast Asia (and through
Central Asia as far west as Turkey), but the connotations of particular
colours vary considerably and are often difficult to determine.15

Yet another example of the Black Lahu bias of Young's writing
concerns the importance of Ah Sha Fu Cu. He reports : "Thailand Lahu
also follow teachings promulgated by a Lahu religious leader, who died
about 1890 in Mong Ka, southern Yunnan[,] called 'Ah Sha Fu Cu'"
(p. 11). This may be true, but there are many Lahu Nyi in north
Thailand who seem never to have heard the name of Ah Sha Fu Cu.
The people who do retain a semi-mythological account of this religious
leader are the Lahu Na Christians, who see him as a kind of Lahu "John
the Baptist", precursor and foreteller of the coming Christianity, a point
which Young also notes (p. 11).

         Young's Lahu data, therefore, seem to rest heavily on what he has
learned from the Lahu Na Christians. Indeed, even the vocabulary used
as general to both Lahu Na and Lahu Nyi is sometimes specific to the
Na. Thus the "werewolves" (p. 10) are indeed called taw (taw^) among

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14) See my "Divisions of the Lahu People", JSS LXII part 2 (July 1974), p. 255.

15) See my "Divisions of the Lahu People", pp. 263-5. Also Jairus Banaji, Eth-
nology and Social and Symbolic Structures in Inner Asia and the Western and
Central Himalayas with Special Reference to the Problem of the Origin of the
Caste System. Oxford University B. Litt. Thesis, 1972.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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the Black Lahu, but they are tsuh- tsuhv in Red Lahu. But apart from
this Christian Black Lahu bias in Young's data, we are still left with a
number of ethnographic blunders which could have been caught if
reference had been made to some of the more recent studies of these
people.16

       Young estimates that Lahu Nyi and Na have been living in Thailand
"not more than fifty years" (p. 9), and Shehleh "some 40 years"
(p. 20); the Lahu Shi, he writes, "are perhaps the newest comers of all
the hill tribes represented in Thailand" (p. 24). But a British surveyor,
McCarthy, visited a Lahu village in the hills above Fang in 1891 and an
American missionary, McGilvary, started proselytizing in the hills above
Wiang Pa Pao in that same year.17 (As a matter of fact, it was in 1891
that McGilvary baptized two Lahu boys,18 more than a decade before
William Marcus Young reported his first Lahu convert in Kengtung,19
thus making north Thailand the location of the first recorded conversion
of a Lahu to Christianity). It is clear then that Lahu have been living
in Thai territory for at least 85 years and probably longer.

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16) See Delmos J. Jones, (a) "The Tribe, the Village, and Over-Generalization:

      Example of Black Lahu", Bangkok : National Research Council (unpublished

       report), 1966; (b) Cultural Variation among Six Lahu Villages, Northern Thai-

       land. Cornell University Ph. D. thesis, 1967; (c) "The Multivillage Commu-

       nity : Village Segmentation and Coalescence in Northern Thailand", Behavior

       Science Notes III no. 3 (1968), pp. 149-174. Hans J. Spielmann, (a) Review

       of Jones's, Cultural Variation, JSS LVIpart 2 (July 1968), pp. 295-7; (b) "Note

       on the Literature on the Lahu Shehleh and Lahu Na of Northern Thailand",

       JSS LVII part 2 (July 1969), pp. 321-32. Anthony R. Walker, (a) "Red Lahu

       Village Society : An Introductory Survey", in Peter Hinton, ed., Tribesmen and

       Peasants in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai : Tribal Research Centre. 1969;

       (b) Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu) Village Society and Economy in North Thailand, Chiang

       Mai : Tribal Research Centre (2 vols. mimeographed), 1970.

 17) James McCarthy, Surveying and Exploring in Siam, London; John Murray,

       1902, p. 130. Daniel McGilvary, A Half Century among the Shans and Lao,

        New York & London : Fleming Revell, 1912, p. 338.

