Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter Ten: Things Akha



Akha culture is unique in that many of the material things which exist in their world are of significance in their sense of belonging and culture also.  Almost all the things in their possesion they make themselves.  They have a life often free from buying and owning.  Houses are made to be safe for children and children are the central theme of any Akha village.


Horses Here

Little horses here, for use in the mountains.

If they were in the west they would be headed for the cooker.

But in the mountains they are small on the trails, can go quite well, and are plenty big enough for the size of the Akha men.  The Chinese sometimes have bigger horses and mules which they sell the Akha.  The horses are seldom shod, though you can find light iron shoes in the Keng Tung market.  The pack saddles are made of wood, baskets hung on a frame which can be rested on the ground and then that frame is loaded on the wooden frame on the horses back, fitting properly together.  A tail harness of wooden rollers fits under the tail to the saddle, the wooden rollers keeping the horse from being chafed as they move, unlike a strap would do.  Wooden pack saddles are surprisingly inexpensive in the Keng Tung market where you can also buy them, along with bridles, gun barrels, powder and lead shot.


I knew of only one horse that got sick and looked like it was going to die.  Normally don't see that very often.  It had fever, no idea what. 


Sometimes the men get kicked by the horses, one guy in Pah Nmm Akha got kicked, came home with stomach pain and died the next day.  Life is very short for these men, and death doesn't give much warning in order for them to get good medical care, and soon they are gone.


The trails are very steep, and the Akha use the horses to haul seed or any produce, as well as large volumes of rice, ginger and corn which are heavy.  Sometimes they line out five or six horses and get them all going home to the village, loaded.  In one day the men might have to make this trip four times or more, sometimes the trail to the fields being very long.


On days that the horses don't have to work, the men take them to the fields, tie them on a stake rope up above the field near the trail, and the men go about their work in the fields while the horse feeds all day.  Often I would encounter the horses in the tiny roads and have to untangle their ropes and move them so that I could get the truck by, as there just wasn't much room to spare.


In the rainy season, which lasts a couple three four months, it isn't so nice for the villagers because the horses churn the trail to mud and the hoof tracks fill with sloshing water, making especially the steep sections of the trail very tough going and dirty, which is why the Akha come back to the village covered in mud.


On the days that the horses don't go to the village the family makes sure to haul back grass for the horse to eat.


The horses usually crib under the hut which is on stilts, and the family can tell if it is having any problem during the night.


Most of the horses are black and brown, but a palamino is a rare treat to see.


The men don't ride the horses all the time, leading them often, even when they have no pack, but other times when the trail is wide and dry you can see them chasing each other down the trails on their way back from the fields and working all day.  For a big person, riding these small horses bareback is not so comfortable as there is not near enough girth to hold onto.  One can cross the ankles under the horse it would seem.


But small or large, Akha horses add pleasant personality to any village.  They buy and sell for $200 and $300 dollars, sometimes more.


Akha suitcase

Akha have these baskets with snug fitting covers in their houses which they use for keeping the rats off clothes and other valuables.  The rats often come to the huts to chew the corn, but Akhas do keep some cats around too. Rats will even chew off your calluses at night, without biting you or drawing blood.  Carefully they go around each finger nail, chewing off the old skin.


The Akha Spindle

Explain this, the cloth, cotton, thread, weaving, dye. Keng Tung Pah Meeh Akha.


The Chili Pestle

This is the key tool in any household without which there is not salt, chili peppers or sah peeh tauh.


Akha ballad

recitals and songs

the song board used at funerals


Akha basket

for the field, excellent, wooden yoke, headband


akha bird muskets


bird traps






Akha generals, doctors and lawyers

in burma


Akha radio, the crew cut guy

Leeh Hai  91.4 am


One Akha Gate

Had a face carved on each end of the cross piece of the top of the gate.


A full Akha Gate

The Akha gate requires that the village has a Dzoeuh Mah.

If it does not have a Dzoeuh Mah then the village will not have a gate but just a post in the ground at the same likely location at which they do all gate related ceremonies to protect the village.


Collection of akha gate people of wood

guy in bangkok has a collection of gate people.  The Yao collector in Chiangmai spoke of this man.


Helping each other load up baskets

because the baskets are very heavy, hard to manage.

often they carried umbrellas to help beat the heat of the trail.


Meaning of akha embroder and sleave colors?


Akha traditionsal women singers old

very good, like the one in Keng Tung


Head dresses are for babies

Many fancy things of many colors for the babies to play with, the Akha keenly aware that it stimulates their minds and hands.


Berries, tiny Akha berries, black, taste like water letting loose in mouth, sensation.

Found near Bird Rock, Pah Nmm

These are very small and black, hanging in long clusters. When you chew on them they pop and leave in your mouth the feeling of water, like you have drunk something.  Yet the berries themselves are very small.


Tea Pots

The Akha had a tiny tea pot of clay that had a folded lip, which they left down in the embers of the fire and brewed their tea in from which they drew for cups, the leaves soft, not floating any more.  Each fire had a metal fire ring, or some bricks close together or stones similarly or a couple old knife blades.



akha use of

small horses, for packing peanuts and other materials


Village products shop

A woman sells village products, down Chiang Saen road, from the main road.



The loss of farm land

There is no more crucial aspect to the impoverishment of the Akha people than their forced relocation and their loss of farm land.  The Thai Army has had an ongoing policy of forced relocation of the Akha in conjunction with the Thai Forestry department, violating their human rights to say nothing of the crass imorality of these actions which are reprehensible in a Buddist society.


No Thai village would ever be subjected to this kind of treatment.

"They are aliens" we can say? So why is the Thai government giving them all ID cards?  And keep in mind these aliens have prospered the Thai tourism economy very well for years (PHOTOS DEFINITELY NEEDED HERE)


Helping each other in their fields

The Akha had a system by which they shared labor back and forth to meet the manpower requirements needed on a field all at one time.  Twenty people would go and work on one field, then those people would each put in a day at the other people's fields, so that they could work as teams together.



Preparing fields


18 May 99, Planting Rice

Dear Friends:

Well, they haven’t exactly been coming once a week but here is an update.

For the language project we are in the process of having a binding punch

made for sewing the Akha books together.

The machine shop is pretty backlogged so it is taking some time and some

refitting of another device or two to get the job done.

I spend most of my time in a more remote Thai Akha village in the mountains now, come down to do email, that and put in work with the Culture Center, which has a lot of grounds work to finish, plus a very large well to dig for feeding water for irrigation to the village.

Living with an Akha family, helping them with the mountain farming, gives plenty of new insights into their lives.  These people, even in the stable villages, would seem to live on nothing and any shred of new resource seems to disappear like a drop of water on a red hot griddle.

Everything circles around the mountain rice crop and other crops that

have to be planted.  Farming mountain land is very steep, you can hardly

stand up, and the weeds are thick and must be cleared a number of times,

finally with a hoe, just before the traditional planting of the rice.  Each family has its own fields and does weeding and planting plus work on the slope to protect from erosion.  If the village is in a stable situation, terracing will begin to appear at the bottoms of the canyons and work their way up as the labor is invested.  The older villages generally have more than the newer villages.

We just finished planting rice, and are now planting corn, corn for

pigs, corn for people, melons, peanuts, and a host of vegetables.  One

couldn’t ask for a nicer place to work, the wind coming frequently to

cool even in the heat, the view of the mountains below spectacular, and

the whole place above the clouds in the morning as one hikes for an hour

or so with hoes, food, seeds and cooking pots to the mountain field huts

to work.  The work is back breaking, bamboo feeds water down for

drinking from a spring in most places and this goes on day in and day

out.  Several people from one family work on a mountain slope field,

then finish weeding and planting and move to a different field that is

at a different stage of growth.  Snakes are common visitors as well as

every biting and stinging bug you can imagine, along with no shortage of

mosquitos. Remnants of bamboo that one has to chop out are like trying to dig up a buried phone cable, no end to it.

One begins to understand how the entire life here surrounds the planting

and growing of the rice, the involvement with the forest, water, rain,

and the trails that are hiked.  From mountain to mountain friends and

family are scattered, toiling away in the fields, singing, the songs

long and trailing out across the ridges folled by the occasional

question which gets past along from ridge to ridge on what we call Akha

Telephone.  Huts are scattered out, on the slopes and there we cook the

food and sleep briefly or shade the small children.  The woman on the

next hill is dancing one way, everyone else the other way and it is soon

apparent that they are being chased around the slope by a large bee.  Hats and arms swing this way and that in distant slow motion it looks like they all had too much sun.

In the evening one woman can hardly see out of her completely swollen face.  A big black and orange hornet has stung her under the eye.

Snakes are common visitors which also get dispatched with speed, the warry hand looking for movement when clearing the piles of brush which are carefully stacked and burned.  Soon the new rice is sprouting under the cool rains of spring.

Looking carefully at a grain of rice one can see one sprout from the germ heading up, one heading down, the kernel the battery for the whole thing.

Even in the best village the situation is incredibly tight.  There is no

money to spare, if any at all, resources are scarce and one wonders how these people make it on their diet and the incredible amount of work they do, getting up early as 4 am and working till late, hiking home to the village.

In the mission village that had the two suicides so far this last year, they just had their third, a 14 year old girl hung herself some fifty meters from the mission building.

The Akha Way, the villagers like it, have hauled a tv and the tape out to villages which ask to see it repeatedly.

I am working on plans for a second video, will take a while, about Akha Indigenous Knowledge and what is at risk when it is deleted from the lives of the people. Living in the village it would seem hard that this could ever happen, but it does.  The results are no less than tragic.  Course the people who cause it to happen don’t stay around for that.

Matthew McDaniel


Weeding the Rice 1

3 June 99,

Dear Friends:

Well, after you plant all that rice and corn there are these funny plants that come up that don’t look like corn or rice and you have to pull them all out.  Weeding sounds less romantic, but also rather of an understatement for doing several mountain acres of this days on end.

