Whither the Lisu and other ruminations

Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2005

Dear Friends:

With an extra day or so before the abbot returned to Wat Tam Wua, and some unfinished things to do needing the internet, I left for a couple of days, during which time I visited a friend

(I’ll call him “Frank”, since I didn’t ask if it was OK to speak directly of him.) living in a village with his fiance, a Lisu woman.

In Northern Thailand’s less developed hill and mountain areas live a number of “hill tribe” ethnic groups one of which is the Lisu. I thought it would be a good idea to see what was up with them, and see what Frank is doing.

We met on a bus that goes  on the winding roads between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai.

He has lived in wild places for much of his life in the US and is definitely counter culture, a 40+ year old, who has been to the Burning Man and Rainbow Family festivals, which are sort of scaled down versions of Woodstock I guess, never having been to any of those.

Anyway, he likes loose fitting natural cloth pants, and designed his own with very broad legs and wide open crotch for free movement. He says that anybody can wear them but his big market seems to be women into things like belly dancing, and artist type and gay men.

They are made out of hemp with hand woven silk, some new, and some from old hill tribe clothing that he takes apart and applies to the hemp main body.  They are quite striking.

He pays the Lisu women to hand sew them for about $10 a pair–better than most jobs except the ever present sex trade–.

He hopes to sell them for about $100 here in the US. So his mark up is much less than the big profits that sweat shop makers like Nike or Gap.

I had breakfast with him a week ago in Pai, and his 24 year old Lisu girlfriend showed up.

A lovely young lady, he is very lucky to have found her.

His view is that Lisu women are far more authentic than the materialistic Thai women, and that the Lisu culture is also more authentic. It is based on a foundation of ancestor worship and animism, which loosely put is the belief in the “aliveness” of spirits in the natural world.

Probably not too different from the ideas of other indigineous cultures.

And like many indigenous cultures worldwide, their culture’s very existence is threatened by modern civilization and its money based system.  We saw how the Native American culture was decimated over 4 centuries.  A friend told me recently that he saw a Native American man in a reservation he visited recently, wearing a T-shirt with 4 Indians with Rifles.

Emblazoned on it were the words, “Fighting Terrorism…………………….

Since 1492”

The Indians coped with their ongoing extinction by adopting new belief systems like the Ghost Dance, which they believed would make them invulnerable to the Cavalry’s bullets. Unfortunately they were dead wrong. But maybe one would hope that they did at least go to a “happy hunting ground”.

Many also gave up wholesale their native ways and adopted the ways of the White Man, though that has given them precious little respect. Especially if they, like Ward Churchill, voice opinions that hit too close to home.

Like the Native Americans, some Lisu are adopting new belief systems. One of these espouses the idea that a great god impregnated a humble earth maiden without sex.

The child of that union was born in very poor circumstances but did get predictions of a great future. The story gets vague, but then years later, the child, now grown, appeared to have great powers, got a large following, distributed free health care and free food for the poor, but got into serious trouble with the authorities for exposing a big currency scam that robbed the masses and enriched the elite. They framed him for various crimes, and he was put to death mercilessly. He appeared though, a few days later, and word is that when he reutuns again at some unspecifed time, roles will be reversed and the long suffering masses will get their fair deserts.

Given their oppression and primitive circumstances, it makes sense that the Lisu would be attracted to such a promise.

I have two views on this. My own observation is that there is a great deal of authenticity to the Lisu. Frank’s girlfriend is as lovely as you could hope for. Her father works his farm diligently, walking 3 miles to and from his farm every day, at 55 appears to be in great shape.

But I also see that the people have little prospects. Many of the prettiest eligible women marry Chinese, Japanese or Western men. That leaves the young Lisu men without wives and without even a good command of Thai, much less English, and without even a Thai passport, they are viewed by Thais like the non white detritous of American society.  The ever present television offers an unreal and unattainable world they have gotten addicted to, just like many Americans and  Thais, for that matter..

