A Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu) Prayer at Childbirth. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Anthony R. Walker   



                      A LǍ HU̠ NYI (RED LǍ HU̠) PRAYER AT CHILDBIRTH
                               Lǎ Hu̠ text and brief ethnographic note


                                                    Anthony R. Walker


The Lǎ Hu̠ text given here is just one short example of a vast body
of Lǎ Hu̠ ritual poetry, some of which I was able to record during my
anthropological investigations of Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) in the northern
Thai uplands.1 This contribution is best viewed not in isolation but as
part of a series of papers on Lǎ Hu̠ ritual and religious poetry which have
appeared in this and other journals.2


The Ethnographic Context

           Among the Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi communities I studied, the birth of a child

occasions the presentation of certain ritual offerings by the child's
parents to the senior religious functionary of the village, the to bo pa_.3
These gifts are then offered to G’uiˬ sha, the supreme and creating
supernatural of these Lǎ Hu̠.4 The purpose of the offerings and the
accompanying prayer is to inform G’uiˬ sha that a new member of the


  1. My fieldwork was primarily among Lǎ Hu̠

  2. Nyi in Phrao and Wiang Pa Pao
    districts in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces respectively. For an ethno-
    graphic introduction to the Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi of this area see Walker 1970b, 1975c.
    Regarding the Lǎ Hu̠ people as a whole see Walker 1975a, 1975b.

  3. See list of references.

  4. To from awvto "body"; bo from awv bon "blessing, merit"; thus "blessed or
    meritorious body". Pa_ is the male suffix.

  5. The etymology of the name G’uiˬ sha is obscure. By itself, the syllable G’uiˬ
    means "water, liquid, juice" (Matisoff 1965-9 : 612), but the meaning of sha
    (mid-level tone) is unclear. Stern's (1968:300) translation of G’uiˬ sha as
    "Living Breath" is interesting but difficult to accept. In Lǎ Hu̠, "life" is a sa,
    and "to be alive" is a sa˰, te ve. "Breath" is aiˬw sha-, the second syllable
    sha= differing in tone from sha in G’uiˬs ha. G’uiˬ+sha~, therefore, means
    literally "water breath" and is used to refer to "the cool atmosphere of a
    stream, the pleasant coolness around running water" (Matisoff 1965-9 : 614).







140                                       Anthony R. Walker


community has arrived, and to request divine protection for the infant.5
The offerings themselves, which are prepared by a member of the new-
born's household (usually the father), are as follows:

 (a) a hpeuv k'o_ (fig. 1A). Literally hpeuv means "nest". This is a

       small basket loosely woven of bamboo. To its sides are affixed

       a number of slender bamboo sticks, each one topped with a small

       ball of cotton wool. Lǎ Hu̠ usually compare this offering to the

       bowl of flowers that their lowland Buddhist neighbours, the Northern

       Thai people, place in front of the Buddha image in their temples.

(b) some pelv haw or beeswax candles. These are usually placed inside

      the hpeuv k'o_. Beeswax candles are an important element in

      Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi ritual, as most religious ceremonies among these people

      are initiated by the lighting of such candles.6 They are said to

      illuminate the way for the supernaturals to attend the ceremony.

(c) a kuv (fig. 1B). This object comprises flat pieces of bamboo,

      notched at one end, and attached at a 45° angle to a bamboo handle.

      Lǎ Hu̠ told me that the kuv ti˰ (etymology unknown) represents a

      flower like those which Buddhists bring to their temples.

(d) a htov hi- or "custom (hi-) flag (htov)'' (fig. 1C). The htov hi-

      comprises several flat pieces of split bamboo hung from a horizontal

      bamboo rod, itself attached to a bamboo handle. The symbolism

      of this object is obscure, but it is most likely an imitation of flags

      found in Buddhist temples.

(e) a liv tsuh^ (fig. 1D). Literally "custom (awv liv), bound together

      (tsuh^ ve)." This is a small bundle of bamboo sticks tightly lashed

      together with a strip of bamboo "rope". Sometimes the sticks are

      topped with balls of cotton wool.


