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Akha Human Rights - Akha University


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Guest Book

Ralph S.
European Union
"I fully support Matthew McDaniel's work to fight for the Akha people's Human Rights and to help them maintain their culture."

Preston and Vannessa
"We find the persecution and destruction of the Akha and their culture to be repugnant and disgraceful, as it is for so many people around the world finding themselves targets of the US-exported War on Some Drugs, made all the more so by official complicity in the Akha's predicament, and US Government's silence on the issue. We are watching, and telling everyone we can about the Akha's predicament."

Preston and Vannessa

"It is absolute neccessary, that Akha-people can read and write their language and not only speak the Akha language. I appeal to the Thai government to help to preserve the great Akha culture."

Kind regards,
Siegfried ZillerBahnhofstr. 16
85084 Reichertshofen, Germany

J. Nance
"I support totally the important work of the Akha Heritage Foundation in assisting the Akha people in their struggles to survive and flourish as human beings, and in their efforts to preserve and sustain Akha culture. The rich traditions and the vibrant energy of the Akha are valuable not only to the countries in which they live but also to the world at large. The world needs the Akha."

John Nance, USA

Stephen Morey

"I have travelled in Thailand, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, China, and Burma, and of them all, find Thailand the most friendly and hospitable to tourists. I have visited the Akha in their villages three times and love the high ridge villages where they practice ancient terracing, which has proven to be a very sustainable and healthy way of life. I was shocked to learn that these wonderful people are subject to relocation to areas where they cannot be sustainable and that drug rehabilitation efforts involve shock treatments and beatings."

K. G.

Tena Milner

Dennis and Toni McLaughlin

Mooh Dzurh
Mooh Dzur has assisted the transcribing and formating of Akha manuscripts and language aids for many years. We much appreciate his committment to the Akha Projects and the Akha Language for the Akha people.

Mark Marquisee
"A recent visit to an Akah village in Northern Thailand gave me hope for the future of our species. The Akah are one of many cultures around the world that have learned to live in harmony with their environment. It is becoming increasingly clear that the assimilated, homogenized cultures of the industrialized world have lost this ability. In the end, less may be more, and the Akha, like the Amish, may help us find the true path to a sustainable future." Mark Marquisee, Ph.D. USA

Letter to Thai ambassador
Washington, DC

Thu, 2 Mar 2000
From David Harris

Dear Mr. Ambassador:

I recently visited Thailand for the first time, and I am writing to express to you my admiration for your country in terms of its natural beauty, the beauty of its historic and religious treasures (temples, palaces, etc.), and the friendliness of its citizens. It may sound strange for someone to profess homesickness for a place they have only spent two weeks of their life, yet I do feel something akin to that. And I look forward to the time when I can once again visit Thailand.
One aspect of your country which I find fascinating is the fact that there are still indigenous tribes to be found there, living off the land as they have for countless generations. Coming from a country who "civilized" (it may be more accurate to say "subdued") all its native tribes several generations ago, I find it amazing and laudable that Thailand has been able to accommodate these groups under pristine conditions for as long as it has.  (Especially when you consider what a short time this country has been inhabited by us Anglo-Saxons compared to the long history of Thailand). I understand, though, that this is changing now as plantations and other economic interests move further and further into the back country, and this worries me. 
To my mind, these relatively undisturbed tribes represent a potential wealth to Thais that should not be underestimated. Native knowledge of local eco-systems should be catalogued in detail as it could have immense worth to future generations of Thais and others who will inhabit that area of the globe someday. This knowledge is not to be found anywhere else. Also, these local eco-systems should be spared from development as they are a unique world treasure. Please don’t allow the mistake to be made in your country that many others here in the West and elsewhere have made over the past few generations in supplanting local plant and animal life with artificially introduced pines and other alien plant and animal life. The effects of this cannot be known in advance and, in many cases, could be devastating to your country’s forests and other areas of natural beauty.
I strongly urge you to use your influence to encourage your government to act now to preserve the beauty and diversity of Thailand by allowing the hill tribes to continue living as they have for generations and by preserving the wilderness areas which they inhabit. Development and agriculture are necessary activities which provide highly developed societies like Thailand and the United States with jobs, food, and other necessities. However, these activities should be limited to the areas where they have traditionally been practiced so that the unique natural treasures like the forests of northern Thailand can be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.
Another thing I was very impressed with on my recent visit is the Buddhism which many Thais practice. It was so refreshing to us to encounter a religious tradition that is not bent on displacing everyone else’s traditions the world over the way many in the West are. One concern I have about Thailand is that my own country’s Christian missionaries are contributing to the demise of the unique hill-tribe cultures even more rapidly than local economic concerns are. I do hope you’ll consider stopping or at least restricting the activities of these behemoth organizations who go into small villages and push their weight around just because they can.  I, a Christian myself, find this intolerable, and I sincerely believe it needs to be stopped.
In conclusion, I firmly believe that if steps are taken to preserve the unique phenomenon of the hill tribes and their natural environment, people of the future will laud and honor Thailand as a forward-thinking bastion of the rare common sense that has been so severely lacking in my own and other Western countries throughout the past several generations. It pains my heart to think of all that my ancestors have destroyed which can never be brought back to us.
Thanks for your time. Let me close by wishing you, your king, your family, and your other compatriates a happy and prosperous future. 


David Harris
1042 Jeff Ryan Drive
Herndon, VA 20170

cc: Office of Education Affairs, Embassy of Thailand, Washington, DC
    Office of Commercial Affairs, Embassy of Thailand, Washington, DC
    Office of Agricultural Affairs, Embassy of Thailand, Washington, DC
    Office of Science and Technology, Embassy of Thailand, Washington, DC
    Office of the Economic Counsellor (Investment), Embassy of Thailand,
Washington, DC
    Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations

