Home Ethnicity The Akha, mountain people of Thailand

The Akha, mountain people of Thailand

by Pierre To
7 minutes to read
Akha woman, Tha Ton

The Akha are a mountain people whose women are easily recognisable with their black headdresses and jewelled outfits.

Origin and migration of the Akha people

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

In the mid-19th century, they migrated to Vietnam and Laos and later arrived in Thailand via Burma.

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

Nearly 80,000 Akha are now living 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

Women's clothing Akha are adorned with many decorations, and they use a strong cotton fabric woven and dyed with blue-black indigo to make them.

Akhas girlsAkha woman in ThailandAkha woman in BurmaAkha woman with her childAkha woman in LaosAkha funeral

Men's clothing is simpler, they wear Chinese-style trousers and sometimes turbans during traditional festivals.

An Akha man smoking a pipeAkha man in Chiang Rai

Traditional houses Akha are built of bamboo and on stilts. They have no windows and the roofs are very low on each side.

An Akha villageAkha Hut

Genealogy and religion

Young Akha woman in Laos

Young Akha woman

Some Akha would be able to name all their male lineage ancestors back to the 'beginning'. They believe that their ancestors are the source of their lives and that they provide them with the means to successfully solve everyday problems.

A Akha sees himself as one of the links in this chain and if he finds himself in need he feels comforted and encouraged to play his role actively so that later on other people will take care of him as an ancestor.

The Akha speak of a great and all-powerful being whom they call "the Apoe Miyeh" . He is said to have created the first beings from which all humans are descended.

According to a myth, he called the representatives of the various tribal groups to give them the 'books' that would instruct them in the "Akha way.

The texts he gave to the Akha were inscribed on the hide of a buffalo. On the way back, the Akha saw several mysterious signs which they attributed to the fact that they were carrying the book ofApoe Miyeh.

So they roasted the buffalo skin and ate it.

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

Like the Thai (see Spirit houses to protect homes) they believe in the 'inside' spirits that live in the house and the 'outside' spirits that live in nature.

Akha Spirit Gate
Akha Spirit Gate
Akha fishermen
Akha fishermen

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 looked for her everywhere in distress but could not find her.

Time passed and one day, while the mother was looking for food by the river, she heard her daughter calling 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 his departure, the Dragon Lord gave her a gift of some magic rice grains 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 large that she was unable to take it all home.

She returned to her son-in-law, the Dragon LordHe said, "If there is too much rice, stand in your field and whistle three times. 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 what her son-in-law had told her and indeed the amount of rice decreased and she was able to take the whole crop home.

Since that day, the Akha never clap or whistle while 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 will reduce the harvest.

Akha paint

Burmese representation of the Akha people from the 1900s

Source: "People of the Golden Triangle" by Paul and Elaine Lewis; wikipedia.org ; objectif-cap-sizun-polynesie.over-blog.com ; Photos : Akha woman in Tha Ton: Taguelmoust; An Akha village: Sputnikcccp; Flag of the Akha people: Mysid; An Akkha man smoking opium: John Hill; Young Akkhas, Muang Sing: Tango7174; Akkha painting: Sir Richard Carnac Temple; Akkha woman in Laos: Veton Picq; Akkha spirit door: Maliayosh; Akkha hut: Manuel Jobi; Akkha sinners: Weltenbummler84; Akkha funeral: Weltenbummler84; Akkha woman with child: Peter van der Sluijs; Akkha-woman in Burma: paveita; young Akkha-woman in Laos: Picq; Akkha-woman in Laos: Picq; Akkha-woman in Thailand: Weltenbummler84; Akkha-man in Chiang Rai: Dmitry Dzema

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