Doi Pu Muen
Doi Pu Muen is located in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The village is in the mountains, nearly 1,306 metres above sea level. The highest mountain is Doi Pha Han Pok - 2,845 metres above sea level. The entire community spreads over a forest park, 18 km from Mae Ay centre and 170km from the North of Chiang Mai city hall.
The Lahu is a strong, independent group of 60,000 people in Thailand. They are located primarily in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but some reside in the far south of Tak province. Due to their strong commitment to the Lahu way of life, Lahu settlements are usually located in remote areas.
The Lahu is complex and diverse. In Thailand alone, there are more than six different Lahu tribes! The majority of Thai Lahus belong to the Red Lahu, pantheistic animists who follow a Dtobo, a messianic leader. There are also Black, Yellow and Shehieh Lahus in Thailand, many have practised Christianity for nearly a century. The Black Lahu are the most populous in Southeast Asia and its dialect is the standard Lahu dialect.
Although the Lahu are primarily subsistence farmers who grow rice and corn, they are also proud of their hunter-warrior heritage. They remain a strict, disciplined and serious people, governed by strong principles of right and wrong. Compared to other hill tribe communities, the Lahu place less importance on their extended families; however, they believe in unity and working together amicably for survival. The Lahu is one of the most gender-equitable society in the world.
The history of the Lahu people stretches over 4,500 years. The Lahu people originated from Tibet and Southwestern China, and were later separated into two. One group settled in the Kengtung region in Burma, some migrated the Fang district in the Chiang Mai province of northern Thailand. The other group settled in Vietnam and Laos.
Now, 1.5 million Lahu people live in 800 villages along the Thai-Burma border. The greatest concentration of Lahu people live in areas close to the border in Chiang Rai, Maehongsorn, Chiang Mai and Lampang. The Lahu people usually like to live among other tribes or Thai people, but there are small groups that live together in Lahu villages.
Lahu people are subsistence farmers. Any excess produce is used to exchange with other villages. Lahu people do not sell their excesses in farms.
The Lahu stay in self-constructed houses made of wood, bamboo and weaved straw. Houses are built on stilts to protect against the elements and wild animals. Each family stays in a cluster of houses with 2 to 3 rooms.
Lahu villages are settled near fertile land suitable for agriculture. Their main crop remains to be rice although different crops have been grown over the years Some examples of other crops are string beans, corn, mangoes and banana. They also rear some animals for consumption, such as pigs, chickens and cows.
Lahu used to be a written language but is now spoken and passed down verbally. Legend has it the Aue Za God gave a letter to the Lahu which contained the written language on sticky rice paper. However, war broke out and caused widespread famine and chaos. Due to severe hunger, the Lahu ate all the sticky rice paper which contained the written language, thinking they could remember all the words. However, they overestimated themselves and the written language was lost.
Music and dance
The Lahus play a simple pipe/wind instrument made of bamboo and gives out simple notes. The village chief will play the music which the tribe dances to.
Courtship commonly occurs during the Lahu New Year when the men do not have to work. They will get together and visit women who prepare a feast to receive the men. After meals, they will chat which may, if successful, lead to intercourse and marriage.
For marriage, the man asks the parents for the woman’s hand in marriage and to arrange a date. The man prepares a dowry of 2 chickens and 30 baht. On the night of the wedding, they will prepare a glass of water. The religious leader will bless the couple and ask them to drink the water. Their culture dictates that if they spill any water they may lose their firstborn.
On the first day of marriage, the newlyweds will draw water, cut firewood and deliver it to their in-laws’ house. Once these ceremonies are over, the village will celebrate with festivities called “KaeJaWea”. Divorce occurs commonly in Lahu tribes when a woman’s parents decide that the man is not fit enough to take care of their daughter and will force the couple to separate.
||Lahu will reap the “YaKa” or sharp grass for roofing repair for their houses
||Lahu will hunt and gather wild animals/plants
||The Lahu New Year or "KaoJaWe" is in February and villagers gather for song, dance, games and entertainment
||"SaeKor" or the sand piling ceremony takes place during April, where they remember the dead and seek forgiveness for any unintentional killing of animals "SeLaTeWe" – During this festival, villagers seek blessing from the spirits to protect them in their hunting/gathering
||Planting of rice and corn. Villagers also pray for seeds to germinate and for productivity
||The rice merit ceremony takes place after the first 30 days
||The Lahu gather wild bamboo and mushrooms and other plants
||Families choose and auspicious day to honor the men as they go out to work
||New rice ceremony – each family will cook their own crop and sit down for a meal
||Harvest season begins and all villagers begin their rice harvest in happiness