Josephine and Mags Talk Shite
Plus a letter to the Disgusting Lonely Planet


Our arrival in the Akha village Huuh Mah Akha was late, Sunday night, but it didn’t stop loadsa people comin’ over 2 see wot the craic was.We gotta new house 2 stay in,which is amazinly built,in 3 days we were told,and that’s a long time-it’s ususally a day.We drank green tea,were given local fags 2 smoke andwere told the craic by our new neighbours via Matthew.
After  along day of talkin’ we were knackered,so we went 2 bed,with the sounds of the cow bells.Next mornin’ our neighbour Adu woke us up,another lady called Abo came in and the kids started the fire,brought a pot of rice and got breakfast on...we were dyin’ 4 a cuppa,it was pretty early-dunno wot time it was,there’s no clock’s ‘ere.U go by gettin’ up,doin’ yer work and sunset.The view from our house is amazin’-just beautiful,nothin’ but mountains and tree’s.
School started when one of the elder women got us from the house.We went up with an idea of wot 2 do..the a,b,c and numbers......well wotta class!The kids went through the alphabet,numbers and dreaw brillant pictures..’class’ finished when the kids got up and left!!The ages range from 2-12yrs,with the older teenagers comin’ 2 us at night 2 practise thier english.The young people through all the different ages are eager 2 learn,which is good,and they enjoy teachin us Akha
.What the village has been through in this past while is something else,yet they are very welcomin’ and warm people.Their smiles say it all and their eyes could tell a million stories.
Our house has people comin’ and goin’ all the time,language dosen’t matter,well some of the time it does,we all sign 2 each other and we attempt our Akha and can be understood,with a wee bitta help!!
Went for an amazin’ walk the 1st afternoon,walked throught their land,up and over the hills,towards the Burmise boarder.You can see the work they’ve done on the land,carefully ploughed,planted and terreced fields.The higher up you go the more you see of the village and their surroundin’ land.These people are amazingly hard workin’,the women are up at 4am each mornin’ 2 pound the rice for the days food.And our house like their own houses,the walls woven from bamboo,the roof bamboo leaves,the structure bamboo poles and wood,even the wee table is woven....
The 2nd day saw a celebration day,so no school,only more Akha lessons for us.It was a celebration of the village belongin’ 2 the Akha people once again,as there were families offa different tribe called the Lee-saw,who had been converted to  Christianity by the Chinese missionaries.So there’s a wee chuch in Ho,ma,ka, built by these god lovin’ feckers.The church,Lee-saw and the missionaries are not welcome,we wanna burn the church down,but doin’ this may make our stay uncomfortable..maybe when we go!?!
 We headed down the lane a wee bit where they were cookin’ a pig that they had hunted.Now i ain’t no veggie since this trip as in some places ,people have gone out and killed yer dinner,eatin’ meat like this is fine by me,it ain’t exactly supermarket shoppin’!
We sat down with the elders and the other villagers for the dinner and wow wotta feast it was ,we felt a we bit under dressed,as all the women we were sittin’ with were wearin’ the traditional Akha clothes,which they wear all the time,it’s just when yer sittin’ amongst a group of them,fully decked out,yer t-shirt and jeans just don’t cut it!!After dinner we hung out in the shade,the aul fella’s makin’ fools of us,them speakin’ Akha us answerin’ back,everyone  thought it was great craic!!We both tried wot the women and men chew on,,,the bettlenut wrapped inna leave,ming and strong..funny though,they loved the look on our faces.Later we tried some of their whiskey-WOE-had the giggles after one cup-strong stuff.
After hangin’ out came back had 40 winks..cos you know not doin’ alot sure makes ya tired!Aye right!
After my wee nap,went for a dander,2 take some photo’s from ‘afar’-hopefully you’ll be able to see something with my shitty camera!
Makin’ dinner is some craic ,you gotta make a wee fire first.Everything gets cooked inna wok,rice,cabbage(Suzie you’d be proud)chilli,garlic and beans,real fart material.and our one but last cup of coffee-0ur savior!!We’ve also become coffee addicts since travellin’.
Seemed like it was gonna be a quiet night ,but then the kids came in quick before goin’ up 2 sing on the newly dug land.The older teenagers came in,so we gotta game of shit bag goin(shit bag issa card game)Aba,one of the lads ,picked it up really quick and was kickin’ Helen’s ass in no time,but we reckon he was a card shark!A few games were played,then everyone crashed.We
 still had our washin’ up to do,so that was done by torch light.
It’s funny when yer crashin’ out,you can hear the animals outside,the pigs fightin’ and a chorus of insects that bleep and buzz.The funny thing ‘bout the pig’s,cute but they eat shit,it don’t matter who’s shit it is,they eat it-so i reckon the only bitta pork we’ll be eatin’ is the wild variety!!
Teachin’ these young people is something else,so keen 2 learn and so quick.We have pens and books left by Tony  and Julie,2 volenteers that were teachin’ for a month in January,when the village was threatened with eviction by the Thai army and Thai forestry department.
Mad to think that it all happened 2 months ago,everyone’s lives would’ve changed dramatically,if it wasn’t for the support it got from foriegn visitors and foreign media.All ‘cos the foresrty department waqnted to plant pine tree’s where the village was.They don’t give a shit ‘bout people’s live’s.And because Matthew had already seen wot happen’s in a relocated village..basically every thing goes to he was determined to do something ‘bout Ho,ma,ka..So hopefully with people in the village from different countries,the army and forestry department won’t try another eviction.
Day 4,the kids were hyper,dunno why,hadda good ‘class’, it’s amazin’ they’re so into it,some like doin’ the drawin’s more than the writin’ which is cool,but we try to encourage everyone to do a wee bitta writin’,wot ever theit level.After class sleep,we’re findin’ it hard to sleep,dunno why. So after 40 winks i went for a walk,a wee girl from the village,Smiler...cos she’s always got the biggest smile...came with me.And as we were walkin’ up the road outta the village,when we turned round she seen Ho,ma,ka from the hill,and the look on her face was something else.
See the village is way up the mountain,3000ft,at least,so not alot of visitors come in and people rarely leave the village.They grow everything,the bamboo,rice,vegetables,herbs,fruits,they’ve cattle,pigs and horses,so no need to go to any markets.
This is why relocatin’ villages and the missionaries movin’ in,has such a devistating effect on their lifestyles.
We’ve all read ‘bout wot the missionaries have done in the past to islands in the pacific and in different countries.So to see it happen now an’ still hard core more than ever is blood boilin’.They’re(the missionaries of doom,that is)are bent on changin’ people who have a unique culture an’ lifestyle.I’m not slaggin’ off big J.C himself,’cos he was probably a hippy who smoked dope who the Roman’s didn’t take a like 4.....but 4 people 2 barge on in,stick a cross up an’ start praisin’ the lord an’ sayin’ that if u don’t you’ll go 2 hell an’ that the culture you’ve know all your life is evil an’ is’ all the promise of money for the families..aye right...have u ever seen a poor pastor,vicar or wot ever?I haven’t yet,well i tell a lie only in East-enders!!
O.k i’ve gone on enough,we’ll be writin’ more as we’ve more time up in the village.Do check out more of the web site,an’ that’ll give u more of an idea of wot the craic is...see ya later laura.
Oh yeah,if u come 2 Thailand an’ feel like yer at Brighton or somewhere else in  Europe an’ not south east Asia,then this is a good project 2 get involved with.
Whether yer atta village,a computer whizz kid or a great blagger 4 fund raisin’.......u’ll get 2 see wot the craic really is.
Helen’s piece is next.

Alright Folks,Laura has filled yas in on how our days have been in the village of Ho,ma,ka.I`ll just blabber on awee bit on how we got to be here and what i saw.Laura and meself have been traveling fer a wee while now and ta some of the most amazing places,but ya can`t help askin yerself,what these places used ta be like before the Missionaries moved in,before they started gettin inta the western way of life, before the backbackers.I know alot of travelers have good intentions,but thats not always the case.Thailand is 1 of the places that struck us like this,the tourist is catered for.Ya want ta see the hilltribes of thailand...a tour will be organised fer ya ,where ya can go and see the hilltribe people like some kind of circus show.This has been playing on my mind constantly,are we damaging their way of life or what?,were definatly not contributing.The tourist board in Thailand makes loads of money from the "hilltribe trekkkks".Do the hilltribes benifit????Ya dont see trekkks going ta some of the villages the missionarys have taken over....where theres a huge cement compound where the missionarys themselves are livin  in comfort i have ta add,and hole familys are livin in tiny hut`s.Whats about the craft`s ya see selling everywhere from people like the AKHA  Tribe,how much money do they see outta selling their heritage????We first got an urgent email about an AKHA village under threat of eviction by the forestry department and the Thai army...That stirred our intrest and we emailed back 2 see if we could do anything.We found out afterwards that 1 of the reasons the village was saved was  with the help of an international presence..people and media,and of course the strength of the people.That was awee while ago but we still came anyway,because the threat is always there.When we met Matthew he suggested teaching english in 1 of the villages, because the villagers had requested it..In the beginning i was feeling a bit weird about teachin the kids english in the village.I was thinkin it would be better fer them to be writing and reading AKHA. But we ended up teaching Akha too, cause the leters are english, so we could show them how to spell. But the other side of it is,if they speak these languages,Thai,English.They can speak fer them selves,voice their own opinions to international communitys.The other good thing about being there(besides it being an amazing place)is being an international observer.So its not so easy fer the Thai army or the Missionaries ta move in.We`ve only been there 5 days but weve seen alot in that time.We were honoured to wittness and be part of a celebration which shows they are proud of their traditional way  of life dont want to change.We`ve met amazing people who, even though they`ve been thru all this shite with foreigners(missionaries),they still openily welcomed us inta their village and life.On the scale of things that are happening here we`re nothing,but as the sayin goes every little bit helps....wheather that be money or volenteerin or gettin on  2 embassys or yer consulate,ask questions,just the fact that more people know about the shite going on here helps.When yer traveling or even sittin by yer computer reading this,its really easy ta distance yerself from whats going on or ta say ya have`nt got enough time,money, or the language barrier.Laura and meself have only got a short time here,its opened our eyes ta alot,and as fer language....its more fun than anything else..we`re learnin words in AKHA with the help of everyone,from the elders 2 the wee kids.There`s only language barriers if ya want want it ta be that way...............Alright Folks we`re headin backta HO.MAKA fer some more.....................Included in this Diary section,is a blurb about big M himself,read, you`ll realise how much 1 person can do...with feck all money and alot of energy......And theres more....Stickers have been made up MISSIONARIES SUCK.....They AKHA think they are great.T-shirts which are in Thai ....anymore ideas folks????by the way feel free ta send in Ideas,whether its fer fund raising or just plain good auld hellraising.....HeLL`n... 