  1. I have been incorrect in saying previously that birth "occasions no ceremony"
    among these Lǎ Hu̠ (cf. Walker 1 975a : 337, 1975b : 120). It is true, however,
    that their birth rituals are minimal.

  2. In distinguishing themselves from Buddhists and Christians, the Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi
    often refer to themselves as pehv tu- pa- "beeswax burners" (pehv from pehv
    haw "beeswax", tu from tu_ ve "to light", pa_ "men").







                                  LAHU NYI PRAYER AT CHILDBIRTH                              141

    The to bo pa_ or, in his absence, his wife (who holds the title of
    to bo ma) receives these gifts, lights the beeswax candles and prays to
    G’uiˬ sha for the health of the newborn. This prayer, which may be
    sung or chanted, can be offered in one of several places: the to bo pa_'s
    house, the headman's house, or the haw- yehv, the village temple.7 The
    haw- yehv is most appropriate, since it is dedicated to the honour of
    G’uiˬ sha. But it is proper to make offerings in this building only on a
    festival day. These Lǎ Hu̠ observe two such days (known as shi- nyi or
    "merit days"8) each month at the time of the new and full moon. If the
    child happens to be born on a shi- nyi, the tfo bo pa_ will take the gifts
    to the haw- yehv. And if a shi- nyi is close at hand, the child's father
    may decide to await that day before giving his offerings to the to bo pa_.
    But if the gifts are to be offered on an ordinary day, the rite takes place
    in the house of the to bo pa_ or the headman.

    On the occasion when I recorded the prayer given below, the
    offerings were received by the to bo ma and taken to the headman's
    house. There she presented them at the "offering bench" (teh) which
    the village leader alone keeps for the Divine Headman (Guiv ma a dawv).9
    This teh is a low wooden shelf (30 cm. wide, 20 cm. deep, 5 cm. high)
    set against the back wall on the same side of the house as the headman's
    sleeping quarters.


    The Text

                As in three previous contributions to this journal (Walker 1974a,

    1975f, 1976a), I shall present this prayer text and translation in three
    stages. First is a formal transcription in the standard Lǎ Hu̠ orthography



7. Haw- from Shan "a prince's palace", yehv "house" in Lǎ Hu̠; thus "princely

    8. Shi- from awv shi-, the second part of the couplet awv bon awv shi- "bless-
         ing, merit"; nyi "day"; thus "day of blessing, day of merit."

     9. The Divine Headman is the prototype of all earthly headmen. According to
         Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi cosmology, at least as I understood it from informants in my study
         communities, everything on earth has a divine prototype in the heavens. I was
         told that without a divine prototype, there could be no earthly representation.






    142                                         Anthony R. Walker


    eveloped by American Baptist missionaries in Burma and China.10
    Here I have broken the text into stanzas in order to facilitate cross-
    reference, although no such structure is recognized by the Lǎ Hu̠. Second
    I give a "working translation" which is, as near as possible, a word-by-
    word translation from Lǎ Hu̠ to English. In this version I omit tone
    marks (easily found by reference to the formal transcription) and use
    hyphens to join syllables into words.11 Finally, I present a formal
    English translation of the prayer.


                                                                     Formal Transcription


    1. Nov g'a G’uiˬ ma a dawv co ta˰ co sheh- bvuhv, miv ma yav hpu a
      dawv yehv ma awv cev bvuhv, miv ma a dawv yehv ma awv cev tev ce^
      meuv hta^, hi^ cehv k'awv cehv chi haw- ga-ov meh_.

    2. Yav kav duv kav tev co mav guiv gav leh cev ne_, yav hpu la^ meuv,
      a, avvv na a pa tev peuv bvubv leh nav hi- ceuv k'awv ceuv meuv hta^
      g'aw leh po_ piv cev.