For peanuts one uses a small hoe called a “Lah Ngurh” to remove the weeds from between the plants.  Despite the fact that it is blazing hot, the Akha relish going to the fields on this kind of day because as soon as the weeds are cut out they die in the heat.  If it is cool and wet the weeds might survive and come back in a few days.  All related to getting a good harvest.  I didn’t understand why they enjoyed the hot days so much, nough to kill one off, but then when I had five pounds of mud stuck on the bigger hoe for weeding between corn, I was hoping for a scalding day.  The bigger hoes are angled just so, such that when on a mountain side the blade will skim an inch under the surface and cutt the roots as you strike down, and not dig into the dirt too deep.

Typically one slope has good soil while the other bad, related to the sun I would guess.

On damp days it is nice to go without shoes, the soft moist and cool earth, but on hot days the smallest twig gets strong as a nail.  Then on rainy days the soil turns into mud and the acid in the soil eats the skin out between your toes quite nicely.

The corn is up from 8” to a couple of feet in some places. Knee high by the fourth of July I think.

For the rice the Akha come back and spray a light salt water between the rows.

Those who know weed the rice by hand rather than with the hand hoe.  Weeding by hand doesn’t disturb the soil, the rice stalks remain short and strong.  Weeded with a hoe, the soil opens up and the rice stalks grow tall and when the winds come it blows them over, damaging much rice.

Part way down the hillsides water run off trenches are dug and in some places another two or three tiers to the terraces have been added as the terraces slowly grow up the mountain side.  They would all put in terraces but there is a shortage of labor so it happens over years and generations as it has happened in China with the Hani, called the “terrace builders”.

Then we got back to the hillside hut to eat and lo and behold someone forgot the lighter, so cold food only. Day before someone forgot the food altogether and day before that someone forgot the cooking pot, so I hiked over to another hill and borrowed one off another band of rice planters from our village.

Then the next day I went out and they had forgot the food.  The one thought the other had brought it.  I got there at two in the afternoon which no one does and would have brought food had I known. Just never occured to me that working that hard in the sun anyone would forget food.  But that was sort of commentary on the whole view of life here, not taking the hard too seriously.

Anyway, the one woman said the other woman was mad.

I asked why, that is when I found out they forgot the food.

She said that when you don’t eat you get mad.

I guess that sounds funny as I sit here and type, it sure didn’t look funny the other day up on the hill.

Then you can get an amazing back ache.  I made the mystake of doing two hours on the hoe before waking up and from my poor stance I pulled my back quite nicely.  Never drift through this kind of work, you want to hit it really hard.  The Akha say do it really slow, you won’t get tired.  I know, but I just can’t.  I gotta steam my way to the top of the hill with one swath and then take a break and hit it again.

We were sitting under this tree drinking spring water telling jokes and I asked about this one ant.  Long ugly thing that looked like a space ship skeleton, dark red, the Akha woman said it bites you really nasty, swells you up like a baseball and then you get a real cool fever.  But the big fat black one with the fur on its back doesn’t bite you mean, then there is this shiny black one that walks around with a hunch back bent on stinging something and that one is real bad.  Seems the uglier the ant is the more prone it is to bite and sting and hurt.  Now coming up the trail I see the ants use it for a super highway, long lines of different clans and species trooping along, distinctly keeping clear of each other.  There is this one group that cuts a deep trench where they go.  They move so much dirt out to make this long trench I can only figure they flick it.  Then there is this group of cute little fat burgandy ants that move in real dense columns, don’t look prone on biting or angry, and they appear to drink nectar or something.  The long black ant gathers bugs and bites nasty.  Then there is this one with a wide set of jaws that look like water buffalo horns till they close on your skin.  And one long red ant has a chisel like head, really weird.  Then we gathered dried bamboo for cooking wood and some of the bamboo had a hole in it and out poured all these ants and they were hauling eggs and really mad and red and they bite real nice too, so you pitch that whole piece back in the brush.

A break in the day we all eat green mango we dip in salt and chilli pepper.

The one old woman makes a little tea cup out of a piece of bananna leaf and fills it with water and puts some rice and other stuff in it, starts saying a whole bunch of stuff, then hops out of the hut and pitches the whole thing up the hill towards the field.

I noticed, and the other woman told me that the old woman thought I stepped on the grave in the field.  What grave?  The Mooser grave.  Oh, there is a Lahu buried in your field?

I didn’t step on that I said, I didn’t know what it was but the odd lack of attention kept me away.  The old woman was then greatly relieved, she thought I had stepped on it and she had gotten this quick stomach ache so she fed some rice and water to the Mooser and told them to rest peacefully anyway.

She said she farmed the field for three years before the Moosers told her that someone was buried there, then she put in a stick, but it was still real bad luck not to know.

I picked up the water cup, there was this funky red bug on it, stung my hand real bad with hairs like the black furry catepillars do with the orange eyebrows.

I couldn’t tell what it was because as I picked up the cup it mushed and in its last act stung me.

When you weed the corn there are these tiny crickets everywhere, then these holes as big as your thumb and that is where the Jerusalem Crickets live.  The Thais like them fried, big and juicy.  Cute too.  I don’t think the Akha eat them as much.  There are all kinds of grass hoppers too.  Some are rusty and brown, wings and long trailing legs, some are green with wings, and then some are really beautiful and no wings, hop really cool like sports cars with pin stripes.

The wild bees they are rude.  You know, they land on your skin for a drink, they know that you know they are bees and will give them a second break over a horse fly because of honey and things like that, but then when they are done drinking they hunker down and sting you real good.  some thanks.  Do it all the time. Really rude.

Walking back to the village the guys on the horses they ride past us as they come down from the higher ridges.

One of the workers is happy because her boyfriend came over from the other village to visit.  They are getting married soon, she will be his second wife.  No problem.

I keep stopping on the trail. Funny bugs.  There is this one bug that is really tiny but looks like a big velvet bean bag with antenna and eyes, but it is really small, crossing the trail.  Who said God had to be really big.  I stepped around it, no bigger than a pin head but really red.

Then there was this really long black and yellow pin striped spider over the trail.  Almost two inches long.  The Akha said that you pop its head off and pound it into chopped meat, tastes really good. You scrape the bark off one tree and throw it in too.

We got back.  I went for a wash.  Did it in a hurry because 5 and 6 oclock must be the changing of the guard and these special mosquitos come out for about thirty minutes and they are really big, bite you really good and then they all disappear.  Good thing is they are so big you can feel them land on your skin like a harrier jump jet.

After dinner around the fire, the one Akha woman hunts in a basket that hangs over the fire, covered in smoke laquer, and fishes out something and offers it to me.  They like to eat it after a good meal. Looked a whole lot like a clod of dirt, because it was.  And then I remembered how I had so often seen these holes cut in the hillside all over Akha land.  That is where they are finding the best dirt.  You eat it like candy after a meal.  Dig in there and get it out fresh, the good smelling red clods, not those other ones.  And then you dig a new hole and start again.  Since it has been there a few thousand years it is aged really well and no one has disturbed it.  They eat a little bit of the best clods, then rinse their mouth.  Say it is really good for something like heartburn from what I could figure.

Well, hey, people do all kinds of things with Dead Sea Mud so what the hec. And eating bird’s nests?????

Matthew McDaniel


The weeding of rice 2

17 June 99

Akha Weekly Journal Date:

 Dear Friends:

Work on the writing in this project, the assistance to villages and so forth all rolls on.

Literacy work continues, medical work continues and so forth.

If you have specific questions about these aspects please inquire, I get

to the email at least once a week.


The Weeding of the Rice 3

The Akha have distinct rituals of their culture that interact with their

planting and maintenance of their rice.  Certain days they do not work with rice out of honor or respect to their traditions and on those days they may only work with corn or beans in other fields, even though very close together.

It must be understood about the Akha, and this is very important, that

they for the most part raise completely what it is they need to live on,

and the earth is not taxed beyond that.  If the west is encouraging vast

consumption and these people are being forced into that machine so that

it stays fat and fed, then we have all become fools and there is going

to be a dreadful price to pay, as I was reminded while I was typing this

and a friends CNN show was going, telling all the pulses of the cancer

treatment industry.  Ah yes, we have even made killing ourselves into an

art form.

About thirty days after the rice is planted when it is close to a foot tall the Akha turn out once again to pull the weeds, mostly broadleafed weeds, from between the rice.  One Akha man bemoaned that he couldn’t see his rice for all the weeds, and true, hillsides in the same area have different soil characteristics and in some places the weeds grow really big and fast, in others there are hardly any weeds at all.  But when you have to cultivate it all by hand and pull all the weeds it could discourage you.   And you must cultivate a mountainside that will take a good walk to reach the edge of your field in any direction and which grows all your rice for you and the family for a year.  Besides the broad leafed plants that make most of the weeds there is a variety of vine that grows rapidly and gets several meters long with all kinds of runners going everywhere.  This one is hard to chop out in the first place and comes back in the rice usually, wrapping itself around the clusters of growing rice plants.  Course you get to know all of this because you aren’t on a tractor, you are stooped over with your face in it all day long.

If a family has money they will buy rock salt and pack it to the field

on horses and then haul water from the springs.  With a light salt

mixture in tanks which they strap on, the Akha spray this mist in the

fields during the heat of the day and the light salt kills the plant

leaves quickly and doesn’t hurt the rice.  Then the plants are gathered

up in piles, clearing around the rice.  This is faster than hand weeding

and apparently doesn’t harm the soil for the next crop.

Some fields are too far for water to be hauled or the family is too poor

to buy the salt.

Business people in Thailand try to encourage people to use western manufactured herbicides on their rice.  This makes people very unlucky.

One might think that they are living in the mountains and drinking clean

water but someone is farming higher than the water source and if they are using a herbicide it goes right into that water at the first rain.

