History, Language, Literature and Religion of Lisu Nationals

  • By Yoe Yar [Ma Ka Na]
  • Min Min Oo copy
    Lisu women gather as they participate in the ceremony to mark jubilee of Lisu literature in Myitkyina. Photo: Min Min Oo

Lisu nationals belong to Kachin national ethnic group, one of over one hundred national ethnic races. Mostly, they live in Kachin and Shan States whereas some are spreading into Mandalay and Sagaing Regions as well. Their original location was the high land called “Mu Ku Di,” in Mongolia since time immemorial, it was learnt. Due to the increasing amount of dwellers in the region, they moved toward different places. From Mu Ku Di they went to greener pastures—Shiparr, Lachaw, Larkyi region [now Lanchaung in China], and thence Kyidu, Koedu and Likyan regions. From there, they moved to upper part of Mekong Basin and Naw Mi in the upper part of Than Lwin River. According to the saying, “Lisu originates in Lanchaung,” they were not named Lisu yet while living in Mu Ku Di. On arrival at Lanchaung, they started to be called “Lisu.”

Lisu language
Since prior to the invention of Lisu writing, they had spoken language. Depending upon their location, spoken languages are different slightly but they know to each other.
Out of the three main speaking languages—Original Lisu Spoken Language, Lisu Naw spoken language and Silulaymei spoken language, Original Lisu spoken language is mostly used.

Lisu literature
Before the emergence of Lisu language writing Lisu nationals used to eke out their living at farming and making art crafts. So, they used to mark what they wanted to write with signs and symbols. Starting from 1906, English missionary Father JO Freiser and Kayin national Sayargyi U Ba Thaw invented Lisu language based on Roman Characters. It has 40 alphabets in all. Lisu language is being used by Lisu nationals as the Christian religious literature. And, it is used in educational and social spheres as well.

Religious Belief of Lisu
It can be found in three categories namely, Deism, Christianity and Buddhism.

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Leaders of Lisu ethnic people participate in the jubilee ceremony for Lisu literature. Photo: Min Min Oo

It was the earliest belief. Since their forefathers’ time, they worship gods/deities. They believe that there are many kinds of deities, firmly regarding that deities can lift up people, bring about good luck to its believers and they have mighty powers. If something occurs to them, they pray for them, asking for helps. Once in the past when they excessively professed deism, they greatly relied upon those governing god spirits. Numbers of nats/gods they worship are numerous.
Long long ago, they use to worship deities for generations. But, due to the arrivals of Christian missionaries they started to profess Christianity, becoming Christian believers. The first-ever Lisu nationals who converted into Christianity were U Ngwar Tar and Daw Gu Nar Du. Christianity gradually spread toward border areas in Myanmar where Lisu nationals lived, reaching Putao, Chiphwe, Sotlaw, Sumprabun, Tanai, Machanbaw and other regions. In this way, Lisu nationals converted into Christianity from Deism. But, in some places Deists and Buddhists can be found.

Some Lisu nationals profess Buddhism. Especially, these Buddhist Lisu can be seen in Mogok in Southern Shan State and in some areas in Kachin State. Some Lisu nationals entered the Buddhist Order, the monkhood. These Buddhist Lisu nationals deeply believe in Buddha’s Teachings.


Translated by
Khin Maung Oo

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