    3. Yav hpu neh hpu tev peuv bvuhv leh nawv chi eeuv k'awv ceuv g'aw
      leh po_ piv-a cev.

    4. Na__ pu_ shav yehv la^ sha hpawv haw- ta_ ve yav o, hpav kav ma
      kav mav guiv tev co-e u hta^ nyi hk'a lov cev-a.

    5. A pa shav nyi av gav htawv yav o, yav hpu liv hpeuv liv tsuh^ kav tanv
      la leh yav-o.

    6. G’uiˬ ma nawv av keh_ lav k'o^ leh chawv yav vav yav kav ma hpawv
      ma sha o meli_.

    7. Shawv hpu tev mav g'a veu lav htawv, yav hpu kuiv nyi k'aw po yuv
      taw^ ve, G’uiˬ-o, sha-o ve.



    1. Although its use is for the most part restricted to Lǎ Hu̠ Christians, this is the
      most widely used orthography outside Yunnan, where a "reformed" romaniza-
      tion has been sponsored by the Chinese government. The Lǎ Hu̠ among whom
      I worked were illiterate, but a member of the Christian community assisted me
      in recording the texts presented here. For information on this orthography
      see Telford and Saya David 1938, and Matisoff 1970. Identification of the
      tone marks will be found in any of my previous Lǎ Hu̠ text articles in this jour-
      nal (see list of references). Matisoff's Grammar of Lǎ Hu̠ (1973) is the most
      complete analysis extant of the Lǎ Hu̠ language.

    2. A major problem of the missionary orthography is that each syllable is written
      separately, followed by its own tone mark. Even literate Lǎ Hu̠ sometimes
      stumble when reading aloud, because of the difficulty of distinguishing word





                                           LAHU NYI PRAYER AT CHILDBIRTH                            143


    Verse 1

    1. no-g'a : up there

    2. g'ui-ma : divine, partaking of G'ui-sha (the supreme supernatural)

    3. a-daw : headman, the one who thinks (on behalf of the whole village
      community) (daw-ve : to think)

    4. co : life

    5. ti : first meaning unknown, but here means "everlasting"; compare
      ho-ti : all-knowing, ka-ti : all-true. Thus 4-5 means "everlasting,
      unending life"

    6. co sheh : precious life (sheh from Shan, "a jewel")

    7. bvuh : cry out (in prayer)

    8. mi-ma : earth, of the earth

    9. ya-hpu : person (ya) white/pure (hpu); in ritual language means
      simply "man"


    1. a-daw: headman. 8-10 means "the earthly headman", the headman
      of the village community in which a new child has been born

    2. yeh-ma : house

    3. aw : four

    4. ce: corners. 8-12 "within the four corners of the village headman's

    5. bvuh : cry out (in prayer)

    6. mi-ma a-daw : earthly headman (see 8-10)

    7. yeh-ma aw ce : house four corners (see 11-13)

    8. te ce : one corner

    9. meu-hta : in. 15-18 "in onecorner of the headman's house"

    10. hi : custom

    11. ceh : tree

    12. k'awceh: nine trees. 19-21 (couplet) refers to the ritual para-
      phernalia found on the offering bench in the headman's house

    13. chi : these

    14. haw : under

    15. ga-o : reach

    16. meh : a word placed at the end of a sentence to stress the speaker's

                        words; thus 15-25 "I really do reach under (i.e. pray at) the nine
                        custom trees at one corner of the headman's house"






    144                                                 Anthony R. Walker


    Verse 2

    1. ya-ka du-ka (couplet) : child

    2. te co : one life

    3. ma gui : not separate

    4. ga : want

    5. leh : and

    6. ce ne : ? (Informant said these words were used only for sound
      effect; "na sha ve : good, pleasant to listen to")

    7. ya-hpu : man; refers to father of the baby

    8. la meu : own hands (la : hands)

    9. a : oh!