This time of year there is a lot of rain so that doesn’t take long.  A

day or two at longest.  The Akha who know blame this on many ailments of

intestinal distress and fever.

Certainly one can understand the natural concern of the Akha to live up in the mountain tops.

Course, when you go to the shops, herbicides and pesticides are readily available and most of the people who use them, if it doesn’t kill them outright, have little knowledge or concern for what these nicely packaged chemicals can do to them.  Companies like Bayer and Zeneca and Monsanto are chief offenders, turning dangereous chemicals loose on the poor for a profit.

As we headed out into the mountains there was this cold chill in the air, the sky was clear as it ever gets and I was reminded of winters in far off mountain places I once called home.

The road up the mountains was growing over fast with jungle plants and grasses and the dew covered leaves slopped all over the sides of the truck and in the windows.  At one place the bamboo thicket next to this track was so heavy with due that it was bowed over to the ground, blocking the road, so I had to take time off and chop back this huge thicket so that I could get the truck through.  Roads are just little dirt tracks suddenly.  At the turn in the hill, the spring pipe had clogged and the spring and rains had been washing the road and it was now a very tight turn to get passed that in tact.

I was tempted to run up the end of the road to the Burma border but didn’t have time enough.

I had to get out still today to some other villages while the roads were

dry.  They were ok for the moment but the steep red clay could quickly slide a vehicle to the point it could not back up nor go any further without rock and modifying the road by hand.

The corn planted not much more than a month before it would seem was already three feet or taller, I was impressed, had been seed I bought locally for sweet corn.

The village had moved to the lower location it was now at by the Thai

army and they wished that they still lived at their more undisturbed

higher location.  All that they were promised, like schools and electric

had not paid off.  The children were going to school as if in anticipation of something while in fact becoming lazy and loosing much contact with the natural environment they lived in which they needed to know well if they were going to be living in it and growing their food in it.  But the schools themselves were like a kiss of death to the indigenous knowledge system of the Akha, and the difference in useful knowledge of those who went to school and those who didn’t was quite striking.  Also it appeared that those Akha who had not gone to school had much more pride in who they were than those who did.  In the end, the electricity did not seem to pay off compared to the erosion of their culture, the assaults on their culture from missions which was continuous and the health of their children and farm animals.

The lower environment was poluted with chemicals made in the west and

the village animals which wandered into contact with this died.  And

anyone knowing of the history of the Akha knew that in even recent years

they had lived private undisturbed lives in the mountains.  Now they

were pushed about by the government, told what they could farm and what

they could not under guise of protecting the forest, and treated as

aliens in a land that they had been forced into by war that was also the

end of the mountains for them in their southward march.

I was coming up from the flat lands of Thailand, meeting these people,

and they were coming to the end of the range and meeting me, telling me

about their lives, from that perspective in their centuries journey from

Tibet and beyond.  They knew nothing of the mess the world had become

beyond these mountains, only too much about the problems that had come

to them.  Their culture was based un centuries of surviving as a

singular traditional people, living much the same way for the last 1500

years, kin and kin.  One had to have great respect for a people that had

thus made it this far and also sadness for much of the world that after all the opportunities to learn from mystakes, still seemed bent on destroying that uniqueness.  Despite efforts to portray concern for these cultures as just talk of the “Noble Savage” the fact remains that the Akha had a graceful culture and stable life, filled with the most minute of detail, all written down in their hearts and shared in their songs and long chants at ceremonies.  But the world had become a place of sameness and a place where increasingly intolerant peoples were wiping out anything different in their sight and few were learning to take the time to discover who anyone else is.

Listening to the pulsing chant of a wind harp made of gourd and bamboo tubes which an old man held to his mouth as he wilted and arose in a dance around a fire I could not help but feel great amazement and pride in the endless beauty and discovery that I was so priveledged to be party to in the lives that these people let me share with them.


The Big Dancing Mooser Plants Rice

The big tall, flat faced Mooser, who reminded me of that one tv star that played a cheap preacher really well, he got out there in the rain, tested his rice plantin stick, dancing in the wind, like he knew that it was one of his last dances, tattered pants and bare feet big as mine, hoppin up and down and whoopin, like he too was gettin a piece of what he could see of life and God again.  Up there on the ridge I could see it all behind and below him, hey we were at the top of the mountain so there wasn’t much above but sky, which you couldn’t see because today it was only rain and wind and clouds.  But that didn’t matter, made it all beautiful, and I always liked that fellow and the more I found out the more I liked. He used to live up on the next hill over, had cattle, pigs, you name it, then the Thai army moved him down and all he had down in the bottoms where they made them all move to was fever.  Course that was free. You could have as much of that as you wanted, because it was about stealin the land and fever was free.  Stealin the land, hey, these people were like the white folks, they thought that you could own the land.  Now that was a joke.  Never met a mooser or Akha yet who thought that you could own the land, you farmed it and ate the food and felt the big wind and got the big view and the big rain and the big sun and that was the pay for gettin to do life, and why would you want to own the land when all you needed to do was farm it because if you didn’t you wouldn’t eat any rice, remember?  Oh yeah, forgot about that part.


The Rice Harvest And Rain

The rice harvest of 1999 got hit by a lot of rain in the low lands of the Chiangrai area, where there were many relocated Akha villages.

It even began to sprout.  I didn't hear much about it after that, though a lot of rice got ruined.



Black Ginger was very valuable but the Akha were told they couldn't grow it.

Regular ginger was very valuable too, not as much as black ginger, but the Akha grew a lot of it.  Sometimes whole fields were killed by fungus or "fever" as the Akha called it, the leaves turning yellow and the roots rotting.  The Akha said you could tranmit it so they did not walk into the bad ginger and then into the good ginger part of the field.



The Akha grew a lot of corn for seed to sell or to feed their pigs.  Weavols ate a lot of their stored corn.


Soy Beans

From soy beans the Akha made cakes and paste, often mixed with chili peppers of course.



some Akha told me that the police told them they could not grow coffee in the mountains.  I wondered what the deal was, some kind of protection for the coffee at Doi Tung?






From The Jungle

All the plants and animals.


The medicine nut.

The meat pods.

Bamboo Shoots.

Bamboo Grubs.

The big grub.

Ant Eggs.

The small orange fruit with leaves like.

Figs that grow on the tree trunk.

Purple ants for lips.

Jerusalem Crickets

There was this small porcupine, then this big rat like thing that was in the ground, very stocky, face same as the porcupine but white fur like the creatures in Washington in the woods.

Then large rats.


Cheeh Hah, the barking deer.

Wild Boars, bad if they came to the village.

Warnings about danger are reinforced this way.



Regional Economics

I had spent at least two years of extensive efffort in this one region in and around Pah Nmm Akha trying to come to an understanding of the regional economics that effected the Akha.


The Akha had lost major land in forced army relocations.  This destroyed much of their strength but did not seem to end the concerns the army claimed they had for justifying such drastic action against the lives of others.


In time I came to discover that ginger crops and tea were what made this land so valuable to anyone involved.  However tea appeared to be directly behind major mission involvement in the region on the part of the Taiwan Chinese Baptists.


Control the people, Control the land.


I sought to invest in the people, the land and offer some hope, some alternative.


Tea plantings, A tea factory, all offered incredible incentive for the Akha.






Village Life


Comparisons of Village Situations


Hope for Justice

Human, Cultural and Community Property Rights

A Basis For Social Justice

The Akha And How They Are Effected In Thailand


July 15, 2000

Matthew McDaniel

Maesai, Chiangrai, Thailand


1.  Justice: A Basis For Consideration


The Human desire for justice, freedom from oppression, access to what is ours, and means of appeal for our grievances, is common to all of our lives.  We desire to build up some level of security based in the land, from which we can expect to safely grow food for our survival and well being.  In what we call “advanced” or “developed” society, the land and food model is a little more distant, and this can effect policy.  However for many societies, especially indigenous societies, there is little that is more important than their relationship with the land.


We seek justice on common themes, common to humans. We encounter disputes, we organize bodies for review and settlement of these disputes, or at least we feel that this would be ideal.


But in reality much justice is an illusion.


As humans we invent, proclaiming that with our inventions, justice, development and equality will come. With the advances of technology, we can contact almost anyone within moments.  This gives the illusion of better and instant communication, the resolution of conflict and misunderstanding.  Yet our technology would seem to out perform us. On the local and immediate level there is little form by which we can address our grievances. 


There are few greater issues for concern, mediation and appeal than those issues of justice surrounding the right to land, and to the manner in which one would live on it, which we call culture. 


The ease of access to the system of justice is key to resolving disputes, yet it is lacking.  Artificial barriers to access are created, classes of society are separated, and the oppression continues.  One can not stress enough, that if the access to justice regarding land and other issues is not the corner stone to the society, the society will fail to provide the most basic rights to its inhabitants. 


Without this firm foundation in access to justice we can build no model of community property rights, cultural rights, or human rights.  It is the lack of this access to justice that is most noticeably overlooked as communities seek to solve conflict.


If justice is not provided on the community level, for community issues, it must be sought outside the community on the provincial, national or international level.


In many cases, the artificial creation of nation state boundaries has led to many disputes, which are now swept aside and go unheard because international bodies consider them to be internal issues to those said states, for purpose of convenience and denial.


If international appeal, which is the most logical, is not possible, the door remains long closed on the abuses of human, cultural and community property rights.


It does us little good to understand all the boundaries and defenses of what is “ours” if when it is taken away by force, or twisting of the law, or by decreed policy from the top, we have no means to decide the matter.


The world society today is taken up with carefully placing the emphasis on understanding what our “rights” are, while the manner of seeking justice for these rights is ignored.  The powerful take, and keep on taking, the gap between rich and poor widens, and the local land owner becomes a serf for a landlord on land which used to belong to their family for generations.  The fact that the landlord exploits the land for financial gain, in excess of the need of the  land for food, is ignored. On the other hand the original farmer, be they Akha or Thai, needs the land primarily for food for the family and may not even own so much as a motorbike or car.