More Mag’s an’ Jose Talk Shite

Another week was spent up at Huuh,Mah,’ another amazin’ one it was 2.
We arrived with a wet welcome,it’s the Thai new year,so there’s water fights no excuse 4 not gettin’ wet at the village.  This week was abusy one,not only withthe school,but with vistor’s,a new house bein’ built,dinner’s,hikin’ about an’ the ususal craic.  Our few day’s away,meant that when we got back,the young un’s were up 4 abitta learnin’-which was brillant.We did alot of writin’,drawin’ an’ sum’s.  Not every day hadda full class,a couple of days there were just a few,but this meant a more 1 on 1 class.
With the visitor’s ,the 1st mornin’ seen 2 sly Thai people comin’ up wantin’ the foreigner’s name’s off the signin’ form.When we asked 4 their names,they weren’t into it,they didn’t show any I.D or why they wanted these names.  So they went away empty handed,as we weren’t gonna give them take any thing.  That’s what happen’s ,as the people at the village are so warm an’ friendly,people like the 2 mentioned,way in bein’ all smiles,but really they’re takin’ advantage of the situation.
Pretty sickenin’ 2 watch.
The same day in the aftrenoon,we hadda visit from a German missionary,an’ his wee gang of Christians.Well didn’t we have fun,abusin’ him!!!Wotta wanker-his agrument is that we were oppressin’ the Christians in the village-aye right.We didn’t even know who the Christians were,’til we seen them in the church on Sunday.
So we laughed heartily at that.Then he threatened us,sayin’ that they’d be consequences 4 oppressin’ the Christians-now that really brought a laugh!!An’ cos he knew he was onna loosin’ streak,as we were makin’ a fool outta him,in front of his wee gang an’ the other villagers,he tried 2 say the way we loooked would have an’ influence in the village...emmmm no!!  It pissed us off,but was funny at the same time.  After that wee visit,we saw more of the Christian Akha,who seemed 2 live in the top half of the village.
It’s weird ,cos u see these people workin’ together if there’s a house 2 b built an’ general day 2 day activities.But you’d wonder if the Christian Akha are pushin’ or tryin’ 2 push the ‘Christian’way onto the traditional Akha.
There does seem 2 big a divide an’ it’ll get bigger.  At one dinner we were at 2 bless the new house,a heated discussion was goin’ on,between this Christian Akha an’ with our mates Frank an’ Jonno.  We were sittin’ with Frank n Jonno,an’ a few of the elders one bein’ the Zumi-spirit man.
The Christian fella ,who didn’t have much back up,bar another fella ,spoke alot ‘bout Jesus-from what we could make out.The other fella’s in the house sat an’ listened,2 both sides...Traditinal v Christain.  The women listened on their side of the house.
We stayed until the wee woven table that we ate from was blessed an’ taken away..we then went an’ played cards with Aba an’ Lodu down in our house.  The discussion must’ve went on 4 a while,as we heard Frank n Jonno come home much later...
We never learned wot it was fully about,as we left the next mornin’ an’ were 2 busy drinkin’ coffee an’ sayin’ our good bye’s.
The new house was built inna day,an’ wotta fine house it was ,an’ wot dinner’s that happened.
2 big dinner’s in 21 day an’ their  home brew whiskey,that would blow yer head off if u had 1 ,2 many!!
>Then anotherb big dinner the next night,where i think me an’ Helen did have >2 much whiskey-well just a wee bit!!Hadda fit of the giggle’s...good job >there were other fella’s in the corner havin’ the craic!  On the Sunday whilst the service was goin’ on in the church,some of the fella’s had cleared an’ area,dug a level piece of land an’ built a few wee benches-lookin’ out onto the mountains.Beautiful spot,this is 2 b there singin’ an’ dancin’ place-an’ they drew up a sign with the Akha Law on it...they got us 2 write our names underneathit,which we thought was class of them 2 do..
Very touchin’ so it was.
So the week passed by 2 quickly.
The kids were up 4 water fights,so we hadda big splash down,at the stream.Boys-Ali- v Girls-Aboo-..some craic that was.  We all went 4 a walk after ,the girls showin’ us the fruits an’ herbs 2 eat.Amazin’ ,everythings there 4 them 2 eat..well not yer mars bar an’ all ,but u know wot i mean.
We’d get wee food parcels from different villager’s..chillied beans,herbs,veg,fruit.
The kids would bring us flowers an’ berries off the tree.  Our mates Frank n Jonno would b round the same time everyday 4 their kaffa doh.
Both their wives both called Amar[see in Akha culture,names r not important,it’s yer status in the family,is where u get yer name these 2 women who r 2 of the elder women in the village have the same name]would b over checkin’ on our rice situation,bringin’ us more an’ hangin’ out.
It was really nice one night,we were hangin’ out on the platform outside the house,Frank n Jonno,Amar an’ some of her grandchildren an’ us sittin’ star gazin’.Amar started singin’ really quietly,but u could hear it so clearly as there was no other noise around.
Just beautiful.
We seen some Akha stitch work ,done by Amar an’ one of her daughters Mie-sa.The work that goes into the clothes ,bags headresses etc is out standin’ much time an’ effort you’d think it was done by machine..  We got our dinner was fish..cooked 4 us by Aba an’ the washin’ up was done ..Wow!!!They certainly know who 2 cook,an’ how 2 use the rescources around them.
The usual craic was had,us learnin’ more Akha-so speakin’ with sign,whistles,Akha an’ English.Even when the craic was had in our own languages we all knew wot the craic was.Funny....  Lotsa coffe drinkin’,card playin’,hill walkin’...1 day we went 2 the wee town down the mountain-so that was all good ,gotta lift with the shit wagon...yes literally!!Unfortunately the lift wasn’t goin’ back 2 the village-doh-so a 15km UPHILL in the heat walk was 2 b had...woe....2 us a big deal...2 the Akha no worries..they’d b smart enough 2 sort out a lift!!!!
Of our own doin’ this time we took a stomp up the hills towards the Burmise boarder...that was pretty class..
A constant flow of people young n old came through the house..some days it was a chill zone..Frank n Jonno crashed out on the men’s side 1 afternoon after buildin’ the benches..word must’ve spread that it was a quiet house free offa lotta kids,as a couple more fella’s would come an’ chill......  Our time at Huuh,Mah,Akha will b with 4 ever....amazin’ beautiful,intelligent people.
I do plan 2 go back 2 the village inna month or i hope it happen’s 
an’ i hope Huuh,Mah,Akha stays save from the people who want 2 shit on 
it.....Until next time Laura

Here is some facts for you:

Fact Sheet:

The Akha are loosing their minimum needed land to grow rice due to Petroleum Authority of Thailand and forestry department pine planting and government policy.

Scores of Akha villages are being over run by western "evangelical" missionaries.  They are not allowed to keep a traditional village to themselves, the missionaries always intrude and begin dictating to them.

