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Narrating Loss and Differentiation: Lahu Origin Stories on the Margins of Burma, China, and Siam

  • O'Morchoe, Frances
Publication Date
Aug 01, 2020
Kyoto University Research Information Repository


<Special issue> "Stories across Borders: Myths of Origin and Their Contestation in the Borderlands of South and Southeast Asia" edited by Monica Janowski and Erik de Maaker / This article examines variations in Lahu oral tradition across time and space in order to understand the continuities as well as changes in how people express what it means to be Lahu. By comparing stories of ethnic origins collected in Burma in the 1890s and 1930s, in Northern Thailand and Yunnan in the 1960s, in Yunnan in the 2000s, and in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) today, this article helps us to assess the influence that past political projects of ethnic classification, regional conflicts, and ongoing Lahu experiences of migration have had on Lahu people's self-identification over time. This article combines insights from the fields of borderlands history and folklore studies to understand ethnic identity and experience across the colonial-imposed borders which characterize this diverse region. In contexts varying from British and Chinese state encroachment in the late nineteenth century to the Baptist conversion experiences in the twentieth century, this comparative transnational analysis of Lahu stories helps us to understand the uneasy fit between nations and states in much of Southeast Asia today. Examining stories of the origins of ethnic divisions can thus show the influence of Southeast Asia's complex borderland politics on the self-conceptions of borderland inhabitants in this region riven by conflict and territorial disputes.

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