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North Thailand People


Tai Yuan Lady, Chiang Mai


  • There are more than 16 different ethnic groups in North Thailand. Within these there are common differences and common similarities in some cases. For example with land usage (highlanders, swidden farmers and wet rice producers), religions or mythology groups and ethnic origins.
  • Traditionally they are classified by their linguistic origins. The dominant ethnic group today are the Tai speakers, the Tai Yuan (Khon Muang), the Tai Yai (Shan), Tai Lue, Tai Khun and Tai Yong. The Tai tribes originally came from South West China.
  • The original inhabitants since the metal Ages were the Austroasians (the Austro-Asiatic speakers) and this includes, the Mon, the Lawa, the H 'tin, Kammu and Khon Pa tribes (including the Mlabri).
  • The Karen speakers came from Burma (Myanmar). The Tibeto-Burman speakers originated in Tibet and in Thailand they include, the Lisu, the Akha and the Lahu. The Haw also came from Yunnan (but with Turkic ancestors) and are Sinitic speakers. The Hmong and the Yao tribes also came from China and are Meo - Yao speakers.


Distribution of Ethnic Peoples In North Thailand

  • The Khon Muang (Tai Yuan) dominate Upper North and also reside in the provinces of Sukhothai, Tak and Uttaradit. Significant numbers of Karen, Akha. Lahu, Yao, Lisu and Hmong also reside in 6 of the Lower North provinces (well as Upper North). The Siamese Tai dominate Lower North.


Differences Apart From Language

  • Other differences apart from language differences one can make other distinguishing classifications such as religion, sedentary or non sedentary lifestyles and non political and politically hierarchically conscious communities.
  • The Tai speakers are Theravada Buddhists, live sedentary lifestyles, are politically and hierarchically conscious and are dwellers of the lowlands and live in irrigated rice farming communities.
  • The non Tai groups are non sedentary, not politically centralized nor accepting of hierarchy.
  • The Haw are Muslims, the others are animists of which the Yao also have Taoist beliefs and many Karen are Christians.