Health services to the Akha carry racial prejudice

All Akha women are required by Thai health authorities to have the Tetanus Toxoid vaccine at least twice during pregnancy.  This vaccine, funded by WHO has had its reputation tarnished by reports of the use of the tetanus toxoid as a carrier for a sterilization vaccine also being worked on by WHO.  No woman should be vaccinated during pregnancy and never against her willful consent.  Akha women are told if they don’t take the vaccine, they will not get identification papers for their baby.  The women are often charged for these vaccines as well, making it into a major money maker. The WHO is aware of these conditions and fail to take action.

Villages are moved against their will based on forestry, water and land policy and the Akha usually have little say in it, and are often considered the lowest human specie by the Thai people yet the Thai people make enormous profit off trekking to their villages, backpackers guided by the exploitive Lonely Planet Guide Books.

The Akha have no access to the UN.  Its tiers are nearly inaccessible.

The Akha are considered squatters where ever they are, how ever long they have been there and their land is regularly stolen.

Arrests over smoking of opium, a herbal medicine that can also be a scourge if over used, is used to deplete villages of males. Opium was an exploitive drug introduced by the lovely British.

Missions and NGO’s make a handy business of pulling children, especially marriage age girls from villages in the name of saving them from prostitution, of course the second agenda of seperating them from the "primitive culture" and "assimilating them" into Thai culture.  This of course leaves many Akha men with no women to marry. Yet many of these women still end up in prostitution, the projects the richer, the villages the poorer.

Many Akha women find no job short of prostitution in which to work.
Having no ID card will get you arrested, but working without one in a brothel in Bangkok will not.

Josephine & Mags Done Talkin Shite.

Our Letter to the Disgusting Lonely Planet Guidebook Company

Dear Lonely Planet:

We are two travelers from Ireland, Belfast and Drogheda to be exact.
We have used your book a lot over the years.
We are now in South East Asia, Maesai, Chiangrai, Thailand.
We like to volunteer with different orgs in countries we travel to so that we can get a real feel for the country.  We found your blurb on the hill tribes in Thailand to be inaccurate and encouraging the exploitation of the hill tribe people via trekking.  This is highly dissappointing since it would appear that Lonely Planet goes to length to pride itself on being right on and country people friendly.

The reason why we know this is because we got involved in a project in Chiangrai Province, and compared to what is in the book the reality for the hilltribe is very different and your book is mostly in error.

It would appear from the amount of type space that you delegate in your book to the trekking business, that you are obviously encouraging the use of this highly exploitive industry in Thailand.  This trekking business is very large, run by Thais, can’t be run without hill tribe "targets" but most all of the money is pocketed by taxi drivers, van drivers, hotels, guesthouses and guides.  Few guides are hilltribe, and if so they just get in the same game and their own villages benefit very little.

The tourists themselves get told mostly fiction on the part of the guides, much of it discusting ridicule or attempts to eroticize hilltribe women like they are some kind of wild sexual animals that will hump stones given the chance. 

In reality, the hilltribe get zip money while being blamed for everything, used in every photo promoting tourism brochure via the famous "breast feeding momma"kind of photos.

They are heavily penalized for smoking opium which was introduced by the British while offered no aid by the British. 

They are not readily given ID cards, allowed to travel, or paid fairly for their labor.  Their land is taken away because they are designated as official squatters even though they may have been on that parcel of land for more than 100 years.

While Thais run brothels and western beer bars flourish off hocking the asses of these hill tribe girls, Thai society prefers to shift blame and say that their fathers sell them when in reality poverty sells them in a profitable Thai marketplace.

These people are abused and mistreated and given much prejudice.  They receive poor if little medical care.  They have high infant mortality rates and poor diets from having been forced to relocate repeatedly.  While western women would never allow themselves to be vaccinated by some gomer from WHO during pregnancy, these people are vaccinated with tetanus toxoid twice during pregnancy.  If they want to refuse they are told that they will not get ID papers such as they are, for the baby.  They must also pay as much as 300 baht for each vaccination.  There are scores of in-utero deaths among these same women.  WHO doesn’t care.  They think its safe.  They think its fine to violate human rights so Canada can sell more of this shit.

Forestry is planting thousands of rai of non native specie pine all over the mountains, blaming hill tribe, which you advocate exploiting, for the deforestation, no matter how many times they force them to move and start over.  Meanwhile, if population in the mountains is an issue, why are more and more low land residents being allowed to relocate to the mountains while all this land is being taken from the hill tribe, such that they don’t even have enough to grow their rice.  You can’t get much more economical than only taking enough from the environment to grow rice as compared to wasteful societies such as the one your book comes from.

Yet trekking to these hill tribe communities makes no less than millions of dollars for people who are not hill tribe.

You are promoting this practice and we will do everything in our power to slam your books until you pull this shit.

You can see a copy of this letter at under our entry Josephine and Mags.

Helen McDonnell and Laura Workman

Akha Visit 1999
By Ali Ben Kahn

During July/August 1999 I was able to visit northern Thailand and meet Matthew McDaniel of the Akha Foundation.  I was very impressed by the various activities being undertaken by the Foundation, and also very alarmed by the situation of the Akha in Thailand at the present time.

I initially contacted Matthew in early/mid 1999 after several months of reading his Akha newsletter which is posted on various internet bulletin boards.  I am presently undertaking a Ph.D. in the area of the recognition of indigenous knowledge systems, (or the lack thereof), in promoting plant biodiversity conservation within the very problemmatic context of ‘development’.  Matthew’s internet newsletter caught my eye as he seemed to be grappling with many of the same problems that concern me and was obviously trying to come up with some alternatives to conventional western style development.

Matthew gave me a good introductory talk about the situation of the Akha.  Much of this information can be found on the Akha Foundation homepage, though not in such detail.  Matthew then took me to several villages so that I could see for myself what was happening.

I have ocassionally seen reponses to Matthew’s newsletters and comments questioning his view that the current situation is one of crisis.  Unfortunately, I have to confirm his belief that, basically,  the Hill Tribe cultures are under siege and I can assure everyone that Matthew’s reports do not exaggerate in any way the urgency of the situation.

However, I want to make clear that the following is based on my own interpretation of what I saw and learned, based on my own background as someone who has very deep reservations about the whole concept of ‘development’ as defined and created by western culture.  I don’t pretend to have an easy answer or a new whizz-bang alternative.  However, I believe that we need to question the whole concept of ‘development’, as indeed many are already doing, and try to evolve some new ways of sharing wealth, constructive technology, knowledge systems and so on.

Having said that, back to northern Thailand.  Under the guise of ‘development’ and ‘modernisation’ there appears to be a policy on the part of the Thai government to systematically dismantle Hill Tribe cultures.  My ongoing research suggests that there are a number of reasons for this.

Thailand operates a very old-fashioned, assimilationist policy aimed at bringing the Hill Tribes into the ‘mainstream’ Thai culture.  As a white Australian, the very idea of assimilationism makes my hair curl!  Maybe some people mean well by wanting others to assimilate.  A lot of the time however, assimilationism is just another way of saying ‘your culture is crap, ours is better so take it up or else, because we’re not going to allow any space for you to be different’.  In other words, it leads inexorably to cultural genocide and the Australian Aboriginals have educated us about the extreme injustice and arrogance of this!

The land that should belong to the Hill Tribes (but which doesn’t legally as they have no ‘land rights’ or citizenship status) could be ‘better’ used by the Thai government and/or Thai farmers.  Without going into the various rights and wrongs of this, or the situation of impoverished Thai farmers, suffice to say that some very lucrative plantation deals, tourism ventures etc are in the offing if only those Hill Tribes weren’t cluttering up the place!  The situation regarding tourism is interesting though: the Thai government is faced with some very awkward dilemmas here, given the big boom in Hill Tribe Treks-more later.

The need to be active (or at least appear to be active) in the field of biodiversity conservation and agricultural reform.  This has become a major interest of various heavy duty aid and development agencies (World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank etc).  Thailand is faced with some very embarassing past history in this area, e.g. systemmatic destruction of their once widespread forest resources facilitated by official corruption and lack of good governance to mention only one.

