Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand

Here is a description of some of the main hilltribes living in the North of Thailand:

Karen (Kariang)pop. about 325,000
Origin: Myanmar
Present Locations: Thailand, Myanmar
Belief System: Animism, Buddhism or Christianity, depending on the group

Karen tend to live in lowland valleys and are the largest group of hilltribes in Thailand. There are four distinct Karen groups – White Karen, Pwo Karen, Black Karen, and Red Karen.

Lahu (Musoe)pop. about 74,000
Origin: Tibet
Present Locations: South China, Thailand, Myanmar
Belief System: Theistic Animism, some are Christians

Lahu live in mountainous areas at about 1000m. There are five main groups – Red Lahu, Black Lahu, White Lahu, Yellow Lahu, and Lahu Sheleh.

Akha (I-Kaw)pop. about 49,000
Origin: Tibet
Present Locations: Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Yunnan
Belief System: Animism, Ancestor Worship
Distinctive Characteristics: headdresses of beads, feathers, and dangling silver ornaments

Villages are along mountain ridges or on steep slopes from 1000m to 1400m in altitude. The Akha are the poorest of Thailand’s ethnic minorities.

Lisu (Lisaw)pop. about 28,000
Origin: Tibet
Present Locations: Thailand, Yunnan
Belief System: Animism with Ancestor Worship and spirit possession
Distinctive Characteristics: The women wear long multicolored tunics over trousers and sometimes black turbans with tassels. Homes are built on the ground.

Lisu villages are usually in the mountains at about 1000m.

Hmong (Meaw) pop. about 122,000
Origin: South China
Present Locations: Laos, Thailand, South China, Vietnam
Belief System: Animism
Distinctive Characteristics: Simple black jackets and indigo or black baggy trousers with striped borders or indigo skirts and silver jewellery.

They Live on mountain peaks or plateaus above 1000m. They are Thailand’s second largest hilltribe group.

Yao (Mien)pop. about 40,000
Origin: Central China
Present Locations: Thailand, South China, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam
Belief System: Animism with Ancestor Worship and Taoism
Distinctive Characteristics: Women wear trousers and black jackets with embroided patches and red fur-like colours, along with large dark blue or black turbans. Heavily influenced by chinese traditions, using chinese characters to write their language.

They settle near mountain springs at between 1000 and 1200m.

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