Three people in traditional dress
Lisu people in Chiang Dao

The Lisu are a Tibeto-Burman highland tribe, originally from southwest China. They can be found in China, India, Myanmar. They drifted into North Thailand from Burma [ Kengtung] and can now be found at Fang, Mae Hong Son, Sukhothai Tak, Khampaeng Phet, Phayao, Lampang and Chiang Rai. They speak a language that belongs to the Lolo branch of the Tibeto-Burman family.

Most of them are animists,  which means that they believe that all things are embodied with “spirit”, ancestor worship, and living in harmony with nature and all beings. Over time many of them have converted to Buddhism.  More recently many have become christians. Even the converts still mix their new religion with traditional animism. 

There are two scripts in use and the Chinese Department of Minorities publishes literature in both. The oldest and most widely used one is the Fraser script developed by missionaries in the 1920’s. The second script was developed by the Chinese government and is based on pinyin.

The Lisu are probably the only tribe that has cross border contacts. In 2018 there was a gathering in Mae Taeng in Thailand of Lisu people from China and from Myanmar.