Lahu

Other Names

Laku, Lagu, Kui, Kucong, Mussur

Population

China 490,000 (2006)
Burma 150,000 (2006)
Thailand 100,000 (2006)
Vietnam 5,600 (est 2006)
Laos 15,000 (est. 2006)

The Chinese government recognizes the Lahu (a Tibetan/Himalayan people) as one of its 55 official minorities. The Lahu are well known hunters. In S.E. Asia, the Lahu are often referred to as Musser, a name which refers to their prowess as hunters. They traditionally live in high mountains around 5,000 feet in elevation in the western Yunnan province of China. They have been involved in many rebellions over the centuries against other groups who were oppressing them, but in general are looked upon favorably by other minority groups. Lahu villages are small because they usually separate whenever a village reaches 50 households, often due to village conflict. The new village takes the name of the one who founds it. Alcoholism, illiteracy and drugs such as methamphetamines and opium are ruining the lives of the Lahu people in many places.

Language and Dialects

Language family: Tibeto-Burma

Three dialects are noted, known by a variety of names:

Na (Black Lahu, Musser Dam, Northern Lahu, Loheirn)
Nyi (Red Lahu, Southern Lahu, Musseh Daeng)
Lahu Shehleh
Lahu Shi (Yellow Lahu, Kucong)

Black Lahu is the standard dialect in China, as well as the lingua franca among different groups of Lahu in Thailand.  However, it is intelligible to speakers of Yellow Lahu only with some difficulty.

The Lahu divide themselves into a number of subgroups estimates are up to 30 sub-groups, such as the Lahu Na (Black Lahu), Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu), Lahu Hpu (White Lahu), Lahu Shi (Yellow Lahu) and the Lahu Shehleh. Where a subgroup name refers to a color, it sometimes refers to the traditional color of their dress. These groups do not function as tribes or clans – there are no kin groups above that of the family.

Economy

Although primarily subsistence farmers (growing rice and corn for their own consumption), the Lahu are also proud of their hunter-warrior heritage. Weaving fabric and baskets, embroidery, blacksmithing and jewelry making are traded in the market.

Customs and Habits

Lahu in every country have interesting creation myths of where the Lahu came from. Generally it has to do with a gourd of some type. Lahu men are known as great hunters and where possible their diets are still supplemented with wild game and other things from the forest such as bee larvae and wild plants. Lahu are very much in touch with the spirit world and shamans exist in all non-Christian villages. Spirit appeasement takes many forms but is part of daily life for the Lahu.

Mission

The Lahu responded to the gospel at the turn of the century in Northern Burma partially due to the legends in their culture and their belief in a supreme God called G’ui Sha. They told William Young (the first missionary to reach them) that they “had been waiting for him to come for centuries”. Lahu from birth are bound by the fear of spirits and appease these spirits by various sacrifices and the wearing of demon strings around their wrists and sometimes their necks. When they come to belief in Christ, the strings that represent bondage to demons are cut and burned. Lahu generally are warm-hearted and very hospitable. They express great interest in the Gospel and generally it is only the lack of consistent quality teaching that keeps them from becoming a strong church.

It was the early Lahu believers in China who first went to the Wa tribe, who were head hunters at the time, with the Gospel. The first group that went into Wa territory were surrounded and about to be killed when the leader told his Lahu brothers to sit on the ground while he called out to God to help them. The heavens roared, the ground shook and the Wa put down their spears – warmly welcoming these people and their message.

Current Ministry

There is a ministry that wants to see every Lahu village have access to the gospel and see the Church established. An outreach is also underway to reach the Lahu of Laos who are unreached with the gospel. Because they are an illiterate people the methodology being used is oral. We are currently giving them an oral bible and there is a church planting movement beginning to take place amongst two of their groups. Workers are needed for this team and the church planting in China and Burma as well.

Scripture: 1989 Bible
Jesus film: Yes
Radio: Daily thirty-minute radio broadcasts in Black Lahu FEBC radio.
Audio Recordings: Audio/radio materials are currently available in Thailand by Mekong Ministries and www.thelahu.com