Azama Saemee, a lady who leads a ritual 

Azama Saemee is 58 years old. She is my aunt. I really admire her spirit of being who she is! Azama divorced her husband more than 15 years ago, until now she is a widow. What amazed me about her was that she kept practicing all the Lisu traditional rituals by herself. In the Lisu culture, as far as I know, women are not allowed to do any rituals. They believed that a woman’s period would negate the sacred spirit and that the spirit does not like women to be close to them in any case.

However, Azama very often comes to my house whenever she feels sick or not feeling great. She will come for some advice or instruction from my father, who used to be a shaman. Whenever she comes, she will always bring all the offering items that would be used for the ritual she wishes to do. The purpose of the ritual is mostly to cure illness or sadness in her life. When she learns what should be done after having my father instructed her, she would go back to her place and do the ritual by herself.

To me this is very extraordinary since I have never seen a Lisu woman who could conduct rituals before and I did not believe that any Lisu woman knew the ritual language. I was very surprised at the beginning that she had been doing this for several years already. I asked my mom why it was like that, was it acceptable for the Lisu culture or Lisu society? She replied “Women who have separated from their husband are allowed to do rituals on their own, but women who still have a husband, if they do a ritual, they will shorten their husband’s life, and also the women should not perform a ritual if they have their period”.
I asked Azama why she kept practicing Lisu traditional beliefs and how she learnt about it. She replied, “I was born this way, how could I change it? I know how I feel and what I need for my life, to worship our ancestors is what I have been doing all my life. Anyway, when I was young, I learnt all these ritual languages from my father; he was a ritual leader but now he is too old to do any rituals.”

Otome Klein Hutheesing, a Dutch anthropologist

She was born Machteld Otome Louisa Klein on the 19th August 1930 in Appledorn, the Netherlands but was raised and grown in Sumatra, Indonesia where her parents were planters growing rubber and coconuts. During the WWII she was sent back to the Netherlands for her education. She graduated for her B.A., (1953) M.A. (1956) and Ph.D. (1963) in Sociology at Leiden University.

In 1969 she was married to an Indian man, Harsha Hutheesing and later moved to New York, USA for her teaching career. In 1975 she moved to Penang and worked at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and at this place where she met her partner Dr. Michael Vickery who passed away on the 29th June 2017.

In 1981 she resigned from USM and started her academic research trip in northern Thailand. The journey in the north was accompanied by her Dutch anthropologist friend who studied the Akha, Leo Alting von Geusau. They went up to a Lisu village led by her Akha woman friend, Asue Hobday where she was introduced to a Lisu family and since then she conducted her research about the Lisu in this village, Doi Laan, Chiang Rai province.

In 1990 her study about the Lisu was published “Emerging Sexual Inequality among the Lisu of Northern Thailand: The Waning of Dog and Elephant Repute” was the title of her book. And in 2017 her book was translated into Thai language by a Thai researcher, Thawit Jatuworapruk.

 ชื่อโดยกำเนิดคือ Machteld Otome Louisa Klein เกิดเมื่อวันที่ 19 สิงหาคม 2473 ในเมืองอาเพลโดร์น (Appledorn) ประเทศเนเธอร์แลนด์ ได้รับการเลี้ยงดูและเติบโตในเกาะสุมาตรา ประเทศอินโดนีเซีย ซึ่งเป็นประเทศที่ครอบครัวของท่านทำธุรกิจปลูกยางพาราและมะพร้าว ช่วงสงครามโลกครั้งที่สอง โอโตเมได้เดินทางกลับไปที่ประเทศเนเธอร์แลนด์เพื่อเข้ารับการศึกษา โดยจบการศึกษาระดับปริญญาตรี (2496) ปริญญาโท (2499) และปริญญาเอก (2506) ในสาขาวิชาสังคมวิทยา ณ มหาวิทยาลัยไลเดน

พ.ศ. 2512 ได้แต่งงานกับ Harsha Hutheesing (ฮาชา ฮัทธิซิง) และได้ย้ายไปที่เมืองนิวยอร์ก ประเทศสหรัฐอเมริกาเพื่อสอนหนังสือ ต่อมา พ.ศ. 2518 ได้ย้ายไปที่เมืองปีนัง ประเทศมาเลเซีย และสอนหนังสือที่มหาวิทยาลัย  Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) ณ มหาวิทยาลัยแห่งนี้ทำให้ท่านได้พบกับคู่ชีวิต คือ Dr. Michael Vickery (ดร. ไมเคิล วิกเคอรี)

พ.ศ. 2524 ได้ลาออกจาก Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) และเริ่มทำงานวิจัยวิชาการในภาคเหนือของประเทศไทย การเดินทางในครั้งนั้น ได้มีเพื่อนชาวดัตซ์คือคุณ Leo Alting von Geusau นักมานุษยวิทยาที่ศึกษาชาวอาข่าได้ร่วมเดินทางด้วย ทั้งสองคนได้เดินทางไปยังหมู่บ้านลีซูโดยมีเพื่อนชาวอาข่าคือคุณ Asue Hobday (อาซือ ฮอบ์เดย์) ที่คอยอำนวยความสะดวกและได้แนะนำให้รู้จักกับครอบครัวชาวลีซู

จากนั้นเป็นต้นมาท่านได้เริ่มศึกษาเกี่ยวกับชาวลีซู ณ  บ้านดอยล้าน อำเภอแม่สรวย จังหวัดเชียงราย พ.ศ. 2533 งานศึกษาของท่านเกี่ยวกับลีซูได้รับการตีพิมพ์ โดยมีชื่อหนังสือว่า “Emerging Sexual Inequality among the Lisu of Northern Thailand: The Waning of Dog and Elephant Repute”  หนังสือดังกล่าวได้ถูกแปลเป็นภาษาไทย ในปี  2560 โดย ทวิช จตุวรพฤกษ์ ในชื่อภาษาไทยคือ “บ่อเกิดความไม่เสมอภาคทางเพศของชนเผ่าลีซูประเทศไทย : สุนัขตกอับ กิตติศัพท์ของช้าง 

Her opinion about Lisu people 

 “I was in the village when the first Thai police arrived in Doi Laan to eradicate the opium. It was terrifying. The soldiers marched in with guns and torches to burn the fields. This event marked the beginning of their problems”. (The Nation, December 9, 1989).

