The Palong also spelt Palaung, hill tribe came from Burma and migrated to Thailand back in 1984 due to the unrest in Burma. These people live in the northern area of the Chiang Mai province of Thailand. There are three distinct groups of Palong, including the Pale, the Rumai, and the Shwe. Each group has its own language.
The Palong grow some of the highest quality tea in the world. The tribe lives and works in the steep mountainsides of evergreen forests. The tasks are assigned based on the age and sex of the Palong. For example, women and younger children are tasked with planting seeds and fetching water, while the men perform more demanding tasks, including ploughing. In addition to growing tea, the Palong grow sugar cane, hemp, yams, rice, beans and chilis.
The Palong are very skilled and build large wooden houses built on stilts. Although in the past, the Palong built large longhouses that would accommodate more than 50 families, the longhouses are now smaller. Sons and Daughter-in-laws still live with the son’s parents.
When the newly married couple becomes pregnant with their first child, the male villagers come together and build a new house for the expectant couple. This home is given as a blessing from the entire community.
Most Palong combine Buddhist religious practice with animistic beliefs and rituals. However, unlike traditional Buddhists who embrace a pacifistic lifestyle, the Palong have a history of armed resistance.
Each community has its Shaman that is consulted for important decisions and events. The Shaman goes into a trance and determines whether an event should occur and the appropriate date and time the event should occur. The most known ritual is nat worship. Nat worship is the worship of inanimate objects (rocks, rivers and mountains) along with their deceased ancestors. At ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and births, offerings are given to 37 different nats.
There are approximately 5000 Palong’s in Northern Thailand. They primarily live in the mountainous regions; however, a small percentage of the population live in flatland villages. The women are the only ones that wear costumes. These costumes traditionally include a short brightly coloured jacket (often blue) and a red tube skirt featuring narrow horizontal white stripes. They also wear belts with coils. These belts are believed to protect the women and allow them to go to heaven when they die.