Lisu Elder

Society is organized into clans based on surname group, patrilineal lineage, and religious beliefs Households form alliances based on kinship and social, political and economic self interest. Villages are generally independent from one another Men tend to hunt and do heavy work such as plowing, slashing and burning, hunting and collecting and chopping up firewood. Women — with the help of their children do weeding, harvesting, carrying and processing crops, gathering wild fruits, collecting water, feeding the pigs, growing vegetables, cooking and household chores.

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “Totemism has not only been a main feature of Lisu religion it has permeated every aspect of their social life. The Lisu generally have had no idea of an ethnic group identity, placing emphasis instead on clan identity. The Lisu were traditionally divided in 19 clans that traced their origin to a feminine ancestress who mated with an animal. As in other societies, this animal was considered taboo to the people belonging to the clan. Their villages or cluster of villages were organized around the clan, with all members sharing a common origin and history. The Tiger clan is said to have originated through the mating of a Lisu girl and a tiger; the Buckwheat clan began a woman got pregnant after eating buckwheat. [Source: Ethnic China]

Village leadership is provided by and disputes are settled by elder males. Headmen are often figurehead leaders. Gossip and threats of supernatural punishment are used to maintain social control. Vendettas and blood fields sometimes occur between different Lisu households and between Lisu and other tribes. The most frequent causes of conflicts have traditionally been debts, marriage disputes, and accusations of use of witchcraft to spread disease. Lisu men are renowned for their bravery and fighting skills. The Lisus are proud of their history of turning back numerous Chinese incursions into their territory. The Lisu were often recruited as soldiers by Chinese warlords and the Chinese emperor himself. In World War I, a Lisu battalion distinguished itself in fighting Mesopotamia.

The Lisu make, consume and sell large amounts of liquor made from rice, maize, sorghum and millet. Many chew betel nut or fermented tea leaves. Some smoke opium. Lisu arts include cloth making, basketry, embroidery and applique work. They make music with gourd flutes and pipes and three-string guitars. Their singing includes call-and-response love songs between groups of young men and women. Singing, dancing and music are features of festivals.

Lisu Family and Clans

The typical Lisu household is a nuclear or stem family. In the latter the firstborn child lives with the parents in the family home, and that child's spouse moves into the home and the younger couple's children are raised in the home of their grandparents. Extended families are common.The youngest child usually lives with the parents permanently and takes care of them in their old age. Young children ate rarely disciplined. By the time girls are 5 they are doing household chores. When boys and girls are 8 or 9 they begin working in the fields and taking care of younger siblings.

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ The Lisu are divided into clans or surname groups (zo ) that are patrilineal and exogamous (marriages are outside the clan). Groups differ slightly in religious beliefs and rituals, associated clan spirits, observance or timing of minor ceremonies, and the arrangement of household ritual shelves to honor patrilineal ancestors. Zo are named after flora and fauna: bya (honeybee), dzuh (hemp), gwa (buckwheat), ngwa (fish), suh (wood or tree), wu (bear). Certain zo are identified as Chinese clans, distinct from true Lisu clans: cang, cu, ho, il, tao, ts'ao, wang, wu (different from the bear clan), and yang. Although a zo does not have a formal organization, never acts as a unit, and is theoretically equal in status to every other zo, the potential for clan feuds, status conflicts, and accusations of witchcraft against whole clans is always present. One seeks allies, neighbors, and hosts from fellow zo members. [Source: Alain Y. Dessaint, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East / Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993 |~|]

Lisu use a Hawaiian cousin terminology reflecting the importance of generational differences. Hawaiian kinship, also referred to as the generational system, is the simpliest kinship terminology system used to define family within languages in antropology. Relatives are distinguished only by generation and by gender. There is a parental generation and a generation of children. In this system, a person refers to all females of his parents' generation (mother, aunts, and the wives of men in this generation) as "Mother" and all of the males (father, uncles, and husbands of the women in this generation) as "Father". In the generation of children, all brothers and male cousins are referred to as "Brother", and all sisters and female cousins as "Sister". [Source: Wikipedia]

Lisu Marriage

Most marriages are monogamous and require a bride price or bride service if the groom’s family can not come up with bride price. Young people are given some freedom in choosing their partners as long as they are not close relatives. Cross cousin marriages are preferred, with families exchanging mates over time. Sometimes betrothal costs were quite high, including livestock. Before 1949, polygyny was rare and some couples resorted to elopement in order to avoid the costs and parental disapproval. These practices are now discouraged by the authorities.

