The"Lu" Ethnic minority
People and their customary laws
Noi, Dec. 11 (VNA) -- Lu is an ethnos of the Tay-Thai language
group, residing largely in a number of communes of Phong Tho and
Sin Ho district of Lai Chau province. A small section of this
ethnic group lives mixedly with people of the Thai ethnic group
in Dien Bien district of Lai Chau province and Than Uyen district
of Lao Cai province. According to the 1989 statistical figures,
the Lu population stands at around 3,700.
According to researchers, most of people of this ethnos live
Chieng Mai area of Thailand, Upper Laos, Myanmar and the Sip Songpanna
of Yunan, China. They think that Lu people migrated into the
of Viet Nam between the 9th and 14th centuries together with
Thai people. That the migration took place in a long period of
and from different regions and that the "Lu" have stayed
in a vast area in Viet Nam helps maintain the diversified customs
practices of this ethnic group.
The Lu people's is a self-sufficing economy with wet rice farming
as their main production line. Since the early days, they have
some simple farming techniques such as building cannals to conduct
water into their fields, rice seedling transplantation. The
cultivation of subsidiary food crops such as maize, and industrial
plants such as cotton, groundnuts, cajeput... has diversified
agriculture. Such family sidelines as yarn spinning, loom weaving,
tailoring, embroidery... have developed fairly strongly within
The Lu people often live in small hamlets, called "ban",
embracing some 30 to 40 houses, which are made on stilts and called
"huon" with two roofs and only one door facing northwest.
Like other ethnic minority groups in the northwestern region,
Lu used to live under the domination yoke of the Thai group. They
to pay tributes and do the corvee labour for the Thai rulers.
Annually, each person of the Lu group had to do unpaid heavy work
as road construction, canal digging... for the local rulers for
to four months.
Formerly, the Lu society totally depended on the administrative
apparatus of the Thai people. The only Lu official was the hamlet
chief, called "nai ban", who was assisted by some others.
"nai ban" and his assistants were appointed by Thai
rulers or elected
by local people but approved and recognized by Thai rulers. "Nai
was tasked to urge local people to do the corvee labour and pay
tributes to rulers, settle or adjudicate cases of violating the
customary laws, property disputes and conflicts between members
hamlet community. He was also entitled to adjudge cases of fighting,
burglary, robbery, intra-lineage marriages forbidden by the customary
laws. "Nai ban" and other hamlets officials used to
through marriages in order to formulate wealthy and influential
lineages governing many hamlets.
In the traditional society of the Lu people the equality and
community elements of the rural communal regime stil existed and
exerted their impacts on life. The hamlet's public land was divided
equally to all hamlet members who helped one another in their
productive labour as well as in family affairs. Such a society
firmly built on a patriarchal institution under which the father
all powers and ran all family affairs. Property and the rights
inherit property belonged to sons only after the father passed
Women played almost no role in the social and family life.
Marriage and wedding among the Pu people have been strongly
influenced by their customs and practices. After their weddings,
grooms must stay matrilocally for three to five years, or even
years. During their matrilocality, their fathers-in-law may prolong
such duration or refuse to accept such sons-in-law.
Under their customs and practices, if a wife takes initiative
divorcing her husband, she will be fined with a buffalo; and if
husband takes initiative in divorcing his wife, he will be subject
a fine of a cow. If both sides agree to divorce, their family
shall be halved for them.
The Lu people regard the family name and given name of a person
an important factor in his/her life. The family and middle names,
which indicate gender of a person (with "ba" for the
male and "y" for
female) will be kept for life without any alterations. Children
their fathers' family names. Yet, the given name of a person often
changes after he/she goes through a serious illness or escapes
dangerous accident. To the Lu people, such change aims to "deceive"
deities so that they will refrain from punishing that person.
People of this ethnic group follow polytheims, holding that
everything has soul and human beings are surrounded with the world
deities and ghosts. They include "phi ban", "phi
muong" and "phi
huon", the supernatural forces, may affect the human life.
the violation of their customary laws by any member of the community
would hurt deities, prompting them to punish the individual violator(
causing illness, unlucky things for him or her) if minor offense
committed, or punish the entire community (by causing crop failure,
epidemics, floods, draughts, earthquakes ...) if serious offense
committed. So, worships must be held to ask for forgiveness from
deities and their support to people and the community in overcoming
difficulties and disasters.
The Lu people are convinced that human beings have many souls
will go on living when people die. To them, those who die a good
sound death (natural death without illness, death at old age...)
have their souls returning to the world of the dead; and those
an evil and bad death (of accident, death leaving bodies
incomplete...) will have their souls wandering in the world of
living, causing numerous disasters to people. The funeral is organized
solemnly to see the dead's soul off to the permanent world, not
letting it roaming about in the world of the living.
The Lu customs and practices prescribe the marriage in a strict
manner in order to protect the health of the entire community
prohibiting intra-lineal marriages. Also under such customs and
practices, the private ownership of property of people is fully
Generally speaking, the customs, practices and folk laws of
the Lu people have been strongly influenced by those of the Thai
ethnic minority group and manipulated by the Thai mandarins. However,
traces of a communal regime such as equality, mutual assistance,
are still found in the social, cultural as well as spiritual life
of the people of this ethnic group. -Viet Nam Law &