Dogs and Snakes in the Lahu Spiritual and Daily Life

Lahus have several myths that focus on the contributions of dogs to human life. In one of them, the ancestor of the Lahu was fed with the milk of a female dog (not unlike the she-wolf story of the founders of ancient Rome). In another myth, similar to stories told by other minorities, dogs delivered the five important grains to the human beings. If somebody eat dog meat, they must wait three days and change clothes before entering into a Lahu village. On New Year, before they eat their first meal, the Lahu feed their dogs first. The importance given to dogs is perhaps also related to how important dogs are for hunting.

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Lahu People (Photo by Chen Haiwen)

For the Lahu, every 12th day is serpent day. The Lahu follow the Chinese calendar of 12 animals, using them to naming days and hours as well as years in a cycle. Serpent day is the equivalent of Sunday or the sabbath. On this day the Lahu don't work, nor do they leave their house or village. This is to commemorate Zhanuzhapie’s death. Zhanuzhapie was a hero in the Lahu mythology, who trusting in his strength, disobeyed the orders of Esha (the main Lahu god). Zhanuzhabie was a strong man. One day Esha ask him why not offer part of his crops as a sacrifice. Zhanuzhabie answered that he could worked his fields by himself, so he didn't need the help of the gods. This answer enraged Esha, then the disasters were sent to Zhanuzhapie one after other, until he was killed. Lahu people don't work on Zhanuzhapie's death day out of fear of irritating Esha and to avoid a disaster.

The importance given snakes is also manifested in two Lahu beliefs: 1) If a snake enters a home, Lahu believe it is a soul returned home; 2) If they find a snake blocking the road, they come back home immediately. Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “The snake represents a force that can not be understood, a beast that come from the realm of the hidden world. Its presence at home is tolerated as a strange circumstance, and is considered a spiritual phenomena. Its presence blocking the way is an unavoidable sign that the spirits consider the journey must not be continued."

Some say that Lahu name means "those who eat roast tiger". On Tiger Day the Lahu don't sow seeds and don't plough. Chickens also have an important symbolic meaning to the Lahu. They usually receive their guests with a chicken, but it can not be a white chicken which means that the host doesn't want to have relations with the guest. Ox and Sheep days are not considered auspicious. Horse, Sneak, Tiger, Rabbit, Pig and Roaster days are considered suitable to start the New Year.




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