Sunday, September 22, 2019

Overview of the Costumes of the lesser known Sino-Tibetan peoples part 2: Achang, Jingpo, Lisu, Lahu and Jinuo

Hello all, 
Today I will continue my short survey of the costumes of some of the lesser known Sino-Tibetan speaking peoples. I will restrict my article to those groups which are officially recognized by the governments in the area, as there are too many small groups to deal with in a reasonable time. 

Burmish Group

This branch of the language family includes Bamar, the language of the ethnic majority in Myanmar, but also includes other smaller peoples. 


 The Achang are a small people numbering about 27,700. They live mostly in Yunnan, and extend a small distance into Kachin State in Myanmar. They live in around Dehong, and are in close proximity to Bai, Dehong Dai, Jingpo, and other peoples in this area. Chinese records show that they have been in this area since at least the 12th cent. Costumes vary by village and grouping. The image at the head of the article is of some Achang girls. Married women wear tall headdresses. Here is a map of their distribution in Yunnan. 

And here is an enlarged map showing their distribution in Myanmar. This map is magnified compared to the first one, and shows the area immediately adjacent to the group shown on the border, forming one contiguous region.

Here is a map of the immediate region showing the other peoples which reside in the area. The Achang are in pale lime green, labeled either Achang or 5. The dark green to the north repesents the Jingpo, the olive green to the west the Bamar, the slate blue to the south the Shan, and the paler olive to the east the Han Chinese.



These long knives are an important accessory for Achang men.




The Jingpo inhabit a large area of Kachin State in Myanmar, and extend only a small distance into Yunnan, in Dehong county near the Achang. They also extend slightly into India on the west side of Kachin State.
In Myanmar they are often called Kachin, but this term applies equally to the Rawang, Lisu, and other groups which also inhabit Kachin State. The costume of the Jingpo is characterized by large silver ornaments on a black top, and a wraparound tube skirt which is usually red and has many symbolic woven in designs.

Here is a map showing the distribution of the Jingpo. They are shown in dark green in the center of the map, south of the Rawang, and bordered by the Bamar on the north, west, and south. In Yunnan their enclaves are indicated by the numbers 3 and 6, referring to some of their subgroups.

 Here we see some shamans in traditional ceremonial attire.

This couple is from the Burmese side, as is shown by the man wearing a sarong rather than pants.

Here we see a processional dance from a festival in Yunnan.

These men are wearing ceremonial outfits influenced both by the Rawang and western military uniforms.


Loloish Branch

These languages are spoken by the Yi people, previously sometimes called Lolo; and their relatives. The center of this branch is in Yunnan and has also spread to surrounding areas.


The Lisu number roughly 1.5 million people, but are scattered over a very wide area. Their homeland is in Yunnan along and also across the border with Kachin State in Myanmar, but they are also found in enclaves to the west, near India, in the east, both in Yunnan and Sichuan, and to the south, in Shan State, and in scattered pockets near the eastern border of Myanmar, as far south as the hills of northern Thailand. In the main pocket of their distribution the costume is of mostly plain linen, but the people who live in the separate enclaves wear more colorful costumes. The Lisu have a reputation as being very competative, and trying to outdo everyone else.
I was unable to find a clear map showing the full distribution of the Lisu people. Here is one in which I tinted the pockets of Lisu in a bright yellow The duskier yellow shows the Vo or Wa people. 

If you wish, you may peruse the original map, in which the Lisu are shown in one of the shades of middle green.

In fact, not all of the Lisu enclaves are shown in the above map. Here is a more detailed map of their distribution in Yunnan. They are also found in some pockets in Sichuan. The Lisu are shown in this map by gray.

I will present four variants of the Lisu Costume.

1 Nujiang

This family is from the Nujiang district, which lies in the upper reaches of the Salween and Mekong rivers, in the largest area of Lisu settlement. This group is often called the 'Wild Lisu' by the Chinese because of their resistance to assimilation. Here is the location of Nujiang. 

Here are some more images of this costume. 

This costume is also found over the border in Kachin State in Myanmar. Here are some representatives from Kachin. In the first image, the Lisu girl is on the left. In the second, the girl in the bow is Lisu, behind her is a Rawang man, then a JIngpo girl, then a Lisu man. They are wearing this costume. 

2 Dechang County, Sichuan. 

This group lives east and a little north of any of the other Lisu.

This image is of a bridal procession.

 Here you can see some older married women.

3. Costume of Myitkyina and Longchuang areas.

This area lies to the south of Nujiang, around Longchuang, Yunnan, which forms a sort of bight in the border, and over the border in Myanmar in the Myitkyina area. These images are from Yunnan.

These images are from across  the border in Myitkyina area, Myanmar.

This woman is from around Bhamo, between Myitkyina and the Yunnan border.

This girl is from Laukkaing, further south along the Myanmar - Yunnan border.

4 Lisu of the Thai Myanmar border region.

This costume is found in the Lisu settlements in the hills of northern Chiang Mai, Thailand, and also across the border in southern Shan State, Myanmar. This costume is characterized by many colorful appliqued strips of cloth on the shoulders and many rich silver ornaments. These images are from both sides of the border.

This young man is wearing the traditional courting turban for festive occasions. The young men above are actually wearing commercially made towels on their heads. This is becoming a distressingly common practice.


The Lahu are part of the southern branch of the Loloish Language Branch. They live in Southwestern Yunnan, and also over the border in Shan State, Myanmar,  and northern Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. They number about 1 million people. They are sometimes called Mussur, or Hunters. There seem to be two major costume types, tube skirt and short top, fjor more normal occasions, and costume with the long coat, which is more formal. The long coat is open on the sides and typically has bands of patchwork along both sides of the openings. Some form of the long coat was also previously worn by other groups, but they have mostly given them up. There is great variety in ornamentation of the costumes.

Here is a map of the territory of the Lahu people. This map omits the Lahu in Vietnam.

Here is a map showing the Lahu together with the surrounding peoples. I have highlighted the Lahu in this map with a purple-pink color.

The above is a portrait of a Lahu family in Yunnan. The following images are also from Yunnan. 


Here are some images of Lahu outside of China, in Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.

An older form of the long coat had a central front opening.


The following images are from Vietnam.


Also called Jinuo. There are about 28,000 Jino people. They live in southern Yunnan and speak a couple different south Loloish languages. The costume is characterized by a peaked hood worn by the women, which is also worn by some Hani groups, to which the Jino are related.

The Jino inhabit one small region near Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan. They are not found outside of China. 

As this people is so small, there is not a great deal of variety in the costume, which basically has only one type. 

 Here we can see that the Jinuo, like many of the peoples of Southeast Asia, do a bamboo dance. 

An English Language documentary about the Jino People.

That is enough for one article. I will continue this series.

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative. 

Roman  K


Source Material:

Source material:
China Travel and Tourism Press, 'Ethnic Festivals and Costumes of Sichuan', 2004
China Travel and Tourism Press, 'Ethnic Festivals and Costumes of Yunnan', 
Deng Qiyao et al, 'The Folk Arts of Yunnan Ethnics', 
Bernard Formoso, 'Costumes du Yunnan', Nanterre, 2013
Shan Ren et al, 'The Cream of Yunling - A Photo Odyssey of Yunnan Ethnic Groups', Kunming, 1998
Paul and Elaine Lewis, 'Peoples of the Golden Triangle' New York, 1984
Richard K Diran, 'The Vanishing Tribes of Burma', New York, 1981
Margaret Campbell et al, 'From the Hands of the Hills', Hong Kong, 1978