Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand

There are six main groups of hill dwellers living in Northern Thailand.  They are the Akha, Hmong, Lisu, Karen, Lahu and Mien.  They total about 500,000 combined who began to arrive in Thailand at the end of the 19th century, pushed out of their native countries by civil war and political pressures.  They have come from Tibet, Burma (Myanmar), and China.  These siminomadic people each have their own heritage, clothing, language, religion, and culture which have effectively kept them separate and apart from each other and the Thai culture and have become known generically as "hill tribes" because they live mainly in the hills and lush valleys of Northern Thailand.  Since the farming methods are mostly slash-and-burn, they abandon land once it is exhausted and move on creating competing pressures on land. The largest (and least nomadic) of these hill tribe groups, the Karen, practice crop rotation rather than slash-and-burn type farming.  The Thai government has been continually trying to draw these people into the Thai market economy redirecting their activities such as opium poppy growing toward "new" crops such as cabbage and other marketable produce.