“After a meager year when all that the people of Doi Laan had to sell was a little bit of corn, they began planting cabbages and other vegetables. Eventually some of the Christian households in the village, who had had contact with people in the lowlands, introduced tomatoes. The 1984/185 harvest season was very profitable. The villagers had been very skilled at growing the fragile plants and they were able to obtain B11 per kilo”. (The Nation, December 9, 1989).

“Because there was one lovely, grayish limping dog and because that was the first time i became entranced with the singing of a Lisu man and woman”. (The Star, April 23, 1994).

“It was then that I decided to study the Lisu women because they haven’t been studied much. I wanted to see how the elimination of opium production had degraded the social levels of the Lisu”. (The Star, April 23, 1994).

“The Lisu are essentially conservationists. They can only honour their territorial guardian spirits while working within the cycles of nature”. (The Nation, December 9, 1989).

“It was love at first sight. What attracted me was their way of life, reflected in their rich culture and handicraft.” (New Straits Times, November 16, 1989).

“In the past, Lisu women  had an equal say in the distribution of wealth-the men sold opium to the traders and the women got to keep the money. They were, in fact, financial controllers of the society. But with exposure to mainstream society and stricter drug laws, the Lisu men have begun to head for the lowlands to sell opium, thus depriving the women of their economic power” (New Straits Times, November 16, 1989).

“In Lisu mythology, a dog represents a man. It symbolizes courage and a man going’s outgoing nature, whereas the elephant represents the woman, and it exemplifies shyness.”. (New Straits Times, November 16, 1989).

“Liquor is offered to appease the spirits and it is also served to the guests at the door before they come in as a welcome gesture”. (The Star, March 12, 1994).

“You can never talk about these things (sex & childbirth) with a woman when a brother, a father or a cousin is present because it is considered as ‘shy-making’. So, it is better to sit with a group of women and ask them if they have heard of AIDS and if they know that men shouldn’t visit prostitutes “. (The Star, May 28, 1994).

“The elder women would tell young married girls that it is good for the baby if the mother has frequent sex as it is believed the body is built with each drop of semen. In the old days, men acquired status and honour for procreating many children, but now when they are asked why they visit a prostitute, they will invariably answer, ‘Because it makes us feel strong and good’.” (The Star, May 28, 1994).

“Truck owners who scan the northern hills in search of crops to be sold in Chiang Mai, inevitably also urge the young women to see the city lights, eventually giving them a taste of how to seek better fortunes”. (The Star, May 28, 1994).

“But methods of instruction (disease, infection and sex) must be done in households, during walks to the fields or while sitting in a truck going to town and not on school grounds or official community halls. Informal methods which do not have the appearance of teaching or preaching will show greater promise”. (The Star, May 28, 1994)












Ayama, a lady who made a beautiful Lisu handicraft called ears of the Lisu shoulder bag

Ayama Saeju is my close relatives because she is my grandfather’s sister and she married with a man who was from the Saeju clan. Ayama is about 80 years old. Currently she owns one small land to plant rice and corn for subsistence. She told me her life story and I wish to share her life of being a single Lisu woman amid all the endless troubles in her life.

“I have eight children altogether. My husband died almost 20 years ago. Three of my sons also died; one got murdered and another two died from suffering HIV. The rest of my children are taking care of me except the youngest one, he is the youngest son. A few years ago, he became addicted to amphetamine. He has persecuted me most of the time since then. I haven’t eaten my own rice, not even one grain, which I have harvested last year. I got altogether 10 sacks and he sold it all to other people. The chickens I raised, small or big, he killed them all. My house and my altar to worship my own ancestors were also destroyed. He chopped up all the windows and doors into pieces. I had to cover them temporarily by taking small pieces of wood or bamboo to fill in the damaged spots.

A few months ago, some villagers informed the police about his behavior, he got extremely upset about it and he tried to kill me. I was very afraid and I went to see your father. I asked him to help me and if I could hide myself at your house. My son knew that I had gone there, so he went to your house but did nothing because your father was there too, so he stayed outside. He shouted at me saying he wanted to kill me because I had told the police about his case. He asked me to come out but I didn’t. Later, your father went outside to see him and asked him to go back home but he didn’t, so your father took out a weapon and said to him to leave before he lost his temper. My son knows well what your father is like, so he was gone after that. He is working in town at the moment and I don’t think he would dare to come back. However, since my son destroyed my ancestor altars, I have no idea what else could be done about the altar. I kept putting them back and he just destroyed them over and over. I am no longer an animist because of my son. I am a Christian now.

Regarding “ears” of the Lisu shoulder bag, I have always known how to make them. I have been doing it since I was young. But of course, nobody does this kind of work nowadays; everybody says it is a waste of time because so much time and effort are needed. Anyway, even if they don’t do it, they still have other choices to make a living, like working in the fields, but I don’t because my youngest son sold all the land I used to have for my own farming. I have Otome (a foreign anthropologist) helping me sometimes with some money from HIV charity. I also receive a little money from my daughter”