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Suicide among the Mla Bri hunter-gatherers of Northern Thailand


Abstract and Figures

The Mla Bri are a small group of nomadic hunter-gatherers (about 400) living in northern Thailand who since the 1990s have begun to settle in semi-permanent villages. Eugene and Mary Long are missionaries who have lived near the Mla Bri since 1982. Between 2005 and 2008, there were ve fatal suicides in this group, including four males and one female. This is apparently a new phenomenon; suicide was virtually unknown among the Mla Bri before more permanent settlements were established. Suicides and suicide attempts were usually—though not exclusively— by drink ing poison, and involved married males. Explanations given by the Mla Bri for the suicides, and suicide attempts, emphasize the role of " paluh " which functions as a form of censure. The incidents of paluh leading to suicides were often in the context of sexual jealousy, and triggered by extramarital affairs and alcohol abuse. This article discusses the " epidemic " of suicide in the context of life among the Mla Bri during the last thirty years as they were confronted with the world of modern Thailand. From a broader context, the article concludes that the 2005-2008 suicides are associated with the rapid social change the group has experienced during the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to semi-settled status.
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Journal of the Siam Society Vo l . 1 0 1 , 2 0 1 3
Suicide among the Mla Bri hunter-gatherers of Northern
Mary Long, Eugene Long, and Tony Waters
The Mla Bri are a small group of nomadic hunter-gatherers (about 400)
living in northern Thailand who since the 1990s have begun to settle in
semi-permanent villages. Eugene and Mary Long are missionaries who
have lived near the Mla Bri since 1982. Between 2005 and 2008, there
were ve fatal suicides in this group, including four males and one female.
This is apparently a new phenomenon; suicide was virtually unknown
among the Mla Bri before more permanent settlements were established.
Suicides and suicide attempts were usually—though not exclusively—
by drink ing poison, and involved married males. Explanations given by
the Mla Bri for the suicides, and suicide attempts, emphasize the role of
“paluh” which functions as a form of censure. The incidents of paluh
leading to suicides were often in the context of sexual jealousy, and
triggered by extra-marital affairs and alcohol abuse. This article discusses
the “epidemic” of suicide in the context of life among the Mla Bri during
the last thirty years as they were confronted with the world of modern
Thailand. From a broader context, the article concludes that the 2005-
2008 suicides are associated with the rapid social change the group has
experienced during the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to semi-
settled status.
The Mla Bri of northern Thailand
The Mla Bri people live in northern Thailand and in 2012 included about 400
people. There were four settlements in Phrae and Nan provinces then. There is an
unknown but smaller number in Laos. The Mla Bri speak a Mon-Khmer language.
The Mla Bri are well-known in anthropological literature because, until
recently, they engaged extensively in foraging, gathering, and hunting as the primary
means of subsistence, and as such are an outlier in a region traditionally dominated
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socially, ecologically, and politically by people tied to lowland and highland rice
cultivation. Indeed, the Mla Bri were so unusual in Southeast Asia that the Siam
Society sponsored special expeditions to nd” them in 1962-1963, and published
an issue of the Journal of the Siam Society in 1963 about their scienti c ndings
(Siam Society 1963). Mla Bri subsistence, they found, was focused on the hunting
and gathering of forest products; and most importantly, unlike other groups, the
Mla Bri were not tied to the agricultural cycle, although they did occasionally hire
themselves out as laborers to agricultural people. They were nomadic, too, typically
shifting campsites every few weeks. As is described below, this mode of subsistence
was practiced until recently, and indeed continues at some level today.
Typical Mla Bri hunting tools include spears, traps, catapult sling shots, and
occasionally a muzzle loading gun. Typical game include small mammals, reptiles,
and grubs. The Mla Bri also collect various products including honey, roots, fruits,
bamboo shoots, and other seasonal forest products. They occasionally trade forest
products to lowland farmers. They have no traditions of either sedentary horticulture
or animal husbandry when living in the jungle (see Rischel 1995:21-40; Bernatzik
1938 [1958], Nimmanhaemin 1963, and Trier 2008 for general ethnographic
descriptions). They are very skilled in the ways of the forest, and traditionally had
animistic spiritual beliefs. As with other such foraging groups, the Mla Bri had
apparently managed contact with agrarian societies in the past (see Fortier 2009:107).
A propensity of Mla Bri to suddenly disappear (at least from the perspective of
the northern Thai and Hmong with whom they had contact) earned the Mla Bri the
name “Spirits of the Yellow Leaves (Phi Thong Leuang) among the few northern
Thai with whom they interacted. This name referred to the Mla Bri tradition of living
in shelters made of green banana leaves, which were abandoned when the leaves
turned yellow after a week or two. The Mla Bri object to being called “spirits.”
Until about 1993, the Mla Bri remained nomadic, moving between sources of
food, grouping and regrouping as dispersed bands depending on food availability
and personal relationships. The Mla Bri, though, speak a Mon-Khmer language
most closely related to Htin (Rischel 1995 and 2000). There was a strong emphasis
on endogamy, despite the fact that there has long been casual contact between the
mountain-dwelling Mla Bri, and remote groups of northern Thai, Hmong, Mien,
Htin and other nearby farmers (see e.g. Bernatzik 1938, Nimmenhaemin 1963,
Rischel 1995, and Trier 2008).
The concept of Paluh
Paluh [//] might be translated as “scold” or “curse” though neither is
really adequate. Paluh re ects an important Mla Bri concept which is not only
important for understanding the suicide epidemic among the Mla Bri described in
this paper, but for understanding inter-personal relationships between Mla Bri in
general. It is a word which re ects the Mla Bri aversion to inter-personal con ict;
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indeed, conversations in Mla Bri often begin with the statement “I’m not paluhing
you, I am talking nicely.” In other words, paluh re ects something deep within the
Mla Bri cosmology and refers to both inter-personal con ict, and super-natural
power. However paluh is not the same as “cursing” which the Mla Bri cosmology
does recognize as a skill carried only by a person with special knowledge and power.
Paluh contrasts with “curse” [//]. Anyone can paluh; only certain skilled people
can curse. The Mla Bri do not believe that any living Mla Bri has the necessary
power [//] effectually to curse another person; the last Mla Bri person who
was believed to have this ability died several years ago. Outsiders, however, are
often reputed to be able to curse Mla Bri.Unlike curses, paluh is not intended to
cause death or others misfortune; while such outcomes are certainly a potential result
of paluh, they are not intended as such by the person initiating the incident. The
net result though is that potentially deleterious results probably help keep paluhing
to a minimum, since one never knows when her/ his paluhing will have serious
Paluh also applies to inter-ethnic relations. Much inter-ethnic contact between
Mla Bri and others was in the context of exploitative, short-term labor “contracts
in which the Mla Bri exchanged work in elds for food and perhaps clothing. These
contracts were often enforced with threats of violence and con ict; the Mla Bri, who
are often the victims in such confrontations, respond by disappearing into the forest.