    10. aw-na : above

    11. a-pa : father

    12. te peu : one time

    13. bvuh leh : cry out (in prayer) and

    14. na : sickness

    15. hi : eight

    16. ceu : kinds

    17. k'aw ceu : nine kinds. 40-42 (couplet) "all kinds of sickness"

    18. meu-hta : on/from (not strictly translatable)

    19. g'aw : count, i.e, take note of

    20. leh po pi-o : and let pass. 39-45 "take note of all sickness and let
      it pass from [this child]"

    21. ce indicates that speaker is making request on somebody else's



    Verse 3

    1. ya-hpu neh-hpu (couplet) : man and woman; here, father and mother
      of the baby

    2. te peu : one time

    3. bvuh leh : cry out (in prayer) and

    4. naw : you

                                    51.  chi ceu k'aw ceu (couplet) : nine kinds, ten kinds (of sickness), i.e.
                                            "all kinds of sickness"; compare 40-42






                                                             Anthony R. Walker                                      145


    1. g'aw leh po pi-a : count (take note of) and let pass (see 44-5)

    2. ce (see 46)

    Verse 4

    1. na-pu : eternal (?)

    2. sha-yeh : offering house. This is the second part of a poetic
      couplet haw-yeh sha-yeh meaning the village temple.

    3. la-sha : right hand

    4. hpaw : side

    5. haw : under

    6. ta-ve : put

    7. ya-o has no meaning, is used only for sound effect

    8. hpa-ka ma-ka (couplet) : husband and wife

    9. ma gui : not separate

    10. te co-e : one life

    11. u-hta : upon

    12. nyi hk'a lo : look/watch (nyi-ve) over

    13. ce-a (see 46 above)

    Verse 5

    1. a-pa : father

    2. sha nyi : offering day

    3. a ga : not reach

    4. htaw : even though

    5. ya-o (no meaning)

    6. ya-hpu : man

    7. li-hpeu : custom (aw-li) basket (hpeu-k'o); see fig. 1A

    8. li-tsuh : kind of offering; see fig. 1D

    9. ka : also

    10. tan : offer

    11. la leh : come and

    12. ya-o (no meaning)


    Verse 6

    1. G'ui-ma : G'ui-sha, the supreme supernatural

    2. naw : you



    146                                                 Anthony R. Walker


    1. a : not

    2. keh la : cleanse, purify

    3. k'o: if

    4. leh : and

    5. chaw-ya va-ya (couplet) : the people

    6. ka : also

    7. ma from nyi-ma-shi : heart

    8. hpaw : side

    9. ma : not

    10. sha-o : easy, content, happy

    11. meh emphasises statement; thus 85-91 "really the people's hearts
      will not be happy"


    Verse 7

    1. shaw : wood

    2. hpu : white

    3. te-ma : one

    4. g'a veu la : have brought

    5. htaw : even

    6. ya-hpu : man

    7. kui-nyi : perspiration

    8. k'aw : nine

    9. po : drops

    10. yu-taw-ve : come out

                                 102.  g'ui-o sha-o ve (couplet) : Oh G'ui-sha!


                                                      Formal Translation

    1. To the everlasting life, to the precious life of the Divine Headman

    up there, I pray;12 within the four corners of the village headman's


    12) Because the divine prototypes (see note 9 above) partake of the divinity of
    G’uiˬ sha, the supreme supernatural, and this prayer is being recited in the
    village headman's house, it is appropriate that it should be directed to the
    Divine Headman. But in praying to the Divine Headman one is also praying to
    G’uiˬ sha; hence the direct address to the latter in verses 2, 6 and 7.






                               LAHU NYI PRAYER AT CHILDBIRTH                          147


    house, I pray; at this one corner within the village headman's house,
    I reach under the nine custom trees.13


    1. This man does not want to lose the life of his [newborn]14 child, so
      [he brings offerings] made by his own hands; Father above,15 cry out
      but one time and protect [his child] from the eight kinds, the nine
      kinds of sickness.16

    2. The father and the mother [of this newborn child] pray but one time,
      You please protect [their child] from the ten kinds, the nine kinds
      [of sickness].