 18) Among the Shans and Lao, p. 338.

 19) W.M. Young, "Shan Mission, Kengtung", The News XVII no. 12 (Dec 1904),

        p. 45.

 

 

 

 

 

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Turning now to Young's comments on Lahu religious ideas, I
would note that while most Lahu do indeed believe in a host of spirits
(nev), I have found no evidence that they believe all inanimate objects
are inhabited by spirits as Young tells us (p. 10). Further, among the
Lahu Nyi I know, I have never come across the idea of "a 'hell' com-
prised of seven great dipping pots" (p. 10), nor, for that matter, the idea
that "adultery, theft, debt and murder" are "the four unpardonable
sins" (p. 10). As I learned it, all crimes are pardonable if the village
headman can get the victim of an outrage to accept compensation.
Certainly, after compensation has been paid and accepted, the headman
(at least among the Lahu Nyi I know) performs a short rite, vev ba-
keh_ ve,
to purify or cleanse the wrongdoer from his sins (vev ba-- "sins",
keh_ ve "to cleanse, purify").

Of course Young's data may be applicable to some Lahu commu-
nities although not to all. And here lies the crux of the matter. In the
hills of this part of the world, with their incredible mosaic of different
ethnic groups, and divisions of ethnic groups, it is seldom possible to
make detailed generalizations on the basis of ethnic labels such as "the
Lahu", or even on the basis of such divisional names as Lahu Nyi and
Lahu Na. Hill communities often have diverse histories of migration
into Thailand and of contact with both their hill and valley neighbours.
These variables frequently add up to radical differences in cultural
traditions between divisions within a single ethnic group and even among
village communities of the same division. This point is never brought
out in Young's book, and it is certainly as applicable to the Meo, Yao,
Karen and others as it is to the Lahu.

To continue with religion : Young writes of each Lahu house having
"an altar at which the joss-sticks and beeswax candles are burned 'to
please and humor the guardian good spirits'" (p. 11). In fact, among
Lahu Nyi, this is a shrine to the yehv nev or House Spirit and, although
small bowls containing rice and water are placed on the altar and
beeswax candles are burned, I have never seen Lahu Nyi use joss-sticks

there. Young also writes (p. 11), falling into Burmese usage, of a "nat
house" (nat from Burmese "a spirit") or "Kha-shuh" (hk'a^ sheu : hk'a^

 

 

 

 

 

 

364                                            REVIEW ARTICLE


"village", sheu^ etymology obscure). He does not mention that this
shrine is dedicated to the presiding spirit of the locality nor that many
Lahu Nyi villages do not honour the locality spirit in this way. These
villages have, rather, a small temple building known as a haw- yehv (haw-
from Shan, the palace of a Shan prince, yehv "house"; thus a "princely
house") which is dedicated to the supreme Lahu supernatural, G'uiv sha.
(Such temple buildings are, or at least were, common also among Lahu
Na in Burma,20 in whose dialect they are called bon yehv [bon "blessing,
merit"].) The whole temple-based ritual, with its associated ritual
specialists, is so important among Lahu Nyi communities in Thailand21
that it is a pity it merits no reference in Young's book.

Young's statement that "They [the Lahu Nyi and Lahu Na] have
no ancestor worship or reverence rituals, but honor the living distingui-
shed elders" (p. 12) might have been amended in this new edition,
particularly in the light of my 1972 article in our Society's journal,
"Blessing Feasts and Ancestor Propitiation among the Lahu Nyi (Red
Lahu)".22