Unfortunately, it has now proved convenient to scapegoat the Hill Tribes and to claim that deforestation, soil erosion, stream siltation and numerous other environmental ills are caused by their agricultural practices, one of which is shifting cultivation.  The possibility that these people may have valuable indigenous knowledge about their surrounding ecosystems and to have developed production systems suited to their environment is never mentioned or acknowledged.

This scapegoating the hill tribes for the problem of deforestation is very widespread.  I visited the Hill Tribe Museums in both Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai.  Both feature display information panels that put the blame for deforestation squarely on the shoulders of the Hill Tribes.  No mention is made of government sponsored logging, illegal logging and the corrupt practices of the past and present which persist even though logging was banned in the early 90’s, and which in any case simply shifted the rape of the forests into Laos, Burma and Cambodia.

While it is undoubtedly true that shifting cultivation becomes less sustainable as population increases, there have been no recent demographic studies to clearly demonstrate that the hill tribe populations have increased or by how much.  This is another claim of the government: that the Hill Tribe populations are increasing at a rapid rate.  Whether or not this is actually true needs to be properly researched.

In relation to the putative effects of land clearing, in the course of my research I have found evidence that a major contributor to stream siltation in northern Thailand is, in fact, roadbuilding.  While travelling to and from the villages I saw many examples of road building practices that were nothing short of environmental vandalism on a monumental scale: these really have to be seen to be believed! No environmental impact studies had been undertaken, no proper/best practice guidelines exist in any meaningful context and road building proceeds with complete and absolute disregard of the surrounding environment.  The government is undertaking a massive roadbuilding programme to facilitate both trade and tourism, especially tourist access into ever remoter areas as part of the ‘Hill Tribe Trek’ phenomenon.

In this way, the government is faced with a dilemma: one the one hand, it wants the land the Hill Tribes are living on to create lucrative plantations. The plantations are usually pines and eucalypts and clearing of indigenous forest to plant them is common.  This is usually justified by the claim that the areas were already degraded (by, you guessed it, Hill Tribes).  Indeed, the Forestry Dept’s definition of re-aforestation/revegetation seems to consist entirely of planting with exotic plantation species.  Deals with Chinese interests for enormous joint plantation projects were being announced in the Thai media while I was there.

I am presently seeking information on development funding for ‘re-afforestation’and revegetation in Thailand.  Do the donors know, for example, what is really happening?

On the other hand, tourism is a mainstay of the Thai economy, especially during hard times such as the recent Asian economic crisis.  Hill Tribe Treks are the most recent BIG thing and so there is a need to maintain some villages.  However, many of the selling points of the treks are that the villages visited are ‘unspoilt, remote, intact indigenous cultures etc’ and so there is a need to keep pushing into ever more remote areas, to build more and more roads (bigger to accommodate bigger coaches) and so on.  It isn’t hard to see that this is completely unsustainable.

However, tourism aside, the overall policy is undoubtedly to move the Hill Tribes off the mountains.  Once moved, the people are provided with little or nothing in the way of services and facilities.  The situation concerning water is particularly critical and underscores the apparent reluctance of the Thai government to provide even the most basis infrastructure. This is in contradiction to the stated policy of the government, which partly justifies the moving of people in order to better provide for their basic needs in the areas of education, utilities and health care.

The real situation however, is very different.  I saw several villages that Akha had been moved to which were not even provided with a source of water.  Health care is an unobtainable dream and there are many well documented cases of Hill Tribe people being mistreated or ignored by health workers who view them as undeserving ignorant savages.

One of the things that the Akha Heritage Foundation does is to build wells.  I saw several excellent wells, constantly in use, that Matthew had helped to build.  However, it seemed absurd to me (and very revealing) that Matthew is undertaking such basic infrastructure works which by any standards should be provided by the government.

Moving villages has numerous consequences for the people involved.  They are always moved downwards, sometimes even to flat land which Akha are not used to, and the change in altitude can affect the health of both the people and their livestock.  Loss of livestock means less protein.

The forced removals seriously disrupt the traditional agricultural production cycles which also leads to dietary problems and malnutrition.  Common ailments among Akha babies, eg congenital heart problems, are often blamed on dietary deficiency on the part of the mothers.  This is usually blamed on the eating of white rice but there can be no doubt that overall protein deficiency is a major contributor.  This in turn has increased pressure on the wildlife of the forests, notably barking deer and birds (which are noticeably absent due to heavy hunting).  Added to this is the aggressive marketing of MSG (monosodium glutamate) in Thailand, particularly among the Hill Tribes.  All this adds up to very serious dietary problems.

In short, and to be very blunt, it was hard to come to any other conclusion except that the Thai government is undertaking a deliberate policy of cultural genocide, dressed up in old-fashioned assimilationist language, or under the guise of environmental protection or development.

The Thai Forestry Department bears no resemblance to what most other forestry workers would recognise as comprising best practice forestry management.  It would be more appropriate to call it the Department of Logging and Plantations, and indeed you sometimes hear this said jokingly when referring to the Forestry Dept.

The use of the environmental protection motive to attack Hill Tribes is particularly invidious and hypocritical given the otherwise complete lack of commitment on the part of the Thai government to undertake proper natural resource management in the forests of the north.  There are no inventories of natural resources and no programmes to manage the forests in a sustainable manner and no scientific (western or otherwise) standards applied.  The rich store of Akha and other Hill Tribe lore concerning the forests is completely ignored in the face of logging and plantation pressures.

In reaction to this very negative government approach, the Hill Tribes are in the very embryonic phase of organising themselves to protect their culture and knowledge.  This is made additionally difficult due to the influence of the Christian missionaries, who always seem to initiate their entry into a village by telling the people that their own culture and religious beliefs are wrong (often described as ‘devil worship’) and must be given up.  In Christian invaded villages it is unusual to see women wearing headdresses (which are enormously significant components of women’s cultural lives) and in some villages there are only older women present, as the missionaries encourage the younger women and girls to leave the village.

The reason given for this is to save them from ‘devil worship’, abuse by the males of the village, and for purposes of education.  The fact that many of these removed women and girls end up as prostitutes is an interesting phenomenon that requires further investigation. This removal of younger women has a devastating effect on the age structure of villages, the production cycles, social interactions, marriage prospects and so on.

The Thai government maintains a hands-off approach to these Christian activities but it isn’t hard to see that this cultural disruption aids and abets the government’s covert aim of gradually dismantling Hill Tribe culture and removing them altogether from the mountains of northern Thailand.  Cultural demoralisation will simply make it that much easier.

In relation to this missionary activity, I will be honest and say that I personally have never been able to understand the zeal that lies behind thinking that you have the right to go to someone’s else’s culture and carry out this kind of activity.  I can understand compassion and generosity but not the colonial mentality that says that you should give up your ‘devil-worshipping’ ways (as defined by me) and take up my system of beliefs.  I found it very interesting that Matthew views this as a human rights issue and my conclusion is that he is right.  I think that this will become a big issue in the near future as increasing numbers of indigenous peoples gain the confidence to challenge what is, after all, a direct attack on their basic human right to adhere to their own system of beliefs.  In addition, I think that extreme fundamentalist evangelicism and missionary zeal will be recognised as the mental illness it undoubtedly is.

In relation to the missionaries in northern Thailand, I tried hard to find examples of good works but failed.  I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, but found only a weird kind of ignorant fundamentalist empire building whereby the missionaries are happy to build a big church on the highest point of a village that doesn’t even have a well!  The role of these missionaries in the destruction of Hill Tribe culture should not be underestimated.

In relation to tourism, I would urge everyone reading this to keep in mind the following if you ever visit northern Thailand and consider going on a ‘Hill Tribe Trek’.  These treks are the latest fad and often dressed up as ‘ecotourism’.  Inquiries quickly reveal, however, that local tribespeople gain little benefit from these treks and suffer considerable disruption to their village life and privacy.  In addition, remember that the popularity of treks has encouraged the government to increase road building and other means of access into ever more previously remote villages.