Courting traditionally took place village youth houses, where young men and women socialized and entertain visitors from other villages. This is how many couples met and fell in love. However, parents arranged the marriages, and permission of the mother's brother was required. In most cases, brides joined their husband's household, but matrilocal residence was not uncommon. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Naranbilik, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East / Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993 |~|]

Wedding ceremonies are relatively simple: usually a large feast. Afterward the couple often lives with the bride’s family until the groom finishes his bride service, then they move in with the husband’s family and remain there until they have a child and start their own household. Divorces are rare.

Sons have traditionally left their parents and supported their own families after getting married. The youngest or only son remained with the parents to take care of them and inherit their property. The daughter had no right of inheritance but could take her husband into her parents' home instead of being married off. Marriages were arranged by parents, with enormous betrothal gifts. [Source: |]

Lisu Birth Customs

Lisu women are not obliged to abstain from certain foods during pregnancy—as is the case with many ethnic groups—and they go about their household duties as long as they are able. When the birth is imminent the husband calls to his ancestors by their spirit name, makes an offering to them of salt, poultry and wine whilst invoking their aid in the safe delivery of the child. Older women gather at the house to assist in the birth. After the child is born they use a hempen string to tie the cord. After the child is washed, the birth is heralded to the ancestors by an attendant priest. [Source: “Lisu (Yanwin) tribes of the Burma-China Frontier” by Archibald Rose and J. Coggin Brown. In Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol II, No 4, pp 249-277. The Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1910; Ethnic China *]

On the third morning after birth the child receives its '' Buried '' (Spirit) name, a name which may be used by the parents a few times during childhood, but in general is never spoken as the child grows up. If the name is uttered by a stranger it can cause great offence or even bloodshed. After the child receives the Buried name, the child’s father announces the buried name to his ancestors. The name is seldom used until death, when priests use it to summon the departing spirit, speeding it to its ancestral home. *\

On the tenth, twentieth and thirtieth day after birth both the mother and child are bathed, and neither are allowed to leave the family home until the last bathing is complete, lest disease overtake them. The young mother is forbidden to taste chilies, sour bamboo sprouts, strong liquor or sweets during this period, and she is attended by her friends and not allowed to do household chores. When the month is complete a fowl is sacrificed to the ancestral ghost and the mother and child are free to enter the village. During the thirty days of confinement, the birth-bed is not moved, even the father avoids it due to concerns that his skin might be affected, When the 20 days is up, bedding is either cleansed or purified or destroyed by fire. *\

Lisu Villages and Homes

The Lisu have traditionally lived in villages located at 3,000 to 6,000 feet, an altitude perfect for growing opium poppies, their major cash crop. They often live in the foot hills above valleys occupied by lowland people such as the Karen and Han Chinese in villages often interspersed with villages of Karen, Yi, Akha, Lahu and other minorities. The areas where the Lisu live were once and still are covered by tropical rain forests.

Lisu villages typically have 10 to 50 households and are often set up just below the ridge of a mountain, sheltered by forests and near a water source. Water is often piped in a series of troughs made from split bamboo or collected from a well or tap system. Nearby slopes are used to raise herbs and vegetables. Rice and other grains are stored in granaries raised off the ground for protection against animals. Animals are kept in pens under the house. Pigs are generally allowed to run free. A house for the village spirit is built on the highest land in the village. The house below it faces the nearest stream.

Most Lisu houses are two-storey pile-dwelling buildings made of bamboo or wood, and some are one-storey wooden ridge house or stabstone houses. Wooden Lisu houses have four sides formed with 12-foot-long pieces of timber, with a cover of wooden planks on top. It looks like a wooden box. Bamboo-wood structures are supported by 20 to 30 wooden stakes and surrounded with bamboo fences, with a thatched or wooden roof. In the center of the house is a big fireplace.

