Akha are an indigenous hill tribe
Living at high elevations in the mountains of northern Thailand, the Akha are an indigenous hill tribe that made their way from China, Burma and Laos and today there are 80,000 of the estimated 400.000 Akha living in the north of Thailand since the turn of the 20th century. There are two types of houses, low build houses on the ground and high build houses on stilts both constructed out of bamboo and logs.
Agriculture is the traditional form of substance with rice being the most important crop, but the Akha also grow a variety of vegetables and Soya beans, the cultivation of opium has diminished after the Thai government banned its production. Hunting is a popular male activity in which the Akha are very skilled and roasted fish and pork are desirable food items. Other productions are the weaving of baskets, handmade products like handbags, vests and other small items to earn a living from tourism.
Spirits and people were born of the same mother
Akha originally believe in a mixture of animism and ancestor worship and true there rituals are establishing their place in the natural world and cycles. To seek blessing from their ancestors there are nine to twelve offerings in the annual ritual cycle, rice rituals (both people and rice are believed to have souls) and other rites like the building of the gate.
Akhas believe that spirits and people were born of the same mother until they got separated, upon the spirits resigned in to the forest and the people remained in the villages, the entrance of an Akha village is fitted with a wooden gate which is known as a “spirit gate” to mark the division between the inside of the village and the outside realm of spirits and wildlife and is made to warn off evil spirits. The Akha year is divided into the spirit/rain season and the people/dry season, during the rainy season the spirits tend to find their way into the village and have to be driven out by ancestor offerings.
Festivals are particularly important for Akha
The most important festival of the year is the four days “swing festival” or “yehkuja” with the giant swing constructed from three long poles, that takes place late August after the village has planted its rice, this festival is particularly important for Akha woman who will show to the village that they are older and of marriageable age true traditional dances, songs and performances. The distinctive headdresses worn by the woman are showing their age or marital status starting from the age of twelve with a small cap and later during mid-adolescence they will start wearing the adult woman’s headdress, usually decorated with dangling silver coins and are popular for pictures and postcards.
The village leader is given the most important position considering spiritual matters whose responsibilities include the annual building of the gate and the swing and to give advise in most important matters and settling disputes.
Akha is a tonal language and they have no written language, most of the culture, rites and traditions are being verbally transferred true generations.
When visiting an Akha village you will notice that village life is mainly unchanged over the years, but modern amenities are slowly finding their way into the villages.