Indeed, Mla Bri describe such con ict as beingpaluhed,” a concept which re ects
the Mla Bri need to avoid con ict and confrontation. Broadly speaking, paluh is
verbal abuse and covers a range of meanings including “to scold,” “to criticize,”
“to question,” “to accuse” and “to be angry with.” On occasion, it is tantamount to
“to curse,” though without magical overtones. Normally, Mla Bri use paluh as the
equivalent to an English verb, but depending on the context it can also be translated
as an English in nitive, gerund, or noun. In this paper, we use the Mla Bri form to
indicate the concept, and add appropriate English glosses.
Paluh and con ict avoidance
The legends of past Mla Bri who dealt with paluh are passed on and remain
a current form of social control. A brief review of how paluh functions in Mla Bri
society provides an indication of why this concept is so important to this discussion
of suicide.
Paluh enforces norms for sharing and equality among the Mla Bri; they share
food and other resources with one another in order to avoid being paluhed. They
are very careful not to offend outsiders who would paluh them. Paluh provides a
mechanism whereby those who work too hard, or not hard enough, can be made to
conform—they wish to avoid paluh.
Paluh also helps regulate domestic relationships. Adultery is often censured by
threat of paluh; this may be one reason why the offended husband is the one to leave
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the group when his wife commits adultery – he is paluhing the wife and her lover.
Babies are said to paluh with their eyes or by crying. Adults paluh by yelling at and/
or hitting family members, often other than the person with whom they are angry.
Wives may also paluh drunk husbands who, in turn, hit their wives. Traditionally,
either those who were paluhed or those who paluhed would be expected to leave
the small group to join another group, or even wander in the forest from which they
could, for a time at least, get sustenance.
As for paluh, while not strictly equivalent to murder, it is viewed as dangerous
by the Mla Bri; many misfortunes have been understood to be a result of someone’s
having been paluhed. Anyone who would cause death by paluhing would certainly
be seen as a bad person in Mla Bri society. So, even though a person who attempts/
commits suicide is assumed to be guilty of the offense for which s/he was paluhed,
the blame is shifted from suicide victim to the one who paluhed in the rst place.
In effect, as will be explained below, suicide in a modern context, is the ultimate
vindication of a person who has been paluhed, i.e. the suicide victim.
As for intentional killing, we have heard no records or stories of killing within
Mlabri groups except for one legend of a Mla Bri woman who killed her husband by
feeding him a poison tuber. The legend indicates that she murdered him so that she
could marry a different man. Certainly, though, there are many stories of outsiders
killing Mla Bri (see below).
The human ecology of Phrae and Nan
The human ecology of mountainous northern Thailand varies in terms of
economy and society. The river valleys are densely populated, and are used for
intensive wet-rice cultivation. These farming populations today speak variations of
the northern dialect of Thai, and traditionally were subject to the princes of Phrae or
Nan, and eventually to Bangkok.
The Mla Bri may predate both the Thai and other horticultural groups in the
region, as do the Htin, and Khmu, who are also perhaps relict populations of Mon
Khmer speaking groups, from whom the modern Mla Bri are probably descended
(Rischel 1995:41-54). Indeed, both linguistic and genetic analysis indicate that
modern Mla Bri are most closely related to Htin, a small remote group of highland
farmers living in Nan province, from whom it is assumed that Mla Bri split off in the
remote past (see also Rischel 2000, and for discussions of Mla Bri genetics Oota et
al 2005, Waters 2005, Xu et al 2010).
As the rural horticultural populations of northern Thai, Hmong, and others
in Phrae and Nan provinces increased rapidly during the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, the game and plants on which the Mla Bri depended became more
dif cult to nd. As this happened, individual Mla Bri apparently began to enter
into exploitative labor arrangements with Hmong and northern Thai for whom they
tended elds in exchange for rice and clothing. Such contracts were often enforced
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with threats of violence on the part of the “employers,” and since the Mla Bri were
outside the Thai justice system, they resisted such pressure by escaping deeper into
the forest to avoid paluh from the outsiders.
In this context, day labor became more important for the survival of the Mla
Bri, as traditional food sources disappeared along with the forest cover which was
cut with machetes and axes by northern Thai, Hmong and others growing upland
rice and other crops. Increased contact with horticultural people also meant that
the diseases of higher population density areas of Thailand probably became more
Since about 1993, most Mla Bri semi-permanently settled in at rst three, and
later four settlements, two in Nan province, and two in Phrae province, at the behest
of the Thai government, which was concerned about the most peripheral areas and
populations in the kingdom, and protection of forest reserves. Settlement of the Mla
Bri by the Thai government was focused on the building of schools, establishment
of health clinics, malaria eradication, electri cation, and the establishment of roads,
i.e. the means of modern state-building (see e.g. Scott 2009). Settlement also meant
extending Thai citizenship to the Mla Bri, a move which gave them standing in
the Thai courts and the formal social welfare system. By the late 1990s, mortality
rates had declined in response to improved nutrition, malaria eradication, improved
housing, and other public health measures associated with the extension/intrusion
of the modern state into the world of the Mla Bri. The Mla Bri changed from being
migratory hunter gatherers with no permanent dwelling, to living in semi-permanent
villages made of cinder blocks, wood, bamboo, and iron sheets.
Thus, by the early 2000s, Mla Bri children were routinely becoming literate,
and the better students were being sent to secondary schools. Increased opportunities
for wage labor in the cash market also meant that most Mla Bri families built semi-
permanent houses, and purchased radios and televisions. Ironically, this occurred at
a time after the rapid rural expansion of the Thai and Hmong population slowed, and
rural to urban migration in the region accelerated.
Although small in numbers and still scattered, the Mla Bri continue to maintain
their own identity, language, and culture. Children learn the Mla Bri language as their
home language, and adults use Mla Bri as the default language when interacting with
fellow Mla Bri. To date, marriage within the group is still preferred, and enforced
with threats of paluh. Indeed a video “Mla Bri” made by Danish lm-makers does
an excellent job of showing how important endogamy was to a group of young men
seeking wives in 2006 (Jansen and Sorenson 2006).
Rapid social change and the Mla Bri in Phrae and Nan, Thailand, 1980-2010
From 1980 to 2010, many changes occurred in the world of the Mla Bri,
bringing both new opportunities, as well as the formidable challenge of settling into
permanent dwellings with all that that entails.
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In the early 1980s, before the suicide epidemic described here, typical causes
of mortality among the Mla Bri included accidents, infectious diseases (malaria,
dysentery, etc.), and violence (see also Bernatzik 1938:132-134). There were no
known suicides before the period (2005-2008) discussed in this paper, although
there were occasional threats, particularly in recent years. Indeed, Bernatzik
(1938:129) reported after interviewing Mla Bri and their neighbors in 1936-1937
that suicide was unknown, and indeed “unthinkable.” The subject is not mentioned
in other ethnographic writing about the Mla Bri by Rischel (1995 and 2000) and
Trier (2008), even though both writers emphasize the role of disease, malnutrition,
accidents, and violence in Mla Bri life. Violent deaths were typically the result of
attacks by outsiders, or accidents both in the earlier periods, as well as during the
periods discussed here.1
Traditionally, so far as we can ascertain, there has been very little intra-group
violence among the Mla Bri, though they were often subject to attacks and violence
from outsiders. Intra-group violence did not seem to be common among the Mla
Bri, and was traditionally avoided by disappearing into the forest in response to
paluh. But, in recent years, as alcohol use / abuse has become more common, so has
violence. Examples are men ghting physically when they are drunk, physical abuse
of wives by drunk husbands, and wives ghting back.