Lisus used to live in mostly houses made of wood mixed with bamboo or soil. Nowadays, they also make houses by using bricks mixed with wood or concrete. In the Lisu villages you can see various kinds of houses, including bamboo houses, wood houses, soil wall houses, stone-roof houses, three-hall-with-a-zhaobi (a screen wall-facing the gate of a house) house and quadrangle dwelling. [Source: \=/]

Bamboo houses and a thousand-feet-houses describe the shape and materials used in making the house. Thousand-feet houses are named after the numerous bamboo pegs and piles that secure the house in earth. These are usually built on the slopes of mountains. The floor is covered with wooden boards. The last step in building the house is to cover the house roof with couch grass or wood boards. \=/

Lisu Village

Lisu Food

Their main Lisu staple foods are maize and buckwheat. Hunting has traditionally been a primary meat source. During major festivals, oxen and pigs are slaughtered. Lisu living in Nujiang River area consume corn, buckwheat, potatoes and broomcorn millet as their staple foods, while for those living in the river valley often eat rice together along with other foods like corn and potatoes. [Source: \=/]

According to “The Lisus are good at making fruit vinegar. In the right season every year they pick and clean ripe peaches and pears, then put them into a huge pottery jar, dipping in the spring water. During the summer, they take out this delicious fruit vinegar and drink with seed powder of Chinese prickly ash. The old fruit vinegar is also a good remedy for diarrhea. \=/

The main Lisu cooking methods are boiling and barbecuing. One common food is Kuoshuai Ele, a kind of corn porridge. To make it: First cook green corn and peel the corn seeds. Then add the baked salt, and cook the peeled corn with kidney beans, and bacon or pi-pa-shaped preserved meat. When this is finished, add some bamboo vegetables to make the porridge much more delicious and nutritious. \=/

Baked Meat Cubes is a treat given to guests. When an honorable guests comes to visit, the family slaughters a fat animal and cut out a big chunk of freshest and purist meat and bakes it as a treat the guest with wine. Eating winnowing basket rice and Tongxin wine is another treat for special guests. Winnowing basket rice is called Boji Rice in Chinese. It is a big round winnowing basket filled with white rice covered with big chunks of baked sucking pig meat, preserved meat and taros. A Boji looks like a round table which can accommodate five to six people at one time. When the food and wine are ready on the Boji, the dinner is ready to serve. People serve themselves with their hands and without chopsticks by making a rice ball with both hands eating it with a piece of meat and gulping down Tongxin wine. \=/

Lisu Wine and Spirits

The Lisus like to drink wine. Both men and women are heavy drinkers. Every year, immediately after the autumn, almost all families make wine and villages are filled with the smell of it. Lisus have traditionally had two kinds of wine: watery wine and colorless spirit, both of which they have made for themselves. To make watery wine: 1) first pound corn, sorghum, buckwheat or barnyard millet into pieces and steam them. 2) After they become cold, mix them with yeast, put them into a big pot and let them ferment naturally for seven or eight days. 3) Before drinking it, the wine has some water added and the mixture is filtered. The wine is a little bit turbid and is milky white. The alcohol content of it is not high. The taste is aromatic and a bit sweet. Lisu say it can invigorate the function of the spleen and aid digestion, and it is useful in refreshing oneself and releasing fatigue. A colorless spirit, called "Liji" in Lisu language, is distilled wine made by putting water and fermented grain into a pot and distilling it. It has a much higher alcohol content than watery wine. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

The Lisu believe that "where there is no wine, there is no courtesy." In their mind wine is necessary for entertaining guests. According to their traditional custom, before drinking or feasting, the host should pour himself a full bamboo tube of wine and then pour some on the ground, as a sacrifice to the ancestors. After that, he tastes the wine to show that it is good. Finally he pours wine into his guests' cups one by one and presents the wine to his guests with both hands. ~

