Lisu - Orientation

Identification. The Lisu are mountain swiddeners in southwest China, northeast India, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand. Because the Lisu are widely scattered among other peoples of many different ethnic groups, names tend to differ from one locality to another. The people refer to themselves as "Lisu" or by clan names.

Location. The main concentration of Lisu is in China's western Yunnan Province, between the Salween and Mekong rivers. Migration has scattered villages as far west as eastern Tirap (at the extreme northeast corner of India) and as far south as Kamphaeng Phet and Phitsunulok in Thailand.

Demography. In 1989, there were an estimated 481,000 Lisu in China, as many as 250,000 in Myanmar (there has never been a reliable census), about 18,000 in Thailand, and several hundred in India.

Linguistic Affiliation. Lisu is in the Lolo (Yi) Group of Tibeto-Burman languages, closely related to Lahu, Akha, and Yi, with many Yunnanese loanwords. Most Lisu men are fluent in several languages, especially Yunnanese, Lahu, Shan, Yuan (northern Thai-Lao), and Akha. There are scripts devised by British missionaries and by Chinese, but they are little used. Some Lisu are literate in Chinese or Thai.

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