It is hard to proceed with concepts of community property rights based on a foundation of justice, when the trend in property ownership is outside control, established by “legalized” ownership of land, rich people being able to buy up large tracts for non food uses, while the poor have not enough to grow food on.


Certainly the issue of land ownership to those who are present on that land should be given priority. Priority before disputes of private vs. government control.  Consideration must be given to the humans as part of the habitat in need of protection.  On one hand how can we rule that humans are incompetent to live within the environment in sustainable ways, while competent to rule it from the outside?


An additional and enormous complicating factor is that the current international economic model will continue to demand centralization of resources, and until this is also addressed, the issues surrounding community property rights may well be defeated, whether or not the individual farmer owns the land.  If the individual farmer owns the land, but must farm it for product that must flow to centralized markets, for export or consumption in the cities, the sense of community property rights is defeated from its intent. So for the moment, while resources dwindle, and local communities take a larger role in demanding that they have control over what belongs to their region in the way of land and other resources, the international economic model may just get around this by continuing to exploit the resources anyway, no matter who claims to own them.  And it is here that the value of the Akha economic and social model must be considered.


Errors in current international systems can be summarized as this.

Lack of local and regional justice.

Lack of international appeal.

Definitions of justice that allow injustice to continue by only switching the name.

Humans being seen as not part of the environment in which they live.


2.  The Akha And Local Land History

Currently in Thailand it is popular on the part of the government and policy makers to state that the Akha are immigrants to Thailand, persona non grata, and should appreciate any morsel or scraps thrown down to them.  Many Akha still do not have identity cards and can not travel safely in Thailand free of Police harassment, fine and imprisonment. The education system is improving but continues to popularize false stereotypes of the hill tribe peoples as environmentally destructive, drug runners, prostitutes, spreaders of the HIV virus, and uneducated social undesirables. Groups effected by these attitudes include the Akha, Lahu, Lisaw and others. It is government policy in  many cases that these people can not own any of the land for any reason, that they are only squatters.  Additional policy would be that all Akha villages be marginalized to the point of forcing them to relocate out of the mountains or at least no longer be a recognizable Akha Villages.


It would appear that this propaganda is fostered mostly by those who would have something of shame to hide. For instance it might be in the fact that the Akha, as a group, provide a fascinating tourist destination in Thailand, and while the Thai community exploits this to the maximum for tourist dollars which they consume, the Akha community is otherwise castigated and denied equal rights.  Few tourists know the restrictions on the land, on travel and access to government services that the Akha experience.  None of their home countries have such conditions imposed on populations within their borders.


The basis of this propaganda is that few people know the true history of the hill tribes, and their presence and use of the land in Thailand.  The Akha land ownership model is based on human need, not books, colonizers, and borders.  If you need the land, if you can farm it, then it belongs to you and you farm it because when you get old you will die and you will no longer farm it or eat the food it grows and hence you will no longer own it.  Very practical.  So what we have is a dispute as to whose legal system takes precedent, and there is no reason to discredit the Akha system vs. the Thai land and border system.


The Akha are considered migratory and land squatters.  Historically hill tribes have been known to inhabit the mountain regions of Chiangrai Province, many villages dating back close to or more than a 100 years.  What is reasonable to ask, is why there is harm in the hill tribes living in these regions, an asset to diversity, and having ownership of these lands.  Is Thailand that intolerant of any culture other than its own?  One draws that conclusion when looking at the events in these mountains aimed at removing these peoples.


In the case of the region of Haen Taek, there was little to no Thai activity in these regions up until the last few years.  Back ten years ago there was hardly what could even be construed as a road, and getting to Hua Mae Kom was a major event by motorcycle, let alone truck.  Few Thais lived in the region and only small groups of Thai soldiers attempted to exercise control over these areas.  So from the aspect of history of residence, surely it is the Thai that is the newcomer.


But even if we respect what is given as the Thai border lines, there is still dispute.  Akha villages have history in these border regions, all mountains, all in areas Thais did not travel into very often, for more than 100 years, and before them the Lisaw, Wa, Lahu. Some villages have been kilometers into Thailand for more than a hundred years, but the greatest changes in the locations of Akha villages in Thailand have come as a result of the conflict of armies, not intentional migration of the Akha.


Villages were often within a few hundred meters of what is now considered the border, making it obvious that they were border villages with their roots in Burma, not Thailand.  But the Thai army in many cases forced these villages against their will to move, or soldiers on the Burma side retaliated for local actions by raiding these border villages and burning them or raping their women, which caused them to flee into Thailand further. Lack of vision and provision of security for these villages without conflict was a shortcoming of the Thai side and a misunderstanding of the environmental impact of forced village relocations and what increased development of these regions would further do.  Currently the Haen Taek region is being further developed at alarming speed, all drawing more resources out of the environment, while the Army and others would blame the  environmental damage on the hill tribe.  This is a racially based bias and laughable when looking at what is occurring in that region.


Rather than admitting to errors in policy, the government and army, which is not necessarily distinguishable one from the other, put the blame for both alien citizen status and environmental degradation on the very hill tribe they forced to move.  Akha villages that had been at their border sites for more than a hundred years, with little dispute with anyone, now had the problems of others thrust on them and took the blame for it as well.  Being citizens of Burma, they were forced deeper into Thailand and then labeled as aliens and invaders heavy on the hospitality of the Thais.  Such is the case of many villages in the Haen Taek region. 


In addition to failing to admit to the true legal status of these citizens, that they were from Burma, were pulled deep into Thailand, yet not afforded refugee status or citizenship status, little consideration has been given to the impact on the Akha themselves and their community.  It was either assumed that they would survive, so it did not matter, or assumed that they would not survive. The Akha as a result suffered years of abuse having to run a gauntlet of police checkpoints and extortion to carry on the  most basic aspects of life. 


In meetings with numerous government officials in Thailand it was clearly stated that the Akha were to be continuously displaced from their mountain homes, “assimilated” and made into a labor class for the convenience of the Thais. No consideration is given to the legal status or rights of these Akha people in the international community.  This would not be so tragic if it were not true that a large populations of Akha now make up labor forces in Thailand, much of it unsavory.


As to the survival of the Akha and other relocated hill tribe groups, a careful look into their locations and communities brings out harsh realities.


Once these villages were located carefully in the mountains, the product of choosing village sites based on altitude, wind, and the ability to grow food continuously over many generations. These proud and self sufficient people were broken up from big villages. Being scattered, they lost their lands in which they had invested decades of labor, and were moved to areas where they were given no comparable land. They were pushed into stifling river bottom locations where the change in altitude and environment brought on illness of the people and the death of their livestock, a valuable source of protein.


One only need to travel to the old village sites to comprehend the colossal stupidity of forcing these people to relocate in an age of environmental concern and human rights.  Villages were carefully built on the top ridges, the land full of tall grasses, wind, water, and gentle slopes that did not erode easily.  Great forests existed from which small quantities of wood could be gotten for houses, simple houses, and in which the cattle and pigs could find cool shelter and feed, raise their young.  Trails and terraces were built, fencing was in place to keep the cattle out of sensitive farming areas, and water sources were protected.  There was no where one could look without seeing either sunrise or sunset and the mountains below for kilometers.  These people did not go down to the valley asking for trouble, it was the people of the low lands who came up to them and began to tell them that they were foreigners and that they must do this and that, and move their villages.  Fruit trees and bushes with berries were common, birds and animals for hunting plentiful, and crops rotated from one land plot to another.  One family, one village, only chose to farm close to home, only farmed for what they needed, and so the idea that the forest was continuously cut was more a concept of convenient imagination than reality. 


However the Akha can tell you when the low land people came up and logged all the big trees off their mountains.  These were the first roads. With the building of bigger roads for a host of reasons, came policy.  And with policy came schools and stores, and the pressure and requirement to need money.  The Akha were ridiculed for who they were, and so the pressure was also there to look more Thai, to own more, to build more Thai like houses, more resources needed. The need for all this money increased the burden on the families to not just grow food but grow crops that brought in money, be it opium or cabbages. 


Increasingly Akha were arrested for this and that offense, offenses that were called on the bias of an outside referee with no hope that they, the people of the community, would have any say in it, and so they saw their fathers and husbands and sons taken down to the jails of the lowlands, not to come back for years.  Heavy fines were extracted, girls went to town to find jobs that would pay such heavy fines, not good jobs, not jobs that you or I or other civil people would want their daughters to do, but all legal here in Thailand.  Villages were forced to relocate to places that would grow no food, and during the years that it took for the village to get back on its feet, to invest the labor back in the new land to make it productive, more girls went to town to find cash to take up the place of the lost land.  And every time the Akha got relocated, and the people who relocated them told them to go ahead and farm, they got collectively blamed for deforestation, one can hardly blame them now for being cynical. 


Even to this day, the Thai forestry department takes over the new land they were given to farm, planting pine on all sides, a non native specie pine for a possible commercial crop, as there is no environmentally sound reason for it.  The Chiangrai Forestry Department is chiefly to blame for this disastrous policy.  Now thousands of rai of land, once carefully managed by Akha villages, has been totally cut clear, pine has been planted, and below the branches of the pine no other specie of any kind grows, replacing thousands of rai of jungle and productive lands with a bio desert.  And each time forestry takes new land for this use, the Akha are pushed deeper into the existing forest to find new plots to grow food, and once again blamed for cutting trees when ever this occurs.


The lack of visible and well organized central clearing house for environmental information in Thailand  has made it possible for this incredible environmental destruction to continue unbeknown and unseen by the Thai population at large, who might very well choose a different environmental policy in regards to this land than what Petroleum Authority of Thailand, which sponsors the plantings, and the Forestry department envision.


So as we see, community property rights, or human rights, have little meaning besides discussion, without the means to bring justice to each and every issue.


