Natural Beauty of Lisu Nationals

Lisu girls playing traditional musical instrument.  Photo: The Mirror
Lisu girls playing traditional musical instrument.  Photo: The Mirror

By Maung Maung Kyaw
Style of traditional costume of today’s Lisu females must be said to be that preceding dressing style of today’s belles. On seeing them from afar, they look like dressing a somewhat loose gown. From-waist-to-under-knee-long pajamas are sewn in vertical folds like European-style gowns. Home-woven clothing is dyed black or blue. On the fringe of the pajamas are sometimes dyed black or blue or sometimes woven with blue or black strips. Jackets they wear are long sleeved and buttoned down the front. Some well-to-do people have their clothes sewn with black and blue color mixed cloth. Fine and beautiful dressing style of Lisu girls is one of their attractions.
Over their coats, they wrap rings of flat enamel coins around their necks. On heads they wear a kind of hat with colored enamel beads fringed with miniature bells. Some girls wear big round ear rings.
Their traditional costumes make them look like strong-bodied pretty maids. Depending upon marital status, costumes are not designated in separation.
As for Lisu males, they put on pants and clothes like overcoats. Over them, they wear long and large kinds of another clothing again. Over waists, they wear a belt or something. They wear blackish turbans or leather hats.
What Lisu males usually carry are 4-ft-long sword put in a sheath, a cross bow and a bamboo case for holding arrows with them wherever they go.
The most important weapon for Lisu nationals is a cross bow used in hunting and defending themselves from dangers. It is not easy for an ordinary man to cock a cross bow. They can shoot a poison-coated arrow at an enemy from a 30-feet-far place.
They always wrap their lower parts of their legs with cloth. Ancient Lisu nationals never used to wear footwear. In the past, they were in the habit of worshipping gods.
At the time when Morse missionaries arrived at Puta-O just prior to the Second World War, they converted into Christianity.
Had a Lisu lad been fond of a Lisu maid, firstly he had to send a middle-man to the maid’s parents for betrothal. Provided that the maid’s side agreed to accept the engagement, the lad’s side must pay dowry as much as they can, to the maid’s parents.
Before marriage, the lad has to pay the dowry beforehand, to ensure the wedlock, at the time when the betrothal ceremony is held. If relatives sometimes get married, dowry is no longer needed.
When married, the bride surrounded by women on the bridegroom’s side is brought to the groom’s residence.
The day after the wedding ceremony, friends and relatives are invited to be entertained with a feast.
A few days later, the newly wedded couple has to entertain guests again at the dwelling place of the bride’s parents. Therefore, a wedding ceremony of Lisu nationals can be said to cost a lot. The bride is required to live in her spouse’s house till the time when the first-born child is delivered at her husband’s living abode.

Three Lisu women wear traditional dress.
Three Lisu women wear traditional dress.

Only after then, they have to live separately, not under the same roofs with parents from both sides. Only if, previously, parents agreed with the marriage, could the couple manage to be married, whereas now youths can get married if they love with each other.
There never used to divorce after wedlock.
In former time, there was a custom of wonder among some Lisu nationals living in the Basin of Thanlwin River [formerly called Salween]. After the wedding ceremony, the bride and her parents had to go up to a hideout on mountains to conceal themselves from the sight of the groom.
The groom must look for the bride and when found they have to spend for a night till the next morning on the mountain. Among the Lisu/Lishaw families residing Kengtung area, there is a custom of eloping with a lover, out of parent’s control, spending for one or two days there.
Later on, they can manage to get married. In fact, they have no habits of eloping with a lover, belonging to the good-natured race.
Lisu people drink their traditional liquor made from rice, which is called, “Khaung-Yay.”
The couples have the custom of sipping liquor from a cup together, between males, or females or male and female as a sign of showing close friendship, accordingly the custom is called ‘Event of Drinking Love.’ Yet, in later days the custom vanished according to the prohibition of missionaries.
One of the characteristics of Lisu is that they play a kind of stringed instrument such as mandolin.
It is called “Kyi-Phwe,” in Lisu language. Similarly, they play other musical instruments called “Moung,” which is played by biting with mouths, a long flute called “Kyway-Hlee,” and a short flute called, “Htu-Li.” While playing these musical instruments, females and males dance face to face with each other, in queue. To the accompaniment of changing music, their dancing patterns change together with changing steps.
This dance is called in Lisu, “Che-Ngo-Che.” In every occasion many Lisu nationals meet, they usually dance their traditional dance while playing “Kyi-Phwe.” Such a scene always gives us a happy feeling.

Translated by
Khin Maung Oo

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