Lahu - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Lahu worship a variety of gods and spirits. The most important god is Exia, creator of the universe and mankind, who determines the good or bad fortunes of people. Exia is located in sacred places deep in the mountain forests, unapproachable by non-Lahu. They also worship the gods of earth, storms, and other natural phenomena and make offerings to them. Upright poles carved with geometric designs play a part in the ceremonies. Buddhist monks from Dali in the early Qing dynasty introduced Mahayana Buddhism. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, some of the Lahu converted to Catholicism and to Protestantism introduced by Western missionaries.

Arts. The Lahu have a rich and distinctive musical tradition, which includes antiphonal songs and playing of the reed organ, flute, and three-string guitar. There are some forty traditional dances, some restricted in performance to one sex.

Medicine. The Lahu believe that evil spirits cause diseases and epidemics and that curing requires the use of ritual and magic to dispel the evil. Wild medicinal herbs are used to treat physical ailments.

Death and Afterlife. The Lahu cremate their dead. During the funeral, the mourners are led to the village cremation ground by women, who carry on their backs the articles used by the deceased during his or her lifetime. In some areas, the Lahu give the dead earth burial; they pile the grave with stones. The entire village stops work to observe mourning on the burial day.

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