Lisu practice the "wine of one heart" custom, also known as " joint-cup wine" or "both-sides wine". Two persons hold one tube or one bowl of wine, hug one another' around their necks and shoulders, open their mouths together, and drink together with their faces upward, so the wine flows into the mouths of both the host and the guest at the same time. Men and Women are not separated in drinking." Wine of one heart" is enjoyed by relatives, good friends and lovers. It used to be drunk at such occasions as entertaining guests, taking oaths or signing contracts, or becoming sworn brothers. Wine of one-heart represents unity and friendship. If a Lisu invites you to drink one cup of wine, it shows that he has full confidence in you and he regards you as his friend. ~

Lisu Culture Art and Sports

The most well-known artistic expressions of the Lisu are clothing (especially shoulder bags embroidered with abstract designs worn by both men and women) and jewelry (worn by both men and women on wrists, neck, ears, breast, and back). Ornaments of silver, shell, and pearls and bead necklaces and headdresses are a distinguishing feature of the Lisu. Silver and jewelry have traditionally been the principal forms of wealth. [Source: Alain Y. Dessaint, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East / Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993 |~|]

Lisu crafts are not well developed, but they have their own features. The hand-woven colored flax is one of their most famous crafts. Weavers use white twine as the longitude twine and the white twine as the woof. During the weaving process, they add a black line every two-fingered-wide distance. This colored flax can be made into clothes, sheets, pillow covers and other items.

Lisus' traditional sports and games are inspired mostly by daily life and agriculture. Popular ones include pushing a thick stick, climbing the knife-pole, wrestling, acting like bamboo pole, crossing water by overhead cable, and taking stones.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Pushing the thick stick is very simple, convenient and interesting sports activity. Nothing is needed except a thick stick and a small piece of land. It can be played after dinner and before tea, or during work intervals. The stick is two meters long and as thick as a a hand. In the game, two persons hold either side of the stick and place it at the upper part of the navel. They stand with arched legs: the forward leg keeps body stable, and the backward leg presses the ground strongly. Their bodies lean forward and push the stick. The winner is the who pushes the other out his space or causes the other to shift his feet. ~

20111102-Wiki com  Lisu Dermographism.jpg
Lisu Dermographism

This game seems simple, but one can't win unless he is powerful, skillful and experienced. These three factors should be combined ingeniously. For example: when both sides are in a stalemate, one can turn his body or the stick immediately, so as to upset the stability of the other side, and try to push the other one out by chance. “Or one can make use of the lever principle: the front hand lifts the stick up and the other hand pushes the bottom of the stick. This can function as four liangs (Chinese traditional unite of weight) beating one thousand jins (Chinese traditional unite of weight and one jin equals ten liangs). ~

Lisu Clothes

The Lisu are famous for the multicolored turbans, colorful clothes and opulent jewelry. Men and women wear long sarongs Women make shoulder bags and clothes embroidered with abstract designs. Jewelry is a sign of wealth and is worn by men and women on their wrists, neck, ears, breast and back Lisu women in traditional clothes wear unusually large and broad tassel-decorated discs with dangling strings of beads of yarn, hooplike silver bangles, and multicolored long-sleeve blouses worn over their trousers. Unlike the men in other tribe, Lisu men are not to be outdone by the women. They often sport a single earing and their colorful clothing includes baggy blue trousers and silver-decorated jackets. Black Lisu wear a tight-fitting cap made from strings of red beads and white buttons with tiny brass bells across the forehead.

In most areas the Lisu people wear home-spun hemp clothes. According to the clothese worn by different Lisu groups is not so different in terms of designs and ornaments. The biggest difference between them is their color. The Lisus are commonly called "white Lisus", "black Lisus" and "florid Lisus" because of their different clothes colors. The florid Lisus's clothes are bright and colorful while the Black Lisus' clothes look elegant and graceful. Women wear their most dazzling clothes as occasions such as festivals and weddings.

Lisu men wear short robes or jackets and pants reaching the knee. Some of them wear black turbans. A cutting knife dangles at a man's left waist, and a quiver hangs at his right waist. Men often wear gunny kerchiefs. Some men have long hair plaited on the back of their heads. Some chiefs and rich men wear a string of scarlet coral to show their honor and dignity. In the old days adult men wore a broadsword on the left and an arrow bag on the right. Lisu women wear garments buttoned on the right side and pleated long skirts. Their heads are decorated with red and white glass beads or kerchiefs, or pearl caps called "Ele", and their chests are adorned with necklaces formed by strings of colored beads, seashell pieces and coral beads.

