There may be up to 20 different hill tribes in Thailand whose total population is about 550,000. The dominant tribes are:
The largest of the minority groups, approximately 300,000, many of the Karen were converted to Christianity by the missionaries but some tribes still practice animism or Buddhism. They wear woven V-neck tunics and turbans. Unmarried women wear distinctive long white V-neck tunics. There are three main sub-groups within the Karen: White Karen (Sgaw), Black Karen (Pgo) and Red Karen (Kayah). Origin: Burma.
The Hmong have a population of approximately 124,000. This second-largest hill tribe group is best known for their intricate embroidery. The Hmong are sub-divided into White Hmong and Green Hmong. The women wear heavily embroidered, very tightly pleated skirts while the men wear baggy black pants with various levels of bright embroidery along the cuffs and seams. Origin: Yunnan, China.
The Lahu have a population of approximately 73,000. They are concentrated near the Burmese border and have five sub-groupings: Red Lahu, Yellow Lahu, Black Lahu, White Lahu and Lahu Sheleh. The women wear very distinctive black and red jackets and skirts and the men wear baggy green or blue pants. They have a reputation as excellent hunters. Origin: Yunnan, China and Burma.
With a population of approximately 50,000, the Akha still resist assimilation into mainstream Thai culture but they have a very unique and rich oral literature tradition, in which they can recite their ancestors back numerous generations. The women wear very plain indigo died shirts, which are in turn adorned with all kinds of eye-catching paraphernalia, such as coins, beads, shells, etc. The women are also very visible by their ornate headdress adorned with silver. Origin: Tibet and Burma.
They are distant linguistic relatives of the Hmong. Many of the older Mien can still write Chinese. Their population is about 40,000. The women are known for the long black jackets that are adorned with pom-pom like red trim. They are skilled embroiderers and silversmiths. Origin: Central China.
The Lisu women are distinguished by their brightly coloured tunics, worn over long pants. Some of the older generation continue to wear tusselled turbans on their heads. Their population is about 28,000. Origin: Yunnan and Tibet.
The Paduang are a sub-group of the Shan. They have always occupied the areas of Northwest Thailand and the Shan states of Burma but their population is so marginal. The Shan speak a dialect similar to Thai. The Paduang have a tradition of beautifying women by adding brass rings to their necks. Origin: Thailand and Burma. (ANN/ AsiaNews)