    3. They put [their prayers] at the right-hand side of the eternal haw-
      yehv,17 so let the husband and wife not separate, look upon them.

    4. Even though the day on which we make offerings to Father G’uiˬ sha
      has not yet arrived, [the father of the newborn child] comes to offer
      this hpeuv k'o_ and this li tsuh˰.18

    5. Oh G’uiˬ sha, if you will not grant purification, these people's hearts
      cannot be happy.19

    6. Oh G’uiˬ sha, even though this man has brought only one piece of
      white wood, nine drops of perspiration fall from him!20


    1. "Nine custom trees" is simply a poetic way of referring to all the offerings
      which are kept on the "custom bench" (or offering bench; see page 141 above)
      in the headman's house. To "reach under the nine custom trees" means to
      humble oneself in prayer before this offering bench.

    2. Words in brackets do not appear in the Lǎ Hu̠ text but are implied.

    3. Here G’uiˬ sha, the supreme supernatural, is addressed directly.

    4. "The eight kinds, the nine kinds of sickness" is a poetic form meaning "all
      sickness". The same is true of "the ten kinds, the nine kinds" below.

    5. Through the agency of the to bo ma, her clients symbolically place their
      offerings in the divine prototype temple in G’uiˬ sha's heaven (compare note 9

    6. See introduction and fig. 1, above, for explanation of these offerings and the
      festival days (shi- nyi) on which they are normally presented to G’uiˬ sha.

    7. There seems to be some notion that birth produces defilement, although the
      idea is not particularly developed among these Lǎ Hu̠ people.

    8. This is simultaneously poetic understatement and overstatement. The number
      of offerings is understated, but the relative effort required to produce them is













                                        LAHU NYI PRAYER AT CHILDBIRTH                               149



    MATISOFF, James A.

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    STERN, Theodore

    1968 "Ariya and the Golden Book: A Millenarian Buddhist Sect among
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    TELFORD, James H. assisted by Saya DAVID

    1938 Handbook of the Lǎ Hu̠ (Muhso) Language and English-Lǎ Hu̠ Dictionary.
    Rangoon : Government Press.

    WALKER, Anthony R.

    1970a "The Lav Hu_ Nyi- (Red Lav Hu_) New Year Celebrations."

    ,7. Siam Soc. LVIII part 1, 1-44.
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    Chiang Mai : Tribal Research Centre. 2 vols, mimeo.

    1972a "Blessing Feasts and Ancestor Propitiation among the Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red
    Lǎ Hu̠)." J. Siam Soc. LX part 1, 345-73.

    1972b Awv Ha Hku Ve : The Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi Rite for the Recall of a Wandering
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    1974a "Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) New Year Texts-I." J. Siam Soc. LXII
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    1974b "Three Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) Marriage Prayers: Lǎ Hu̠ Texts and
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    1974c "Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) Tests of Innocence : Ethnographic Notes and
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    1975a "The Lǎ Hu̠ of the Yunnan-Indochina Borderlands : An Introduction."
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    1975b "The Lǎ Hu̠ People : An Introduction." In Anthony R. Walker, ed.,

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    150                                          Anthony R. Walker


    1975d "The Renaming and Ritual Adoption of a Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠)
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    (Tokyo) no. 10, 183-9.

    1975e "A Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) Rite of Divorce : A Lǎ Hu̠ Text with Ethno-
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    1975f "Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) New Year Texts-II." ,7. Siam Soc. LXIII
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    1976a "Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) New Year Texts-Ill." J. Siam Soc. LXIV
    part1, 1-40.

    1976b "Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) Funerary Chants : Two Lǎ Hu̠ Texts with a Brief
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    1976c "Sha_ Lawv Ve: A Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) Prayer for Game: Two
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    1976d "Jaw Te Melu Jazv^ Ve: Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) Rites of Spirit
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    1976e "Mvulïv Nyi Nev Caiˬ Ve : A Lǎ Hu̠ Nyi (Red Lǎ Hu̠) Rite to Propitiate
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    (Budapest) XXV nos. 1-2.[in press].





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