Alcohol abuse plays a major role in the suicide incidents described here.
Several victims were drunk when they attempted suicide, and most had a history of
alcohol abuse. Alcohol was introduced by the Northern Thai and the Hmong, and
became widely available to the Mla Bri only during the last thirty years. When the
Longs rst met the Mla Bri in the early 1980s, there were no alcoholics and there
was only occasional drinking, a condition similar to that reported by Bernatzik
(1938:140) in the 1930s. There is no history of the Mla Bri making their own
alcohol, and even today women drink only on the rarest occasions even though
alcohol has become widely available since the 1990s. The Mla Bri, however, do
have a word for alcohol [//] that does not appear to be a loanword from
another language.
Mobility and settlement and the Mla Bri yesterday and today
Prior to 1993, there were no permanent Mla Bri settlements; until that time,
the Mla Bri lived in small family groups in between the forests where they hunted
1 Most recently, the Longs have heard of two Mla Bri who were killed by land mines near the Thai-
Lao border. They also recorded two incidents where Mla Bri children playing with guns shot and
killed other Mla Bri children. Some other known accidental deaths include an incident where two
Mla Bri were killed by a tree falling on their shelter. One Mla Bri fell from a moving bus and died
from his injuries. The Longs have recorded one incident, the details of which are a little murky,
when a sister stabbed her brother when he was drunk and disorderly. However, it is not clear if
this was an accident while trying to disarm the brother, or an intentional attack against him. He
survived the wound.
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and foraged, and the elds where they sometimes worked for Hmong and other
highland farmers. As described above, they moved frequently in order to ee
debts, interpersonal relationship con icts, death within the group, obligations to
help relatives with their debts / work, and other situations which threatened paluh.
Government relocation of the Hmong villages with which the Mla Bri were nominally
attached is also occasionally a reason for Mla Bri mobility.
2001 was an important year for the Mla Bri because not only were the rst
settlements legally established, but they were also granted legal status as Thai
citizens. This status as Thai citizens included the issuance of the Thai identity cards
which gave the Mla Bri ready access to health care, schooling, and other modern
government services.
The Mla Bri in 2012 lived in four small settlements, one each in Rong Kwang
and Song Districts of Phrae Province, and one in Wiang Sa District of Nan Province.
In 2009, the fourth settlement was established under Royal Patronage of HRH
Princess Sirindhorn in Bo Klua District of Nan Province.
Marriage and family among the Mla Bri
Marriage among the Mla Bri is, from an outside perspective, informal—there is
no formal ceremony or registry. But, to the Mla Bri, marriages are highly valued and
respected. There is a strong emphasis on marrying within the Mla Bri group itself,
and incest taboos against marrying full siblings or birth parents are important—
violating the incest or endogamy taboo is believed to be hazardous, and invites
paluh from other Mla Bri. Such restrictions make searching for a suitable spouse
dif cult, since potential partners are few in such a small population. Polygyny is
also normative, and occasionally practiced. Coupled with a high divorce rate, this means
that many of the Mla Bri share multiple kin relationships with each other. Nevertheless,
marriage with the Hmong or northern Thai is strongly discouraged, and it is believed
any such illegitimate relationship risks bringing ill fortune to the Mla Bri cosmos.
Mla Bri marry as teenagers by sharing a shelter with the new spouse with the
permission of the families concerned. Widowhood, divorce, and remarriage are
also common among the Mla Bri, and are negotiated in the context of family
relationships. Bride price and the exchange of wealth or labor service are not
typically involved.
Suicide, anomie, and rapid social change: A survey of remote
Mortality studies have been done of active horticultural foragers like the Ache
of Paraguay (see Hill and Hurtado 1996), Hiwi Hunter-Gatherers in Venezuela
(Hill, Hurtado and Walker 2006), and hunter-gatherers like the Dobe !Kung (see
e.g. Howell 1979 and Lee 1984). Such retrospective studies indicate that suicide is
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apparently rare in such groups, though rates of violent death emerging from feuding
can be very high (see also Waters 2007a:23-66).
As Howell (1979:61) reports, suicide threats did occur among the !Kung San
observed by anthropologists from 1963-1973, though she believed that no threats
were carried out. She writes that the !Kung San believe that suicide comes to the
mind of a person who is in a state of shame (dokum), and most of the threats /
attempts she reported were by women. Such studies are, of course, inherently
dif cult, requiring as they do intimate knowledge of private behavior in nomadic
populations. Nevertheless, the book-length studies of mortality and fertility among
the Ache and Dobe !Kung do not mention suicide as a signi cant cause of death.
On the other hand, Hill, Hurtado, and Walker (2006:448) reported two pre-contact,
and one post-contact suicide by men in early adulthood among the Hiwi, and one
pre-contact female suicide.2
Studies of groups which have changed rapidly from a lifestyle rooted in settled
farming to the modern world have often demonstrated elevated rates of suicide.
Indeed, the classic sociological work Suicide by Emile Durkheim was published in
1900, and identi ed clearly the correlation between the rapid movement of northern
Europe’s rural peasant masses into the industrializing cities, and elevated suicide rate.
Durkheim emphasized that this happened because the weakening of the social bonds
caused by such dislocation led to feelings of disconnectedness or “normlessness”
which he called anomie. This anomie, he wrote, re ected the breakdown of society
itself, with one result being elevated rates of suicide.
Since Durkheim wrote, thousands (or more) studies have been written
describing the role of anomie in accelerating such problems as alcoholism, family
break-up, juvenile delinquency, mental illness, illicit sexual relationships, and
the general breakdown of society which can emerge at the same time as material
conditions are improving (For earlier descriptions of such a phenomenon, see also
Znaniecki and Thomas 1918). More current discussions of this phenomenon involve
those of groups like the Native Americans (Alcantara and Gone 2007, Kirmayer
1994), Inuit, Australian Aborigines (Cantor and Neulinger 2000), native peoples of
Siberia, and many others.
Perhaps of most relevance to this study, Hmong who have moved to the United
States from refugee camps in Thailand since the 1980s have also reported elevated
rates of suicide (Xiong and Jesilow 2007). Notably, Hmong suicides often involve
alcohol abuse (similar to the Mla Bri), though unlike the Mla Bri, adolescents are often
the victims. In sum, the relationship between anomie and suicide among marginalized
2 In terms of percentages this included 3 percent of the deaths of early adult males for which
they had data, and 9 percent of the late adult pre-contact mortality. They did not indicate how
the individuals killed themselves, or how the Hiwi explained the suicides. Post contact, the total
percent was 4 percent of late adult mortality. The total Hiwi population was about 800. Similar
demographic studies have not been done of the smaller popuation of Mla Bri.
