1.1.People of Nan
Nan Province is besides a home to the largest group, the Tai Yuan (or Tai Yonok) also home to smaller Thai and hill tribe communities such as Tai Leu, Tai Puan and Tai Khern, the Mon-Khmer groups Khamu, Lua (or Thin) and Mlabri (or Phee Tong Leung) and the Chinese-Tibetan groups of the Mhong and Mien.
1.3.1 Tai Yuan or Tai Yonok
This group consists of around 315,382 people in Nan (from a 2550 B.E. survey). Tai Yuan people are also the biggest group of the population in the Upper Northern Region. They live in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Lampang, Lampoon, Phrae, Nan and Phayao, and call themselves Kon Muang (People of the North). In one important immigration in 2347 B.E. during the reign of King Rama I of Rattanakosin, ancestors of Tai Yuan people were forced to emigrate from Chiang Saen to several cities: 1. Bangkok, and then to Ratchaburi and Saraburi; 2. Nan; 3. Chiang Mai; 4. Lampang, and 5. Vientiane. At the time, these people were called Lao Phoong Dam (Black-Belly Laos) because the male members of the group usually had black tattoos covering their body from the stomach down to the upper part of the legs. Tai Yuan people speak the northern dialect. They are Buddhists but also practicing rites to worship the spirits of their ancestors. They make a living in and around river plains and have unique clothing styles.
Religion and Beliefs
Tai Yuan people consider it of great importance to conduct the right procedure of building a house, from finding the right hour to fell trees to be made the pillars of the house, digging pits for the pillars, putting the pillars into the pits, to asking spirits to protect the house pillars, etc. to make sure that all the steps are done correctly and ceremoniously. This is because steady pillars of the house symbolize strength and stability. Due to their belief regarding the spirits of their ancestors, Tai Yuan people divide the space in the house into 2 sections. Tern is the area adjacent to the stairs and the kitchen and is used to welcome guests of the family. The forbidden area is the bedroom. They hang Ham Yon (a sacred wooden plate believed to help ward off evil spirits) above the bedroom door. Inside the bedroom, there is a shrine to worship the spirits of the ancestor and the guardian spirit of the house.
Tai Yuan people excel in carving wood and sculpturing. Their works of art are representative of the Lanna art style. The people are engaged in many traditional events such as ordination ceremony, wedding ceremony, New Year festival, Loy krathong festival, Buddhist Lent, Buddhist sermons, food offering, ceremonies to dispel ill fortunes and welcome good fortunes, and ceremonies concerning various kinds of spirits. The unique traditions of Nan province are Phra That Chae Haeng Worship Festival, Hok Peng Festival, and Nan Boat Racing Festival.
Women: The costumes for a woman are a long-sleeved, round-neck blouse with buttons in the front and a long skirt with a silver girdle.
Women usually wear long hair tied into a bun decorated with a hair pin. In a social gathering, they will wear a head scarf and tuck a handkerchief to their waist to be used when they chew betel nuts, titbits or smoke tobacco, and carry a black and white shoulder bag.
Men: At home, a man wears a sarong tied up with a checked sash and a long-sleeved, round-neck shirt string buttons in the front and hangs a checked cloth on a shoulder. If he goes out, he will change into a pair of trousers and carry a black and white shoulder bag.
Tai Yuan woven textile gained its distinction from the unique weaving techniques called "Jok".
1.3.2 Tai Leu
This group consists of around 54,400 people in Nan (from a 2550 B.E. survey). Their original homeland was in Sibsong Panna in Yunan Region, China. Their ancestors came to Nan either by force of war or by their own willingness. Nan Province consists of 15 districts, 7 of which are areas where Tai Leu people can be found: Tha Wang Pha, Song Kwae, Pua, Chiang Klang, Thong Change, Chalernphrakiat, and Suntisook.
Religion and Beliefs
Since they are of an agricultural society, Tai Leu people live in plain areas near a river. Their religion is Buddhism. Like Tai Yuan people, the men of Tai Leu usually have black tattoos covering their body from the stomach down to the upper part of the legs. Their beliefs, traditions and ceremonies are also of the same fashion as those of Tai Yuan people. They, too, believe in spirits, divided into Spirit of Father, Spirit of Mother, and Spirit of the Guardian Spirit of the House. The ritual of Khao Kam is a uniquely Tai Leu ceremony.
