Returning to the Lisu village in N.W Thailand where I had stayed last year, I had a surprise in store for Asur and Asa. The Lisu are direct descendents of the indigenous semi nomadic tribes of Tibet, and the people from this village were from the ‘Flowery Lisu’ group, so called because of their colourful dress. Asur, whose name means ‘4th born boy’ had met and married Asa, which means ‘4th born girl’ many years ago, and they had appropriately produced four girls together.
Now an elderly couple, they live very simply in a one room wooden house, sleeping on thin mattresses on a raised platform which then becomes a seat during the day.
Asur, a retired fisherman, is the music man of the village, and plays the traditional Lisu gourd reed organ, known as a ‘fut luq’ and a three stringed lute of Chinese origin, known as a ‘jit’.
He played the reed organ for me last year and I remember the simple but hauntingly beautiful rhythmical sound it made.
Music plays an important part in Lisu culture, traditionally young men would visit neighbouring villages, dressed in all their finery, carrying their instruments and playing and singing to lure the local girls in courtship.
With some gentle encouragement, he tuned up his ‘jit’ and played that for me as well.
He’d been a bit reluctant at first as he’d not played for a while, but got into the swing of it and it he looked as if he was enjoying it, as if it was taking him back to times gone by.
Knowing that I was going to have a chance to revisit them this year when I was back in the area, I got some of my photos of them printed, and remembering that their house hadn’t been very well protected from the elements, I’d had some of them printed onto a hard backing material so they could put them up without risking too much damage to the images.
Asur was snoozing in the corner when we arrived and we offered to call back later, but were ushered in by Asa who insisted on waking him up.
I handed over their photos and watched their reaction.
A little dazed at first, Asur sat up and started to look through them. A slow smile came across his face.
It was lovely to watch them looking through the photos, and see how much much pleasure they were bringing.
Knowing that they had family, I’d done some duplicates for them too.
Asur was a man of few words, communicating more easily through his music, but I heard him saying something to himself in Lisu as he was looking through the photos. I asked what he’d said and the answer brought tears to my eyes.
“Now I can die and everyone will see these photos and know who I was”.
It had been a long journey to get the photos back to them, taking the images back to England to process and print them, then bringing them back carrying them with me through Vietnam and Laos before arriving at their village tucked away in the mountains of Thailand, but those few words had made it all worth while.
Many of the hill tribe people from the older generation don’t have many images of themselves to pass down to their families, so it was lovely to be able to do this for them.
Asa made him put his shirt on and sit for a ‘formal photo’ with serious faces and rather stiff postures as is the customary way in Asia.
I did a few more relaxed photos,
then he played the ‘fut luq’ for me one more time.
It might have been wishful thinking, but I’m sure he was tapping his feet with just a little bit more of a spring in his step this time.