Mlabri is a small ethnic group inhabiting in Thailand. There are less than 500 of them. Therefore, they are considered to be the smallest ethnic group in the country. But their stories are worthy of studying.
The word ‘Mlabri’ means bushmen. Sometimes they’re called ‘Yellow Leaf People’. In 1936, an Australian researcher named Dr. H. Bernatzik discovered them in Nan Province. According to the information, it’s belived that Mlabri is the same group of Yellow Leaf found by Mr.Kraisri Nimmanmintr’s expedition in 1962.
Mlabri originated from Xayaburi, Laos. Now, they live in various provinces of northern Thailand, for examples, Phrae(Muang District, Rong Kwang District, Song District) and Nan Province(Sa District). Mostly, they are found in the middle of humid areas and lands of 3,000 feet above the sea level. They usually build their houses near water resources, in order to catch aquatic animals for food easily. Their houses look like shacks with roofs sloping backwards and without supporting poles, but there will be no pallets or floors. Also, they don’t use pillows. They sleep on their ears, in order to hear weird sounds of people or animals coming toward their houses.
However, they don’t have permanent houses. They only live in their houses until the leaves used to make roofs turn into yellow colour. Then they will relocate. This is based on their superstition. From generation to generation, they have been being told that living at one place permanently will only let evil spirits haunt them. Therefore, they have to relocate every 5-10 days. After all, they should move to somewhere else to find more plentiful environment resources and food.
Mlabri people are small but strong. Most of them have dark skins. For their clothes, men wear pieces of loincloths when they go for food or necessary items. Women wear clothes like regular people. However, according to their culture, both men and women need to have their ears pierced. To pierce their ears, small sharp pieces of bamboo are required.
They make their livings out of agriculture. They know how to grow corns, rice and other plants. They raise some animals to be their food. Sometimes, they also weave hammocks. All of them live their lives simply, although many other ethnic groups are affected by civilised cultures.
Mlabri often live with their birth families. But after couples get married, they will move out on their own. In the past, they had a lot of children, about 10 per one family, as they didn’t know how to control the birth rate. All family members have their own duties. For an example, men are responsible for animal hunting while women build cottages and take care of children. Men and women are even, however. No one is advantaged.
In the past, their children weren’t educated as they all lived in forests. But, nowadays, things are different. Children go to school and get to study all necessary things. Their school is ‘Huai Hom Pattana School’, which is located in a Hmong community and 1 kilometre away from Mlabri community. After they graduate from the school, they can study in town for higher degree.
For their entertainment, they don’t have unique toys or games. But they know how to tie climbers to trees and make swings for their kids. Sometimes they make toys like other ethnic groups, for examples, bamboo gun or Gong-Gang Slingshot.
About their language, it’s a part of Austroasiatic languages, which relates to Khmu language and Mal language. They only have their own speaking language. But, about alphabets for writing, they have to use alphabets from other languages, integrating them into their own language.
Of course, Mlabri people believe in supernatural things such as ghosts and spirits. They believe that these things affect their livings. That’s why there are some rituals, just to keep these ghosts and spirits in good places.
For an example, they will worship holy spirits on full-moon nights. A part of the ritual is how they dance and chant around a group of spears. Beside, they also worship invisible things when someone is ill.
When it comes to a funeral, the body will be put on a pallet on a large tree, in order to keep the body away from wild animals. As soon as a funeral is done, villagers will relocate immediately.
If you wish to see Mlabri people, these villages in our site are expecting you.
Mlabri Baan Thawa Village in Nan province