Lahu - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Maize, buckwheat, and dry upland rice are the staples. More recently paddy rice has been adopted in some areas. Generally, the Lahu practice slash-and-burn farming and harvest one crop a year on each field. In addition to staple grains, the Lahu grow beans, garlic, cucumbers, squash, and various greens. Tea, tobacco, and sisal are cash crops. Gathering of wild foods and medicinal plants continues, as does hunting with the crossbow or firelock for deer and other woodland game. Pigs and chickens are the most common domestic animals. The Lahu also practice apiculture. Few families have horses or oxen, and until the 1950s, Lahu agricultural technology lagged behind that of the Dai or Han.

Industrial Arts. Handicrafts include blacksmithing, weaving, appliqué design, and bamboo work. Few of these products are for market sale. Barter was the preferred form of trade until recent decades.

Division of Labor. Hunting, clearing the bush and preparing fields, smithing, and bamboo work are male activities. Women do most of the agricultural work, and women also are responsible for gathering activities, weaving cloth, tailoring, and decorating clothing for the household.

Land Tenure. Lahu class land in three categories. Paddy fields are the most precious, and utilization rights are closely tied to ownership. Dry fields come second in value, and there is much flexibility in transfer of use rights. Waste lands are free to all members of the village community who are willing to clear and cultivate them. In some areas, prior to 1949, landownership and control of usage of the paddy fields and dry fields belonged to Han landlords or the local Dai rulers. Households or village communities had to pay as much as 50 percent of the crop and various kinds of tribute as rental. Land reform took place in most of the Lahu areas in 1952, ending the feudal system and/or restoring the village communal system or household control over land use.

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