Khao Kam Ceremony or Sam Pee See Ruang Khao Ceremony (meaning 4 rice harvests in 3 years) is held once every three years at Jao Luang Muang La Shrine. Jao Luang Muang La was a warrior ancestor of Tai Leu people. This ceremony helps uplift the morale of the people and solve problems by means of drawing lots.
In addition, the people also believe in the spirit of "Ban" (here, meaning the pillar established in the middle of the village). They hold an annual ceremony to worship this spirit.
Women: A Tai Leu woman wears Seua Pad, a blouse worn with one front part covering the other with threads or big buttons in the front. These blouses are short in the body but have long sleeves. They come in black or blue with trims of other colours. The skirts of Tai Leu women feature horizontal stripes in the pattern of Sin Kan and Sin Plong. Their hair is tied into two buns, one on top of the other, called "Jwong Phom". Married women a white or pink head scarf and carry a shoulder bag.
Men: A Tai Leu man wears a long-sleeved shirt with wood or silver buttons depending on his financial status. The shirt collar is short and not folded, similar to the Chinese style, and decorated with a striped pattern cloth. Tai Leu men wear a sarong with the lower end pulled up and tucked at the upper back. On occasions that require some formality, they will carry along a shoulder cloth. In a cold weather, the men wear hats made of cotton and lined in the inside with kapok. They carry a red bag and a shoulder cloth when going to the temple.
"Khamu" means man. It is the word the Khamu people chose to call themselves. Their original homeland was Laos.
They are called "Lao Theng by Laotian people. According to a Khamu legend, Chiang Mai City was built by their ancestors. The people in the East of Laos regard the Khamu people as their ancestors. In the old days, Khamu people played important roles in royal ceremonies of the royal court in Luang Phra Bang as well as in that of Nan City.
Around 150 years ago, Khamu people settled down in Thailand around the Nan borders. At present, there are around 7,700 Khamu people in Nan (from a 2550 B.E. survey). They live in the following areas:
- Muang District: Nong Kham Village and Huay Hai Village in Fai Kaew Sub-district, Wang Mor Village in Tha Bor Sub-District, Huay Pook Village in Sa Nian Sub-District, Had Pla Haeng Village in Bor Sub-district
- Phu Phiang District: Huay Kham Village in Bor Sub-district
- Tha Wang Pha District: Pang Sa Village in Pha Thong Sub-district, Nam Khong Village in Pha Tor Sub-district, Huay Pong Village and Wang Pha Village in Tan Choom Sub-District
- Chiang Klang District: Wang Phang Village, Pang Sa Village and Nam Mo Village in Pha Toi Sub-district, Wang Sao Village, Nam Pan Village, Huay Moi Village, Huay Lao Village, Huay Klab Village, Sop Phang Village and Nam Lu Mai Village in Chon Daen Sub-district
- Thoong Chang District: Nam Sod Village in Lae Sub-district, Huay Sa Taeng Village, Phu Kham Village, Nam Lad Village in Ngob Sub-district, Chai Thong Rat Village, Sop Pang Village in Pon Sub-district
- Wiang Sa District: Pa Phae Village
Religion and Beliefs
Khamu people believe in spirits and supernatural power. They, therefore, religiously hold annual ceremonies to worship the spirits of the house, of the woods, of the village, of water, of the stove, etc. It is believed that every house has a spirit of the house residing in the stove. Annual ceremonies are held to worship these spirits to prevent ill fortunes, illnesses, and deaths. There are also ceremonies related to the people's agricultural ways of life such as ceremonies to bring good fortunes to the buffalos, to the granary, etc. Besides doing agricultural work, Khamu people are also blacksmiths, so they can make tools and equipment necessary in daily activities. As a result, they also hold an annual ceremony to worship the spirit of the furnace to express their gratitude.
Khamu people put a greater emphasis on the spirits related to the male members of the group than those of the female members. When a woman is married, she needs to go to live with her husband in his house and conduct ceremonies in the styles of his family. Khamu society is patriarchal; Khamu men are the ones conducting ceremonies, and acting as leaders and decision makers.
Nowadays, Buddhism and Christianity have been introduced to the Khamu people, and Buddhist and Christian beliefs and practices have blended into the community's ways of life. Nevertheless, superstitious beliefs still remain.