White and black Lisu women inhabiting in the area of Nujiang River wear right-front-open jackets and linen knee-length skirt. Married women wear long copper earrings, and stud their hair with coral and pearls, while the young single girls usually do up their braids with white-small-shell-studded red thread. Some women like to wear a string of agate, shell or silver coins. Some of the shells are carved with horizontal and perpendicular lines or small holes. Valuable are one can be worth the price of one or two cattle. The clothes for the florid Lisus living in the area of Yongsheng and Tengchong are very colorful. Women there wear lace-trimmed jackets and knee-length skirts and wrap their hair with colorful headcloths with long, hanging copper or silver earrings. Their skirt is called Hundred Flower skirt because it made with hundred pieces of colorful cloth. [Source: \=/]

Lisu women living in the Ninglang area wear a right-front-open jacket and plain white linen knee-length skirts and white pearl earrings. Black Lisus women in the Yongsheng area wear right-front-open jacket and trousers instead of a skirt along with an apron small coral earrings. Women living in the Liming area wear button-down-the-front sleeveless waistcoats trimmed with colorful laces and colorful trousers and wrap their hair with colorful headcloths. \=/

The clothing in the area of Tongda Country, Baihuaping County is particularly gorgeous. Women there wear right-front-open, long dolman-sleeve robe trimmed with colorful laces on the collar, breast and cuffs. The knee-length skirt is made of twelve 10-centimeter-wide cloths of five colors— red, white, yellow, blue and green—with four kinds of embroidery patterns on the trouser bottoms. These women wear a cross-like black turban trimmed with colorful tassels, tie a self-woven color wool wide band around their waist and hang two pieces of long cloth symmetrically on both sides. They wear jade bracelets, silver earrings and hang string pearls and carry a white linen bag. \=/

"Ele"Head Ornaments

White Lisu and Black Lisu girls, inhabiting Fugong and Gongshan, like to tie their hair in braids with red threads decorated with little white sea shells, and married women usually like to wear an "Ele"—a cap made of coral, pearls, shells and little copper beads. To make one: 1) choose dozens of white seashells, about two centimeters in diameter; 2) drill small holes in them, and string them with thread to make a round cover which can cover the back of the head. Half of the shells are connected with copper beads, and the copper beads are stringed together. The result is a half-moon-shaped pearl hat with shells on the back, copper strings in front and white and red coral or plastic beads connecting the shells and the copper beads. The cap covers the head, ears and temples rightly. The pieces of shells on the top of the head are like a moon hanging above, and the bead-string is under it, like a myriad of stars surrounding the moon. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

There is a beautiful moving Lisu legend about "Ele": one year, in remote antiquity, the weather was very dry and severe drought occurred, Rivers dried up, crops withered and countless people starved to death. Guided by the God Misi (one of the Gods worshiped by Lisu people), a couple of Lisu youths settled in a locality with green mountains and clear water. The man went hunting in the mountains, the woman took care of the house chores and they gradually fell in love. Though they worked very hard, they lived a very difficult life. After a while, the crude hide the young man wore couldn't cover his body and keep warm any more. The girl saw it and felt very distressed. So she decided to weave comfortable and suitable clothes for him. She went through all kinds of hardships and finally found some nettles. Then she tore the nettles continuously, cooked them, rinsed them and twisted them into threads. The man saw that his beloved girl took much trouble to work for him: her hair was dispersed by blasts of wind and got into the way of her view, which always pricked her eyes into tears. ~

The young man thought inwardly whether he could make a hat for her to hold her pitch-black hair together. One night with the bright moon hanging high, looking into the sky, he imagined how wonderful it would be if he could make a hat with materials as pure white and smooth as the moon. So he traversed the length and breadth of the land, and found seashells at the foot of the Tanggula Mountain, and then set about fulfilling his wish. He used the nettle threads twisted by the girl to string the seashells and white and red fruits together, and made an artistic and tasteful "Ele". One mid-autumn night after a good harvest, during a full moon, the young man took out the "Ele" and, using both hands, put it on the girl's head. The girl took out the long robe she had made with the nettles and draped it over his shoulders. The two were fell deeply in love and became life-long companions. They bore and raised many children, and produced many descendants. From that time on, the story goes, Lisu young men presented an "Ele" to their beloved as a pledge of their love and Lisu young men. Lisu young women return the gesture by weaving a long gown with their own hands and giving it to their lovers.