So, sorry to be talking doom and gloom but this IS a crisis situation.  It’s only by knowing the truth and challenging what is happening that we can help the Hill Tribes who are starting to get organised to challenge these attacks on their culture and to have the right to make decisions about their future for themselves.

My experience helped me realise that Hill Tribe cultures (and other cultures in general) are incalculable treasures.  We may not all agree on everything and there’s always room for dialogue, discussion and even argument and disagreement.  After all, no-one’s culture remains the same forever (if it does you’re in trouble).  The important thing is who gets to decide, how much respect you’re given and how much space is available for difference to exist.  In Thailand at the present time, that space is apparently almost non-existent.

Ali Ben Kahn

B.A.; M.Env.Stud.; Grad. Dip. Outdoor Ed. & Outdoor L’dship.

Dept of Social Inquiry

University of Adelaide

South Australia


I am a plant ecologist and conservation biologist presently doing a PhD Degree at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.  My research field is the acknowledgment and application of indigenous knowledge in plant conservation as part of the development process.  This reflects my interests in several areas, mainly plant conservation and natural resource management, cultural diversity and the alternative development movement which is critical of the importation of western values, economics and knowledge systems into other cultures.

I have worked for many years as an environmental activist and am presently Vice President of the Nature Conservation Society of South Australia, the state’s pre-eminent science based community biodiversity and nature conservation organisation.  I also sit on several state statutory bodies dealing with issues pertaining to conservation and/or natural resource management.  I am a practicing Mahayana Buddhist and have traveled extensively, especially in Africa, where I lived in Zimbabwe in the late 80’s.

(Ms) Ali Ben Kahn

Department of Social Inquiry

University of Adelaide, SA, 5005

Ph: (08) 8303 3351 (wk); (08) 8449 9379 (hm)

Down The Tube
By Joseph Cooke

Late last month (Nov. 20-25), I spent a few days with Matthew McDaniel, getting a picture (and a stomach-full) of some of the things that are happening to Akha culture.  This was not a pretty thing to see, but I want to tell you a little about one troublesome bit of reality that I bumped into.  (There are many other bits,  but I don’t have a clear enough picture to write  about them here.) 
But, before I tell my little piece of the story, I must tell you that  I am a former missionary with the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, which I have always loved, and still do.  I’m also sold on the missionary enterprise, provided it is conducted with a deep love for people and a true respect for the cultures within which they live.   I cannot therefore be dismissed as a missions hater with an axe to grind.  I’m merely saying something that I think needs to be said.
What it all boils down to is this:  Akha culture is going down the tube.  The same may, no doubt, be said of other tribal cultures in Thailand; but Akha culture is probably further along than the others.  In fact, if something radical does not happen, this culture will very soon be done for. 
The sad thing is that there is at least one missionary agency that is overtly trying to make it happen as fast as possible.  This is a group from Taiwan that has concluded that Akha culture is of the Devil, and that their culture needs to be smashed in order that God’s kingdom may be established. 
Their modus operandi goes something like this.  They will go into a new and vulnerable village (and all Akha villages tend to be vulnerable because of a centuries-old habit of yielding to those around them who have greater political and economic power than they do) and they will offer the headman a big sum of money if he will lead the whole village to convert to Christianity.  If the headman refuses, they will go around the village and find those who are disaffected with him or with things as they are, and they will offer these people a good sum of money if they convert and jettison their devilish tribal ways.  Then they proceed to indoctrinate their converts with their concept of the evils of Akha culture, so they in turn  become as rabid as themselves.  Indeed, converts have been known to go into the homes of their unbelieving neighbors and confiscate their offending devil-worshiping artefacts. 
The net result is a divided village with no agreed upon guidlines for coping with the everyday activities of village life, and no accepted source of village authority.  Furthermore, everyone knows that there is money waiting in the wings for those who will turn to the new way.  And who can stand up against their money and their power.  So the village becomes even more vulnerable than it was before—with almost predictable results..
Then, when a  village has become Christian, the missionary agency builds a great, big concrete church in the middle of the village—one that’s far bigger and more intrusive than it needs to be.  And it’s built entirely by foreign money, so it’s not the fruit of the people’s own values and labor, and they can’t really own it as theirs in any important sense.  Also, before long, they will be provided with a pastor who is likewise supprted by foreign money and has a salary way beyond what the average villager gets.  Yet, at the same time, very little of the foreign money is used to really improve the lot of the bulk of the villagers.
Frankly, I do not understand this way of doing things at all.  Why would anyone want to destroy a culture in the name of God?  (We Americans have already tried this in our arrogance, and it didn’t work.  Indeed we’ve all but shut the door of redemption to those whom  we have destroyed in this way.)  And why would anyone even want converts who have to be paid to believe?  And why would anyone want to create a servile dependance upon foreign funding.  Do they care nothing for the dignity and initiative of the people themselves? 
The whole thing makes my blood run cold.  And I’m sure that most people will feel as I do.  Indeed, I know that my many, many missionary friends would react in this same way—if they knew what was going on.  On the other hand, surely some of them do indeed know.  But if so, why aren’t they speaking up?  Why aren’t they publishing this kind of information to the four winds?  Why aren’t they protesting ceaselessly about it?
I wish I knew the answer.

Mr. Jagson
Thailand 1999

I think it is the medias task to focus on this question and it must be of greatest interest for the Swedish people to know how Thailand’s administration is treating these Hilltribe People. There are thousands of Swedish tourists going to Thailand every week. They ought to be informed what the regime there is doing against those tribes so they can decide if they want to support this regime by going to Thailand.  I have been there myself to see how the pine forrests are spreading  where before there was a jungle with many different trees, plants and flowers.  The pine forrest is a dead forest because no other plants or animals can live there. Some of these projects planting pine are supported by big oil companies that are making a big thing by saying they are supporting renewable sources of energy. What they are doing is that they are cutting down big areas of jungle and replace them with pine trees. This is equal with chopping down rainforests which today makes big lines in newspapers. The result is that a few people get big amounts of money when the pine is harvested but during the time thousands people are forced to move from areas where they have been totally self supported.  We cannot quietly see this happen. Currently  thousands of Akha Hill Tribe People have been moved by the activities of the Thai Forestry, Army and Petroleum Authority of Thailand to make way for these pine forests.
It is time to stop this happening.
I have also addressed a question to Swedish Ministry of foreign affairs what the Swedish government are doing to make Thailand government to follow UN convention for human rights.
If you want to talk to Matthew about those matters than call him between 8.00 - 10.00 Thai time.
Then he normally can be reached.

Swedish text:
Denna e-post anlände för någon timme sedan. Jag tycker det är mediernas uppgift att ta upp en sådan här fråga och det bör vara av stort intresse för den svenska allmänheten att känna till hur Thailands myndigheter behandlar dessa bergsstammar. Det är tusentals turister från Sverige som varje vecka åker till Thailand. De bör vara informerade om vad regimen gör mot dessa folk för att kunna ta ställning till om de vill stödja regimen genom att resa till Thailand.
Jag har själv varit på plats och sett hur pinjeskogarna breder ut sig där det förut varit en mycket artrik djungel. Pinjeskogen är en död skog eftersom där inte finns varken insekter eller djur. En del av de projekt som består av att plantera pinjeskog understöds av stora oljebolag som slår sig för bröstet att de är med och tar fram förnyelsebara energikällor. Vad de gör är att de skövlar djungelområden och ersätter med denna pinje. Det är jämförbart med nedhuggningen av regnskogarna som idag ger stora rubriker.  Resultatet är att ett fåtal får stora vinster när pinjen avverkas men under tiden är det hundratusentals människor som fördrivs ifrån områden där de förut har varit helt självförsörjda.
Vi kan inte stillatigande se detta fortsätta. Hitintills har tusentals av Akha-folket flyttats. Det är dags att detta stoppas.
Jag har även ställt en enkel fråga till utrikesminister Anna Lindh vad den svenska regeringen gör  för att förmå den thailändska regeringen att följa FN’s konventioner om de mänskliga rättigheterna.
Sven Johnson
Om ni ska prata med Matthew så ring 00 66 1881 9288 mellan 02.00 - 05.00 svensk tid. Då brukar man kunna nå honom.