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groups who, like this small group of Mla Bri, have a sudden confrontation with the
modern world is obvious.3
Mary and Eugene Long are missionaries who moved to Ban Huay Ooy in Phrae
Province in 1982 to live near the then-nomadic Mla Bri. There they studied the Mla
Bri language, treated minor medical conditions, advocated for Mla Bri citizenship
rights in Thailand, and evangelized. They also lived brie y in Nan Province near
Mla Bri settlements there in 1997-1998.
The Longs became pro cient in the Mla Bri language, and also are uent in
the northern and central Thai dialects. They do not use translators with the Mla Bri.
Mary Long in particular kept records about individual Mla Bri, collected folk tales,
and other ethnographic data. The data with respect to suicide described here was
collected by her.
In short, the data in this paper re ects the decades of participant observation
undertaken by Mary and Eugene Long in northern Thailand. In order to provide
context for the fatal suicides which all occurred between 2005 and 2008, a number
of earlier suicide attempts are also described.
Ta bl e 1 Summary of the suicides and suicide attempts observed by the Longs
between 1984 and 2012 among the Mla Bri.
Date Name Sex Type Method Age at
time Other Marital
mid 1980’s Saay M Attempt Poison early 20’s Married
Feb 8, 1999 Kai M Attempt Gun 27 Drunk Married
Aug 6, 2000 Jam F Threat Poison early 30’s Married
Jan 14, 2001 Khit M Attempt Gun 23 Drunk Single-
Feb 12, 2001 Pui M Attempt Gun 21 Married
July 9, 2001 Tom M Threat 23 Married
July 14, 2001 Kai M Threat Poison 29 Married
June 20, 2004 Oat M Attempt Poison 20’s Drunk Married
July 19, 2004 Mouse M Attempt Poison 47 Drunk Married
Dec 12, 2005 Jim M Fatal Poison 37 Widow
Oct 6, 2006 Ploi F Fatal Poison 32 Married
Oct 19,2006 Pat M Fatal Poison 24 Drunk Married
Sept 27, 2007 Dan M Fatal Poison 18 Drunk Married
Apr 18, 2008 Lek M Fatal Poison 30’s Married
Feb 4, 2012 Mam F Attempt Shampoo 42 Married
3 As for Thailand itself, national suicide rates have ranged from 6.3 per hundred thousand to 7.1
per hundred thousand between 1988 and 2003. The most common technique among Thai suicide is
hanging; over half of all suicides in Thailand are in this manner (Lotrakul 2006:91).
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Results: Mla Bri suicide case histories, 1984-2012
Organization of the cases
In this section, the 15 cases of suicide threats, attempts, and fatalities in Mary
Long’s notes are described. The results are summarized in Table 1. This is followed
by narrative details about each case history. Pseudonyms are used to protect the
identity of suicide victims and their families. Two further incidents which describe
Mla Bri legends about self-destruction are also included.
The cases
Case History 1: Attempt
In 1984 or1985, Mary was told that Saay (a married male aged approximately
23) had eaten ant poison from the Long’s chicken coop. No motive was ever
determined for his action. Mary induced vomiting. Saay didn’t show any adverse
symptoms. His wife was very concerned that he not die lest Saay’s mother paluh
her. Saay and his wife had several children, but he eventually divorced this wife and
remarried, though he did not have any more children with his new wife. He is a high
status person in the Mla Bri village in Wiang Sa District today, in spite of a problem
with alcohol abuse.
Case History 2: Attempt
Kai, his wife Kung, and their son moved from Wiang Sa District in Nan to the
Mla Bri village in Rong Kwang District in January 1997. Kai was approximately 25,
his wife 45, and their son six.4
This was his rst marriage, and her second marriage. She had four children
from her earlier marriage; the details of her rst husband’s death are vague, but
violence has been hinted at. In August that same year, the family moved to a
newly established Mla Bri village in Nan Province, Ban Phee where the Longs
also brie y moved. The Longs left this village in response to local opposition and
withdrawal of government backing in August 1998. Kai and his family followed
them to the village in Rong Kwang District of Phrae Province. Six months later,
Kai attempted suicide.
On February 8, 1999, late at night, Kai shot himself in the stomach, below
his navel and above his pubic bone, while drunk. Another Mla Bri man, named
Pui, noti ed Eugene. Eugene took Kai to the hospital where emergency surgery
was performed, saving Kai’s life. Kai was in the ICU for ve days and was then
4 It is not uncommon for the Mla Bri to exhibit these age differences between husband and wife,
and is probably symptomatic of the dif culty this couple had nding spouses: For Kung, because
of her age and for Kai presumably because of a scarcity of young, single Mla Bri women.
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moved to a ward. He requested that his mother’s half-brother stay with him and
help with his care.
The day following the shooting, a Mla Bri woman told Mary that a dead
person’s ghost had entered Kai’s heart, and made him shoot himself. The Mla Bri
woman said it was like the Mla Bri boy who would not obey and always went into
the jungle, and a tree fell and killed him. She seemed to be inferring that Kai had
done wrong and that the self-in icted shooting was his punishment.
Another man also assured Mary that the shooting was self in icted; no other
Mla Bri had shot Kai. The man said he had never seen anything like this. He told
Eugene and Mary not to let this incident upset them.
Kai’s wife, Kung, said the shooting occurred because others were drinking
and having altercations (“paluh”). She also mentioned that Kai didn’t give his
mother any money. Again, there is an element of paluh involved in the Mla Bri
interpretation of events.
Five days after the incident, Kung told Mary that other women were accusing
her of shooting her husband. She said they “paluhed” her.
Case History 3: Threat
On August 6, 2000, Jam, who was in her 30s and lived in Rong Kwang District,
told Mary that she would kill herself with poison she had at her house. Other Mla
Bri had paluhed” her, she explained, for not sharing sh. The Hmong also had
paluhed” her about a debt she had with them. Finally, a Mla Bri baby not directly
related to Jam had died recently in the hospital and this had upset her.
Jam was always on the fringe of Mla Bri society and was not generally well
liked. One of her ve children is by her rst husband and one more is by her current
husband. The other three are considered extra-marital and she was looked down on
for this.
Case History 4: Attempt
On January 14, 2001, Khit, 23 years old, shot himself in the upper arm below
the bone with a muzzle loader. He was hospitalized and recovered.
The Longs rst met Khit when he was around 5 years old in 1983. At that time,
they heard that Khit’s father had been fatally shot by a Thai several years before,
possibly before Khit was born.
The Longs saw Khit over the years, living with relatives or immediate family,
coming and going as they foraged, and worked for Hmong or Thai farmers. As a
young adult, Khit lived in a Hmong village without other Mla Bri for a while, and
became pro cient in the Hmong language.
Khit settled in the village in Rong Kwang District in March 1996, and married
a girl named Bow. Khit and Bow had a mutual grandfather. Despite the close
relationship, which was not considered incestuous, the marriage to Bow was well
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accepted by the other Mla Bri. Indeed, she was considered a desirable choice for a
wife. But in March 2000, Khit and Bow were told by their common grandfather to
separate temporarily because he was sick, implying that their marriage was causing
the sickness.
