Total population
17,000 (est.)
Regions with significant populations
Lawa, others
Animism, Buddhism[1]

Lawa (Thai: ลัวะ or ละว้า; RTGSLawa) are an ethnic group in northern Thailand. The Lawa language is related to the Blang and the Wa language found in China and Burma, and belongs to the Palaungic languages, a branch of the Austroasiatic languages. Their population is estimated to be some 17,000.[2] The Western Lawa are found in the vicinity of Mae Sariang in the south of Mae Hong Son Province, the Eastern Lawa are centred on Bo Luang in Chiang Mai Province.[1][3]


The Lawa are sometimes mistaken for being the same people as the Lua of northern Laos and of Nan Province, Thailand, who are speakers of the more distantly related Khmuic languages. This problem is compounded by the Eastern Lawa of Chiang Mai Province preferring to be called Lua by outsiders, and by the Thai people generally referring to speakers of these different Palaungic languages as Lua.[3][4]

Today, those Lawa who have not been integrated in mainstream Thai society, still live a traditional way of life, often professing animism. As with the other mountain ethnic groups of Thailand, they are known for extraordinary craft skills, especially for being ironsmiths.[1]


In the 5th to 10th century the Lawa people lived in Central Thailand, and, together with the Mon, were the inhabitants of present-day Lopburi. The name "Lopburi" is said to have been derived from "Lawaburi", and the city formed the core of an early kingdom in what is now Thailand, the Lavo Kingdom, which existed from the 7th century CE until it was incorporated into the Ayutthaya Kingdom in 1388 CE.[5][6] Other sources place the Lawa as the original inhabitants of Northern Thailand, pre-dating the Tai migration into these lands.[7][8][9]

There is evidence that the Lawa inhabited cities before the arrival of the Tai peoples. Chiang Mai, Thailand, was founded on the location of a 5th-century CE Lawa walled city, and legends state that Kengtung in Myanmar was taken from the Lawa in the 13th century CE through cunning and deceit by King Mangrai, the founder of the northern Thai Lanna Kingdom.[10][9]

The Lawa in northern Thai legends

The Lawa people are mentioned in northern Thai legends, mainly in connection with the founding of its cities. The 15th century CE book Cāmadevivaṃsa by the Chiang Mai monk Bodhiramsi, relates how the Mon Queen Camadevi, a princess of the Lavo Kingdom, established the city of Haripunchai (present-day Lamphun) in the 7th century CE and is attacked by Vilanga, king of the Lawa, with 80,000 soldiers. After his defeat, she marries her two sons to the two daughters of the Lawa king, after which the two kingdoms become allies.[11]

The founding of the city state of Ngoenyang in the 8th century CE, of which Mangrai was a prince before establishing the Lanna Kingdom in the 13th century, is also attributed to the Lawa in the Doi Tung story.[12]

See also

Further reading

Nahhas, Ramzi W (2011) Sociolinguistic Survey of Lawa in Thailand


  1. ^ a b c "The hilltribes of Northern Thailand" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-07-21. Retrieved 2023-08-14.
  2. ^ Somchit. "The Lawa Hilltribe". Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  3. ^ a b Nahhas, Ramzi W. (2011). "Sociolinguistic Survey of Lawa in Thailand" (PDF). SIL International. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 November 2022.[page needed]
  4. ^ Filbeck, David (1980s). "REVIEW ARTICLE- THE LUA OF NAN PROVINCE" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 4 August 2019. Retrieved 7 March 2023.
  5. ^ John Pike. "Thailand - 500-1000 - Lavo / Lopburi". Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  6. ^ "The Kingdom of Syam". Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  7. ^ "Journal of the Siam Society Volume 68" (PDF). January 1980. p. 160. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 November 2016. Retrieved 7 March 2023.
  8. ^ Grabowsky, Volker (1999). "Forced resettlement campaigns in Northern Thailand during the early Bangkok period" (PDF). p. 65. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 September 2021. Retrieved 7 March 2023.
  9. ^ a b Karlsson, Klemens (2013). "(PDF) The Songkran Festival in Chiang Tung: A Symbolic Performance of Domination and Subordination between Lowland Tai and Hill Tai | Klemens Karlsson -". Tai Culture. 23: 50–62.
  10. ^ Cummings, Joe (2006). Chiang Mai Style. ISBN 9812328319.
  11. ^ Hilary A. Disch: A New Vision: Chamari, Chamadewi, and Female Sovereignty in Northern Thailand, page 27, 39
  12. ^ Chris Baker: From Yue to Tai, Journal of the Siam society 90.1 & 2, 2002, page 12