This wonderful page at the Virtual Hilltribe Museum (an extremely worthy site, created by the tribes themselves) presents a matrix of names and stereotypes of the hill tribes of Thailand:

It can be confusing. In addition to the names that each tribe has for themselves, and the names of the tribes in English and Thai, each tribe also has its own name for every other tribe (these terms are called autonyms and exonyms, respectively). It can be very, very confusing. Below we have assembled a matrix of what each of the seven main ethnic groups of the area call each of the seven ethnic groups. If you are counting, that’s 49 different names. Phew!
In this website we try to use a romanization of the name that the tribe calls itself. The exception for that is the Karen, because it already has a standardized English name, and the name which is uses to refer to itself is very difficult to spell in English.
We have also included the traditional opinions or stereotypes that each tribe has towards the others and themselves. We haven’t listed these to assign any sort of value judgment or superiority/inferiority among the different ethnic groups, but, instead, to show how complicated the relationships between the various ethnic groups in Northern Thailand are.

So the Karen call the Lisu Kae Lisaw and the Lisu call the Karen Ya-geu-leu; furthermore, “Lisus have always gotten along with Karens because they have never tried to take advantage of each other.” I can’t tell you how much I love this stuff, and I wish somebody would replicate the matrix for other areas of the world. (Nigeria would be an excellent start.)
I found it at MetaFilter, by the way.


  1. That’s an interesting idea, and nicely presented… although like you say, I’m not convinced that their POV is N, as they say at Wikipedia. What we really need for ultimate fairness is a 7x7x7 supercube containing all relevant opinions from each individual group!
    The comments are a fascinating little sub-world in themselves, having already mutated into “shut the crack up” and unsubtle Christian evangelism.

  2. I notice that a number of tribes use names for the Hmong and Mien that are related to their Chinese names, i.e. Miao and Yao.
    I just wonder how widespread the use of the name Hmong is. As far as I know it’s unknown in China, where they are always known as Miao.

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