Nevertheless, during the separation, Bow became interested in another Mla Bri
man, named Pat, and married him the following month. Bow did not get pregnant
during either marriage. Nine months later, Khit shot himself. The day of the shooting
people said that Khit was drunk and shot himself because he was upset about his
former wife. They said that he wanted to “paluh” his former wife. No one had told
him to do this. Some were afraid the police would come and take all the men away.
The following day, one of Khit’s older half sisters (same father), told Mary that Khit
shot himself because he wants Bow. Bow’s new husband said Khit could have her.
“None of us told Khit to shoot himself. If you’re upset, don’t shoot yourself,”
one said.
One of Khit’s nieces (older than Khit) told Mary that none of them had told
him to shoot himself.
Another woman, Kung (Case History 2) whose husband had shot himself said,
“It’s like my husband; he did it himself.”
The day after that, Khit’s mother was at Mary’s house. She noticed a couple of
teen girls there and turned away from them, but raised her voice and talked about her
son. The mother explained that Khit had told her that he had dreamed about his dead
father (i.e. the one who was killed) the night before the shooting. The next morning
he went to a Thai village and a Mla Bri fellow bought some whiskey which they
drank. They claimed that he did not drink very much.
She said that Khit went into his house by himself and his dead father shot him,
apparently a reference to the consequences of an earlier paluh. She claimed that Khit
had not “paluhed” about his former wife and people shouldn’t talk. The mother said
she threw the gun away and she will stay home until her son gets out of the hospital.
Khit recovered from his wounds and married a divorced woman in May 2000.
This lasted two months, until her previous husband came from another settlement to
reclaim her. Then, in February 2001, Khit married another divorced woman and they
are still married at this time (2012).
Case History 5: Attempt
The Longs rst met Pui when he was about two years old in 1983. As with other
Mla Bri, his childhood was spent moving from area to area with his parents or other
relatives working in elds for tribal or Thai people. He was clever and independent
and began to move about with other Mla Bri males while in his teens, i.e. until his
marriage at about 17 years of age in 1997. Pui and his family were working for the
Hmong in Wiang Sa. His wife’s family also lived and worked there. Pui’s parents
and some siblings lived in the Rong Kwang village after 1993.
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On February 12, 2001, Mla Bri from Rong Kwang went to the village in Wiang
Sa District to visit Pui, whom they heard had shot himself. The next day, Mary
heard Pui’s mother tell another lady that there had been jealousy and ghting (paluh)
among Mla Bri people living in Wiang Sa, provoking Pui to shoot himself.
Pui was about 21 years old at the time of this incident. He had been married
about four years and had two children.
Case History 6: Threat
On July 9, 2001, Tom and Maa were married. The Longs were told that Maa
didn’t want to marry him, but he threatened to kill himself so she married him. He
was also married to Malee at that time. Both wives were in the same shelter with
him, but slept at different ends.
Tom was 23 at that ti me. Maa and Male e were bo th 16.
Tom and Maa are still married. Malee moved out a month after the threat and
eventually married Tom’s older brother.
Case History 7: Threat
In July 2001, Kai took a second wife, June, who was 19 years old at that time.
She is a half-sibling to Kung, his rst wife (cf. Case History 2). Kung continued to
live in the same house with Kai and his new wife.
A few days after the marriage, Kung told Mary that Kai only loved his new
wife and didn’t like her. She said he had told her this and if they didn’t separate he
(Kai) would eat poison.
They separated within a month.
Case History 8: Attempt
Oat’s father was shot by Thai people (circa mid 1980s) when Oat was a child.
When he was a teen, he traveled around with other Mla Bri young males and came
to Rong Kwang where he stayed for some time.
In 1997, Oat moved to Nan to live at a newly established Mla Bri settlement
there. He was married shortly after that move. He and his wife moved back to Rong
Kwang in 1998 when the Longs left the settlement in Nan. A few years later, Oat
started drinking and was frequently drunk.
On June 20, 2004, Oat attempted to kill himself by drinking herbicide. The
Longs were alerted at midnight by his wife, her sister, and another Mla Bri lady. He
was taken to the hospital and survived. His older brother and a cousin stayed with
The Longs were told that he had come home drunk and his wife had “paluhed” him.
Case History 9: Attempt
Mouse was approximately 47 years old at the time he drank poison in 2004
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at the Mla Bri village in Rong Kwang District. Mouse’s mother died in 1980 and
his father in 1997. Mouse worked elds and moved around most of his life. He was
often drunk and displayed bold, aggressive behavior. He was abusive several times
to his wife while drunk.
He and his wife were married in 1989 but had no children. She was his fth
wife. He had three children: two from marriages, and one outside of marriage.
On July 19, 2004, Mouse drank poison. He was taken to hospital and survived.
One of his younger brothers, Cat (who according to the histories never attempted
suicide) stayed with him.
The Longs were told that he was drunk and “paluhed” that his wife had gone
to visit Mla Bri in Wiang Sa District of Nan Province.
One year after this incident, one of Mouse’s younger brothers committed
suicide by drinking poison (Case History 10). Two years after this incident, Mouse’s
wife and son both committed suicide by drinking poison (Case Histories 11 and
Case History 10: Fatal
Jim was the rst fatal suicide that we know of among the Mla Bri. This suicide
occurred in 2005.
Jim was about 12 years old when the Longs met him in 1982. His mother had
died a few years earlier. He lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle with the Mla Bri, foraging
and moving from area to area working elds from a young age. Sometimes he was
with his father: sometimes with other relatives. He had six full siblings and three half
siblings. His father died in 1997 or 1998.
Jim was married to Yao in 1986 and they remained married until her death in
2003; they changed their names when they got married, as per Mla Bri custom.5
They had several children together, perhaps as many as seven. (Yao also had two
children from other marriages.) They lived in a Mla Bri village in Nan and worked
for the Hmong tribe in that area.
The Longs received word that Yao died on December 13, 2003. Stories varied
on the circumstances surrounding her death, but included re and sickness.
After Yao’s death, Jim came to the Mla Bri village in Rong Kwang on
November 12, 2004, with three of his children. On February 2, 2005, he was said
to be married to Yaa, a widow.
On February 11, 2005, Jim was admitted to the hospital for strange behavior.
He was hearing voices and talking to people who were not there. The Longs had
observed that Jim was often drunk, and understood that his hallucinations were
5 Mla Bri naming traditions include changing names some time after formal marriage. The pre x
“Ta” is assigned to the husband, and “Ya” to the wife. The couple then selects a name which they
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On April 25, 2005, Jim returned to the Mla Bri village in Wiang Sa District
with his three children, the marriage with the widow having ended.
The Longs received word on December 12, 2005, that Jim had drunk poison
and died.
A group of Mla Bri from Rong Kwang went to Wiang Sa on December 17. The
next day, a lady told Mary that Jim had drunk poison because he was discouraged.
Others (his older brother) had “paluhed” him about something and hit him.
Case History 11: Fatal
Ploi was approximately 15 years old when she married Mouse in 1989. He was
approximately 32 years old at that time. As far as can be determined, this was her
rst marriage, but he had had at least four wives before her, and two children by two
of those wives. The wife immediately prior to Ploi was Ploi’s older half-sister.
