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Ghostly encounter was hair-raising experience; Sutin Wannabovorn reports on how a 70-year-old tribesman became the world's most hirsute human.

Thanks to a close encounter with a ghost 50 years ago, Hmong hilltribesman Lu Seng La is today a famous man.

Ripley's Believe It or Not!, the American authority on human and other oddities, has just declared the Thai septuagenarian as possessor of the world's longest hair.

Visitors now flock to see this witch doctor and his flowing tresses in his shanty home in Mon-Ngor village on a hilltop in Maetang district in northern Thailand.

"When I was 18, I got annoyed with my shoulder-length hair and cut it. But I became very ill soon after that," he said as proud family members rolled out all 12.7 ft (3.87 metres) of his matted brownish-black hair.

"I was about to die when the spirit of a ghost entered me and demanded to use my body as a medium. But it ordered me never to cut my hair forever," said Lu.

Since then, the 77-year-old has been the local medicine man, using power from the ghost to heal the sick and drive evil spirits out of the possessed.

Witch doctors are held in high esteem by the animist Hmong, who have strong faith in evil spirits and those of their ancestors.

"I'm a witch doctor, medium of the spirit of ancestors that can cure patients who are suffering," Lu said as he took a long drag from his bamboo pipe.

"I have cured thousands," he added, as family members huddled around him near a warm, crackling fire in the near-freezing mountain temperatures.

The Mon-Ngor hill tribe community has 306 people living in 44 shanty homes. The Hmong used to cultivate poppies to sell to opium traffickers, but now they have switched to oranges, coffee and lychees.

Lu is not the only one in the family to have been touched by the supernatural.

His elder brother Yi Tao, aged 82, said he had a similar experience with a ghost many years ago and has not cut his own hair in 35 years.

"But my hair is only 5.4 ft long. I am well known as the "younger brother"," Yi said.

But youngest brother Yoh Tao, aged 67, has bucked the trend and shaved his head bald.

"Long hair makes me uncomfortable, I love the short skinhead look," he said.

Lu washes his matted locks only once a year on the eve of the traditional Hmong New Year which fell this year on December 18.

"It is difficult to dry so I wash my hair once a year," Lu said. Normally, his mane is neatly pigtailed and wrapped up around the nape of his neck.

Lu was paid handsomely to appear on Japanese television some years ago, and tourists who come to see him also pay to take his picture. "Several foreigners and local tourists have come to the village and taken pictures of my father," said Lu's son Heu Sae nglah, who is also the village headman.

"When tourists take pictures, they sometimes give him 100 baht (pounds 2.40) or 200 baht and that's extra income for us," Heu said.

Last year, the village earned about one million baht in income from orange sales, he added.

"And now the hair of my father has begun to lure some extra money to the village," Heu said.

"We, mountain people, are very happy when dignitaries from the lowland come to our village. Last week we had the great honour of a visit to our house by (Thai) Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai and his son," he added.

Lu said he never imagined his long hair would bring him so much fame and fortune.

"Three years ago, I travelled to Japan for one week and a Japanese television station gave me 30,000 yen (pounds 173) upon my return," he said.

"And now Hmong relatives in the United States have invited me to visit them but my son does not allow me to go," Lu said.

Lu is an opium addict like quite a few of the elderly folk in his community and his son fears for his father should he travel to foreign lands where the drug is illegal. He therefore forbids his father from travelling.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 29, 1998
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