The hand that does the damage is hidden, while the people who suffer the consequences of the foolish and greedy policies of others, are made to pay both in public relations and poverty.


Living in conditions that few would want to live in, with no view of the horizon, and with little land to farm, communities often resorted to illegal activities such as drugs.


While Thailand tolerates a large population of brothels for its social needs, the hill tribe girls, coming from such impoverished backgrounds of family emergency are castigated as easy and natural prostitutes.  Such attitudes often come out in conversations with both Thai government officials and well paid and secure missionary personnel.


It is very difficult not to notice the issue of race and superiority based on presumed differences between these cultures. 


The natural education system of the Akha is scorned and taken away, while decrying their lack of a Thai style education, which would suggest that the only kind of education one can or should have must be a Thai school book education.


These issues are at the heart of sovereignty concerns of people who live on the land, farm it for food, and maintain their cultural and religious beliefs.  For after all, if we disrespect or fail to understand the culture of another, we can hardly suggest that we are willing to give them control of the land they live on.


So in considering the issue of rights of people, we must look at these rights from the standpoint of a sphere of rights, not just convenient rights, but all the rights which cover all the aspects of life of a people.  We can not claim to be for human rights while the clinics turn away those who can not pay, yet millions of baht squandered by the countries risk taking rich in via bank loans, is absorbed by the government.


All forms of rights, can only work, when the people own them as defined by their community.  It is not enough, just because outsiders say they now have enough rights, enough quality of life. It is enough when the community understands and has say in what effects it, and is able to call for a halt to actions imposed upon it which are causing it damage. 


Community rights can not occur if government policies of propaganda continue to push an agenda that brings about disregard for the stated community leading to degradation and social structure failure.


3.  Western Driven Ideologies Which Effect The Akha

Many of the changes that are imposed from the outside on the Akha community are based on assumptions which the outside communities make as a result of their relationship with the western cultures which have co-opted them.


On one hand the British widely traded drugs, opium in particular, in the Asian hemisphere.  Yet a few years later, the collective memory gone to amnesia, the west is the standard barer of drug morality, imposing its will in both war and policy on the Thai people and inhabitants along its borders.  Under the pretense of stopping the drug crop of opium, at that time a well established part of the economy for the hill tribe people, the pressure to burn crops and arrest growers and users increased.  More roads were built to establish a full drug free zone out to the limit of the Thai borders and many evils were imposed on these communities in the process. If one looks at the history of this process over the last ten years, one can say that it is true, that little to no opium is now grown in this region, but the region is environmentally unrecognizable compared to what it used to be.  An incredible environmental loss has occurred, but the national community does not recognize this loss.


The west is now establishing economically throughout the world, what it used to try and establish by war and colonization.  Central policies are controlled by trade, communications, travel, patents, banking, loans and trade treaties.  The western economic model is based on the growth of economy and this economy is based on the increased exploitation of the environment.  Selling this policy to countries such as Thailand has brought about increased hardship from risk in the financial sector that failed, and by the non stop pushing of consumption of manufactured goods, displacing old systems of sustainability. Thailand competes for its place in this new system, rather than find an alternative. To fuel this effort at competition the Thai people must write checks based on the chief resource it has, the environment.  Rather than look for an alternative system, the Thais are told by the west, that if they run faster, if they exploit more cleverly, they can still beat the clock somehow. So if there is too much use of water, you don’t slow the use, you concrete in all the creeks and every location you can to bring the water more expeditiously to the city.  And you place increased restriction on the poor people who are using some of it.


One of the penalties of this new system is that products that were not popular, were not considered wise, and were not manufactured in Thailand, began to be imported into Thailand from western countries and countries set up to manufacture to the western system.  A host of motorbikes spewing toxic gases, two cycle models, came from Japan.  More and more autos and highways.  Electricity with its horrid web of cables and poles was pushed out to every Akha community where solar models had already been successfully tested.  It was quite clear that development, opening up of these communities was sought, to increase sales of consumable goods to them, to increase traffic in and out of the villages, and even in some cases to speed the decline of the community.  Communities which lived in isolation for y ears, were seen as backward and needing of development with no consideration to what this development would do to them.  Ironically, many people in the west, long tired of the abuses and excess of development and consumption, were seeking these exact models of sustainability to go back to.  So development must not be overlooked as a weapon, depending on how it is used. 


But no issue of development promises to have a longer term impact on the environment than the increasing introduction of herbicides into this region.  No government policy or law has been sited to stop this disastrous development for both people, land, species and water systems.


Herbicide is now pushed in all the stores as a quick solution to labor marginalization.  Where kids worked in the fields to some degree with their parents as they grew older, the Thai schools now take them to “educate” them, and the labor gap is filled with farming chemicals. 


One is made to wonder, when the west complains about the flow of toxic compounds such as opium and heroin, while they are busy exporting millions of liters of far more toxic and environmentally unsafe and long lasting chemicals into the environment of these same countries, where the products are far from the training and caution that came with them in their invention.  Heroin use may have many harmful side effects to the west, to the users and their society.  But herbicides and pesticides have far greater reaching effects and are used far less discriminatingly throughout the soil and water community.  Yet little consideration is given to this, and you can legally sell this toxin in any Thai community, where as opium is forbidden.


The Akha were not the problem, lack of government vision was.  Now herbicides are increasingly being used for the profit of chemical companies which sell them, and the Akha are spraying them on mountain fields, damaging soil organisms, and contaminating the workers, finally flowing with rains into the water shed and contributing to the contamination of regional waters.  In the low lands the Thais had already been using these products for years, and now these last regions were being added.  Yet in another case of mugging the facts, the Forestry department came out to say that the reason the Akha villages must now be moved was due to pollution of the water shed.  But the people pushing toxic substances far in excess what damage the Akha could do, were not sited in these one sided accounts.


The Thai education system, providing education for adults moving into an industrial society, was chiefly built on western norms, at the exclusion of all else.  While the Thai system was following this western method, space for alternatives with much longer histories was not allowed.  So rather than looking for instance at the environmental wisdom and knowledge of the Akha education system it was rejected.  We can hardly speak of community rights, while the system, one by one debunks and rejects all of these rights.


Akha children often come away from Thai schools being made to feel that being Akha is inferior, as compared to being Thai.  As well, they are displaced from their own educational system, based on deep knowledge of their food working environment, herbal medicines, soil protection practices and healthy foods and protein.


In contrast to the old system, little stores come to many villages, as well as schools, selling a host of chiefly junk food, sugars, coloring and air. One sees more and more food being imported into the Akha community, much of it with low nutritional value, white rice as compared to heavy mountain dark rice.  So with time, the Akha community moves further and further away from food security, and more and more of the food has high trucking miles attached to it.


Yet if we compare the educational norms we can find no reason why the Thai system is superior.  If the Thais choose it, they should use it, but the Akha model should not be scorned, marginalized or rejected.  In addition, we see few to no Akha teachers in the schools.  This can hardly be good for Akha children that Akha teachers are not included in the educational process.


If Thailand were to recognize the benefit of different education models, not just that of the west, it would also have hope of reviving and preserving its own traditional knowledge which has been greatly lost in Thai society due to these compromises and abdications to western thinking as the only good way.


4.  Benefits Of The Akha Model

We can hardly look at community property rights without looking at culture, farming and education of the indigenous people.  We must ask why they continue to use a system for hundreds of years, a thousand over?  Is it just because they are stupid and don’t know to change, as many would claim, or could it be that the system has great value and that it even has secrets and wisdom to offer larger societies caught up in their own impressions?


Without even waiting for the future, we can see that the Akha model has great wisdom about the environment and sustained use.  Only a short stay in an Akha village will cause one to realize that the Akha are not prone to being big consumers.  Houses are generally made of a little bit of wood, bamboo for the most part and grass thatch.  Few own cars or motorbikes.  Few own TV’s.  The interior of an Akha house will usually reveal a small number of clothes, blankets and chiefly cooking utensils.   As far as the Akha system goes, without increasing per capita environmental burden, it could continue on for years to come.  It is only the increased consumption that is being imported and imposed on the Akha that is bringing the change.  The Akha model is based carefully in the production and protection of food sources, and has little inclination toward industrial modernization or consumption of goods.  But this is one of the best kept secrets of greater Thai and western societies, that the commerce elite must have consumption of an ever new array of goods, to keep the people working and spending their money into these folk’s coffers.  This increases the flow of money from the poor, toward the top, selling goods that do not last durably for a long time, with a heavy emphasis on electronics. Even the effort to replace water buffaloes with tractors has increased the use of fuels and also driven the buffalo into decline, no longer viewed as a national resource.  The trend pushed by the corporate sector in society is for more and more consumption, though this model is shown to be fatally flawed both for natural resources and human justice.  The population is not offered wise models of conservation of the land for food security.  Water is exploited, not protected.  Protection comes only in forms to protect it for the high consuming sectors of society in the cities.  No moral consideration of community based property rights can by pass the issue of consumption as a society standard, as it is this model which has been imposed which will do the most to damage the local communities and make community property rights in reality, only a fantasy.  People, even if they do “own” the land, will be working harder and harder to buy many things they do not need and pay increasing fees for services they did not ask for.


We can not assume the limitations to development, as other communities have imposed on themselves are bad. The concept of sustainable development appears a contradiction in words as it seems to fail at selectively controlling itself.


Further, we must look at the system of Akha culture, religion and land use as an integrated model, one that like a great snowball or rolling stone, picks up investment with time and increases in kinetic energy, with the knowledge and wisdom saved, saving time and work, preserving the community, the traditions and very importantly the land.  The Akha are not just people, individuals, as advocated in the west, in a slight of hand shell game, but they are a tribe, a clan, villages. Not just one village but a collection of villages, and not just a collection of villages but the current point in a processes of villages over centuries that moves on the forward wave of knowledge and investment in the land.


