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Lahu New Years


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Lahu New Years

Not only can New Years celebrations be found in Thailand at many times between November and April, even specifically tribal New Years celebrations get staggered. One can attend lots of New Years celebrations, even several Lahu or Akha New Years celebrations. Celebrations last for days; Lahu ones near the Chinese lunar New Year often continue for over a week (with periods of rest, mind you), and different times are chosen at different places. Thus, two branches of a family can celebrate together at two villages (not everyone; some will stay home and look after livestock and things, but it is a time of much visiting). Because of tribal intermarriage, and as religious beliefs are hardly universal, this is convenient. It allows, for instance, for a Chinese father to attend to ancestral devotions at the proper time, and also be with his Lisu or Lahu family for drinking and dancing.

There are two main times of rest during the year: after harvest, and after planting. After planting it is rainy, and so not suitable for much travel and visiting. New Years is the prime social time of the year. And a year’s catching up cannot be done overnight! So there’s lots of feasting, finery, singing, financial settling up (and money-spending!), and even more fun. People put up evergreen boughs, make snack foods to give out as treats, and go around making music and dancing from location to location, supplying merriment for everyone they know, if they can. Some who sing, dance and/or play music all night are rewarded financially by their community. Many Lahu songs are call-and-response, with joking interspersed with deceptively simple seeming, but really complicated, rhythms, accentuated by stomping steps – people will ask you to join in, but it is easy to notice the inexperienced failing to remain in step!

And early in the morning, a caroling group of students, with teacher, might stop to sing (in hopes of financial handouts).

As the weather is cool and there is less work, adorning oneself in finery is appropriate: one can wear more clothes, be seen by more people, and maybe not get too dirty. The rest of the year people are either working hard or it is muddy, so finery is mostly kept put away. So, New Years is an important period for courtship!

Every family makes special rice cakes for New Year by taking sticky rice, putting it in a wooden mortar-tub, and pounded it with specially formed long pieces of wood (thinner in the center for holding, and softly rounded at the ends) until the rice is soft. Then it is shaped like smooth stones, and put on bamboo shelves to dry. These rice cakes keep a long time, and are put with candles, incense, glasses of water and pine boughs as offerings to the spirits and ancestors, wherever there is shelving – which creates holiday ambiance. Another treat is also made with sticky rice, but the black kind. After pounding, the flour is mixed with sugar. Peanuts are added, and the mixture placed on banana-leaves coated with some oil. The leaves are folded and then put in a steaming basket and heated for about 45 minutes. These confections keep for a long time (but take a while to chew, too).

Pork is the main feast item – I like the black, pot-bellied pigs (hey, they’re smart, and taste good too). As it’s being prepared, people play bamboo mouth organs, beat on drums strapped over shoulders, clang cymbals, play two-string guitars, or dance in curved line, moving hands in circles, clapping and stamping feet to a deceptively simple-seeming, but tricky beat. Some, mostly older people, dance until dawn. Costumes once involved silver decorations, now it’s just silver in color; sequins are another change.

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Nice article Joel, is that an Akha lady bottom right?

A lot of ethnic Thai men from our village head for the mountains to these festivals, they assure me that considerable sexual license goes on. My father in law invited me to accompany him this year but my wife wouldn't come so I decided to give it a miss.

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Yeah - Akha. Many types - different lady's headdresses... which the older ones often wear regularly. A lot of the tribals have this thing about women not showing their hair publicly (at least not married ones!).

I've a house up on the border, but with dirt floor and cold water bathing and all, its hardly a "love-nest"!!!

Past Ban Ruam Mitraphap, the Karne boat-landing with elephants, up the Kok River 20 k. or so, they've put in a new bridge on the north side of the Kok (not crossing the Kok) which improves access to some pleasant Lahu-nyi villages over that way. Last year they had a great celebration, with a sitting box for Thai locals who came out from our metropolitan city to watch and enjoy the pageantry... There was only one other Farang there.

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