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Home About Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand Akha

The Akha

Through HADF, Natural Focus has joined together with 5 Hill Tribe communities to plan and co-ordinate ecotourism in the area. These 5 villages form the basis of the Natural Focus Ecotours. The villages were selected because of their interest in conserving their culture and surrounding environment, and the differences between each village and culture. The group includes four different Hill Tribes; Akha, Lah-fvu (Lahu), Lisu, and Mien, and the villages are at very different stages of development.

Most people in Thailand call this Hill Tribe "Ikor", but the people themselves call it "Akha". This Hill Tribe originated in Mon Tong Guay Joaw and Mon Ton, Yunnan China. They migrated to Chiang Dung, Burma. Some groups moved further into Laos and Northern Thailand. The first Akha in Thailand migrated from Burma and established a village in 1903 close to Hin Taek near the Burmese border. By the end of World War II there were 2,500 Akha living in Thailand, increasing to 7,000 people in 1964. However, most Akha migrated to Thailand within the last 20 to 30 years, the Akha population in Thailand now reaching over 30,000 people. Initially, Akha settlements were located in the Mae Kok watershed, Chiang Rai Province, however settlements are now located in three other provinces as well.

Akha people are the largest hill tribe in Chiang Rai. In Thailand there are three main groups of Akha people, U-Lo, Pa-Mi and Lo-Mi Akha. While they are closely related, there are many differences in their traditional designs, handicrafts and hats.

The Akha lifestyle is based on their agricultural system, which means they work very hard in the fields, spending more time there than with their families. The Akha women often work in the field, while carrying their youngest child on their backs. Akha have the most ceremonies of the Hill Tribes, almost every month, all based on the agricultural system. The costs and time of these extensive ceremonies is one reason for the changes of many Akha from Animism to Christianity. However, some villages retain their strong Akha culture.

Akha villages are generally large, with 30 or more households comprising of many clans. Traditionally Akha people live in the highest locations of hill tribe people. Akha villages are often located on the top of the mountain in an attempt to avoid the diseases and outbreaks associated with the moister close to the river . An Akha story tells that the Akha was the eldest in the family and followed their younger siblings into the new land. The Akha let the younger siblings, Lisu, Lahu, etc., choose where they wanted to live, and they naturally selected lower lands. The Akha, the eldest, gave up their choice for their siblings and ended up living on the top of the mountains. The most important leader in an Akha village is the Spiritual Leaders (Djew maa and Djew ya), and the life of Akha revolve around their family. Other leaders in the village include the Traditional Village Leader chosen by the village elders, and the female Spiritual Leader (Nee pah).

The Akha house is made from bamboo, wood and the roof from cogon grass. The house is built on stilts and the living section is divided into two rooms - a women's room and a man's room. Akha legend tells that there was a powerful being called "Apermiyeh" - the word Aper translating to "ancestor" or "God". Akha people believe that Apermiyeh created the first human. The elders tell that Apermiyeh called all of the people to assemble in front of him. He gave each tribe a written language, ceremonies and identifying traits, all written down separately for each tribe. The Akha were given their language and instructions on the back of a cow hide. Unfortunately, as the Akha were returning home from their meeting with Apermiyeh, they became hungary and ate the cow hide, leaving them with no written language, and only their memories to retain important ceremonies and wisdom.

Akha believed that Apermiyeh has a great power over the life of the Akha. It is he who can inspire the rice in the field to produce a good yield, therefore the Akha are careful not to say or do anything which will upset him. Akha will not say that a new born baby is ugly, as Apermiyeh may think that this is ungrateful and take the baby back.
In Akha language, there is no word for "religion", but the word "Akha's commandment" has a similar meaning because it covers the traditions, customs and all ceremonies in their life proceedings. This commandment determines the method of cultivation, hunting, identifying and cures for diseases. Furthermore, the commandment contains the legends, proverbs and traditions, which, in practice, may vary slightly between families or villages, but the main practices are never changed. Therefore, each item is like one loop of a large chain which connects them with their past and extends indefintely into the future.

When entering a traditional Akha village, several examples of Akha culture can be seen. At the entrance of the village there is a spirit gate. When Akha re-enter the village, they must pass by the gate to leave any bad spirits outside the village. In the village there is a giant Akha swing. This is part of the ceremony after planting rice to encourage good growth.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 27 April 2010 12:51)

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