This process within Akha society and its reflections in the land can be seen in time marking of Akha villages.  The oldest Akha villages have the greatest investment in terracing, moving up from the bottoms, terracing more and more of the suitable land, and partially terracing other lands for preservation of water shed and soils.  Terracing started at the bottoms collects any run off sediment from hillside farming.


Unfortunately, and conveniently, when environmental degradation is sited among the Akha, it is invariably done at the site of a recently relocated village.  Little consideration is given to the massive destruction of invested labor in the land, so little environmental wisdom is understood on the part of the people who relocated them.  They are just people you can move when you want. After an Akha village is moved, it may take anywhere up to twenty years and longer for a collection of new knowledge about the new location and the building of terraces to begin to occur.  The labor involved in building terraces is no small matter.  The Akha don’t get to rely on a poorer group of people to do the hard work for them at low wages, they must do it themselves. What would the Akha be owed in baht, if they were compensated for this lost land labor investment and seen as more than tourist attractions and curiosities?


The Akha invest extensively in water management, building canal systems to move water across mountain faces, and increase its benefit.  The moving of water increases the use of terracing and lowers erosion.


Around older Akha villages naturally occurring fruit trees and cultivated ones can be found, but generally not so many in villages younger than twenty years.  In the older locations, individual fruit trees were destinations, not just trees.  Mango trees more than a hundred years old are testimony to the time the Akha lived showing that the current time of environmentalism is not the only one.


Akha traditions are aimed at one thing, living a good life, and bearing children and leaving them land to live on.  Based on this, the culture is carefully woven to avoid repetitive mistakes, avoid conflict, continue to use land close to the village, and most importantly continue to raise good children to take one’s place.  The Akha can not comprehend that any level of consumption could legitimately replace this, as some of the failed western models might suggest.


Akha culture is not compartmentalized.  There are not laws for people and then laws for the land.  The law applies to people and their relationship to each other and the land.  Some days you go to the fields, some days you can weed the rice, some days it is forbidden.  But this is no mystery to the Akha, like a carefully timed clock, they turn at the right moments, then move freely about.  The turns set at the right times, seem little inconvenience, in perspective of not just the individual, but the village, the entire system of villages and the whole race going on, very close to the earth, closer than most other parts of society in Thailand, under much more harsh conditions.


Akha culture and law dictates festivities and ceremonies at particular times of year, rotating around the planting and  harvesting of rice.  There are also rituals for births, deaths and marriages.  Seemingly odd from the outside, it is carefully constructed with a rhythm in mind, keeping on track but with the greatest flexibility.


The Akha work hard, consume not much more than the food they eat and have much more free time than their western counterparts.  Yet they are continuously told by others that they are backward and must consume more in order to prove otherwise.


Children offer an important role in village and family farming life, working along with the family in the fields, learning from a very small age what it takes to farm, information about the natural world around them, every component. An Akha child can readily identify bugs, which ones are dangerous, which ones eat the crops, and which ones can be eaten.  The western model education system divorces them from this natural world.


Children learn through festivals, more than twelve regular ones per year, how the crops are maintained, their view of God, and the forces that control nature, and how not to disturb these forces such that crops are always abundant.  Ceremonies and festivals occur at every important stage of the rice crop that it be healthy, that the soil turns out well, that the heads be strong, that the rains come, and that the bugs don’t eat the crop.  Any abnormal variation in the crop will bring about more ceremonies to rebalance the environmental spiritual balance such that the crop becomes healthy again.  Even in the case of insects, they are not killed, as many more will come to replace them, instead the village takes the day off and asks the insects to leave, closes their eyes it is said, and send them on their way to another place where there is no rice plants to eat.  Respect is given to ones parents and the parents before them for living wisely and bringing children safely to this stage, such that they could grow and have children again for their own part in the future of their clan. Year after year the cycle is successfully repeated. The Akha model could best be described as an agricultural and environmental theology.  If we do not draw comparisons of the Akha model and the outside forces that are being imposed on them with ill results, we can not understand the heart of the issues involved in community based rights, which should include right to run your own lives, education and religious beliefs without domination from other cultures. 


One is reminded of what occurred in many places in Africa, where the colonizers required a tax, which was placed on people that had plenty of food, so that they would have to move themselves into the jobs offered, in order to get the coinage to pay the tax.  They could not pay it in other resources, and by this means their communities were often broken up, families separated, men having to go off to work in distant mines and so forth.


Thai administrators in Chiangrai Province stated that jobs were being increasingly offered in the towns to hill tribe people through their government programs to encourage the hill tribe youth to move out of the mountains.  This would not sound all that odd, except it was spoken combined with the often stated desire of many agencies to move all hill tribe villages out of the mountains.  Once again, it is defeating such agendas that is back at the heart of community based rights.


5.  Comparative Village Examples

Huuh Mah Akha is a village near Haen Taek that was caught before it was moved.  This village had been at their current location for more than 78 years and had a level of nutrition reflective of this.   Extensive rice terraces were built, there were plenteous fields with no new cutting of trees required.  Pigs, water buffalo, cattle, and horses were plentiful.  The children enjoyed good sources of fruits and vegetables, the nutrition level in the village quite satisfactory.


Huuh Mah Akha had no record of arrests or illegal activities.

There are no drug users at Huuh Mah Akha.


Against this backdrop of a healthy life, Forestry Department Officials and Local Army officials decided to move Huuh Mah Akha to set up more region for planting pine in the guise of protecting the water shed.  This mentality is not a solely Thai creation, and we must be careful and exact to point that out, but is backed by policy from the Asian Development Bank to relocate mountains peoples and streamline watersheds for city use.


In this scenario the Akha, the Lahu or the Lisaw, are seen as non relevant species to the environmental process.


This situation also denies the contradictions that exist.  For on one hand the natural jungle is removed, and replaced with a bio desert, and at the same time, the most serious known toxic agents to the water shed are freely sold in Haen Taek.  So high altitude or low, the most dangerous toxins are being freely allowed to move into the watershed system.  Rather than ban the use of these agents which would stop the pollution, the officials take the opportunity to displace peoples which does not stop the pollution.  In Addition, the location that was prepared for Huuh Mah Akha to move to, in itself did serious environmental damage, causing massive erosion and reckless silting of existing rice terraces of the Lisaw community below the site where the mountain was bull dozed away for houses.  Another case of short term thinking.  However the moving of Huuh Mah Akha was stopped, further disturbance to the environment was halted, and the village continues to prosper.  The military, like having a one track mind to change something, determined that if the village was not to be moved then a new disfiguring road should be carved up through the pristine central canyon, which makes up the chief view of Huuh Mah Akha, and that power lines should be brought in, even though Huuh Mah Akha has an ample solar supply.  It seems the only answer is develop or nothing. No healthy alternatives are considered.


Pah Nmm Akha was a village across the valley from Huuh Mah Akha also near the Thai border.  So close in fact, it would be very hard to say that the village was surely in Thailand and that the citizens were in fact Thai.  It would be more logical to presume that these Akha were Burmese citizens.  The village had a long and secure history on the ridge top, farming the same location for so many years.  Investments had been made in terracing, fruit trees, and water.  The small area around the village was cleared of trees but the great forest was below, undisturbed.  Lahu and Lisaw lived nearby.  But close to nine years ago the Thai army arbitrarily decided to move this village as if no other solution was available for border security.  They moved the village several kilometers down the hill.  The Akha stopped on top of a hill, while the Lahu and Lisaw and one other Akha village moved into the very bottom next to the creek, a most unhealthy and unnatural choice for any.  The villages near the creek saw the greatest drug dependency, cultural breakdown and criminal activity.  Pah Nmm Akha which remained higher faired much better.  The village environment was also much healthier, but not without problems that previously did not exist.  For one thing, and this may seem a small matter to some, but the Akha always were people who chose to live high in the mountains, where it is cold, the wind blows and your eye can see forever.  To move them to the bottoms was similar to taking away the ears of a great musician.  There was no longer room for pigs and cattle to roam, and the pig population declined radically.  Chickens also faired off worse and died of fever.  There was no adjacent land to farm so the villagers had to still walk back up the mountain to find fields.  So it was OK to farm up in the mountain, but not live there, in a most perverted form of imposed logic on the part of the Thai Forestry and Army.  But since most the old fields were still too far away, the Akha were told to farm the lower lands.  So areas that were fully forested for years were cut for farming again, by the Akha under the direction of the Army.  Of course neither the Army nor Forestry takes account for this.  Just the same, the distance that has to be walked to the fields, instead of minutes at a normal village location such as the old one, but more than an hour, close to an hour and a half.  All farming tools, materials, seeds, and crops had to be transported by back and by horse this distance.  A woman working in the fields would have to walk three hours per day, just to get to the fields and back, to say nothing of the long hours in the field.  Impracticality of field location imposed by the Army eats up one third of the working day of these people.  And as if this was not enough, the forestry begins to plant more and more pine on these depleted lands, pushing the Akha once again.


If in fact the Akha are aliens, then they are aliens that the Thai Army acquired, not aliens who strayed or migrated into Thailand.


Cheh Pah Kah is a village closely located to Pah Nmm Akha, close to that original altitude, but for a number of factors it was not relocated.  Comparing the prosperity of Cheh Pah Kah and Pah Nmm Akha we can see that where Pah Nmm Akha went backward, Cheh Pah Kah prospered.  The village grew in size, tea and fruit plantations flourish and a tea drying plant has been bought means of a village co-op.  The Akha in this village continue to enjoy years of terracing and water work investment, as well as stable living environment.


6. Factors of Increased Land Degradation

While there is much discussion of land use, forestry, and water shed protection we must assume that these motives are the cover for a different agenda due to the incredible contradictions of fact which they include.


