|The most colorful
of all the Thai hill tribes in Thailand has to be the Lisu hill
tribe, whose women wear brightly colored blue or green colored
striped tunics, split up the sides to the waist, a wide black
belt and blue or green pants.
Less is known about the Lisu hill tribe than the other hill
tribes in Thailand, but the Lisu people believe they are the
origin of all the hill tribes. The legend goes that a Great
Flood killed everyone except a Lisu boy and his sister. Since
incest was taboo, they had to undergo a series of tests to
prove that they could marry, the tests, of course, proved
they should marry. The many children that came from this Lisu
marriage went on to produce all the other hill tribes in South
In reality, the Lisu Hilltribe also has its origins in Tibet,
migrating from there to Southern China and then to Burma to
escape the Chinese wars. The people of the Lisu hill tribe
most likely migrated into Thailand from Burma sometime in
the late 1800s.
The Lisu hill tribe people live at moderate to high altitudes
between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, but also in western Chiang
Rai and Phayao provinces of the Golden Triangle area in Thailand.
Their villages consist out of 30 a 100 houses, built using
easy techniques, directly on the ground as opposed to the
other Thai Hill Tribes which build their houses on stilts.
Lisu hill tribe girls - Golden Triangle ThailandThe houses
of the Lisu hill tribes have dirt floors and bamboo walls
around a central ridge. Within the house there are normally
at least four rooms, for the parents, daughters, sons and
eventual guests. Every Lisu home has an ancestral alter, the
"Da Bia" at the back of the living area, honoring
their Lisu ancestors.
Each Lisu village has a village leader, a spiritual leader
(Mor Muu Pah), a spirit doctor (Nee Pah) and a council of
village elders. This group plays a key role in managing the
Lisu village and resolving disputes.
Until recently, Lisu hill tribes were heavily involved in
the opium trade, and were reputed as to produce the best quality
opium available in Thailand.
Lisu girl working in the Opium FieldsIn Thailand opium and
heroin addiction along the Lisu hill tribe people is declining,
and the Lisu are responding well to alternative cash crop
production scheme of the Thai government. But the attraction
to the wealth from opium cultivation is still very strong
along the members of the Lisu hill tribes in Thailand.
Lisu hill tribe people are known as excellent silversmiths
and make silver jewelry for the Akha and Lahu hill tribes
Courtship and marriage in-between Lisu hill tribe members
is highly organized, involving a very high "Bride Price".
Marriage should only be between members of the twelve different
The religion of the Lisu is a combination of ancestor worship
and animism. The Lisu hill tribe people believe strongly in
the spirit world, and their shamans are used to divine the
causes and cures of all problems and sicknesses.
The Lisu are a very handsome people, perhaps the best-looking
of all the hill tribes, and they like to think of themselves
as being above their other Hill tribe neighbors. Consequently,
they are among the least reserved of the hill tribes in Thailand.
There are about 30,000 Lisu People in Thailand. They are
scattered throughout all of north Thailand, particularly between
Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, and also in western Chiang Rai,
Chiang Mai, Phayao, Tak, Lampang, Sukhothai, Kamphaeng Rhet,
and Phetchabun provinces.
The Lisu belong to the Tibeto - Burman branch of the Sino
- Tibetan linguistic family.
They are divided into two ethnic subgroups
? The Flowery or Hua Lisu
? The Black or He Lisu.
Most of the Lisu in Thailand are flowery Lisu. Their settlements
are located in the highlands at an average altitude of about
1,000 metres. Like most hill people, the Lisu are heavily
engaged in agriculture. They grow rice, corn and vegetables
as subsistence crops and grow opium for sale. They draw additional
income from the sale of domesticated animals such as pigs
The Lisu are known for their colorful dress. The Lisu probably
originated in Eastern Tibet but came to Thailand from Yunnan
in China about 100 years ago.
The Lisu tribe is made up of several clans. The clan is important
because it stands as the chief determinant of kinship relations
and marriage rules. Monogamy and clan exogamy are the ideal
practices which, when followed, strengthen familial ties and
provide a cohesive force in Lisu society. Kinship relations
are centred on the family and extended in increasingly wider
circles to the tribe as a whole. Lisu solidarity, despite
the lack of a political secular leader at village level, depends
on this in a way that differentiates them from other tribes.
Culturally speaking, the Lisu have adopted much which is
Chinese. For example, they celebrate their New Year on the
same day as the Chinese. They are animists and ancestors worshippersand
their reputation as individualists makes them quite distinct.
The Lisu are a fiercely independent people, who are in general
adjusting well to the changes taking place in their society.
They make their clothing from gaily-coloured cloth stitched
into outfits trimmed with row upon row of vari-coloured strips
The women wear brightly coloured costumes, consisting of
a blue or green parti-coloured knee length tunic, split up
the sides to the waist, with a wide black belt and blue or
green pants. Long hair is tied at the back. Sleeves, shoulders
and cuffs are heavily embroidered with narrow, horizontal
bands of blue, red and yellow. At New Year festival, in mid-
January, dazzling displays of wealth are worn, including waistcoats
and belts of intricately fashioned silver and hats with multi-coloured
pom-poms and streamers. Men wear green, pink or yellow baggy
pants and a blue jacket opening vertically.
The Lisu live at moderate to high altitudes. Their houses
are built on the ground, with dirt floors and bamboo walls
around a central ridge. They live as extended families, the
number of bedrooms depending on the family size. The Lisu
like to settle near the tops of mountains, as close as possible
to streams or waterfalls. Their houses never have more than
one door and are oriented to stand parallel to the face of
the mountain on which they live.
Each village has a spirit house, and each house has a small
shrine to spirits an ancestors. In addition, because the Lisu
are the "engineers" among the Hilltribes, most of
their villages feature a large bamboo pipe, a conduit, that
carries to the village water from the nearest source. Unmarried
girls have a private bedroom after puberty. Every home has
an altar at the back of the communal living area with a shelf
holding vessels and incense sticks honoring their ancestors.
The Lisu believe strongly in the spirit world, and their
shamans are used to divine the causes and cures of all problems
and sickness. These hilltribe people are perhaps the best
looking of all the tribes, and they like to think of themselves
a little bit above their other hilltribe neighbors. They are
among the least bashful of these ethnic groups and in general
adjusting well to the changes taking place in their society.
Although promiscuous, courtship and marriage are highly stylized,
involving a high "bride price". There are twelve
clans of Lisu, and marriage should be between members of different
clans. The Lisu believe strongly in the spirit world, and
their shamans are used to divine the causes and cures of all
problems and sickness.
Many Lisu villages were involved in the opium trade, and
are reputed to have grown the best opium. Addiction rates
are declining, and the Lisu are responding well to alternative
cash crop production, but the link between wealth and opium
is still strong. A Lisu headman has little power over his
community, with the clan system generally over-riding his
The Lisu are a handsome people, perhaps the best looking
of all the tribes, and they like to think of themselves as
a cut or two above their other Hilltribe neighbors. Consequently,
they are among the least bashful of these ethnic groups, and,
although patient, like to be a bit competitive as well.
Villages of this colourful ethnic group are to be found in
the mountains of China, Myanmar (Burma) and northern Thailand.
There are approximately 21000 Lisu living in Thailand. For
many generations the main means of livelyhood for many of
the Lisu people has been the cultivation of the opium poppy.
Some of these people have given up poppy growing, and are
now seeking to supplement their income through the sale of
skillfully produced crafts. Lisu men produce crossbows, musical
instruments, bird and animal traps, and other items made of
wood, bamboo and rattan. A few Lisu people have been converted
to christianity by western missionaries.