During the time Mouse and Ploi were married, Mouse was acknowledged to
be the father of a girl by another one of Ploi’s older half sisters, and rumored to be
the father of at least one other girl by that same mother. Ploi and Mouse remained
married until her death by suicide in 2006. There were no children from their
marriage. Mouse was an alcoholic during the later years of their marriage. Ploi was
physically abused by him to the point that she needed medical attention as a result
of the abuse incidents.
On October 6, 2006, Ploi drank herbicide. Her husband was drunk and had
been “paluhing” her, accusing her of being involved with other men. She went to the
hospital but was not admitted, since the Mla Bri had not made it clear to the medical
staff that the cause of her “stomach ache” was poison. Her conditioned worsened
and she was admitted to the Phrae Provincial Hospital where she died on October
17, 2006.
A few days before her death, two women who were related to the husband said
that Ploi should not have taken the poison.
Ploi’s older half sister explained that it was Ploi’s husband’s fault that she drank
the herbicide.
On the day of her death, Ploi’s mother blamed (paluhed) the husband as did
another couple.
Another woman, Yim, (related to the husband) also said that Ploi’s mother had
scolded her family saying that they had taught Ploi to do this.
Another woman (related to the husband) scolded (“paluhed”) the husband.
About a year later, the death was brought up again. A lady, Yim, (related to
Mouse) said her son-in-law, Gem (related to Ploi) blamed her and her husband and
her daughter (married to Gem) for killing Ploi. He said they had told her to drink the
The death was referred to again a few years later. In October 2010, a lady told
Mary she wanted to leave the village because other women were saying bad things
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about her and her husband (“paluhing”). She mentioned Ploi in this context. Ploi is
the only fatal female suicide.
Case History 12: Fatal
Pat was born in December 1981 in the area of the present day Mla Bri village
in Rong Kwang District. His father was Mouse and his mother was named Yao. He
was their only child and they separated some months later with the mother taking Pat
with her. She had another child with Joe, and then married Mouse’s younger brother.
They remained married until her death.
Pat was married to Bow in 2000 and separated the following year. They had
no children. He then married to Dah and they had a daughter. He remained in this
marriage until his death.
Pat’s mother died in 2003 in Nan. His father was living in Rong Kwang and
was married to Ploi at the time of the suicide described here.
Pat, Dah and their daughter moved to Rong Kwang in June 2006. Dah’s mother
and her husband, and their children moved to Rong Kwang the following month. Pat
and his family lived with his father, Mouse, and his father’s wife, Ploi.
As described above, Pat’s father’s wife Ploi drank poison on October 6, 2006,
and died on October 17 (Case History 11).
Around October 12, 2006, Pat drank poison. He was admitted to the hospital.
On October 19, he was told that he would die in the hospital. He said he wanted to
go home and he died shortly after arriving at home.
Before he died, Jam, older half sister of Ploi, told Mary that others blamed
(“paluhed”) her for Pat drinking poison. Jam had one (or possibly more) children by
Pat’s father while he was married to Ploi.
Pat’s mother-in-law told Mary that she had seen Pat drunk and had told him he
should use his money for food but he went and drank poison. She defended herself
for saying this, and denied paluhing him.
Case History 13: Fatal
On September 27, 2007, the Longs received word that Dan had died from
drinking poison. He lived in Song District in northern Phrae Province, and worked
for Thais doing eld work. His mother, who was living in the Rong Kwang village
at the time, went and con rmed the death. The story was vague – his wife had yelled
at him (“paluhed” him) for being drunk.
Dan was about 18 years old at the time of his death. He was the oldest child of
his parents and had four siblings from their marriage. His father died in 2003 and his
mother remarried.
His mother, her husband, and their children moved to the Rong Kwang village
in July 2006. Dan came a couple of times to visit but worked in Song District where
he was in debt to Thai farmers.
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Case History 14: Fatal
On April 18, 2008, the Longs heard that Lek had died from drinking poison.
He lived in the Wiang Sa village and worked for the Hmong doing eld labor. He
was about 30 years old.
Lek was married to Nid and they had four or ve children. He had another
daughter from a marriage with Nid’s older sister. Both wives had their rst child
within a month of each other. Nid was the principal wife when the Longs met Lek in
1997. The older sister was married to another man in about 2000.
Lek was known to drink heavily.
Case History 15: Attempt
On February 4, 2012, a Mla Bri woman named Mam drank herbal shampoo.
Mam’s 16 year old daughter came to the Longs house about 8 pm and reported
the incident. She cupped her hand to show the amount of shampoo ingested. She
also remarked that her mother’s husband had accused her of being unfaithful, the
probable motivation for the attempt at suicide.
Later that same evening, Mam came to the Longs’ house. She was in great
distress: coughing, heaving, and crying. She said her throat and stomach burned. She
also said that the entire incident was of no account and should be forgotten.
Mam’s daughter-in-law and several children, including several of her own
children, were there watching Mam.
Mam was approximately 42 years old in 2012, and was in her second marriage.
Her present husband is about 26 years old. They have one daughter together.
Mam’s rst husband, with whom she had six children, died from natural
causes. She has told Mary that her rst husband was better than her present one; she
doesn’t like this one as much, she has said, and indicated that her present husband
has physically abused her.
Mam’s oldest son committed suicide by drinking poison in 2007 (Case History
13). Her brother attempted suicide in 1984-85 by eating ant poison (Case History 1).
Mam’s mother is Mouse’s older half sister.
Two legends in particular are well known among the Mla Bri and shed some
light on their understanding of suicide.
Legend/ Story I
Two Mla Bri brothers were getting a type of honey in the jungle. For some
reason they agreed to kill each other.
Their wives were digging tubers and found their dead husbands. They put
scorpions and centipedes into their sarongs.
When they got back to the shelter, the wives died also.
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Legend/ Story II
Lung Yaeng was an excellent reed pipe musician. It was unbelievable how well
he played this instrument, and his ability attracted women to him. Mla Bri women
and outside women wanted him for a husband.
Lung Yaeng had a huge boil on his foot. He came home and went to bed.
The next day he climbed a tall tree to get some honey. His relative told him not
to climb it. He didn’t listen to her, but told her that people had scolded (pahluhed)
him for not going out hunting.
He climbed the tall tree, but the boil broke open causing him to fall. The fall
killed him. His body was terribly mutilated.
Some friends noticed that it was quiet and went looking for him. They saw his
torn body and buried him.
Tabl e 2 Famil ial rela tionship s betwee n suicide victims using M ouse as ego:
Name Case Relationship to Ego Outcome Year and Place
Mouse 9 Ego Attempt 2004, Rong Kwang
Pat 12 Son Fatal 2006, Rong Kwang
Jim 10 Full sibling Fatal 2005, Wiang Sa
Kai 2,7 Half sister’s son Attempt, threat 1999, 2001,
Rong Kwang
Dan 13 Half sister’s daughter’s son Fatal 2007, Song
Saay 1 Half sister’s son Attempt 1984/1985,
Rong Kwang
Mam 15
Half sister’s daughter
(sibling of Saay; mother of
Dan; half-sister with Kai)
Attempt 2012, Rong Kwang
Using Ploi as ego:
Name Case Relationship to Ego Outcome Year and Place
Ploi 11 Ego Fatal 2006, Rong Kwang
Pui 5 Full sibling Attempt 2001, Wiang Sa
Jam 3 Half sibling Threat 2000, Rong Kwang
Khit 4 Mother’s half sibling Attempt 2001, Rong Kwang
Oat 8 Father’s brother’s son Attempt 2004, Rong Kwang
Summary of suicide threats, attempts, and fatalities
Table 1 (above) summarized the suicide incidents. As can be observed, suicides
and threats of suicides predominantly involve married males in the community, and
in recent years are typically done by using poison. The suicide epidemic began with
threats in 1999, and resulted in fatalities between 2005 and 2008. One pair of fatal
suicides (Case Histories 11 and 12) occurred within a few days of each other.