Currently in the Haen Taek region a significant amount of the area is farmed and lived on by Akha, Lahu and Lisaw hill tribe.  Tai Yai make up another ethnic group.  But there are few Thais living in the area.  While stating concern for the land condition, more roads are built with great damage done due to silting, erosion and land slides, totally burying terraced rice in some cases.  Bottom land terraces of black clay are now filling with red mud.  The population is increasing as the road is built and more and more Thais relocate into the tiny mountain location, putting up big gaudy houses and shops on every road side.  The quantity of trucks and cement moving into the region and the condition of the road as a result is plenty testimony to the influx of new comers.  Now their shops are demanding wood from the mountains for cooking so more and more trees are being cut.  There is a much greater creation of sewage and garbage, putting more strain on the local water supply and drainage.  Herbicides are now plentiful in the stores and encouraged for use, totally in denial of what they are doing to the watershed of a before pristine area.


It would appear that the true agenda of this region is a racially based agenda, to  move as many Thais into the region and take away as much of the land from the hill tribe as possible to reinforce the Thai for Thai mentality of nationalism.  The Army is in place to continuously tighten the living conditions and freedoms of the Akha, both land restrictions and arrests for drug use are such instruments.  It is worth noting that the village with the least desirable location given to them by the Army, also have high drug trafficking problems and criminality.  Should not be any surprise.


Disturbing the original farming has also created over farming of some lands, increasing corrosion and depletion, the normal rotation cycle of the land having been put to an end.


So as we look at events that effect the environment, we must ignore who made the decisions which did the environment such damage and ignored so many rights of the people.


It is worth noting that racial bias and geographical isolation made these actions possible.


When we ask administrators why these actions are taken, they can only point concerns for the environment and the security of Thailand, while having ignored all the factors which they promoted which actually increased the problems.


The Akha and other hill tribes are of course, caught in the middle of this propaganda and administrative action.


7. Predators

In this highly marginalized environment with little representation we find the Akha being harassed non stop by foreign missionaries and local missionaries supplied with moneys from the foreign missions. Villages which are marginalized the heaviest are the first to succumb to the pressure.  A host of fabrications are erected to show the Akha how they are themselves to blame for all that has occurred to them and that as soon as they become Christian or whatever, their lives will improve.   A more sinister set of lies could not be fabricated or imposed on a poorer people, robbed of most all they had.  Though the government supports Buddhism in Thailand, it would appear that their allowance of the missionaries into these tribal regions to “civilize” them is rather convenient.  In the villages which have been pacified in this way, the worst living conditions are found and the least resistance to the events which have impoverished them can be found.  It is clear that the missions do not raise the standards of the people, but demand that they give up their souls for tiny morsels of help, the most money which can be found invested in dark church buildings.  Young people particularly those who can bear more Akha children are taken away from the village to low land schools to “help” them while it is fully known and desired that they should not and do not go back to the village or their culture.  The Thai government has knowingly stood by while the Christian missionaries have harassed, pressured and denied the Akha their culture under a host of guises and fabrications to the truth.  The Thai government can not show where it has acted in good faith to either recognize the Akha as refugees, annexed citizens, or tribal peoples worthy of protection.  The Thai government has failed to show good faith in protecting the culture of the Akha from these proselytizing forces and the deterioration that occurs with forced village moves and marginalization.  Local army policy has been to marginalize and displace the Akha to the greatest possible degree.  Local administrators make no secret of wanting to move all the hill tribe to the towns in the valleys where they can be nothing more than a serf labor class.  The men selling drugs, the women prostitutes, a degradation of the poor visible in many countries in the world.


At the same time this lack of moral will on the part of the government has highly damaged Thailand’s reputation as a safe haven for distinct cultures.  Possible the host of tourists to the hill tribe are over and now it is only time to relocate them all and see their culture disappear for good?  The tourism money has been spent, the Akha the bait, but certainly not the recipients of the money made off the process of showing them off to the outside world.


What ever the complaints of the poor and land use, we see it is the cynical actions of the greater society that create the injustice.  Without redress of this ongoing stream of injustice, we can hardly expect to progress toward community rights of land and forests.


To whom should the Akha appeal for this justice?


8. Ongoing Problems

The Akha and other hill tribe groups now fight an ongoing effort of many years to assimilate them into Thai society as a non distinct group, and to displace their villages from their native locations in the mountains.  While throughout the mountains we see plenteous resorts which consume a huge amount of land with benefit to only a few elite, the Akha are denied land because there is a “land shortage”.  At the same time many new Thais are moving into the area, taking more and more of the land that was used for farming.


The Akha will continue to face these problems as long as they lack governmental and legal representation and as long as the government maintains policies that work against them.  Akha language is not taught in schools built in their communities, and assimilating them as a backward people continues to be the talk.


Increased political and human rights for the Akha is the only basis for a policy of improved community rights of land and culture.


9.  Hope For The Future

If community land rights, protections for human and cultural rights are put in place and administered in Thailand, then rather than assimilation and failure of the Akha community, we could expect to see the respect for distinct cultures and the complementing of these cultures to each other.  The Akha a mountain people, willing and able to farm the mountains and make them flower, preserving water and soils and forests and animals.  Certainly it is a benefit to all to have this variation of culture within a larger country. 


As well, in this manner, the extensive knowledge of the forests, soils and plants of the mountain jungle regions will not be lost.


It is the most just consideration to include people as components in the environment, not just so many humans to be displaced for convenience and policy. 


This is best for the environment and the people who live in it.  When we deny that there is this relationship we can expect to incur costs that are not so easy to pay later on.


The Roads

Roads into an Akha village

This is a key ingredient in Akha life.

It determines much of the personality of a village.

Some roads are passable year around, even getting a little bit of concrete, others are broad or narrow mudholes, treaturous and to be handled by the most aggressive driving one will encounter.


Getting things to market

This is part of the Akha Economic equation.  Villages with a good road are able to move many vegetable products, others are too far away from the market or the roads are too bad to make this possible.


Village roads, kids

A lot of dusty roads to Akha villages full of kids.

Huts bekoning, villages working.  At once I remember an ancient old woman of 80 serenely beautiful, a lined face yet looking desperate for each breath, her throat and head aching somehow, telling me with a sweet but urgent voice of it.  Beautiful long fingers and legs, timelessly reflecting God.


Akha village layout

high end, low end, on saddle back

Families clustered together


Akha Families, Village Layout

very closenit, often one or two families, all the relatives living round, marrying outsiders from other clans year by year, the new children being born, the elders passing away one by one.


Akha children

carefully cared for, even in poverty and death


Akha children belong in an akha village

not taken out as by missions


family breakup

Caused by missionaries, very close families could be split by these evil people taking advantage of whatever divisions they could find.


Trip to a Village

May 12, 1995

Ah Leh Akha

I took some medicine into an Akha village and all the enjoyable people there.

A man in the village had caught a kingfisher and was going to eat it, nature gone.

Course, at the time I didn't identify with how hungry these people are all the time.

Every  village had some children with a look in their face different from all the others.  


Communication in an akha village:

San Chai

There had been two earth quakes and it was during the first one, about 3:30 in the moring, when the hut rocked steadily back and forth and the man let out an exclamation.  At the same time the rest of the village spoke out simultaneously and then chattered away for a brief moment assuring each other that all was well and then slid back to sleep.  That was something special, hearing them all respond with a single voice.



Controlled entry.

The idea of sanctuary is that there must be some respite offered to tribal peoples, shadowed from the constant approach of tourists, pushing cameras into the community while playing no constructive part in it.  The village must be recognized for what it is, a home, an environment which raises children safely and well, rejecting western values of the edification of slfish individuality and commercial consumption.  No doubt a village, undeveloped and silent in the night is a great opportunity for a manufacturer when he thingks of all the unitws of everthing he can convince the villagers they now need to buy from him.


electricity and twlevisions in the village

One can not immediately say that electricity was put in villages solely as a favor.  In  many cases it has little environmental value and solar alternatives are in use in some villages.

Television offers some alternatives but the programming itself is not so hot.

There were villages that could possibly benefit from electricity, particularly badly relocated villages.


All the things you see an hear in villages.

One time I was staying in this tiny hut with a small family and the old man and woman and I were talking and out with it the old man says, “my old lady has the sweetest little butt there is.”  Sure enough a few months later when I stopped by they had a new little boy.


Lisaw Round dance at Hua Mae Kom. Boring. Compared to Akha.

yes, slow and boring


Food and Living Safety

There were three perfect Human Beings.  Two screwed up and the third died fixin it.

We must be the same.  So must they, like the third.

No eating of blood

Soap as offorded

Wash room and toilet

awareness of dirt and sickness relationship

character training: they must be aware of it

behavior after Christ

Not chopping down trees

Planting trees and bamboo

vegetables away from pigs

collection of animal manure

less yelling hitting of children

food handling and preparation

These things will require a full knowledge of the language in order to communicate them

Need for a good village model.  Farm model .



Where, staying away from lakes and rivers.

Springs and creeks

Digging Wells, problems with that.

Self Help.

Secure Wells Cost Money.


All the Akha words out of Lewis's books




in the mountains

Boeuh maw

Dzoeuh Mah

Peeh mah

Nyeeh Pah

in the village

in the hut



farm animals

food plants

medicine plants






the law - Akha Zauh - ceremonies, funerals, marriages, illness, village infractions

Divorce, brothers buying husband?



working wood and bamboo

the human body

Nyeeh Pah Insects

Some nyeeh pah can see, some can not, must use an insect

Some can go themselves

No chicken, just with a piece of ginger and she can go

She can cure by herself


The Nyeeh Pah can see and then she must tell the Boeuh Maw or the Peeh Mah as he sits on the other side of the partition close by.


My View of the life of the Akha


My view is dominated mostly by the problems I see the Akha facing as a people, hwo they are treated and exploited and the needs they have as a people.  Which go unmet, very basic needs, medical discrimination.


The missionaries work was based on the assumption that they were an inferiour race and culture rather than on compassion for a special people.  A fellow who knew the missionary Paul Lewis told me that he was a real "insect" and saw the Akha as inferior and the Lahu as superior and worked in the favor of the Lahu. 