Lisu Music and Dance

The Lisu have a rich repertoire of songs and dances that are featured in weddings, funerals, festival days, and house construction. Musical instruments include three-string guitars, flutes, and gourd pipes. Singing features challenge-and-response love songs between groups of young men and women.

Achi Mugua, which originated from Lancang River, means goats sing and dancing. According to “It is a kind of self-entertained singing dancing featured no instruments. There is a prelude at the beginning of every episode, no lyrics but only harrumphs— deep and long, sounds like the goats singing in the mountain. There are male and female teams in the singing dancing, and each team has one person to lead the chorus. They sing about everything from the ancient legends to the daily life. Sometimes they sing songs passed down from their forefathers; sometimes they sing improvisation songs. Often they are sung as a competition. If the two sides were so well matched that neither can gain the upper hand, the singing dancing can last for several days and nights. Achi Mugua dancing includes more than ten gestures. Both the sound and the gestures are imitations of goats and shepherds. The dancing represents the opportunistic view of the Lisu and shows their love of nature. [Source: \=/]

Lisu necklace

Wa Qiqi means step dance or foot dance. Dancers form a big circle and dances in the clockwise direction. To dance this foot dancers need to stamp their feet, kick, raise their feet and twist their hips with the music. There are a total of eighteen episodes in Wa Qiqi, many of which relate to the of legends on the origin and development of the Lisus. \=/

Leave flutes are a kind of instrument which is popular among some ethic groups such as Miao, Buyi, Zhuang, Hani and Lisu in central south and southwestern China. But different ethic group choose different leaves. For instance, the Zhuangs like to choose litchi leaves and longan leaves. The qiben is an ancient instrument popular in the Lisus. Its shape is a little bit like a small guitar with four strings. The strings are used to be goat gut, but now mostly are metal strings. Qiben is one of the major instruments in the Lisus. \=/

The Lisus in the Nu River are known for their antiphonal musical dialogue singing. There is a sad story about its origin. Once upon a time there was a girl named Lani who lived at the east side of the river a boy named Mami who lived at the west side. They often called each other across the Nu River when they were working in the fields. After a long contact they fell in love with each other. However, there were neither boats nor bridges connecting the two riversides. Although they sang to each other everyday to express their love to each other, they finally died of sorrow of being separated. After they died, villagers buried them at the place where they usually sang songs to each other. The second day after they were buried, a dragon bamboo grew from the two graves. The dragon bamboo grew fast and connected with each other across the river. The local people said, although Lani and Mami could not be together when they were alive, they joined together in the form of dragon bamboo when they are dead.

Lisu Swings and Bridges

Swinging is among the most popular sports and entertainment activities among the Lisu. Lisu swings are divided into "waving swings", " spinning wheel swings" and "mill swings". "Waving swings" are made of ropes or rattans fixed on a high tree branch or specially set swing frame. One or two people can play on it. In a competition the winner is the one who bites off a selected leaves or swings the highest. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

The "Spinning wheel swing" spins around like a merry-go-round and is named after the spinning wheel shape of the swing. The "spinning wheel" is made by two rectangle wood frames vertically crossed. The crossing point is crossed by an axle, which is put on a wood stick and revolves. The four sides of the frames are tied with a seat on each one. In the competition version: four people in one team sit separately on the four seats. They revolve with the " spinning wheel" around the axle and push with feet on the ground, to keep the " spinning wheel" turning. The team that does the revolutions in a fixed amount of time wins. ~

