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Hua Mae Kom Bpah Mai
The fires burn near the village. Normally fires are only for rotated fields, but increasingly there are fires in the area that have nothing to do with farming and look to be maliciously set, the blame being heaped on the hill tribe though indications are to the contrary.
Nearby a new flower farm run by low land people develops. Increasing land pressures, demand on water, turning what used to be a pleasant pocket of hill tribe villages into nothing more than a commercial farm venture.
Green orchards belie the fact that they use more than their share of water, took land away from Akha farmers and sure are no replacement for jungle. In addition they use unlimited quantities of pesticide and herbicide which poison both water and soil. A practice not used by hill tribes. The chemicals themselves come from western nations which foist them on the third world.
Hua Mae Kom Bpah Mai used to have 20 families. Some families moved because they were afraid that their husbands would be arrested on flimsy charges. Others moved because the christian pastor pressured them too much. Some men and women were arrested for smoking opium.
The village, obviously missing huts, down to 11 families.
The families that are here work ont he commercial flower farms, exposing themselves to herbicide and pesticide spray on a daily basis. They themselves don't have enough land to farm.
The government invests nothing in these villages but prosecutes them on every front.
Only now, when drug prohibition has been applied across Thailand do the Akha get relief from the crossfire. Thais demanding drugs, police demanding arrest.
This Akha village as so many others, shows no effect from the bird flu, no chickens lost.
There is a spirit woman in the village, called a Gneeh Pah. But the pastor forbids her to work. Her son and husband were sick. They both died of fever eventually. The pastor himself had no cure for them to offer to replace her traditional doctor skills. She was left with one blind daughter and grand son.
Middle aged kids are obviously missing from the village. The villagers say that when the kids return from the mission boarding schools they look down with contempt on their elders and traditional practices. They won't take part in any traditional healing ceremonies and say that the missionaries teach them that these are all evil. They also stop wearing their traditional clothes.
Children grow up with no connection or sense as to who they are and where they came from.
Dust blows through the village as uncertainly as the future. A few children play nearby, unaware of their resources which are being swept aside. Playing jacks with small stones. One boy has a small but potent bow with arrow darts for hunting.
Law Urh is from this village. He was arrested and tortured, the army looking for drug information. His wife was taken to prison for three years when a few meth pills were found under her pillow.
Loh Pah was sold a walkie talkie by another head man. That head man didn't go to jail but the police said that Loh Pah was also smoking opium, so he was sent to prison for two years. And so it goes, one family after another loosing the man or woman of the house, not enough land as it is to farm, and soon no one to farm it. The missionaries stand by pretending not to know how this all works, glutting themselves on children and donor dollars.
Old Akha women sit in the shade of the road next to a hut, watching the distant fires burn themselves out. Not so different to what is happening to them as a people.
Copyright 1991 The Akha Heritage Foundation