Rarely or never mentioned as one of the Thai hill tribes of northern Thailand – Karen, Hmong, Yao, Lahu, Akha and Lisu – Lawa are one of the oldest people known to have inhabited Thailand. Although professed to be of Mon – Khmer origin their roots are believed to be in lower reaches of Mekong River , and some archeologists even claim Lawa have arrived from Micronesia.
Having come to southeast Asia from Micronesia some 2000 years ago would seem to suggest the reverse flow of human migrations as most people that have populated Philippine and Indonesian archipelagos as well as the islands of South Pacific is said to have gotten there precisely from South East Asia.
Whatever their ancient origin, Lawa were allegedly in future Siam well before Thai people even arrived. Fact is most Lawa have scattered as far as highlands of Laos though less than 20,000 true Lawa are believed to be left as most have by now been largely assimilated within the mainstream of Thai culture of western and north western Thailand. The remaining traditional Lawa villages are found namely south of Mae Hong Son.
Though present day Lawa have also adopted Thai Buddhism as their religion, most still strongly adhere to animist practices of their past. While they do not possess strong decorative style as some of the other hill tribes do, their textiles are of home spun yarn and coarsely woven on back strap looms. One of the most unique textiles is the Lawa burial shroud.
All in all traditional Lawa textiles as well as dress are similar to Karen textiles and indeed some of Lawa most traditional villages are found in areas populated by Karen in western and northwestern Thailand.