A "mill swing" is composed of an upright post and a horizontal stick and is sort of like a revolving teeter-totter. The post is 1.5 meters high. At the top of it is a little mill axle. The stick is 5-6 meters long with a hole in the middle and is put on the axle so can revolve around the axle. It is so named because the two ends move up and down like a swing and turns around like a mill. When using it, the number of persons on the two ends is equal, and they lean on the stick with their hands. The persons whose feet touch the ground pushes strongly, and the mill swing revolve quickly. The two ends move up and down in turn. The swing not only is good exercise it can also train the spirit to be courageous. ~

Bridges are vital to Lisu living along treacherous rivers like the Nu and Lancang Rivers. According to legend the idea of building a bamboo chain bridge came from a spider's web and for this reason they never kill a spider. The Lisus are good at shooting arrows. They cut the toughest and the most tensile rock-mulberry trees and made them into a huge bow which required several people to pull. They attached a long thin silk line at an arrow tail and shot the arrow to other side of the river. After the people on the other side got the thin silk lines, they dragged small ropes with the silk lines and then hauled the thick ropes with the help of the small ropes. Eventually, the first bamboo chain bridge was built. [Source: \=/]

Lisu Economy and Agriculture

The Lisu have traditionally raised opium as a cash crop. The men still smoked it in dank bamboo huts . Women sell embroidery and sometimes dance for tourists to bring in money to feed their families. In Thailand, the Lisu have successfully been persuaded to switch from growing opium to raising tea, fruit and vegetables.

The Lisu are primarily subsistence farmers. They are not known as being traders or craftsmen. Women make cloth garments and shoulder bags. They uses to make them from cotton and hemp they grew themselves but now they usually buy the cloth and decorate it. Some men and women make baskets, barrels, fans, sleeping mats and other products from wood and bamboo. Material they use for housing — wood, grasses and bamboo — they collect themselves Most trade is with Chinese merchants or opium traders. Most goods are bought from peddlers or in markets. In Thailand some earn income from the trekking and tourism industries. Some have relocated to places that are accessible to tourists.

Some Lahu practice wetland rice agriculture and raise fruit trees but most practice slash and burn agriculture and grow dry rice, millet, barley, buckwheat, vegetables, herbs, melons, pumpkins, gourds, beans, yams, sweet potatoes, sesame, chilies to eat, corn to feed to pigs, and tea, tobacco, cotton and opium as a cash crops. Pig are the primary source of meat and protein. Some times they are sold to lowland groups. Chickens are also common. They are kept for sacrifices and food. Slash and burn agricultural land is not owned and is cultivated by whoever clears it. Disputes are settled by headmen. Irrigated wet rice land is often privately owned and is inheritable.

The Lisu collect medical herbs, honey, wild mangoes, wild ginger, wild yams, bird’s eggs, bamboo shoots, pine nuts, grasshoppers and flying ants and foods and in the forest and hunt deer, wild pigs, pangolins, bear, and porcupines with crossbows, slingshots, guns, traps and snares. Some collect orchids, parakeets and parrots and sell them to lowlanders.

Lisu Hunting: Crossbows and Poisonous Arrows

The Lisu have traditionally hunted with crossbows but increasingly have switched to guns where the can get a hold of them. They are known for hunting in the mountains and the lowlands, wherever the hunting is good. Lisu hunters have great respect for the animals they hunt. In northern Myanmar they decorate their homes with skulls of monkeys and deer and other animals they have killed. The Lisu believe that by saving the skulls of their kills they will improve their luck killing that particularly species. These days many hunters are killing animals to sell rather than just eat and this putting pressure in the animal population in places that are with in the their reach

These are descriptions of the Lisu's excellent crossbow skills in Chinese historical records. According to the Ming-era “Annals of Jingtai Yunnan Pictures and Books”: "People called Lisu always carry poisonous arrows and crossbows to hunt birds and beasts." The Nanzhao Unofficial History records that "Lixie, namely Lisu, is good at shooting crossbows. They often asked their wives to carry a wood shield and walk ahead, and they shot behind and hit the shield without hurting the women." [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