Mla Bri themselves typically related each incident to paluh in some way. There
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is also a strong association with alcohol and sexual jealousy. Notably, the strong marriage
norms of the Mla Bri also provide an important context to the suicide attempts.
Table 2 describes the relationships between the individuals described in the
text. When the couple Mouse and Ploi are used as ego, it can be seen that there are
familial relationships connecting 10 of the 15 cases described.
Discussion and Analysis
Paluh in the context of foraging and mobility in northern Thailand
Living a settled lifestyle may have an effect on the handling of disputes among
the Mla Bri, or what they call “paluh.” Paluh is a strong theme in the Mla Bri culture,
and is used by the Mla Bri to explain the suicides and attempted suicides described
here. It is believed that scolding / criticizing a person has very detrimental effects on
both parties: the one who paluhs and the one who is paluhed. People who have been
paluhed traditionally left the village as a way to make the person who “pahluhed”
them look bad.
In days before the Mla Bri settled into villages, children, spouses, almost
anyone, could leave a camping site (temporarily or long term) when offended, i.e.
providing the context (or anticipation) of paluh. When it was not feasible to move
far away, those living in a common temporary shelter would move out and live in
another shelter of the same settlement, signaling quietly that some dispute had taken
place. Dealing with paluh by physical avoidance in this fashion still happens, but it
is more dif cult as the Mla Bri settle into more permanent housing with electricity,
schools, health clinic, and so forth. In addition, the fact the Royal Thai Government
discourages the Mla Bri from returning to areas of the forest where they formerly
lived and which are now forest reserves owned by the Royal Thai Government. Such
enclosure can be viewed as either the expropriation of Mla Bri traditional rights, or
the assertion of sovereignty rights by the distant Thai government (see discussions
in Scott 2009, and Waters 2007b:175-176; 191-193; 204). Irrespective of this, the
capacity of the Mla Bri to ee in the event of paluh is restricted, which in turn puts
pressure on inter-personal relationships.
Even in the context of restricted mobility, suicide is still not an ideal in the
Mla Bri culture, but has come to function at least since settlement, as the ultimate
answer to paluh”. In a world of foraging, hunting, and gathering in which there
was no investment in elds, permanent houses, or attachment to place, so such
shifts quickly removed the possibility of inter-personal confrontation or potential for
scolding a person who might have committed an offense. In this fashion, paluh
was an effective form of social control in a society in which there were few ways to
express overt displeasure. Paluh was a signal that parties needed to separate, without
further confrontation, and was effective even if by the standards of the outside world
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the victim in an incident (e.g. the wronged spouse) was the one to leave. But this is not
possible in a world in which there are restrictions on movement from whatever source.
The centrality of paluh is an important concept informing social action
among the Mla Bri, and although it is not restricted to suicide, we do think that
suicide provides a good context for evaluating the concept. Again, ordinary Mla
Bri conversation is often prefaced by the phrase, “I am not paluh you; I’m talking
nicely.” This is particularly the case when the topic of conversation is such that it
could be easily understood as a rebuke, disagreement or even correction. No one
wants to be perceived as causing offense.
The Mouse-Ploi suicide cluster
So why were so many suicides, suicide threats, and suicide attempts focused
around the couple of Mouse and Ploi? It is not possible to explicitly answer this
question in a paper of this nature. However, the cluster is worth noting. Indeed, to a
certain extent, the cluster is probably a re ection of how closely all Mla Bri people
are related to one another in a world in which marital endogamy is highly valued,
and exogamy subject to sanction.
Still, the cluster extends to all three of the post-1993 Mla Bri settlements
discussed here. In other words, the cluster is not speci c to one small settlement
or the other; rather it extends to several areas of the broader Mla Bri society, albeit
along a single kinship group.
It is perhaps worth noting that Mouse is one of seven male siblings, one of
whom is a half-sibling and one of whom may be a half-sibling. Of these seven men,
ve are alcohol abusers (incorrigible drunks!), one is almost always sober, and one
has not been seen for many years—the problem may not be with suicide as such, but
the effects of chronic alcoholism and its side effects.
Conclusion: The problem of rapid social change and anomie
Ultimately, the most general explanation for the emergence of suicide among
the Mla Bri is a classic one found in many societies. The rapid social change of the
last thirty years as the Mla Bri stopped living in the remote forest, and took up semi-
settled life of permanent housing, schooling, medical care, electricity, television,
and the other accoutrements of modern life is deeply disorienting. As with other
such groups encountering “civilization”, this contributed to material well-being and
a healthier lifestyle, but at the same time led to a breakdown in the system of social
norms, or what Durkheim called “anomie.” As with many other groups, the effects
of this are probably elevated rates of alcoholism, marital dissolution, and the suicide
problems observed by Mary and Eugene Long, and described here.
What this paper adds to the literature is a more intimate look at how a nomadic
group like the Mla Bri has encountered the ways of the modern Thai world. The
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concept of paluh is apparently one which contributed to group dispersal, and the
re-creation of living groups in the forest. Avoidance strategies as a means to deal with
paluh meant that overt intra-group con ict was rare, and the egalitarian nature of the
community was preserved without resort to internal violence or further con ict. But
fear of paluh also meant that the norms for con ict resolution are less likely to be
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Journal of the Siam Society Vol. 101, 2013
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... Mla Bri children began attending school, a successful malaria eradication program was completed, medical services (especially prenatal and infant care) were provided, roads and transportation services established, the electrical grid extended to the new Mla Bri houses, and systematic access to markets developed. Traditional hunting and gathering activities continue, but they are restricted by access to forest areas which, besides being over-hunted, also came under the control of the Thai central government (Nimonjiya 2013, andLong, Long, andWaters 2013). ...
... Mla Bri children began attending school, a successful malaria eradication program was completed, medical services (especially prenatal and infant care) were provided, roads and transportation services established, the electrical grid extended to the new Mla Bri houses, and systematic access to markets developed. Traditional hunting and gathering activities continue, but they are restricted by access to forest areas which, besides being over-hunted, also came under the control of the Thai central government (Nimonjiya 2013, andLong, Long, andWaters 2013). ...
... It was in this context that family groups of Mla Bri began to locate more permanently near Ban Huay Hom, and by the early 2000s were building permanent housing using money saved from weaving hammocks for the export market to buy cement blocks, corrugated iron, and other building materials. In 2001, the Mla Bri were also issued Thai national identification cards, which gave them routine access to health and nutrition services at Thai government dispensaries, provided a basis for political representation, and presented children with the requirements for mandatory education under Thai law (Nimonjiya 2013, andLong, Long, andWaters 2013). ...
