Thus there ought to have been a small monastery, but this was probably not built of
stone but of wood, which is common in these parts. In this area only the Tai tribes are
Buddhists. There are, however, the inhabitants of Vieng Phouka, which is a large village
further north and a meeting place for several caravan routes. The inhabitants of this
village are Khmu-speaking and as far as I know they are the only Buddhists apart from the
Tai. Legends tell of the influence of the Siamese on Vieng Phouka in ancient times. These
Khmu who went over to Buddhism no longer wished to be called Khmu but have taken the new
tribal name of Khouen.
The Lu who lived there at the time of my visit, in 1937 - 38, had arrived there in
1897. The people in the villages on the other side of the Mekong had not been living there
very long as they had originally come from the Ou-Neua district in northernmost Laos. Some
of the inhabitants, a few families, had come from still further north in China and one
person maintained that he was born near the Wa territory on the Burmese border.
In February 1938, just as I was about to leave the village, it was divided into two
camps, one of which wanted to move and was looking for a new area nearer the Mekong to
settle. The reasons for this are too complicated to mention in this short essay. The
discussion was very heated and unfortunately I never really gathered if any of them ever
moved away and formed a new village. In any case they were pulling down some houses when I
left. All this shows how frequently they moved and over how large a territory. This does
not mean the removal of a village as a whole but either of a few families or a larger part
of the village. The distance between Ou Neua and the Siamese villages at the other side of
the Mekong might be something like 350 kilometers, and the distance from the Wa territory
is considerably longer. Thus the distances concerned are not small. It would have been
interesting to learn more about such movements also in other Tai tribes. With their
neighbours the Lamet, such a division of the villages is very common but is kept within a
limited territory. The Lu spread themselves over a much wider territory but we must not
forget that the Lu, like several other Tai tribes, are dependent on land suitable for
watering their rice fields. They preferably want to live near rivers. The village of Tafa
lies on the banks of the Nam Ngao, a tributary of the Mekong. This river is difficult to
navigate even with small canoes.
Thus in Tafa it was the village head who was also the founder of the village and who
had persuaded a certain part of the population to follow him. He was forever pointing this
out and boasting of his will-power as a leader and his ability to make others follow him.
This is not an uncommon theme in East and S. E. Asia, and it is often the founder of
the village and his offspring who are the heads. While the founder is alive there is, of
course, no cult around him.