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Local Tribes Local Tribes

Local Tribes

Local Tribes

In 2012, Chiang Rai will celebrate its 750th anniversary. Thus, it is appropriate to focus on the Khon Muang people who inhabit the mountain valleys of northern Thailand, the region also known as the “Kingdom of one million rice fields” or Lanna. The Khon Muang people are closely connected with the Lao people in Laos, the Shan in Myanmar, the Lue of Xishuangbanna in Yunnan, China, and the “Tai” in the northwest of Viet Nam.

Above all, it is the common tongue known as “kham muang” that united the Khon Muang and distinguished them from their Siamese neighbors in central and southern Thailand. The walled city of Chiang Rai was and is one of the cultural, social, and political capitals of the Khon Muang, and together with the cities of Chiang Mai, Lamphun, and Lampang, constitute their heartland. To this heartland may also be added the cities of Phayao, Phrae, and Nan, which were incorporated into Lanna going far back in history. In 1558, King Bayinnaung conquered Lanna, and for the next two centuries, north Thailand was under the rule of the Burmese. When Chao Kawila, the ruler of Lampang, recaptured the towns in 1775 with the help of the Siamese army, he rebuilt them with the brick bastions, gates, and moats that we see today.

The Lawa seem to be the aboriginal people of northern Thailand and belong to the Austro-Asiatic language family. There are still Lawa villages north of Chiang Rai in Myanmar’s Shan State and also further west in Chiang Mai Province; but in Chiang Rai, the Lawa were completely absorbed into the modern population. The main group of Khon Muang, which came to settle in Lanna from southern China, was called by its neighbours Yuan, Yun, or Yon, and they used to live in the area where now three countries meet, namely Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. Into this so-called “Golden Triangle” area, now part of Chiang Rai province, there immigrated many other peoples, which will be described accordingly. Shan people (also called Tai Yai) are living in Chiang Rai (in connection with the century-old lumber trade) as well as in Chiang Mai, Lampang, and Phrae; while Lue people (Tai Lue) are found in Ban Hat Bai along the Mekong River, and further south in Phayao.

The borderlands of the Khon Muang people include the Yunnanese village of Ban Hin Taek, home of the Shan warlord, Khun Sa, until 1982, and nowadays easily reached by car. This is the heart of the Golden Triangle with a wild mosaic of hill tribes, and a meeting point of Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Christians.

It is this mix of hill tribes that makes Chiang Rai a wonderland of peoples and cultures. Altogether there are six main tribes which live in the surrounding mountainous districts that reached Chiang Rai in the early decades of the last century, mainly via Myanmar and Laos. These six hill tribes are: Karen (Elephant village of Ban Ruam Mit at the Mae Kok River), Hmong or Meo (Amphoe Chiang Khong), Mien or Yao (Mae Chan, Chiang Khong), Akha (Amphoe Mae Chan, Mae Sai), Lahu (Amphoe Mae Kachan, Wiang Papao), Lisu (Amphoe Mae Suai).

In Thailand the term “hill tribes” designates ethnic minorities that live mostly in remote highlands in the north and western parts of the Kingdom. Although the Royal Thai Government follows a policy of integration, some half of the population of 700,000 is still unable to get any official citizenship. Most of the problems are related to the hill tribes’ way of life—they used to practice a kind of “shifting cultivation” which causes deforestation and the deterioration of watersheds. Also, some hill tribes engage in opium production and other illegal activities.

The Legend : Chiang Rai Office
124/15 Moo 21 Kohloy Road, Amphur Muang, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand
Tel: +66 (0) 53 910 400
Fax: +66 (0) 53 719 650
Email: info@thelegend-chiangrai.com
The Legend : Bangkok Office
133/14 Ratchaprarop Road, Ket Rajthevee, Bangkok 10400 Thailand
Tel: +66 (0) 2 642 5497, +66 (0) 2 254 3069, +66 (0) 2 247 5373
Fax: +66 (0) 2 246 5679
Email : info@thelegend-chiangrai.com