National Geographic : 1966 Jul
weapon he carried was a greeting bottle of plai, a crude rice liquor that is menacing enough to any Western head. The tall old man was Kae Ta Kham, the headman of the village and also its "big sa mang," or religious leader. The samangs trace their descent from an ancient Lua king or from one of his princes. Guardians of Lua culture, they make many important commu nity decisions, such as when to plant the rice crop. As the Lua say: "If we didn't have a samang, we would have to live like apes and monkeys in the jungle." Cemetery No Place for a Live Samang Samangs are consulted on all major cere monies except funerals; as every Lua knows, a samang who sets foot in a cemetery immedi ately loses all his knowledge. Out of respect for his position, the samang receives a leg from each pig sacrificed in connection with the rice planting and a leg from any large ani mal caught or killed in the jungle. I explained to Kae Ta Kham that Sally and I wanted to come and live in his village and study the Lua way of life. He agreed readily and expressed pleasure that someone would record the Lua traditions. After the dry season began and the rivers subsided, Sally and I were able to drive our Land-Rover along a lumber road for 14 miles into the mountains beyond Ban Mae Sariang before having to walk. As we shouldered our bags and began the three-hour hike up steep trails to Pa Pae, we knew that now we were really on our own. Since the dry winter had arrived, we need ed a warm place to stay as soon as possible. One of the villagers, Ai Po, agreed to act as contractor for a house, since we were helpless in the jungle and as yet had no friends to share the work of building it. "How long will it take, Ai Po?" I asked him in Northern Thai, which the Lua speak in addition to their own Mon-Khmer language. "Perhaps a month." "But we may freeze to death before that." "We will try to work faster. Two weeks." With this chilling prospect, I toured the village with Kae Ta Kham and Ai Po to select a homesite. I chose what seemed a good place, right beside the main trail leading through the village, and next door to Ai Po. I told them I wanted to live in Lua style, and Ai Po explained: "Your house must not line up evenly with the one next to it. That's just not done. Your house must be far enough away from your neighbor's house so that rain 126 Nestled in a verdant valley, the bamboo houses of Pa Pae shelter 200 Lua. When the six-month rains begin in May, the Lua dam the stream and flood low-lying fields for wet cultivation of rice. Trail through the jungle leads to steep slopes for dry-rice growing. "To be alone is no fun at all!" Gregarious Lua youngsters swarm around Peter Kun stadter and his wife Sally. "True, we lacked privacy," says the author, "but that is ideal for an anthropologist. We spent one of the happiest periods of our lives among the Lua. We not only completed serious studies of their busy social and religious life-we had fun together." Dr. Kunstadter holds a deep affection for peoples with whom he has lived-Pueblo, Apache, and Ute Indians of North America, as well as the Lua (also spelled Lawa). Re cently he left Princeton University for three more years of study in Thailand, including a return to Pa Pae.