Khamu people live in an agricultural community. They work in paddy fields, grow crops and raise animals. Their settlements are in plateaus along the foot of the mountains. The gate to their village is built in the East because they believe that this will bring happiness to the village. A sheltered platform is raised in the centre of the village and used as the site for meetings and ceremonies. Their houses are elevated high above the ground. The house is built of bamboo with a thatched roof of thatch or vetiver leaves. The area below the house is used for animal pens and storage space for seeds, baskets, dried foods, traps, etc.
Khamu people do not weave their own clothing. They follow their neighbours, such as Tai Lue people, in the way they dress. Khamu people dress mostly in black or in dark colours.
Women: Khamu women wear a dark-blue blouse decorated with collared threads and silver coins and a long skirt with horizontal stripes similar to that of Tai Lue women. They also wear rings around their neck and wrists and a head scarf.
Men: Khamu men dress in a way similar to the Tai Lue style. Old men have tattoos on their arms and body. These tattoos are believed to help ward off danger and to show their masculinity.
1.3.4 Lua or Thin
According to historical evidence, Lua people's original homeland was in the area of Thai-Lao borders. Academics suggested that Lua people in Nan came from Chaiyaburi Region in Laos when there were riots in Laos in 2419 B.E. They settled down in the areas that were the water sources of tributaries of Nan River such as Wa River, Pua River, Lae River and Mang River in Thook Chang, Chiang Klang and Pua Districts. More Lua people immigrated into Nan in 2517-2518 B.E. to escape communist threats in Laos.
Lua people in Nan can be categorized by their languages into 2 groups: Lua Mul and Lua Prai. They live in several districts such as Muang, Pua, Chiang Klang, Bor Kleu, Chalernphrakiet, Thoong Chang, Suntisook, Mae Jrim, Wiang Sa, Song Kwae and Phu Wiang. The total Lua population in Nan is 34,600 people (from a 2550 B.E. survey), the second highest number after that of Tai Yuan.
Religion and Beliefs
Lua people grow crops and fruits, find food in the forest, hunt and raise animals for food, for labour and for ceremonial uses. Their ways of life, therefore, are mainly related to the ways of the forest and of nature. So are their beliefs of spirits and supernatural power.
Lua people believe that spirits can bring about good and ill fortunes. Different types of spirit have different taboos, codes of practice and worship protocols. There are many rituals and ceremonies for worshiping the spirits related to every stage of life from birth, marriage, illness to death. At work, before every stage of farming: from choosing farming areas, levelling the grounds, sowing to harvesting, there is also a rite to worship the spirits.
According to Lua people's belief, there are spirits in all places; for example, spirits of the village are of the ancestors of the village and can confer both blessings and curses to all the people in the village; spirits of the house are the ancestors of the family; spirits of the fields are those who bless or curse agricultural products; and spirits of the water sources are the ones providing water for the people's uses all year round, etc.
Lua people do not make their own clothes, so they trade their products for clothes from other groups of people. Lua women wear a black or dark blue blouse and a long black and red skirt or a skirt of the Tai Lue style. They wrap their head in a red scarf and let down the loose ends decorated by local materials. Lua men wear a sarong with the lower ends pulled up and tucked at the upper back and a black or dark blue shirt. They wear a head scarf tied up at the back of the head. They carry a bow and arrows, and a tub of insecticide.
Both women and men pierce their ears since early childhood. They increase the size of their wooden earrings as they grow up. This is a way to indicate beauty in their culture.
Nowadays, Lua people dress in the same fashion as people in town.
Lua people prefer to build their houses on mountain plains not far from water sources. Their houses are built of wood and elevated high above the ground with a thatched roof of thatch or vetiver leaves. The eves project outward to shelter the terrace and downward close to the ground. Inside the house, a stove is placed in the centre. Below the house is the storage space for logs and other items as well as animal pens.
1.3.5 Mlabri or Phee Tong Leung
This group of people call themselves "Mlabri" meaning forest people. They are nomads making a living by finding food in the forest and hunting. They make shelters using banana leaves near a village or source of food. When the food runs out, they move away. If villagers come across their shelters, they will move instantly due to their distrust of people outside their group. They believe that if they stay put in one place, evil spirits will send tigers to hurt them.
Mlabri people are sometimes called "Pee Thong Leung", or "Yellow Banana Leaves People" because Mlabri people do not stay in a place for long. When the banana leaves of their shelters become yellow, they move away. 159 Mlabri people live in Nan, in Huay Yuak Village, Mae Kha Ning Sub-district, Wiang Sa District (from a 2552 B.E. survey).