Meeting with Zeneca representatives: 
From London
Makers of Gramoxone (paraquat) for import into Thailand

By Ali Ben Kahn

While I was visiting northern Thailand in 1999 and visiting several Akha villages, I was present at a meeting between representatives of Zeneca Agrochemicals and Matthew McDaniel of the Akha Heritage Foundation.  This meeting was the result of complaints made by Matthew concerning the problems faced by the Akha when using Gramazone, a paraquat herbicide produced and marketed in Thailand by Zeneca.
The concerns about the Zeneca product included the possibility that use of paraquat was causing skin ailments, foetal abnormalities and other serious health problems.  All these potential effects as well as many others are extensively discussed on numerous websites dealing with paraquat which Matthew and I consulted the night before the meeting with Zeneca.
The meeting was attended by Matthew McDaniel, Dr Clive Campbell from the Zeneca London office, 3 representatives from Zeneca Thailand, and myself as an observer.  Several Akha people were present at the start of the meeting and several came and went during its course.
Major issues raised included the proper handling and use of the product, the facilities available to enable proper use (such as washing facilities), the actual necessity or otherwise of using the product in the first place, and the proper disposal of used containers.
The meeting started with Dr Campbell giving a couple of Akha women cursory examinations.  They had complained of skin problems, especially on their legs, after using paraquat for weeding purposes.  Most of the early part of the meeting was taken up by assurances from Dr Campbell that paraquat was quite harmless so long as it wasn’t ingested orally and was used ‘correctly’.
Matthew then brought up the issue of reuse of empty containers for carrying water, mainly a problem with some of the glysophate containers marketed by Zeneca’s rivals.  Zeneca has made an attempt to address this by providing ‘unattractive’ packaging but storage of the chemical itself is a widespread problem as it is often stored near foodstuffs.
Mixing the chemicals and washing thoroughly after using the herbicide was also discussed.  This is a major problem as many Akha villages lack proper water facilities and, even where wells are present, there is considerable risk of contamination if chemical residues are splashed around.  Not to mention the effect on people and animals who frequent the surrounding areas.
Protective clothing is almost universally unavailable in Akha villages.  Add to this the limited knowledge that people used to an ‘organic’ environment have of the dangers inherent in using such a potentially toxic chemical and the scene is set for potential disaster.
Overall, as a result of the discussion, it became apparent that apart from the matter of re-use of containers for water use, Zeneca has barely spared a thought for the proper disposal of their containers or of the prevailing infrastructural constraints of local communities, especially in indigenous cultures.  Instructions regarding the importance of washing after herbicide use isn’t much use in a village that has no water supply.  Nor does it ensure that contamination of water sources won’t occur.
In short, it seemed clear that Zeneca considers they are only responsible for producing the chemicals, including the appropriate instructions on the labels, and marketing the product.
The Zeneca representatives from Thailand similarly failed to impress. They seemed to lack any understanding of the issues we were discussing and to basically feel that any problems encountered by the use of their product were the result of the ignorance of the Akha, either willful or otherwise.  It had obviously never occurred to them to consider the issues of storage, container disposal or lack of water for washing and proper mixing facilities.  They saw their roles as purely to facilitate the profitable conduct of Zeneca’s business in Thailand.  Everything else was someone’s else’s problem.
My personal view after hearing everything that was said was that there are two issues that need to be dealt with.  Firstly, the Akha don’t really need to use paraquat in the first place in terms of their own production methods.  This is because they use it as an adjunct to hand weeding which is partly why they suffer such high skin contact with the substance in the first place.  That is, they spray with paraquat and then proceed immediately with hand weeding.  So either they should use it instead of hand weeding (after all, this is partly what chemical herbicides are designed to replace) or else save the money they are spending on chemicals and simply carry on with their traditional hand weeding.
Secondly, where paraquat is used, especially where Akha are working as labourers for Thai farmers, proper facilities and knowledge of how to use it safely must be prerequisites for use.  This means that the matters of storage, mixing, availability of appropriate personal protection and washing facilities and disposal need to be addressed. The fact that this is a thoroughly unrealistic demand given the realities facing Akha at the present time essentially means, in my opinion, that toxic chemicals such as paraquat should not be marketed there in the first place.
Thus, my overall impression was that the case of paraquat in northern Thailand is a good example of a western company seeking to make profits from its product (in this case a potentially lethal product) without thinking that it has any responsibilities whatsoever in relation to the cultural or infrastructural appropriateness of that product.  The views of the Zeneca representatives at the meeting centered around what could be done to adapt the Akha to the product and never how the product could be better adapted to the realities of agricultural life in rural Thailand.
The best compromise that seemed available at the meeting was to encourage Zeneca to plough back some of its profits into providing appropriate infrastructure in villages to enable safer use of its product. This involved the possibility of providing money for well building and assisting with an ‘education’ programme concerning proper use and handling of paraquat.

Journal Entry: not necessarily for publication !! (but I thought you might like to read it, but as you can see, it’s not in ‘official’ report type language.
Monday 26th July 1999
Went with Matthew to meet with Zeneca reps in the Flat Village (Akha 1).  This village was my first sight of Akha and the women in their wonderful headdresses.  We had tea at someone’s house: this is traditional, you can’t visit a village without at least drinking tea as this ensures you are a friend/guest and not an enemy or someone with dodgy designs.
After having tea with some of the women a nice shiny new car rolled up and out climbed 4 chubby well dressed men in western sports clothes, all clutching laptop computers and cameras, with nice big solid gold watches etc.  These were the men from Zeneca!  One was from head office in London and the other three were Thais who work for Zeneca Thailand.
The London rep was fat, red-faced and sweating and said he was a medical doctor.  He proceeded to assure us of all the usual guff regarding the complete safety of the firm’s product ‘provided it was used correctly’.  This was diametrically opposed to almost everything Matthew and I had seen on the internet the night before when we did a search on paraquat.  There were some Akha women standing nearby and he had a look at a couple of women’s legs where they were complaining of adverse effects from the sprays.  Otherwise he showed a complete lack of even ordinary curiosity about these amazing and exotic people which was so marked that Matthew and I commented on it to each other afterwards!
However, it was interesting that Zeneca had been sufficiently alarmed by Matthews threats and emails to head office that they had sent someone from London to hose down the situation.  Matthew was treading a bit carefully so I put in some heavy bits about how maybe the company should think about adapting their products to the cultures they wanted to sell them in, rather than expecting the cultures to adapt to them, which was clearly not realistic in many cases.  However, it was obvious from the conversation that Zeneca had never even considered the issue of safe and proper disposal of used containers or that the requirement for washing oneself thoroughly after using the product was unrealistic in many villages that didn’t even have a well!
The fat London rep kept pulling little moues of concern every time Matthew mentioned babies that had sickened and died after being carried in the fields after paraquat spraying had taken place, and other numerous health disasters.  However, he would simply then repeat all the guff about the safety of the product.  Really, I wanted to shake him and ask him if he really thought peddling this junk was a worthwhile and merit accumulating way to spend his life, but I’m sure he wouldn’t even have known what I was talking about.
The Thais were no better.  One of them started taking photos the minute he stepped out of the car, including photos of all of us and any nearby Akha women.  This is particularly offensive to the Akha and it also crossed my mind that a photo of me might at some stage appear in a Zeneca newsletter attached to an article about what a good job they were doing ‘out in the field’.
The older Thai man who was obviously fairly high up in Zeneca Thailand obviously had no concept whatsoever of the problems that were being discussed or of the need to consider safety or environmental issues within the context of the very different culture of a Hill Tribe.  When we were discussing the issue of disposal of used containers the London rep pretended to be a bit shocked that there was no proper disposal system in Thailand (as if he shouldn’t have known this all along!) and then turned to the Thai rep and asked him whether people could return the containers to the point of sale like they can in England.  The Thai rep just smiled and said ‘no’ very curtly.
There was lots of further palaver, lots of it in the round about avoid-the-central-issue manner so beloved of the Thais.  There was also quite a bit of discussion about how the people could be ‘educated’ to use the product ‘properly’.  However, I became more and more convinced that they shouldn’t be using it at all!  Matthew mentioned that the Akha traditionally used a mixture of salt and citric acid to kill weeds and that maybe Zeneca should concentrate on environmentally friendly products like this.  The London rep laughed and parroted out all the usual stuff about how as soon as any chemical company discovers how to make a completely safe and environmentally friendly herbicide they will make a fortune but in the meantime...... which in fact means that in the meantime, Zeneca sells about 7 mill litres of its paraquat product in Thailand per annum.  As it sell for 220 Baht per litre of concentrate this represents sales of 1.54 billion Baht or over $A64 mill per year.
In the end, there was a bit of discussion of how Zeneca should maybe help fund some wells in the villages to overcome the problem of no water.  It will be interesting to see what happens concerning this as the London rep was very cagey about it.  Personally I don’t think he was in a position to make any commitments and was going to have to scurry back to the bigger bosses in London.
I also think it was good that I was there as the London rep was obviously rather nervous about who I was.  Matthew originally introduced me by saying that I was in Thailand to ‘work on land and water stuff’.  So for all the London rep knew I was going to rush off to some international environmental forum and kick up a stink about the whole issue.  All I can say is, his worst nightmares are going to be realised, as I am going to write up something on this matter and post it all over the Internet.
My presence also took the heat off Matthew who, after all, has to live in Thailand and they could kick him out at any time if he becomes too much of a nuisance.  Therefore he was quite polite and conciliatory while I put in some of the hard stuff.  Matthew talked quite a bit about the many problems the Akha face generally and tried to communicate something of their traditional agricultural practices.
Finally, it is interesting to note that all over the highlands the only advertising signs by the sides of the roads are either ‘Jesus Saves’ Christian signs or ads for various chemical herbicides, mainly paraquat and glysophate.  Eventually the meeting broke up and the men from Zeneca sped away.  It wasn’t until much later that I realised that they hadn’t had anything to eat or drink while in the village, which I thought was very appropriate in terms of Akha tradition!

