The Akha Heritage Foundation - www.akha.org
Akha Human Rights - Akha University
Introductory Information About The Akha
The Akha are an Asian indigenous group originally from Mongolia. Geneological charts show 70 generations of Akha, about 80 less than the Chinese, putting the start of their civilization at least 1500 years ago. Civil unrest has led them to migrate practically throughout their existence, although they eventually settled in Yunan province of southwestern China for a significant period of time. Tibetan and Chinese influence helped shape their culture. War of recent centuries once again led them to travel south, building communities of Akha in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam.
The Akha often find themselves catagorized with similar indigenous groups such as the Hani, although evidence shows they are each a distinct culture.
The population of the Akha today throughout various countries may range 600,000 or higher. It is said that in Thailand alone there are 70,000 scattered over some 300 villages. Villages may vary from westernized to strictly traditional, depending on their proximity to modern towns.
The Akha have always been a peaceful people, interested only in living quietly in the forest as their ancestors taught them. Until recently, they have succeeded, but migration is no longer an option and their survival now rests in the benevolence of strangers.
Occasionally we may see the Akha people in their colorful dress appearing in tourist guide booklets and sometimes we may see them on national tv programmes. If we travel onlong the mountain ranges of Chiangrai province in Northern Thailand we may see them in their villages and if we happen to witness one of their feast such as the new year or the swing festival we will see them dressed in their finest. Who are these people and from where do they come?
If we try to trace back in their history based on their oral traditions their native place is Mongolia like many other asiatic peoples. Later due to various situations such as war, they migrated down with possible influence from Tibet and later ended up in Yunan province of southwestern China. Here they could form their religious texts in a proper way and settle down with their own laws and regulations. From this region they borrowed from Chinese influence and formed their own calendar. Their civilization begins to shape quite apparently in this region.
If we look at their geneological charts we can say that their civilization appears to have started later than the Chinese because there are about 150 generations in the Chinese charts while only about 70 generations in the Akha geneological charts. From these charts we can tell that the Akha civilization started some 1500 years ago at a minimum.
According to the oral traditons the first 11 ancestors or generations belonged to the spirit world when in the old days the spirits and human beings stayed under the same roof, born from the same parents. Later due to some disagreement between spirit and human being they parted company and the spirits agreed that they would stay in the forest and the humans would live in villages. The humans would work in the day time and the spirits would work at night. Although the spirits could see the human beings the humans could not see the spirits any more except certain individuals with the power to do so.
Some people call these myths, and others say not. Certainly similar situations can be found in traditional western religious texts highly subscribed to by many people today.
Later some of the Akha migrated into Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and even Cambodia. Today we see the Akha people spreading into these countries. Most of them still remain in China and unluckily, from their language mixing up with the Chinese it is increasingly hard to understand for the southern Akha.
Some people claim that the Hani are related to the Akha because they share some of the same language but many Akha declare not, that they are distinct groups, for which there is quite some amount of evidence.
The Akha people are a simple living and quiet people by nature and would like to stay peacefully without mixing in with other tribes. They are seldom found by the governor of a place to involve themselves in rioting or revolting.
But today the Akha are being blamed by higher authorities for trading drugs and making use of them in some countries. In some places they are being threatened not to be granted with a national identity card unless they can prove that they have totally withdrawn from their linking with drugs. It is true that they are to blame to some degree but not all the Akhas are doing in this fashion and as well many other tribes and races have even greater and higher organization in the drug trafficing business.
Some Akha's smoke opium as a mountain pharmaceutical, but when you see their very hard mountain life style you may understand why it is a pain killer for the very hard work they do and the very hard difficulties they live under. Crop substitution programs, initiated and insisted on by the west where drug consumption is very high, didn't really substitute anything. Impoverished families now send their daughters to become prostitutes to help pay for food, land is increasingly being taken away not for reforestation but for villas, and rather than the slow process of smoking opium where one might get caught many people have opted to smoke heroin and inject it as well, increasing the transmission of AIDS. It is highly unlikely that the American Super Cops thought of this one, nor care, just as long as opium is not cultivated. Similar policies have met with disastrous failure in places like Columbia as well, while drug shipping into the west has gotten more professional and increased in quantity.
Although you can find the DEA in Thailand you will be hard pressed to find any American Government money assisting the Akha with alternatives to increased poverty.
In some countries the Akha have no level of security. Border guards, police and army rape Akha girls at their convenience. Rather than helping the villagers government and insurgent troops enter the villages and steal the domestic animals, rice and take men for porters. The raping of Akha women is quite easy to document. People who resist are killed in many cases depending on what country it may occur in. So the Akha are left not knowing who to approach for their security.
In some countries the missionaries take wholesale advantage of these extreme conditions, teach the Akha that all they are, know and do is evil and that only when they will become like white evangelicals or white catholics can they become free from "darkness and bondage". These people behave worse than criminal ambulance chasers, imposing big churches on villages, forbidding the culture, the dance the songs and the traditions, splitting villages of large extended families with religious disinformation that their home churches would be shocked to see. Those of the Akha who help in this practice are handsomely rewarded by these missionaries for helping to do these evil events which further fragment and marginalize a culture that needs friends, not opportunistic predators in the name of the "gospel". (for more documentation and information on these human rights abuses by missionaries go to our page on this subject)
Huge sums of money are spent on church buildings to claim a village for this or that denomination in the same competitive fashion as churches are built in the west and the villages still remain impoverished. Money that could have been used to buy them farming tools, farming land, seeds, build a clinic and so forth is spent to meet the western agenda of these mission people instead. To the Akha this is not the "good news". How could it be?
