Ethnic minorities living in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand are often called hilltribes, or in the common Thai vernacular, chao khao (mountain people). Each hilltribe has its own language, customs, mode of dress and spiritual beliefs.
The Lisu aka Lisaw people are a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group of semi-nomadic origin who are believed to have originated in eastern Tibet during the past 300 years. Their subsistence was based on paddy fields, mountain rice, fruit and vegetables. With the introduction of the opium poppy as a cash crop in the early 19th century CE, many Lisu communities were able to achieve economic stability. This lasted for over 100 years, but the opium production has all but disappeared in Thailand and China due to the interdiction of the production.
Perhaps the best-known subgroup of the Lisu minority is the Flowery Lisu hilltribe in Thailand. The women are notable for their brightly coloured dress. They wear a multi-coloured knee-length tunic of red, blue, or green with a wide black belt and blue or black pants. Sleeve shoulders and cuffs are decorated with a dense applique of narrow horizontal bands of blue, red and yellow. For headdresses, Lisu girls and women wear black, flat circular hats with coral tassels, strings of beads, tiny pompoms and other elaborate accessories (e.g. metal flowers, small stars, pins).
The historic Lisu religion is animism, a belief that all things are embodied with spirit, ancestor worship, and living in harmony with nature and all beings. Over the years many of them have converted to Buddhism and more recently Christianity. Yet even the converts express their spirituality with a unique mixture of the old and the new.
With their elaborate tribal dress, ceremonies, belief systems and customs the Lisu are among the most fascinating of the ethnic minority tribes in Southeast Asia. Along with the H'mong, they have retained their culture and autonomy from outside influences remarkably well as they have been exposed to forces like missionary conversion and globalisation.
High-quality portrait photographs of Lisu hill-tribe people in Matt Hahnewald's
High-quality portrait photographs of Southeast Asian hill tribes in Matt Hahnewald's