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Subsistence Agriculture in the Hills

Rice Terrace in Chiang MaiTraditionally the hilltribes believed in a world of spirits. They produced enough to survive, to propitiate the spirits and feast for prestige. They depended on mountain rice, corn (maize), opium, vegetables, pigs and chicken and whatever they could hunt.


The hilltribes used a shifting (swidden) system of cultivation by moving the village when the land became exhausted after a few years. They produced most of what they needed themselves and worked hard enough to have a surplus to barter for things they could not make themselves, such as sulfur for gunpowder, metal for tools, and needles.

Women made clothing, while men produced tools. Each village also had special artisans such as blacksmiths and silversmiths who enjoyed considerable respect. To get supplies people would occasionally travel to lowland markets, or trade with wandering Haw Chinese merchants.

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