Friday, March 20, 2015

Lue Lai Kham museum – Si Donchai

The ‘Lue’ people (Tai Lue, Lü) are a Tai-Kadai language family branch [1].  For disambiguation, “Tai” usually refers to the folk’s ethnicity, while, written with an “h”, “Thai” is linked to a nationality, to citizen of the country formerly called Siam.

For nationalistic reasons, Phibunsongkhram’s government, in 1939, changed the name of the country, highlighting its ambition to incorporate parts of Cambodia, Laos and Burma, in a Pan-Tai conglomerate [2].

The known origin of the Tai people is Southern China [3], from were, over hundreds of years, they migrated down the Chao Phraya plain (establishing Siam), founding Lanna, and settling in Burma, Vietnam and Laos.

The Tai Lue, a subgroup of this ethnic family, have a well-documented history [4]. Their origin is in Yunnan, a region they call “Sipsong Panna” (twelve administrations), locate on both shores of the Mekong river. One faction established a principality in Xieng Kaeng [4] and, in 1885, moved its centre to Muang Sing. In 1904 the region was split into three parts by the colonial forces. England got the western Mekong side (attached to Burma), China got Yunnan (who became the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture) and France got Muang Sing, which they attached to Laos.

Centuries ago, Sipsong Panna had been invaded, several times, by Lanna kings, who dragged away large Lue populations and settled them, notably in the Nan region. Later on, attracted by opportunities or pushed by unrests, families of this ethnic group, also migrated to other regions in Northern Thailand. Three of their settlements can be visited nowadays, just around Chiang Khong: Huay Meng (Route 1129) and Haad Bai (Route 4007) are located north and Sri Donchai (Route 1020) is situated south.

Lue communities have managed to keep cultural features alive and, while most celebrations are similar to other Tai groups, they are particularly skilled in cotton weavings. Looms are still found in many households, fabrics being produced for their own usage. Some villages have small centres or shops showcasing the production process.

Tai Lue textiles are valuable handicraft pieces.  Recently, Ajarn Suriya Vongchai, a local collector, has opened a museum to display his artefacts selection, comprising intriguing weavings and daily life's utensils. The wooden building hosting the show and the small coffee shop overlooking the rice fields are themselves attractive constructions.

Ajarn Suriya Vongchai, a teacher and collector, himself of Tai Lue origin:

Large panels, displaying information (in Thai and English), mostly taken from
Professor Songsak Prangwatanakun’s enticing book «Cultural Heritage of Tai Lue Textiles » [5], provide an easy historical overview.

The museum’s official opening should be in October 2015. It is, however, already possible to visit the place by appointment or, being lucky, meeting Ajarn Suriya on site.

Cultural shows are organised on the compound featuring traditional dances and costumes.

Kinaree bird and sword dances:



Lue Lai Kham (means precious Lue textiles 


[4] Chronicle of Sipsong Panna
Liew-Herres, Grabowsky, Wichasin
Mekong Press, Chiangmai, 2012

Chronicle of Chiang Khaeng
A Tai Lü Principality of the Upper Mekong
Volker Grabowsky & Renoo Wichasin
Silkworm Books, Chiangmai, 2008

[5] Cultural Heritage of Tai Lue Textiles
Songsak Prangwatanakun
Chiangmai University, August 2008


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home