Hand-made cross bow demonstrated by resident of The Hilltribe People of Thailand.
The Karen, Mien, Hmong, Lahu, Akha and Lisu... A 2,000 Year Journey to the Thai Payap.
Hilltribe People can trace their origin from the southern Sino-Tibetan geographical area. Though all have legends that speak of their particular tribe as being the "original people" of this area, it is more practical to think of them as part of a continuing exodus of ancient peoples out of China as far back as 2,000 years.
Their history is shrouded in myth and legend; a beginning as hazy and dim as the early morning mist that cloaks their valleys. Depending on the source of the information, most of the Hilltribesmen came from the interior of southern China. These semi-nomadic peoples moved slowly, driven by their need for new land to replace that exhausted by their slash and burn farming techniques. They eventually arrived on the northern borderlands of Thailand, called the Payap.
The gentle tribal people that occupy the lush hillsides and verdant valleys of the Payap, a section now called the Golden Triangle, have come from the south-west and south-central areas of China. All, that is, except the Karen: their origin remains one of conjecture and debate. All of the Hilltribes retain various aspects of their Chinese cultural heritage however the Karen seem to have a cultural background in common with the people of Tibet.
For the most part tribes still remain concentrated on the northern borders of Thailand but with the passage of time increased internal migration has gone as far south as Bangkok. It is now impossible to outline distinct areas of a particular tribe's district. Some places you may find all six major Hilltribes living on the same mountain side or valley.
There is a cultural tendency for the earliest tribes, like the Karen, to have ventured into Siam and lowland valleys. Other tribes, like the Hmong, moved into the more mountainous regions of the borderlands of the Payap. All of the Hilltribes have traveled vast distances to find more areas suitable for their swidden-fields (slash & burn farming techniques). These swiddens can supply enough fertile growing seasons for only a few years before villages have to move on. The Thai government is attempting to change this pattern with crop rotation.
Now living in close approximation to their Thai neighbors, the Hilltribes are in danger of being completely assimilated into the general culture; losing their heritage, self-identity and expressive artifacts, so long a part of their life. Another generation will likely see most of the Hilltribe culture vanish, like most ancient peoples, and their rich legacy a matter of history.