On the religious ideas and practices of the Lahu Shehleh Young's

data are extremely thin. No mention is made of Shehleh ritual officials,
the priest and spirit specialist, and their different roles in village
society,23 nor of the fenced dancing circle which is the ritual centre of
the village, nor of the House Spirit shrines. We are told that the Shehleh
"are very superstitious people, believing that it is most important to
avoid loud noises and spectacular activities which might draw the atten-
tion of the evil spirits" (p. 20), but this gives us few real clues to Shehleh
religion. The Lahu Shi data are even worse. Statements such as "The
'paw khu' (or religious leader) and the 'maw pa' [spirit specialist]
practice many forms of exorcistic shamans and usually claim to have
strong 'voodoo' powers" (p. 25) are probably as confused as they are
confusing.
_________________________________________________________
20) J.H. Telford, "Animism in Kengtung State", Journal of the Burma Research
       Society XXVII part 2 (1937), pp. 86-238. See p. 171.
 21) See my Lahu Nyi Village Society and Economy, pp. 189-94, 202-24.
 22) JSS LX part 1 (Jan 1972), pp. 345-73.
 23) See Jones's Cultural Variation, pp. 75-8, and his "The Multivillage Commu-
        nity", p. 172n4.


 

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Turning now to Young's descriptions of the physical layout of
Lahu villages and of the appearance of the people themselves, we may
first note that it is not true that all Lahu Nyi and Na villages in Thailand
are on elevations above 3,000 feet (p. 12).24 There are some villages at
much lower elevations where the people have taken to cultivating
irrigated rice in the narrow valleys of the foothills. It is not true that
"The water source is generally a long way from the village and must be
carried by women and children in bamboo joints and gourds" (p. 12).
A characteristic feature of many a Lahu village is the bamboo aqueduct
which channels water right into the centre of the village. And it is not
inevitably the case that "houses ... are clustered around the larger house
of the headman or the paw khu" (p. 12). Lahu Nyi houses are frequently
sited roughly on either side of a main village thoroughfare, at the uphill
end of which is the village temple or, alternatively, a small shrine to the
guardian Locality Spirit.25 Whether or not the headman's and priest's
houses are larger than those of their fellow villagers depends more on
the size of their families than on their roles in the community. Further-
more, it is not true in Lahu Nyi houses that the fireplace "is always
built in the middle of the house" (p. 12). Frequently it is sited close to
the back wall.26 Because of a great deal of inter-ethnic marriage (Lahu
and Lisu, Lahu and Karen, Lahu and Khamu, Labu and Thai, Lahu and
Chinese), Young's statements about skin colour and body height (p. 12)
should be accepted only with caution. And, although betel-chewing is
common enough, it is far from true to say that "All of the adults chew
betel nut habitually" (p. 13). Many never touch the stuff.

So far as Young's comments on Lahu agricultural practices are con-
cerned, it is no longer true, alas, that "an old field is reclaimed in ten to
fifteen years, if no new fields are available" (p. 14). The rise in popula-
tion has brought about severe pressure on land resources and con-
sequently more frequent return to old and insufficiently fallowed swid-
dens. Early-maturing rice is certainly not planted in September nor

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24) The 1962 edition (p. 12) had "above 4,000 feet".
25) See village plan on p. 84 of my Lahu Nyi Village Society and Economy.
26) See house plan on p. 87 of my Lahu Nyi Village Society and Economy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

366                                          REVIEW ARTICLE

 

harvested in March (p. 14). In fact, it is usually planted in mid-April,
about three to four weeks ahead of the main rice crop. The early rice
begins to mature towards the end of July and has usually been harvested
by the end of August. Young also might have noted that early rice is
seen merely as a stop-gap between the end of the previous year's rice
store and the harvesting of the new main crop. People who feel confi-
dent that their supplies will last the year seldom bother to plant early
rice. Again, it is incorrect that the rice seeds are sown broadcast over
the fields (p. 14). They are, in fact, planted by the dibble method, three
to five seeds being dropped into small holes in the soil made with a
metal dibble blade attached to a long bamboo pole.27 Finally, I should
point out that among all Lahu 1 have known in north Thailand, it is far
from true to say that they have "a seven-day work week in which two
or three days are devoted to hunting and trapping" (p. 14). Keen
hunters that they most certainly are, no Lahu farmer I know could afford
to devote so much time to hunting at the expense of his farm work. My
Lahu friends would normally hunt during the early hours of darkness
after a hard day's work in the fields. Seldom could they spend a whole
day or more at the chase.

