Saturday, May 30, 2009

Yao Hill Tribe People

The Yao people are found in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and China. They are believed to have originated in China and migrated south. Migrations were centered around the opium trade in the 1800's and 1900's as well as the Mien peoples support of the CIA's secret war in Laos.

Today after the heavy suppression of the opium trade by Thai authorities in the late 20th century, the Yao cultivate rice, corn, cabbages, other vegetables and fruit.

Today there are approximately 55,000 Yao living in Thailand.

The Yao people are well known for being the businessmen of the Hill Tribe peoples. They are peaceful and skillful at resolving conflicts. These skills have assisted them greatly in assimilating into Thailand.

Yao women are well known for their needlepoint and embroidery skills. They install the cross stitching from the backside of the cloth as opposed to the customary front side by Westerners. Sales of their handicrafts supplements family income greatly.




Many older Yao women shave their eyebrows as it is the traditional practice. It is also traditional that Yao women shave their bodies but I am unable to confirm if the practice continues - and I am not interested in confirming either.

Yao women wear very distinctive clothing. They wear a large black turban on their head which is sometimes adorned with silver decorations. Yao men are skilled silversmiths so it is not surprising that silver ornaments would be worn.


The women wear a long dark blue or black jacket that is trimmed with thick deeply red boa on the lapels. They wear loose pants that often have intricate needlepoint designs on them.



These women are very skillful embroiders and adept at needlepoint. Their village was filled with booths selling Yao handicrafts.

The textile art was very pretty and well crafted. It was difficult to resist buying all that you wanted. I actually ran out of cash and was forced to stop. There were not any ATM machines in the village and I suggested that they make arrangements for some to be installed.

I told them that I did not understand the origins for the name of "Yao" people but I suspected that it may possibly be attributable to all the falang (foreigners) that visit, buy their beautiful art work, look in their wallet and exclaim "Yao! - I've spent all my money!"

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