Dancing through rivers and mountains: nature, society, and emotional expression in Lisu music and dance

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Liu, Keyi
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University College Cork
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The Lisu are a trans-border ethnic group found in Yunnan, SW China and also in neighbouring states including Myanmar, Thailand, India, and the Philippines. With a long history of migration and extensive migration routes, the Lisu people’s musical culture is currently marked by high diversity. During 2020-2021, I conducted fieldwork in several Lisu communities in Yunnan, focusing on a wide range of individuals from renowned musicians and enthusiastic music hobbyists passionate about singing or dancing, to everyday individuals and those working in NGOs or government institutions and playing a part in cultural transmission. Initially, this research delved into the musical and dance practices in their daily lives and activities, aiming to understand the world of Lisu music and dance from their perspective. Furthermore, while acknowledging the diversity within the Lisu musical culture, the study explored their multi-layered identity. Additionally, the research sought to comprehend how the Lisu employ musical and dance expressions to forge social connections, encompassing interactions within the community, with their environment, and with other ethnic groups. It further investigated how these expressive forms correlate with their sense of being, knowledge, and emotional experiences. Lisu music and dance embodies not only the context of their communally defined spaces, time, and environment and are also rooted deeply in Lisu understandings of their history, contact with nature, and life strategies. From this standpoint, Lisu experiences offer a case study for improving human happiness indices and contributing to human welfare. Lastly, considering the various forms and societal functions of Lisu musical culture, I also reflects on fieldwork and ethnographic writing: I ask how can we, under a commitment to justice, respect for cultural diversity, and an open attitude to equal dialogue, elucidate the multifaceted nature of Lisu music culture and safeguard the authenticity and autonomy of its unique cultural expressions. The thesis comprises 7 chapters which introduce the research, describe Lisu society and preceding research, analyse song traditions and the roles of musical instruments, assess three significant genres of Lisu dance, and look at how all these expressive mediums are combined in the celebrations that occur at Lisu weddings. The final chapter contextualises the thesis’s major conclusions and prospects for future research.
Lisu culture , Music and dance , Indigenous , Environmental and social interactions , Identidy and diversity
Liu, K. 2023. Dancing through rivers and mountains: nature, society, and emotional expression in Lisu music and dance. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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