The big mountains and canyons inhabited by Lisu people used to be all covered by primeval forest, and all kinds of birds and beasts lived there. As a result of living such a long time in such an environment, the industrious and brave Lisus invented and created all kinds of tools that helped them live there and learned how to deal with the dangerous animals that lived among them. Crossbows and poisonous arrows were arguably their most important tools. ~

Crossbows are a kind of bow that harnesses mechanical power for shooting. Lisu crossbows are composed of a body, board, trough, string, tooth and trigger. The board is made of rock mulberry or Qinggang (name of a place) chestnut wood— both of which are woods that are hard and springy. The sizes of different boards are different. The string has traditionally been twisted with four proper nettle threads but today is oftne made of wire. The tooth and trigger used to be made of bone. When being used, the tough and tensile string is pulled on the tooth, the arrow is put on the board and the trigger is pushed to fire the arrow. The arrow is propelled forward by the elastic force of the board and string. ~

Crossbow arrows are cut from bamboo and have an iron arrowhead. There is a triangle-shaped end wing, which is folded with the skin of bamboo to increase stability when flying. Arrows are divided into two kinds: normal ones and poisonous ones. Normal arrows usually are used in shooting flying birds, squirrels, pheasants and hares. Big and ferocious animals like tigers, bears and wild boars have traditionally been hunt with poisonous arrows. The poison is made of rhizomes of a wild plant—Heicaowu—which is hyper-toxic. It is placed in a groove in the head of the arrow. When the arrowhead is shot into an animal's body, the spreads inside the body through the blood and kills the prey animal after a certain amount of time. Skill is required to find prey animals, shoot them and then track them after they have been shot. ~

According to the Chinese government: The Lisus' crossbow and arrow seem simple, but actually many aspects of scientific theories are reflected in the choosing of shape and materials, fixing of arrowhead and design of the end wing. These also reflect the scientific ability and wisdom of the Lisus. Lisu people's strong crossbow and poisonous arrow are not only their traditional hunting tools but also used as weapons. They played great function in battles resisting the national oppression and economic exploitation of the feudal autocracy and invasion of foreigners, and protecting the border of our motherland. Nowadays, the face of the Lisu region has changed greatly. The use of crossbow as producing tool has decreased a lot, but it appears very often in many sports meetings and common entertainments.” ~

Last of the Lisu Hunters

From a Lisu village in Yunnan Province in the White Horse Snow Mountain Nature Reserve, whre golden monkeys live, PBS reported: “The Lisu hill tribe is under threat— not in numbers but in their way of life and ancient hunting traditions. As outsiders encroach upon their world, many of the Lisu have started to assimilate, adopting more of the traditions of Tibetans and Han Chinese. [Source: Frontline,, April 22, 2006 ^|^]

“With so much of their identity linked to their role as hunters, they've become pale reflections of their former selves. Yet, even without the ban, they never hunted the golden monkeys, whom they believe to be their ancestors. The tribal elders told us the legend of the young Lisu boy who gets hopelessly lost on the mountain. Soon white hair begins to grow all over his small body. His clothing rots away from exposure to the elements. The little boy is afraid to leave the mountain, as he fears the Lisu will no longer accept him. He has become a snub-nosed golden monkey. ^|^

“The Lisu now survive by collecting highly prized morel mushrooms on the mountain and honey from beehives they keep near their houses. Three pounds of the dried morel mushrooms go for nearly US$100. Lisu men also make extra money by working as rangers in the White Horse Snow Mountain Nature Reserve protecting the golden monkeys from wild dogs and poachers. ^|^

monkey and hornbill hunting trophies in Lisu house in northeast India

During our time with the Lisu, Xiaoli and I slept in a traditional log cabin that had a single shower. The shower was broken half the time, and the cabin became infested with fleas. (For some reason, the tiny insects did not bite me, but they loved Xiaoli, leaving huge, red, itchy welts all over her body.) We were happy to leave that cabin. Despite the living conditions, the Lisu village is astonishingly beautiful, with snowy mountain peaks and lush green jungle surrounding it. “ ^|^

Image Sources: Nolls China website, Joho maps, Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: 1) “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) \=/; 5), the Chinese government news site | New York Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, PBS Frontline, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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