In a way I understand it. My friend Frank walked by  three young men outside a house in the village, and joked with them about their “bachelor pad”. Which I thought a pretty sorry joke, since he was taking one of the best women. They were tipsy and made some snide reply. But who could blame them?

The women over thirty age quickly, becoming fat and unatractive, many with rotted teeth or teeth blackened by chewing betel nuts that give them a kind of nicotine high.

Yet again, there was another Westerner there, a Vipassana teacher no less, married to a 40 year old LIsu woman, who sees the Lisu as enormously spiritually developed people whom he regards as his teachers.

Regarding ancestor worship, think of our Founding Fathers, who could do no wrong, even though many of them were slave traders and speculators who treated the people who fought and bled in our own Revolutionary War as chumps. Are we that much different on this holiday weekend?

This from The Daily Reckoning Website:

George Washington, who recalled not being able to pay the troops, and America’s first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, decided that the nation had to clean up the financial mess left in the wake of the continental notes. Hamilton came up with a proposal that the new federal government assume the underlying obligations of the continentals, originally backed by state governments. In 1790, Congress passed the Assumption Act, by which the federal government assumed the payment of the state debts contracted during the Revolutionary War. Under the act, formerly worthless continental currency and scrip would be “assumed” at face value by the central government.

From the time that Hamilton’s assumption plan was first suggested, the otherwise worthless continental paper had been rising in price as speculators acquired it for pennies on the dollar. As passage of the Assumption Act looked more and more likely, the value of continentals rose toward par. However, in the more remote regions of the country, many people were ignorant of this development. Taking advantage of this situation, the moneyed interests of the East Coast cities, not a few of whom were members of Congress or their relatives and business associates, sent agents into every state and county to buy up the old continental paper before large numbers of people began to understand its value. In order that as few of the continental notes as possible should be left on the table, the speculators employed couriers and relay horses to reach the most isolated areas. The result was a swindle of truly national proportions, which economic historian C.M. Ewing called “the greatest financial atrocity in our national history…The rich were made richer and the poor made poorer.” (He wrote this in 1930, as the Great Depression was beginning to unfold.)

Treasury Secretary Hamilton then proposed that the new federal government raise the revenue necessary to pay for its repurchase of the continentals at face value by levying federal excise taxes. Some of the most significant of these taxes fell on the backs of many of the very same people who had parted with the continental notes at great discount some months before. In particular among Hamilton’s proposals for raising revenue was a tax on whiskey, a staple of life along the Western frontier.

As we will see in another article, this “whiskey tax” compounded the sentiment of many people that the new federal government was simply the replacement of the British king by swindling, moneyed East Coast speculators. In today’s world, in which American taxpayers routinely part with 40-50% of their income in the form of federal, state, and local taxes, it might seem strange that the collection of a tax on whiskey would usher in a defining episode in the history of the United States of America. But absent that tax and the rebellion that it sparked, the United States of America would be a very different nation.

Byron King is a graduate of Harvard University and currently serves as an attorney in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a contribting editor to the groundbreaking free e-letter called Whiskey and Gunpowder.  

So you see that average people have been scammed for literally centuries. And money is the ultimate scam. Lisu women marry outsiders with money, since their own men cannot support them. But what of the long term effects if the male Lisu are effectively marginalized?

I think the Lisu may be the canaries in the cave. They struggle economically and culturally, but most Americans carry large debts that could drag them down too. Or with downsizing, people in the US are working harder to make less. So everywhere it is the same just on a different scale.

With the Lisu having no control at all, it is going to be extermely difficult for them to maintain their culture, unless of course, the whole system of money has a major crisis. This is not out of the realm of possibility, as the war based world economy especially the US goes deep into both monetary as well as karmic debt.

The Lisu and other indigenous people who know how to live off the land may yet have the last say in who lives in a world that runs out of oil.

Take care,


First published at www.cuke.com


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