Lisu Other Tribes

Karen Rice Fields

Though it may not seem it at first, the Karen people are among the hilltribe people that Thais accept most easily. Perhaps it is because Karens have been in Thailand longer and live at a lower altitude than most hilltribes. Communication must be a factor: even though Karens have not always had such strong Thai language skills, young Karens around Chiang Rai speak the northern Thai dialect with near native proficiency. Karens have never involved themselves with drugs and, therefore, have never been affected by the stigma that hovers over tribes such as the Akha and Hmong, who have long histories with opium production and sale.

One overlooked similarity that reduces the conflict between Thais and Karens is that the Karen grow their rice in flooded terraces instead of in unirrigated "slash-and-burn" hillside paddies as do most of the other hilltribes. This distinction, as minor as it may seem, is key as the tribes who still engage in swidden agriculture must bear--rightly or wrongly--the accusations by Thais that they are responsible for much of the deforestation in Northern Thailand. These are accusations that are never leveled at the Karen.