The Akha seek to get a secure life without interference from the outside world. Running and hiding, dodging immigration, the police, insurgent groups and so forth much of thier life is spent in a kind of hiding from the world that they are not asking for.
For those who have ended up in town and have gotten a better life by some definitions, they are always craving to share equally in the life that they see around them. Some of them have sent their children to University and hopefully some of these people can gain a better life and help their own people with security.
Due to modernization many defects are popping up. One defect is prostitution. Many of our Akha girls are earning their income through this way of business and it is a great injury for our people, especially to those who are trying to settle down in the town. At the beginning when they could not match their life with the expenses of town's life they are forced to end up in such a way to solve the daily problems. This is one of the chief problems that the Akha would like to solve.
At this time we need help with Identity card rights, with assistance in farming and feeding our families and protecting the land we do have use of. Many people think that because we are not a major race and have migrated to many areas due to war that we have no right to land. But we are people too and at one time or another everyone migrated. We seek justice, not wealth, just room to live. We do not burn up the worlds environment as fast as western cultures do which are far removed from the resource sources they use and can not see the results.
Many people blame us for shifting agriculture but in fact our village sites are very stable. We rotate crops in regions but are often pushed off one land and given another. The old land is not replanted into jungle but into a tree farm or a resort and then we are blamed for the deforestation that occured.
Particularly in Thailand, where the government and the people have a love hate relationship with the hill tribe, the economy makes millions of dollars off tourism to the hill tribe and then the hill tribe get blamed for damaging the environment, for drug trafficing and so forth. If we got our share of the harvest from the moneys which come in from tourism we would be able to take better care of many things.
Roads which were pushed into isolated areas in the name of helping us were actually environmental disasters. Huge quantities of erosion followed these projects. As well electricity and schools that were brought in were said to be for our good but now as we see the nationals taking control of more and more of the land and pushing us down to nothing it appears that helping us was not the long term goal at all. Many of the villagers are being asked to leave the mountains and go down to the town with nothing and be a slave class. Any inspection of these lower villages will prove this out. Tiny huts, no land to farm, slave wages for daily labor with hazardous chemicals and construction.
Many times our babies are turned away from the hospitals in conditions that they die from because of uncaring selfish and racist doctors who don't like hill tribe people and won't help people who don't have much money. We take our babies home. They die. Sometimes they die while we are still in the waiting room. Many women are sterilized while they are delivering a baby and are not told. The nurses are very aggressive in asking a pregnant woman how many babies she has already had. We do not think this is fair. Population development really means population control, our population. Population suppression when you add it all up, population decline.
And the missionaries tell us that all this has happened to us because we are not American Baptist or this or that and that we are under the power of "darkness and bondage". These carpetbaggers should learn it is not our darkness that has put us in bondage but the darkness of other people who they don't mind being friends with at all because those people have money.
Other NGO programs also get and spend huge amounts of money for projects to help us but we usually don't see much of it at all and then the intended or stated goal is usually not met so in the end we were not helped much at all.
We need land, ID cards, clean water and a say in our future. We may not be a nation state and we may not have many laws which protect us from the exploitation of tourism and prostitution of our young people but we are people as good and as deserving as anyone else.
The Akha are a Hill tribe of hunter gatherers sometimes classified as aboriginal who live in China, Laos, Vietnam, Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand. It is said that their roots brought them from Mongolia and Tibet with considerable time in China's Yunnan Province. Seeking security for their villages and families they have often had to move south to avoid existing conditions of war where they lived. Although often labeled as aliens they are more often than not refugees of war.
Due to rapid social and economic changes in this region, most dramatically brought about by western style capitalism, the lifestyle and very lives of these people are being destroyed. They now are having great difficulty holding onto the land on which they live, they are increasingly being pushed into deeper poverty for the majority and they are facing increased problems of drug use, prostitution and imprisonment. All results of marginalization. Prison for minor infractions is often used to extract large sums of money from families. Due to the crack down on the use of black opium, the use of "much easier to hide" drugs such as heroin and meth amphetamine are on the rise.
The population of the Akha in these five countries may range as high as 400,000 or higher.
It is said that in Thailand alone there are 60,000 scattered over some 278 villages.
Villages may vary from very westernized to very primitive, living out their traditional lifestyles.
The villages that have been the most exploited for tourism may also show the highest signs of drug use and prostitution. And with that comes AIDS.
Many people talk of the conditions in the villages without addressing the situation the Akha face. Often they are not given ID cards. This makes getting arrested an issue of great fear and the Akha are often arrested for not having an ID card. Even if they are not arrested their money is often taken by the police.
In addition, though the Akha are not necessarily native to Northern Thailand, many of them were born here after their families migrated to avoid war, and they deserve rights to a national identity just the same as laid out in the UN Draft on Indigenous Human Rights. This lack of a national identity means that they have difficulty defending their right to the land they live on and farm and so they are often forced to move. These moves break up villages and families, destroy their investment in the land and lead to decreased nutrition with the loss of those food bearing plants. (Ecocide)
The Akha also face inadequate medical care. There are just about no services that go out to the villages and often the Akha are treated roughly in medical facilities they go to because of their dress and ethnicity.