Mlabri people's sources of food are the plants and fruits they find in the forest, so they have extensive knowledge as to plant and herbs that are useful in daily life. They make tools and equipment such as mats and baskets by wickerwork. They produce shoulder bags from hemp.
Mlabri people do not marry people from the same family as themselves. They are monogamous and will divorce before remarrying. They believe that polygamy offends sacred spirits and the punishment will be the loss of the forest food to all the Mlabri people.
Religion and Beliefs
Mlabri people believe that there are supernatural forces protecting the forests, mountains and rivers that are their important sources of food (such as spirits of the sky, the forest, the house and the ancestors). Important rituals are such as rituals to worship the spirits of the ancestors. If a member of their group falls seriously ill, they will hold a ritual believed to have healing power, and then move away instantly after the ceremony because they believe that evil spir its reside in that area.
Nowadays, Mlabri also make contact with other groups of people, and Buddhism and Christianity are adopted and blended in with the old beliefs.
In the past, Mlabri people made clothing from natural materials covering their body with sheets made from barks of trees, called Pha Ta Yaed. Later after having contact with people outside their group, they started to wear clothes made of textile. Today, Mlabri men wear a kind of shorts with no shirt. The women wear a long skirt and a blouse.
In the past, they made shelters from banana leaves or other kinds of leaves. Today, they build houses of bamboo. Their houses are on the ground using the ground as the floors of the houses, and the roofs are thatched with banana or thatch leaves. There are no partitions in the house but household items are placed to indicate boundaries.
Hmong people call themselves "Hmong", but city people call them "Maew" (which has a negative meaning). Their original homelands were in the high plains of Tibet and Mongolia. Later, they emigrated to the areas around Yellow River (Huang He River), but were suppressed by the Chinese government. In 2383 B.E. many Hmong people emigrated to the high mountains of Luang Phra Ba ng, and then to Thailand in 2439 B.E. They live in several provinces in the North of Thailand.
There are 2 groups of Hmong people in Nan: White Hmong (or Hmong Der) and Black Hmong (or Hmong Tua). They live in several districts: Muang, Thoong Chang, Pua, Tha Wang Pha, Mae Jrim, Bor Kleu, Wiang Sa and Na Noi. The Hmong population totals around 22,037 people (from a 2552 B.E. survey).
Religion and Beliefs
Hmong people believe in spirits. They divide the spirits into 2 broad groups:
- Spirits inside the House: those of the ancestors, of the main pillar of the house, of the stove, of the door, of the mattress
- Spirits outside the House: those of the forests and the lands (Hmong people believe that there are spirits in all places, so they build a shrine under a big tree in the forest north of the village. During the New Year festival, a senior member of the village conducts a ceremony of worship to ask for protection from these spirits.)
In the New Year festival, Hmong people also hold a ceremony to worship spirits of their ancestors. Hmong New Year, an important Hmong festival, lasts for 3 days starting from the first waxing moon in December.
Hmong hold ceremonies related to all stages of life from birth, choosing a spouse, marriage, death to funeral. These are all important and contain many details. Each ceremony lasts for about 3 days. In a family, the man is the leader. When a woman is married, she comes to live with her husband. Every decision is made by the husband. Family lineage is based on the family members on the father's side.
White Hmong people and Black Hmong people have different sets of costumes. Stitching techniques are passed on to younger generations.
Women: The women wear black or blue ankle-length trousers decorated with stitched patterns at the front and back and a long-sleeved black shirt with blue sailor-type collar decorated with stitched patterns. During the New Year festival, women wear a white skirt and a black head scarf decorated with stitched patterns and red threads.
Men: The men wear black or blue trousers, a red belt strap and a long-sleeved shirt decorated with stitched patterns on the collar and sleeves, a stitched cloth sewn from the upper left of the shirt down to the lower right, and silver beads.
Women: The women of Black Hmong wear a dark-blue pleated skirt with dyed patterns and a piece of cloth at the front. The helm of the skirt has stitched patterns. They wear a black blouse decorated at the trims. The blouse collar is of the sailor style. The waist is tied with a red strap with stitched patterns at the back. They tie their hair in a bun and do not wear a head scarf.
Men: The men wear black or blue trousers, a red belt strap decorated at the two ends, and a black shirt decorated at the sleeves. The shirt also has a stitched cloth sewn from the upper right of the shirt down to the lower left decorated with silver beads.
