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About the Lawa (Lua) Hill tribe
The Lawa (Lua) hill tribe are an ethnic group of Khmer origin. They are thought to have migrated to from Cambodia over 900 years ago, and settled in northern Thailand long before mainland Thais came to inhabit this part of the country.
Most of the Lawa hill tribe population live in Hod, Chomthong, Mae Sariang and Mae Hong Son, in the north-west of Thailand. Traditionally they were subsistence farmers, growing rice and crops, but nowadays many have almost fully integrated into mainstream Thai society and have jobs in urban areas.
Traditionally, the Lawa are animists with a belief in the spirit world. Many of the village elders are thought to have spiritual powers, and are able to connect with the spirit world. They are consulted upon on occasions for example, when somebody is sick.
In a village there are dedicated spirit points and spirit pillars which are regarded as auspicious. Spirit catchers are adorned at the front of the house, these should not be touched as the Lawa believe they are sacred.
Alongside animism, many Lawa hill tribes today also hold Christian or Buddhist faith.
A spirit festival is held, just before the start of rice planting season, to honour and ask the spirits for a good crop.
Lawa culture & language
The Lawa have their own spoken language, but do not have their own written script, using the Thai alphabet to phoneticise the Lawa sounds instead. Their language is closely related to the ‘Wa’ tribe of Burma.
Sadly a lot of Lawa culture has been lost over history, as they have largely integrated into mainstream Thailand and Thai culture.
Unmarried Lawa girls can be identified by their bright orange and yellow beads worn around the neck and white blouses. They also wear skirts made of cotton patterned with horizontal stripes of blue, black yellow and pink. Once married these bright clothes are replaced by longer dresses but the beads are still worn.