It is good that Young has removed the patently absurd statement
of early editions to the effect that "The Lahu depend upon the plains-
people only for salt" (1962 p. 14). The new edition, although vague, is
more to the point in saying that "The Lahu now depend upon the plains-
people for increasingly more things" (p. 14).28 The fact is that, for so
long as we have written records of them, and in all countries in which
they have lived, Lahu have always relied on plainspeople to provide them
with numerous items which their swidden-oriented economy does not
allow them to produce for themselves.

Under the heading "social customs", Young gives us a very brief
description indeed of the most complex series of Lahu rituals, those

________________________________________________________
27) For a detailed description of rice planting practices and an illustration of the
       dibble blade, see my Lahu Nyi Village Society and Economy, pp. 372-82.
 28) For a list of goods imported into a Lahu village in the course of a year (1967)
        see table 102, p. 535 in my Lahu Nyi Village Society and Economy.


                                           REVIEW ARTICLE                                            367

associated with the new year celebrations (pp. 15-16).29 Furthermore,
the account he does give is by no means general to all Lahu Nyi and
Lahu Na communities. Thus, among the Lahu Nyi with whom I studied,
the new year was the occasion not for "a three-to-four-day observance"
(p. 15) but rather for rites spread out over eleven days. The elaborate
courting customs associated with the new year in Young's account
(p. 16), although widely reported and indeed remembered by older Lahu
Nyi, are not so extensively practiced among the Lahu I know as they
were in former days.

Marriages, at least the ones I witnessed among the Lahu Nyi, are
performed not in the groom's parental house as Young suggests (p. 16)
but invariably in that of the bride. And in referring to the groom's
post-marital labour obligations, what does Young mean by "Thailand's
Lahu usually settle for a cash settlement of from 300 to 1000 Baht in
lieu of the son-in-lawship... but invariably the young man does not
have this amount and must therefore serve his father-in-law for a period"
(p. 16) ? Does the young man pay or does he work ? In the communities
I studied, some men paid off their in-laws, others worked for them, and
yet others paid off a part of their obligation and worked off the remain-
der. Perhaps this is what Young means too.

Young's description of the lunar festival dances30 is, at least in

the light of my own experience, overstated. He tells us that the young
people "carry this dance to climaxes which become sensual, and end in
exhausted, self-induced trances" and that an outsider, who "very seldom
is allowed to witness these dances", "would be amazed to see the ability
and terrible roughness with which both the girls and boys conduct them-
selves" (p. 17). During the course of my fieldwork I attended several
dozen of these performances and, although the dancing is indeed fre-
quently vigorous, in my study communities it was only certain people
(usually elders with oracular abilities) who would enter a state of trance.
____________________________________________________________
 29) For an account of these among the Lahu Nyi see my "The Lav hu_ Nyi-
      (Red Lavhu_) New Year Celebrations",JSS LVIII part 1 (Jan 1970), pp. 1-44.
 30) He reers to the semi-monthly festivals of the new and full moon as
       "sabbaths". The Lahu call them shi- nyi (shi- from awv shi- "blessing,
        merit", nyi "day")

368                                            REVIEW ARTICLE

 

To give the impression that such ritual dances are invariably "all-night"
affairs, "sensual" and "terribly rough", is to my mind a gross exaggera-
tion. I have some evidence that the dance can be as Young has described
it, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Under the heading "village government" Young has fortunately
amended the statement in older editions that "Many Lahu villages in
Thailand have little or no contact with Changwad, Amphur, or Tambol
authorities" (1962 p. 17) to read in the new edition (p. 17) "Many Lahu
villages in Thailand have increasing contacts" with such authorities.
It is true that upland communities have much less contact with the
organs of lowland government than do their lowland counterparts. But
this may disguise an equally important fact, that contacts between Lahu
villagers (and those of other ethnic groups) and the lowland authorities
have an ancient if tenuous lineage. Thus the missionary McGilvary,
reconnoitring in northern Siam in 1892, noted that eleven Lahu villages
in the hills east of the Mekong river came under the jurisdiction of the
rulers of Chiang Sen,31 while at about the same time (1891) the surveyor,
McCarthy, reported that Lahu above the town of Fang paid "a trifling
amount of wax as a tax, and are allowed free settlement" by the lowland
authorities.32

