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April 10, 2000 Akha Weekly Journal
There is an incredible bitterness about what is going on here.
Day after day I am beating through the villages in this broken piece of crap called what is left of a truck.
Dust, incredible heat, children faint on the porches, not enough food, water, flies, humidity.
A friend ran away, a girl of 18, a very dear friend of mine and the village, one who I had farmed with, her, her family, all the other villagers, she had run to the crime rings of Chiang Rai. I spun through corner after corner of switchback till I cleared the hill and the chickens and pigs ran. A man was building a hutch. More heat. The jungle dry ready to explode. I heard a heavy truck growling near by, couldn't see it so I asked. "Oh, there is a truck back there, hauling in materials the foreigner is bringing for the new church he is building." The woman's neck was swollen with a thyroid problem. Maybe she was 22.
The old women and men sat in the shade of the porch, watching me. There didn't seem to be a point in saying anything. Thousands of dollars.
I have known of the tragedy and trials of San Chai Mai for ten years.
Nimit, Uncle to Acha and brother to his father, told me the stories over and over, what was done, how it was done, the players, always the same, and always the trails led to despair for the Akha people. How could they lead elsewhere, while the wealthy judged their every fault? Like four glasses thrown on the floor at one time, we met at Acha's family home in San Chai, after the death of the Akha man told of below. Children were back from Ah Jay's "girls" home "House of Grace" in Chiangrai.
We asked them if they would go back to being traditional Akha when they left "The House of Grace" which is financed by churches in Georgia. (check the web site) They replied, no, that they wouldn't because they had to be Christian if they were going to be at this place and that was the end to being traditional. Reporters were there, they said they were doing a story of it. We hope they do.
I know fundamentalism, I know the evangelical mind just a little, the lies that are so carefully built into it. I can speak in great anger for the betrayal that they do to a people.
There was a video running. Nimit and Acha were on it, walking through the jungle near to there, Nimit singing balads of them, their lives, the nature, their loves, and Acha, come from London, walked in this very careful kind of way, his eyes with a look of deep contemplation as he listened, in this place with all the incredible despair and difficulty around him that he had come back to see once again, the younger generation, already grown up, listening to the older, the ones who had first moved here so many years ago. But I can not tell this story, like what Acha can tell it, but I think I know just a little of what he is talking about.
They Are Breaking My Father's Heart:
They are breaking my father's heart.
I don't know how to write. I have to write about my village. Please wait for a moment, and listen.
Before, for as long as we can remember, we were all one people, each village was one village, part of one family, the Akha. We live in the highlands, in the forests. We would move through the forest and as it grew, we could survive, we knew how to live there.
My father, Abaw To-go Jabaw, is the Abaw Jeu-ma, the person responsible for the care of the spiritual life of the people of his village. He was the first Akha on this mountain, Lolo Godjor, in Thailand, just across the border from Burma. As the Jeu-ma he could make the village, this village that the Thai called San Chai, in Chiang Rai province in Thailand. But in Thailand we have come to the edge of the forest. The Thai do not allow us to move any more because there is not enough land, and the forest has been cut down around us.
My father has kept Akha tradition for long time, for all his life. In Akha we have the Peema and Neepa, who are healers and talk with our ancestors, and the Ba-djee, the blacksmith, and other special people. But my father is the Jeu-ma and he is the centre of the village, the heart of the people. In his life-time, many anthropologists have come to the Akha villages to learn the Akha Zang. Most of them have taken what they learned away with them and used it for their own purposes, not giving anything in return, as if we were some long dead civilisation. I think now that many of them must have been Christians, so how could they understand that what they were learning was not just words. The Akha Zang is our identity, our way of life. For thousands of years, as long as we can remember, the Akha Zang has guided us through birth and life and death. The Akha Zang is all the knowledge of our ancestors, we don't forget them; we can sing their names through more than 60 generations, and they still look after us, through the Akha Zang.
My father has always held the Akha Zang for his people. Now, after the anthropologists, have come the Christian missionaries. The anthropologists just took words from us. The missionaries are tearing into my father's village, they are breaking my father's heart. Around our village we don't build walls, but we have a Spirit Gate, the Lokong. It is the Akha that live inside the gate. Other people, other cultures live outside. That is how it has been for so long a time. How strong is the Akha Zang! How many generations have lived inside the Gate? My father can sing all their names, like a river flowing from the mountain.
Now it seems to me that my father will be the last person to hold the Akha Zang in his heart. At this time the pressures on our villages are devastating. There is not enough land to grow rice and not enough forest. There is a terrible problem with drug addiction which is draining the life out of every family. Before, we didn't know what poverty was. Every family had rice and we knew how to find food from the forest. Now the forest is ended and the rice is sold to buy drugs. Anything of value is stolen, even crops from the fields. We have become poor.
The missionaries come into the villages and say that they'll help us, but only if we become christians. It's the wrong way to help poor people. When an Akha chooses to become christian they have to throw away all the things that bind them to their ancestors, and must stop following the Akha Zang. We have remembered our ancestors for more than 60 generations. The missionaries tell us we must break the trust our ancestors had in us. All the Akha that lived before will be forgotten. The missionaries say they'll help our children, but they send them away from the village and they come back as christians. Our children will be lost.
The missionaries say they are helping us but they are breaking apart our families, and our villages. I think we should not allow the missionaries into traditional Akha villages. They should not be allowed to build churches inside our Spirit Gate. They are lying to us. If they really mean to help, why do they set family against family, parents against children, brother against sister? Everything changes, change is a part of life, but I cannot stay quiet while we are being destroyed. I don't know what my father is going to do. He says his heart is breaking. At the end of March 00 one christian Akha killed himself. His Akha name was Lya-ga. The fact that he killed himself was sad enough, but where was he to be buried? My father worried so much that this could bring misfortune to the village. Lya-ga couldn't be buried in the Akha way, in the Akha cemetery. My father didn't know what to do. Eventually the family sent for the christian priest to come from Chiang Rai. My father said this kind of thing has never happened in his life, that someone from the village couldn't even be buried with his ancestors. The christians can't join with Akha ceremonies.
The priest from Chiang Rai wanted my father to go to the christian funeral. My father was worried because he thought they might be able to harm his spirit, and he is responsible for his people. He decided he should go to see what they would do to Lya-ga. They took Lya-ga to be buried some way outside the village, outside the gate, on his own. My father says he had never seen that sort of funeral; the body was not even wrapped and he was left all alone in the forest. My father thinks that the mans' spirit will be lost and will wander the forest. The bonds between the living and the dead are very strong in Akha tradition. Even before a child is born it is part of the village, part of the Akha community. When an Akha dies the Peema will sing to guide that persons' spirit to join the ancestors. If this doesn't happen it is bad for all the people in the village. The lost spirit will wander the forest, calling to friends and family to come and join them. Everybody in the village is upset and frightened about what has happened. My father is very old. He is one of the last Akha holding the heart of our village. I fear that this is the last generation of Akha. Our ancestors, apuh, apee, abaw, ama, ada, will never hear the voices of their children singing their names like a river flowing from the mountain.
Please everyone, write your Thai Embassy and complain about what the Missionaries are doing to the Akha of North Thailand.
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