Houses of Hmong people are in the areas surrounded by high mountains not too far from sources of water. The people live in a big cluster of around 35 houses. Most are relatives. They houses face away from the mountains. The houses are one-storey built on the ground with walls made of wood or bamboo and roofs made of thatch glass or wood. The space inside the house is divided into rooms using bamboo partitions. There is a stove and a wooden couch for the family and guests. The space below the roof is used to store tools and seeds because the heat from the sun keeps the place dry and the smoke from the stove can help dispel insects and humidity.
Every house has a shrine to worship the ancestors so that they help protect the family and bring about happiness.
The original homeland of Mien people was in China, around the area of Tong Ting Lake in the river plains of Yangtze River. The name "Mien" is used by the government to call this group of people. Mien people emigrated from China in around 15th-16th century B.E. They settled down in Vietnam, Northern Laos, Burma's Chiang Toong, and Northern Thailand.
Mien people in Nan live in Muang, Tha Wang Pha, Song Kwae, Pua, Wiang Sa and Bor Kleu Districts. There are about 11,415 Mien people in the province (from a 2550 B.E. survey).
Religion and Beliefs
The beliefs of Mien people are the combination of 2 tracks of beliefs: worship of spirits and worship of gods (from Taoist beliefs). At the same time, their beliefs are also influenced by Buddhist and Christian principles.
Mien people worship many kinds of spirits such as spirits of the father, of the mother, of the village, of the water, and of the forest. They have complicated rites related to ever stage of life from birth, illness, marriage, death to funeral. They also hold ceremonies on special occasions such as the New Year festival. Important Mien rituals are; for example:
Kwa Tang Ceremony (or Lantern Ceremony): This ceremony lasts for 1 day. It is held as a gesture to offer 20-year old men to the gods in the Taoist belief so that the men become complete as Mien men.
Toa Sai Ceremony: This is a big 7-day ceremony led by several Taoist monks. Participants take a vow of chastity and eat only vegetarian food.
Mien women are skilled in stitching and use red threads to decorate clothes. Mien men are good at making silver jewellery. Their costumes, therefore, embody these unique traits.
Women: The women wear black trousers with stitched patterns at the front and a black knee-length blouse open at the sides from the knees to the waist. The front of the blouse is decorated with stitched patterns. The back of the blouse is pulled and tied up. A waist strap is tied around the waist as a belt. The collar is decorated with red threads down to the waist. The inner head scarf is red and the outer scarf is black with stitched patterns at the two ends.
Men: The men wear a black round-neck shirt decorated with stitched patterns and silver buttons and black trousers. In a ceremony, they also wear head scarves decorated with silver beads.
Mien people build houses on the ground of mountain ridges. The houses are rectangular with one of the longer walls as the front of the house. The walls are built of wood or bamboo and the roof is thatched with thatch or vetiver leavers. The front of the house has a big gate that will be opened on special occasions: to send a daughter out to be married, to receive a newly-wed bride into the house, to take a dead body out of the house, or to hold a ceremony to dispel evil spirits. There are 2 other doors on the two sides of the house: Door for Men and Door for Women, to be used in daily life. Men and women sleep in separate bedrooms at the back of the house. The front of the house is the area for guests and for household items such as the fireplace, stove and rice mortar. Other constructions such as a granary or a pigsty are in front of the house. Every house has a shrine to worship spirits of the ancestors. This shrine is usually in the centre of the house before the bedroom area.
1.2. Numbers of Nan
is located some 668 km north of Bangkok
. Its population exceeds 24.000. It is situated in the centre of the Nan Province
which bears its name, and of which it is the administrative capital. It covers the whole tambon
Nai Wiang and parts of tambon
Pha Sing of Mueang Nan district
, an area of 7.60 km². As of 2010 it had a population of 21,333. It is subdivided into 30 chumchon
. It is spread out along the Nan River
's right bank. Nan is a small city, primarily devoted to commercial, administrative, educational and hospital activities. The old heart of the city, where Wat Phumin
, the National Museum and other tourist attractions are located, is being restored. With the recent opening of the border towards Laos
and beyond towards China
tourism and industry is growing.
Sources: Café de Zeven, Nan Guest House, Nan Tourist Office, Wikipedia, GT Rider, Fhu Travel, Nan Lifeway museum