Full-text available
The Mla Bri of northern Thailand are a small group of hunter-gatherers who settled into settlements in the late twentieth century. One of the four places they settled was Ban Bunyuen. In 2013, a demographic survey of the settlement was undertaken. This was combined with mortality data from the last 15 years to describe the changing demgraphics, and growth of this small population.
... The Mlabri's language is grouped in the Mon-Khmer subfamily of the Austroasiatic family [12] . The Mlabri have a strong tradition of endogamy, despite the fact that there has long been casual contact between the mountain-dwelling Mlabri and other remote groups of northern Thailand [13]. ...
Objective: To investigate the impact of the endogamous marriage culture on the prevalence of the hemoglobin E (HbE) recessive variant. Methods: The prevalence of the hemoglobin E (HbE) recessive variant was determined by dot-blot hybridization in 4 endogamous villages (1 Mlabri and 3 Htin ethnic groups) in comparison with 9 other nearby non-endogamous populations. Results: Although the overall HbE prevalence in the population studied (8.44%, 33/391) was not significantly different from that of the general southeast Asian population, a high prevalence and individuals with homozygous HbE were observed in two villages, the Mlabri from Wiang Sa district and the Htin from Thung Chang district of Nan province (26.3% and 26.9%, respectively). The low HbE allelic frequency noticed in some endogamous populations suggests that not only endogamy but also other evolutionary forces, such as founder effect and HbE/β-thalassemia negative selection may have an effect on the distribution of the HbE trait. Conclusion: Our study strongly documents that cultural impact has to be considered in the extensive prevalence studies for genetic disorders in the ethnic groups of northern Thailand.
Full-text available
The Mlabri are a group of nomadic hunter-gatherers inhabiting the rural highlands of Thailand. Little is known about the origins of the Mlabri and linguistic evidence suggests that the present-day Mlabri language most likely arose from Tin, a Khmuic language in the Austro-Asiatic language family. This study aims to examine whether the genetic affinity of the Mlabri is consistent with this linguistic relationship, and to further explore the origins of this enigmatic population. We conducted a genome-wide analysis of genetic variation using more than fifty thousand single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) typed in thirteen population samples from Thailand, including the Mlabri, Htin and neighboring populations of the Northern Highlands, speaking Austro-Asiatic, Tai-Kadai and Hmong-Mien languages. The Mlabri population showed higher LD and lower haplotype diversity when compared with its neighboring populations. Both model-free and Bayesian model-based clustering analyses indicated a close genetic relationship between the Mlabri and the Htin, a group speaking a Tin language. Our results strongly suggested that the Mlabri share more recent common ancestry with the Htin. We thus provided, to our knowledge, the first genetic evidence that supports the linguistic affinity of Mlabri, and this association between linguistic and genetic classifications could reflect the same past population processes.
Full-text available
Contemporary hunter-gatherer groups are often thought to serve as models of an ancient lifestyle that was typical of human populations prior to the development of agriculture. Patterns of genetic variation in hunter-gatherer groups such as the Kung and African Pygmies are consistent with this view, as they exhibit low genetic diversity coupled with high frequencies of divergent mtDNA types not found in surrounding agricultural groups, suggesting long-term isolation and small population sizes. We report here genetic evidence concerning the origins of the Mlabri, an enigmatic hunter-gatherer group from northern Thailand. The Mlabri have no mtDNA diversity, and the genetic diversity at Y-chromosome and autosomal loci are also extraordinarily reduced in the Mlabri. Genetic, linguistic, and cultural data all suggest that the Mlabri were recently founded, 500-800 y ago, from a very small number of individuals. Moreover, the Mlabri appear to have originated from an agricultural group and then adopted a hunting-gathering subsistence mode. This example of cultural reversion from agriculture to a hunting-gathering lifestyle indicates that contemporary hunter-gatherer groups do not necessarily reflect a pre-agricultural lifestyle.
Full-text available
Extant apes experience early sexual maturity and short life spans relative to modern humans. Both of these traits and others are linked by life-history theory to mortality rates experienced at different ages by our hominin ancestors. However, currently there is a great deal of debate concerning hominin mortality profiles at different periods of evolutionary history. Observed rates and causes of mortality in modern hunter-gatherers may provide information about Upper Paleolithic mortality that can be compared to indirect evidence from the fossil record, yet little is published about causes and rates of mortality in foraging societies around the world. To our knowledge, interview-based life tables for recent hunter-gatherers are published for only four societies (Ache, Agta, Hadza, and Ju/'hoansi). Here, we present mortality data for a fifth group, the Hiwi hunter-gatherers of Venezuela. The results show comparatively high death rates among the Hiwi and highlight differences in mortality rates among hunter-gatherer societies. The high levels of conspecific violence and adult mortality in the Hiwi may better represent Paleolithic human demographics than do the lower, disease-based death rates reported in the most frequently cited forager studies.
The Ache, whose life history the authors recounts, are a small indigenous population of hunters and gatherers living in the neotropical rainforest of eastern Paraguay. This is part exemplary ethnography of the Ache and in larger part uses this population to make a signal contribution to human evolutionary ecology.
Forty contemporary South Asian societies continue to carry out hunting and gathering as their primary subsistence strategy, but who are these societies? In which ways are they similar or dissimilar? Are they like contemporary foragers in other world areas? This article reviews ethnographic research concerning contemporary South Asian foragers with a focus on subsistence, cosmologies, and social organization. Major conclusions are that evolutionary/devolutionary theories about foragers during the documented ethnographic period lack reliable data and that theories of trade between farmers and foragers ignore the paramount importance of subsistence foraging practices. Currently, theories based on interpretations of foragers' own cultural categories and standpoints constitute the most reliable ethnographic studies, and notable contributions are highlighted. Contemporary foragers themselves advocate that their best chances for cultural survival depend on state governments that maintain environmentally diverse,...
The aim of this study was to examine the characteristic features of suicides in Thailand between 1998 and 2003. Collected data during 1998-2003 from the Bureau of Policy and Strategy, Ministry of Public Health were analyzed to reveal the mortality from suicide according to age, gender, rate and methods of suicides. Suicide rates were found to have increased to a peak of 8.6 per 100 000 (5290 suicides) in 1999 and then to have decreased to 7.1 per 100 000 in 2003. The average suicide rate during 1998-2003 was 7.9 per 100 000 with a male to female ratio of 3.4:1. Male suicide reached a peak for those aged 25-29 years (21.9 per 100 000) while female suicide showed less variation with age. Hanging was the most common method used, followed by ingestion of agricultural toxic substances. Suicide was most prevalent in upper northern region where HIV infection might be related to the high prevalence. Suicide prevention program should focus on males in early adulthood, and particular measures should be conducted to reduce risk factors related to HIV infection among people in northern Thailand.
The Art of Not Being Governed
  • James Scott
Scott, James. 2010. The Art of Not Being Governed. New Haven: Yale University Press.