Holidays in Burma: Meet the Lisu
Lisu Village, Burma. Photo courtesy of S Berry
If you’re heading to the Burmese Himalaya on our Mount Phongun Trek, there’s a lot to look forward to – the lush jungles full of wonderful flora and fauna, the sense of treading where few other travellers have gone, and the majestic summit of Phongun Razi are all experiences to treasure. One of the highlights of holidays in Burma, wherever you go, is the chance to meet members of its diverse cultural groups. The northern mountains are no exception - whilst trekking in this region, you are likely to meet people from the many ethnic groups including the Lisu.
The Lisu are a Tibeto-Burman group, with populations spread across several countries, including China, Thailand and Burma. They have their own distinct language and culture that shares some elements with Burmese and Tibetan, and a number of other of the region’s minority cultures. Lisu villages usually consist of bamboo houses and are situated near water and arable land as traditionally they are rice farmers; you may pass Lisu workers tending their paddy fields as you trek by.
If you visit a Lisu village during your holidays in Burma, you may notice a sacred grove – to be found at the top of the village – dedicated to the sky spirit, who receives offerings in exchange for protection and good fortune. Most Lisu groups practise a form of animism, with elements of ancestor worship, although in Burma there are a number of Christian villages as well.
Although there are notable differences between individual Lisu clans and villages, they have many more elements in common, including their colourful dress, lively festivals and folk traditions. Many clans record their history in songs that have been passed down over so many generations that they can now take a whole night to sing in full. As many villages also have their own distinct traditions and stories, travellers lucky enough to receive Lisu hospitality can take the opportunity to learn more about them – just remember that you are a guest, and proceed with due respect for your hosts.