Akha hill tribe – History and Culture
Origins of the Akha people
The Akha hill tribe originated in Yunnan in Southern China. Yunnan has the highest Akha population. Over several centuries many Akha have been migrating southward from their original home. In the middle of the 19th century, significant numbers were moving into Kengtung State, the easternmost of the Shan States of Burma. Others made their way into Laos. Most of the Akha in Thailand came from Burma. The first Akha hill tribe village in Thailand was probably established in 1903 in the Phaya Phrai area on the Burmese border. Phaya Phrai is in Mae Fah Luang District, Chiang Rai. Donna Bramhall of Haute Culture Fashion Textile Tours made this video for us:
Where do they live?
The Akha hill tribe people live in Yunnan China, Kengtung in Northern Shan State in Myanmar, Northern Thailand, Laos and North Vietnam. An area with a large percentage of Akha hill tribe people is Mae Salong (now known as Santikhiri) in Chiang Rai province. Akha hill tribe villages are also in the area of Ban Therd Thai (formerly known as Ban Hin Taek), a former residence and base of the so-called “Opium King”, Khun Sa.
There are Akha villages in Viang Pa Pao and Chiang Dao districts but the majority of the Akha people have never moved south of the Mae Kok River.
In Thailand, there are three subgroups of Akha hill tribe: Akha Loi Mi, Akha Phami and Akha U Lo. The Loi Mi are easily recognisable by the distinctive metal plate on the back of the woman’s headdress. The U Lo women wear a conical headdress.
The Akha hill tribe speak a language in the Lolo/Yi branch of the Tibeto-Burman language group. The Akha have no traditional written language. There are a variety of schemes for writing Akha. These have been developed by missionaries or linguists which employ Roman, Thai or Burmese characters, but literacy in Akha is still virtually non-existent.
How are you?
What is your name?
Gulung guma deh
Akha Hill tribe Religion
Though many Akha, especially younger people, profess Christianity, Akha Zang (The Akha Way), a total lifestyle perscribed in the oral literature of the Akha people, still runs deep in the consciousness of older generations. The Akha Way combines animism, ancestor worship and their deep relationship with the land. For an Akha, the Akha Way is a way of life which extends beyond simple religious practise and infuses every aspect of their existence. The Akha Way emphasises rituals in everyday life and stresses strong family ties; every Akha male can recount his genealogy back over fifty generations to the first Akha.
Akha Hill tribe Culture and lifestyle
The Akha hill tribe people generally live in bamboo houses raised on low wooden stilts in hilly areas. These huts are divided by gender. One side is for the women. The other side, occupied by the men, is used as a more public area. The Akha subsist through an often destructive form of slash and burn agriculture. It can result in the elimination of old-growth forest, native animal species and serious soil runoff problems. They are expert farmers who focus on mountain rice, corn, and soybeans, planted in seasonal shifts. The Akha are also very efficient hunters, though their prey sometimes includes endangered species. Some Akha grew opium for income in the past.
Akha Hill tribe traditional Dress and Textiles
These pictures were made for Green Trails by Donna Bramhall from Haute Culture Textile Tours.
The most famous festival of the is the swing festival. This festival takes place at the peak of the rainy season, which is the end of August or the beginning of September.
This website contains a lot of exciting information on the Akha.
Tours that contain visits to Akha villages
The following Green Trails tours contain visits to Akha villages: