The Akha Hill Tribe in Thailand

The Akha are a hill tribe whose women are very easily recognizable with their headdresses and black outfits decorated with jewelry.

Origine and migration of the Akha people

They come from China, from the province of Yunnan, where a large majority still live.

In the middle of the 19th century, they emigrated to Vietnam and Laos and then arrived in Thailand via Burma.

Their first village in Thailand was probably established near the Burmese border around 1903.

Nearly 80,000 Akha now live in Thailand, where they are mainly settled in the provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the northwest of the country.

Flag of the Akha people
Flag of the Akha people

Culture and tradition

The Akha women’s clothes are decorated with many decorations; they use a solid cotton fabric woven and dyed with blue-black indigo to make them.

Men’s clothing is simpler; they wear Chinese style pants and sometimes wear turbans during traditional festivals.

Traditional Akha houses are built in bamboo and on stilts. They do not have a window, and the roof drops very low on each side.

Genealogy and religion

Young Akha woman in Laos
Young Akha woman in Laos

Some Akha would be able to name all their ancestors from the male lineage to the “beginning.” They believe that their ancestors are the source of their lives and that they give them the means to solve everyday problems successfully.

Akha sees himself as one of the links in this chain, and if he finds himself in need, he feels comforted and encourages himself to play an active role so that later, other people can take care of him as an ancestor.

The Akha speak of an all-powerful great being whom they call “Apoe Miyeh.” He is the one who would have created the first beings from whom all humans descend.

According to one myth, he called the representatives of the various tribal groups to give them the “books” that would teach them in the “Akha Way.”

The texts he gave to the Akha were written on the skin of a buffalo. On the way back, the Akha saw several mysterious signs that they attributed to the fact that they were carrying Apoe Miyeh’s book.

So they roasted the buffalo’s skin and ate it.

The Akha say they have lost the book, but continue to have the wisdom of Apoe Miyeh in their stomachs.

Like the Thai (see Home to the spirits to protect homes), they believe in the spirits of the “inside” who live in the house and those of the “outside” who live in nature.

The legend of Akha rice

A widowed woman and her daughter, who was her only child, went to a river every day to harvest yams and wild tubers.

One day, the girl disappeared. The mother searched everywhere for her upset but could not find her.

Time passed, and one day, as the mother was looking for food by the river, she heard her daughter call her, inviting her to join her at the bottom of the water.

His daughter had married the Dragon Lord, who lived in the river.

The mother went to join her daughter and son-in-law and stayed with them for a while, then decided to return home.

Before her departure, the Dragon Lord gave her a few magic grains of rice wrapped in a leaf, and a hollow reed, promising that she would always have food and drink if she planted them.

Back home, the woman planted the magic rice grains, and the harvest was so important that she was unable to bring everything home.

She went back to her son-in-law, the Dragon Lord, to ask him what to do. He replied, “If there is too much rice, stand in your field and whistle three times, then clap your hands three times.

When the mother returned to her field, she did as her son-in-law had told her, and indeed the amount of rice decreased, and she was able to bring home the entire harvest.

Since that day, the Akha never clap their hands or whistle when they are in a rice field.

And when they carry rice home, they are also very careful not to drop it in the river, because they say:

“If the Dragon Lord sees some of his magic rice fall into the water, he will think we have too much, and he will reduce the harvest.

Akha paint
Burmese representation of the Akha people from the 1900s

See also:

Pai travel guide

Source: “Peoples of the Golden Triangle” by Paul and Elaine Lewis;; ; Photos: Akha woman in Tha Ton : Taguelmoust : A village : Akha village : Sputnikcccp : Sputnikcccp : Mysid : Mysid ; An Akkha man who smokes opium : John Hill ; Young girls-Akkhas, Muang Sing : Tango7174 ; Painting-Akkha : Sir Richard Carnac Temple; Woman-akkha in Laos: Veton Picq; Gate of the spirits-Akkha: Maliayosh; Hutte-Akkha: Manuel Jobi ; Sinners-Akkha : Weltenbummler84 ; Funeral Akkha : Weltenbummler84 ; Woman Akkha with her child : Peter van der Sluijs; Woman-Akkha in Burma: paveita; young woman Akkha in Laos: Picq; Woman Akkha in Laos: Picq; Woman-Akkha in Thailand: Weltenbummler84; Man-Akkha in Chiang Rai: Dmitry Dzema



Settled in Thailand since a few years (with trips to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia), I love this country and its inhabitants, the real country of Smiles! Sorry for any translation errors that may occur. Feel free to mention them in the comments, I will correct them. Thank you.

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