Lahu woman
Lahu woman

General description Lahu woman in traditional dress kneeling on a board wrapped in black velvet.

Dimensions 23.5 cm x 11 cm x 13 cm

Date when acquired 2006

Original Date Unknown

Source Bought by my mother for me in the Oxfam shop in Formby, England.

Lahu made in Thailand by House of handicrafts. Designed by Vanida S. Monkhone and handmade by Youthana.

Lahu woman back
Back view showing woven panel at top of her skirt

Body

Her head is painted plastic with transfers for the facial features. Her body is made of white material over padding with a wire (?) support inside. Her hands are made of pink material.

Clothing

The doll is wearing a traditional Lahu turban. One can see the crown of a black cotton material which is covered by a dark bronze coloured shawl with gold threads running through it. There are embroidered panels of blue and pink or pink and orange geometric patterns. Rows of round silver sequins with a point raised in the centre complete the design.

The doll is wearing a black cotton jacket with two 1-cm red cotton bands on her sleeves. Above each band is a row of pyramids made of the same silver sequins as on her turban. A red lapel runs down the front of the jacket. At the bottom of the jacket is a 1-cm band of light blue cotton. Two 1.5-cm coins adorn the doll’s chest. She is wearing a full-length black cotton wrap-around skirt. Around the waist is a 5-cm band of material woven in a geometric design of red, green, dark orange, white, pink and purple colours. She is bare-footed.

Lahu head
Close up of turban and silver jewellery

Accessories

She has a solid silver ring around her neck. Below this is a collection of necklaces: 3 made of silver chains and five made of coral-type red beads. She has a single solid silver bracelet on her right wrist and three on her left.

Lahu basket
Intricate basket work

In her right hand, the doll is holding a woven straw basket tied with green string. The basket is woven in a geometric design using natural-coloured and orange straw.

Lahu patchwork
Patchwork cushion

In her left hand she is holding the string of a cuboid patchwork pillow with a geometric design made of blue, red, white, green and black cotton. This type of patchwork is very typical of Lahu handicrafts.

Background information

The name of this people “Lahu” means “hunter”, a skill which they are renowned for; their Thai name Mussur means the same. The Lahu tribe originated from Southern China via Burma and have been migrating to Thailand since the late 19th century. There is an estimated population of between 40,000 and 60,000 Lahu living in Thailand nowadays. The Lahu are sub-divided into five separate groups, the Red Lahu, Black Lahu, Lahu Sheleh, Lahu Balan, and Lahu Bankeo.  The “Black” group form apparently over 75 percent of the “tribe”. The Lahu are concentrated close to the Burmese border west and north of Chiang Dao and Pai.

Lahu women are skilled in weaving cloth, both on back-strap and foot-treadle looms, producing delicate patchwork trims, and unusual embroidery work. All of which are apparent on this doll. The Lahu’s traditional clothing is black with bold embroidered patterns and bands of cloth for decoration. The trims of their sleeves, pockets and lapels are often decorated, with each subgroup using different colours; however, the Lahu tend to wear ordinary clothes for everyday life, reserving their costumes for ceremonial occasions. Lahu women wear several kinds of distinctive dress according to their sub-group, while the men of the different sub-groups clothe themselves fairly uniformly. The women wear colourful turbans (as seen with this doll) and like to sport beautiful earrings, usually of silver. My doll does not have any earrings.

The Black Lahu women wear the most distinctive costumes within this “Hill tribe”. They wear a black cloak with diagonal cream stripes. The top of the sleeve is decorated in bold colours of red and yellow. Red Lahu women wear black trousers with white edging and vivid sleeves of broad red and blue stripes. All the other Lahu tribes have supplemented their traditional costumes by sarong and Thai shirt. The sarong wrap-around style of this doll’s dress show that she does not belong to either the Black or Red Lahu, though I do not know which of the other sub-groups it could be.

Lahu Men and women together make some of the finest baskets to be found anywhere in Thailand (as shown by the basket in this doll’s right hand).

Source(s) of information

http://www.chiangmai-chiangrai.com/hilltribes.html; http://www.cpamedia.com/travel/thailand_hill_tribe_trekking/; http://www.visit-chiang-mai-online.com/akha-hill-tribes-northern-thailand.html; http://www.thailine.com/thailand/english/hill-e/lawa-e.htm (all accessed 25 June, 2012); http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_tribe_%28Thailand%29 (accessed and 23 September, 2012)

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