(Ms) Ali Ben Kahn
Department of Social Inquiry
University of Adelaide, SA, 5005
Ph: (08) 8303 3351 (wk); (08) 8449 9379 (hm)

By Julia MacDonald
Feb 2000

The forced relocation of the Akha village Huuh Mah (thai pron : Huai Maak ) due to occur on Jan 30 2000, has been blocked. The unprecedented decision by Thai Military to cancel is suspected to have been influenced by humanitarian pressure via the Internet.
The Royal Thai Army official in charge of moving the village, Colonel Sawat of Mae Fa Luang District Security Development Project, has gone on record to say that he will not relocate the village.
This meeting occurred on Jan 27 in Hin Taek, Chiang Rai Province, when a new petition by all villagers against the move, was presented to the Colonel.  The signing of this document had been witnessed that morning in the village, when the heads of 35 families representing around 200 people, lay their thumbprint in a last attempt to prevent what would be a gross human rights violation.
Present as witnesses were  Dr Cholthira Satyawadhna ; International Thai Studies program , Rangsit University, Bangkok, Independent human rights workers ; Julia McDonald (Australia) , Tony Martin (Britain) , Dan Kahn (United States), AFECT and Akha Heritage Foundation representatives, as well as press from The Nation, Bangkok, and a television crew from Italy. Acting as mediator was Athu Pochear, Director of AFECT (Association for Akha Education and Culture in Thailand) Chiang Rai.
Receiving the signatures of the people of Huuh Mah at his army base, Colonel Sawat was willing to engage in lengthy discussion concerning the fate of the village. He said that if he did not move the village, he would no longer be responsible to protect it’s security in the region, nor implement any Thai development projects concerning roads, electricity, health or education. He asked why did we concentrate on the plight of the Akha when Thai people such as himself were also poor. That perhaps, when this village was left on it’s own without military protection, we might find some rich overseas donors to make up the difference.
Strange ideas, when all that had ever been fought for were the basic human rights of an indigenous tribe who asked for help. The issue is not one of monetary wealth. The people of Huuh Mah Akha have flourished on their own for 80 years at this location. They are aware of technology but have designed other methods to sustain their lives.  Some speak up to four languages. Elders look 20 years younger than they actually are. All are aware of their rights and only desire them to be recognised.
It was an awe-struck moment when Colonel Sawat agreed to honor their wishes not to be relocated, because afterall "Thailand is a democracy". These wishes should never have gone through so much agony, just to be recognised as ‘right’. However, it is unforgettable, actually honorable, that the Colonel allowed three generations of Akha to survive when he finally agreed to let the village of Huuh Mah remain where it is.
Three days earlier, around 20 Akha elders from the village had gone to Chiang Rai to present their case at a meeting between Thai Military and the Forestry Department. They were turned away, forbidden to attend the meeting which was discussing their future. There might never have been such a meeting, had not so much heat been created via emails and faxes to Royal Thai Army Supreme Command HQ in Bangkok, and Offices of the Prime Minister, Mr Chan Leekpai. The village might not have had another chance to be heard, if foreigners had not been present pointing cameras at officials to encourage accountability.
It is an incredible breakthrough for community rights  - that electrical technology can help bring such situations into the open, and expose potential injustice to the international community. When Thai press were reluctant to cover such a story because ‘it happens all the time’ and criticism of the Military is unheard of, the Internet proved to be an invaluable tool. This village is geographically isolated. There are no official akha human rights groups in the country for them to turn to. They have no legal recourse because they are not recognised as citizens of Thailand nor displaced persons  They are simply and discriminatingly referred to as the ‘mountainpeople’.
But in just three weeks of campaigning for the rights of this village via the net, and finally being face to face with the ‘powers that be’, we have witnessed history being written on a new page of humanity. It’s an amazing lesson on how very possible it is to influence world events through the power of individuals’ compassion. Human rights are universal, and the far reaches of the Internet are helping them be heard.

There are still some loose ends which are being addressed. A day before the meeting, it was discovered that the ‘Taiwanese charity’ who donated money to the village, which was then used to build the new site, was in fact Rotary International. It is not yet known if their office in Taipei is aware that the villagers were against being forced to move to this extremely unsafe concentration camp look-alike. Perhaps their funding would be better spent on the original village, now that the army has disowned it.
Apparently, Rotary might be under the impression that the villagers wanted to be relocated, due to a document they had been asked to sign last year - to accept the charity’s donation. But somewhere in transit, a cover letter was attached to the signatures, stating that they represented the village’s desire to move to the new site.
Such distortion of the truth was unknown to the people of Huuh Mah Akha.  This has now been rectified by their new petition, which has been stamped by Thai Military as an official legal document.
The village of Huuh Mah Akha has returned to it’s original peace without harassment.  After staying with the villagers over the past three weeks to monitor and document the situation, we have been invited to return on a regular basis - and perhaps help ensure that this landmark outcome is permanent. It is hoped that the Royal Thai Army will keep it’s word.
Thankyou to all internationally who expressed support and contacted relevant Thai authorities. Every little bit helped.

Bobby Clampitt
Bobby Clampitt of Meadow Vista, California USA has been a consistent supporter of our work with the Akha people. Knowledgeable in bamboo and plant propigation, he has been a frequent donor of equipment and vegetable seeds. We much appreciate his long association and support of this project.

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