In this new edition, Young has retained the statement "Depending
on the particular clans concerned [my emphasis], the headman may be
self-established or selected by a council of elders" (p. 18). Considering
the bilateral nature of the Lahu kinship system and the absence of such
descent-based social groupings, I am mystified as to what Young means
when he talks about Lahu "clans".

         I have no evidence to support Young's statement that "For forni-

cation ... the suspected young couple will be whipped soundly and forced
to marry" or that "Adultery is punishable on the spot by death when a
couple is caught in the act" (p. 18). Among the Lahu I know, the
former statement is quite inapplicable and the latter is true only if it is
the wronged and irate marriage partner who discovers the unfaithful
___________________________________________________________

31) Among the Shans and Lao, p. 341.
32) Surveying and Exploring, p. 130.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                            REVIEW ARTICLE                                            369


spouse in flagrante delicto, before others can intervene and bring the
matter before the village headman.

Finally—so far as the Lahu Nyi and Na section is concerned-I
should point out that my own informants had never even heard of the
custom of burying any of their dead "face down" (p. 19).

But before condemning Young's material on every count listed
above, I must repeat that it is extremely difficult to make valid genera-
lizations about even a single division of the Lahu (such as the Lahu Nyi),
so that some of what Young says may well apply to some Lahu commu-
nities in some places. What it most obviously does not do is apply to
all Lahu Nyi and Na communities throughout northern Thailand. A
review of Young's Lahu material half a dozen years ago pointed out that
"In describing the religious attitudes and ceremonies, economic activi-
ties, and the political, social and religious organization he often does
not make clear which group he is describing, the Nyi or Na or both".33
It is a pity that this criticism was not heeded in the new edition. But
even if it had been, the author would still have found problems making
generalizations valid for all Lahu Nyi or all Lahu Na.

Most of my criticisms have been levelled at Young's section on
the Lahu Nyi and Lahu Na. I think this is fair enough since these are the
two divisions he seems to know best. At any rate he gives fewer data
on the Lahu Shehleh and Lahu Shi. It seems that he is also less partial
to these peoples. For example, he describes the Shehleh as "less energetic
and slower-moving than other Lahu and...not as attractive physically"
(p. 21). The Lahu Shi he judges "a very handsome people" but "a less
moral and lawful people than their related Lahu groups" (p. 25). These
are, of course, just the kind of subjective observations that field ethno-
graphers are constantly warned against making.

All in all, while welcoming the revisions (not to mention some of
the new photographs) in this fifth edition of The Hill Tribes of Northern
Thailand,
I hope I have made abundantly clear why I feel much more
should and could have been done. The lesson which the professionals
should learn from the republication of this book is that it is now high

_________________________________________________________
33) Spielman, "Literature on lahu Shehleh and Na ", pp.323-4.

370                                            REVIEW ARTICLE

 

time that they got together and produced a more solid introduction to a
fascinating and complex ethnographic region, an introduction useful
alike to their colleagues and to non-anthropologists. The subject was
broached at a symposium sponsored by the Tribal Research Centre in
Chiang Mai as long ago as 1967. Nothing has yet come of the idea.
But I have no doubt that if the majority of anthropologists who have
worked in the northern hills over the past decade were to contribute to
a new introduction, an extremely valuable source book would emerge.
Perhaps the Siam Society will consider sponsoring such a project?

 

 

 

 

Anthony R. Walker

 

School of Comparative Social Sciences,
Social Anthropology Division,
Universiti Sains Malaysia,
Penang.



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