The missionareis sestablished division and a tribal elite.


The missionareis came in the talk of Jesus but their lives were a portrayal of western culture more than all else.


There was good reason to believe the missionaries had racial disregard for the Akha.  For what their real needs were apart from just exploiting them and their villages further.  The missionaries, every last one of them whom I had met, down to the last man, had it as their sole goal to destroy the culture of the Akha people.  They might deny it, like saying they had no money in the bank but you could come and see them use the ATM machine every day.



One of the unique peculiarities of this work with the Akha is that as you get further into the hills as it were, the deeper you get into the work, the more layers you peel off, then I have to keep re evaluating the project in light of the new information that I have.


I have to ask myself what the goals are again and why.  They don't appear to change but one keeps getting a clearer perspective and keeps checking.


It is like being on the outside of a wall and then as time goes on one finds themself slowly shifting to the inside of the wall, looking at it all from there.



The Akha lived in a time before anything was manufactured that they used in their lives.


Lah Pyah Tsoh Hah

This is a person that has the ability to kill a person by magic.  Usually done in the stomach by speaking to another person about it.  Meeh Daw said that her older brother died of that by the actions of a Thai man who he worked for who killed him this way.


It may also be the Akha explanation of death by appendicitis or some other stomach ailment.


Telling it in Akha

The problem was that as a speaker of American English there were not words for so many t hings I sensed in this world here with the Akha.


Think of this.  Does it mean I am illiterate?

Can it be that in the west we have come to the conclusion that words are thought and thoughts are words.  Words put shackles on our thoughts someone said.


Many of the things I see and sense I have collected impressions of meaning I get the same impression over and over but it is not a word or a words, but a complete thought, a complete impression, like a feeling, perception, thought, understanding event all rolled up into one.


There is so much more thought than what words can be had.


We all have different sized vocabularies.  Would that mean that someone with a smaller vocabulary has less thougths? I think not.



The Akha say that if a woman dies it is bad for her children to live in her younger brother's house.

If they live in her younger sister's house it is ok though.


Recitals and Peeh Mahs


According to Mooh Dzurh the only way that you will get accurate recitals from the Peeh Mah is to do a ceremony where you are handed the transfer of power to become a Peeh Mah.  In this ceremony that you make with and for him he is under obligation to transfer it accurately and completely.


According to Mooh Dzurh Paul Lewis shortened the quite complete quite accurate catholic alphabet.  It must be assumed that this was more to give the Akha who became protestant a point of distinction which is similar to practices elsewhere by the American Baptists among other tribes.


When you look at the catholic script it was quite complete without too much ambiguity.  Aftre the Lewis "improvements" it was full of laws.


The Akha have an Akha grouping of the alphabet, I am not sure why it is arranged so.


Peeh Mahs and Nyeeh Pahs are different, but can be of either sex.

Older ones train younger ones.


"Peeh Mah naw loh mah leh"  Give this skill to me.

"Nyeeh Pah naw loh mah leh" Give this skill to me.


Boeuh Maw mah teeh kaw.


They say the same thing but a Peeh Mah works during the day and a Nyeeh Pah works during the night.


As far as I know they can not be the same person with two titles.


They sing songs to and about good and bad spirits.

" Yoh muuh dah beeh lah urh"

"Mah muuh dah eeh doh"


Mah toh nyah is what they say about a bad peeh mah or nyeeh pah.


"Gah hooh Peeh Mah daw ngeh"  what is this?


A boy can ask to be taught by the Peeh Mah around 20 years old if smart.


When someone dies the Boeuh Maw speaks, the Peeh Mah does not.

Peeh mah doesn't speak for sick people, Nyeeh Pah does.

I don't know if either of these are accurate statements.


When a Nyeeh Pah or Peeh Mah or Boeuh Maw work it is called "Neh toh toh".


When a person is sick a pig or a dog is killed.

I don't know for sure, but it appears that the Nyeeh Pah or Peeh Mah move the sickness from the person to the meat of one of these animals figuratively or actually.


This is done before or after the animal is killed?

This is done to stop the spread or transmission of the illness, disease or calamity.


Nyeeh Pah's


There were still a lot of Nyeeh Pahs.


Booh Oh was a Nyeeh Pah near Ah Surh's village.


Boeuh Maw

There are two types, he that is born and he that trains.

One who is born a Boeuh Maw can predict the future.

One who trains does so under a Peeh Mah as a student.

A Boeuh Maw will go ahead and become a Peeh Mah later on.


Peeh Mahs recite rituals while Nyeeh Pahs go out to another world to see and speak a different language.


Are Nyeeh Pah rituals standard or do they shape each one?


The Nyeeh Pah rides a horse into another world.


Two times Mooh Dzurh saw Nyeeh Pahs who were afraid of him and immediately began riding the horse till he comforted them and told them not to fear.








she kauh Bpah

Akha top days, Gah Tauh Bpah


Boeuh Oh Mah, Boeuh Oh Neh

The name of the bug in the rice which bites it's stalk near the ground, cutting off the roots.

The Akha go out and look for this bug or a grasshopper, as a sign that a certain time has come in the growth and planting of the rice.  Between the planting of the rice, until this bug is found in the fields, one may not cut down or build anything of bamboo.


To calculate this day they also count 13 days from the last day of the rice planting and they do this three times, on the next day they go out looking for a Boeuh Oh Mah, ant or if they can't find either, a piece of dirt, which they wrap in a leaf, and put in a notch of a stick and bring back to the village and stick in the ground next to the gate.


Nah Lauh Lauh

A day when you do not work, the whole village does not work.  This is a couple of days per month.


Meeh Tsah Beh

When the earth, dirt were made.


Neeh Sah Pay Lauh Nauh

To call a day in the future that is the same as to day, is to say that in 13 days something will be done.


13 Days

The Akha calendar has 13 days, this is what makes it different than the Chinese Calendar which has 12. This is in part due to how they count the days, not just the number of animals. Some say the Chinese also have 15 days.


The days of Akha are:


Myo  Monkey

Zah  Chicken

Kuuh  Dog

Zah  Pig

Ho  Rat

Nyo  Water Buffalo

Hkah Lah  Tiger  (this day no working of rice crop, corn or other is ok.)

Tah Lah  Mule

Lauh  Rabbit  (this day no work is done at all, stay at home)

Sheh  Mink Like animal

Mauh  Horse

Yaw  Sheep  (this day no working of rice crop, corn or other is ok.)


Killing Pigs

For a new house you only kill a female pig and look at the liver, and same for Sah Kauh Pah Urh.


For weddings only male pigs.


For funerals either.


Weddings and The Traditions of an Akha Village

It becomes much more clear at a wedding how interconnected the Akha are in all that they do.  Every part of the ceremonies carefully done, eating, sleeping, a sleeping escort for the new wife and so forth.


It makes all that much more stark the nature of the work the missionaries do to destroy this.


Akha Culture

The Akha struggle to survive and maintain their identity.

The culture of the Akha can be defined as an environmental theology.  People such as missions had planted desparaging ideas and labels as to what Akha culture "meant" filling the uninformed with ideas that were unsubstantial or just plain inaccurate.

Akha culture surrounded a number of themes.  Living in balance with the land and forest. Living in balance with each other.  Law for the land. Law for people.  A Law for illness. Festivals that are for the planting and  maintenance of the rice. Each one of these festivals related to ceremonies.  The ceremonies were the area of greatest misunderstanding of Akha culture.  Ceremonies celebrated the rice as in the life and future of the Akha and tied it to the continuous thread of their existence, not through "ancestors" as in some distant people, but immediately to one's parents, and their parents and right on back through all the generations from now to their origination.  This was not a dishonorable thing, not a foolish thing, but a practice of great respect and sense of who they were as a people. If you are Akha, you can be Akha, all Akha, but if you are not Akha, you can only be what you are but you can never be Akha.  For each ceremony through out the year there was a meal, a meal at which one gave rememberance to their past, their present, everyone was included, a chicken was killed and everyone ate it.  It was not a "sacrifice" to spirits as the Christians like to say anymore than the turkey on thanksgiving or the goose on Christmas or the church barbecue is.  It was the inclusion of the past people and the present people and a  meal of protein.  We won't discuss all the church holidays which are really rooted in western paganism.

Weddings and funerals and other celebrations were also meals of protein.  We think of eating, the Akha make note of when there is meat available because it is not every day they get to eat meat, or eggs, or milk, or vitamins. 

The culture of the Akha people has so many parts to it, strictly defined, that one can also describe it as an orthodox culture.

At first seems there is rules for everything, but then one comes to realize that there are rules that one follows that allows one to stay within healthy limits and the rest is free.  How and where and when you build your house.  How close it can be to another, how the house is constructed, how clean and dirty things are handled.  Yet you go to a Christian  mission run Akha village and you see that the missions have intentionally taken down all these protective methods and banned them.

I have yet to see one prosperous Christian village in Thailand.  They don't have ceremonies but often they don't have pigs and chickens either. You can't eat what you don't have if that is any kind of consolation.

Healthy Akha villages had intensive investments in rice land, terraces, fruit orchards, wild fruit, pigs, horses, ducks, geese, buffalo, ginger, broom, coffee, tea and corn.

Farming was done in groups, the land not collectively owned, but one might borrow two people for a day, then go and work in their fields for a day each.   This way labor was always done in groups, making the work lighter and the mood easy.

Healthy Akha families were also connected to their kin folk in Burma, Laos, China.  This made up an Akha telephone as it were, conditions often being reported back and forth, information exchanged.  Any good idea that prospered in one area would be tried in another.

The culture and law of the Akhas, protected by the language and knowledge system, served also to keep other people from over running the Akha by superior force.



Have a comment or question? Like to know more? Send me an email at akhalife at gmail.com
Copyright 2004, by Matthew McDaniel