Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter 15: Pah Nmm Akha

 

Pah Nmm Akha Village

Pah Nmm Akha was a border village in a remote region which gave me the first opportunity to involve myself significantly with the farming life and economics of an Akha village which was traditional.  In the end I married into this village and worked significantly to protect its culture and farming interests from outside predators which included army, police, forestry, missions and land developers.

 

Pah Nmm

They know I am in the woods.           

The village that I have located in, Pah Nmm Akha, has become family, and I have had the chance to learn the limitations but also the incredible resiliency of the Akha and their village to family life.

In the end I have made many wonderful and fantastic friends in the village, one very large family.

 

Bah Mah Hahn Akha

When it wis all over the biggest fault is going to be that I didn't write enough.

I am back in Bah Mah Hahn village.  The two older fmailiy girls are already gone to the fields for the morning to plant corn.

The village is plenty muddy making it a real struggle to get in and out of the village with my truck, the last long driveway completely destroyed mud tracks that are very steep and I have to power up.

Coming out can be a dangerous slide down.

The fundraising in the US is going poorly.

The rice planting is not done yet.  For Ah Chooh's house it is but not for all the village.

It is interesting to note all the orthodox aspects if you will about the Akha.  After the grandfather dies the girls won't sew on their traditional clothes for 3 months.  Hope to know more about all of this in time.

It is very difficult to write down all that one sees in one day, to put it to words.

 

The Wedding

Going outside with the  basket, for the stick and mud/shit

Jungle context,

The rain comes

It was almost like any other event for me, just something in  my schedule.  I had to remember to leave time for it, for a trip to the mountains for it, just like any other. I would allow what ever occurred to make it something different in its own way for an event occuring with  me rather than an appointment or medical task.  I so often worked in such a daze that this was just how it was, not lacking particularly in sentiment, just pragmatic.

So I knew that I would need a few days and I headed up to the hill with a couple of clean shirts.  Otherwise nothing different.  I drove in the village, I was relaxed because I had gotten a lot done that day, those last few days and so my mind was kind of in a state of play if you will.

The village was anxious, they didn’t know if I would show or not, yes I would show, but not necessarily on time, so I laid that to rest, the wedding would go ahead as planned in the morning.

The very next morning after I awoke at my fiances house the very first thing that they did was to drive me from her house, along with her, and tell us both that we couldn’t come back in for anything for three days.  Now what made this odd, was that because I was gone so much, and I had no village of my own, my wife would be residing in the new hut that the old woman had blessed for us, apart from her parents house, but nearby so she would still have family, since I pretty  much lived either in my truck while it was moving, or in front of a computer and that didn’t leave much community for her.

Since normally she would be leaving to my village, the ban on entering the house was necessary since it was still close by.  Numerous related families in the village would not be attending the wedding, while all non related families would be, to keep the standard custom.  Since I still had to put on a celebration for all of them as my friends, by choice, I needed two pigs, since they couldn’t eat from the one that was the marriage pig.  That was no problem because there were enough people that it was going to take that anyway.  Good thing I had been raising two pigs.

The first thing that happened after we left the house was that one man lost his grip on pig number one and it got away, so we had to wait an hour for it to come back to the shade at which point we made it part of the festival.  Actually, we tried to make it part of the festival once with a spear, but it ran off and we had to chase it into the jungle where we cornered it in the creek and finished what we had started, then slung it over a heavily sagging bamboo pole and carried it back to the village.  Then a great fire was built and the pig was singed till all the black hair and top of the hide was scraped off.  At that point the pig entered into the festival different from other planned cookings.

I was sent to our hut, then my fiance soon showed up, stopping before the hut, where a white skirt was pulled over her head, and she dressed in it, removing her black skirt, the only time a woman ever pulls a skirt over her head.  Then a special Akha Jacket, one I didn’t even know she had been making, was put on top of her wedding woven hat, which she had put on for this moment instead of her head dress, and the arms of the jacket were folded over her head and she entered the hut and went to the woman’s side where she sat down with her back to the partition.  The hut was soon filling up with adults and children, a mere ten feet by ten feet on each side or less, two fires, and soon a man brought her her bed role from her mother’s house.

The pig was brought into the hut and carefully cut up a special way, reading the liver, and then taking part of the pig to the women’s side and placing it in a can which was covered for the second day, the rest carefully cut up and parts hung on a rod over to one side to keep taking from and other parts cut up immediately and going into a pot.  One man took over the cooking duties after the old elder finished all the cutting up and cooking certain items on the women’s side of the hut.  The elder women of the village from the other families gathered in a circle on my fiances side and began to feed her.

The old men gathered on my side, began telling stories and doing recitals done at marriages, carefully explaining all to me as they went along, my not being of the best memory.

Finally I was called to eat on the women’s side with my fiance, splitting an egg together which we ate with the shell from our hands. 

That night, an escort slept in the hut, since it was against the tradition, to do more than sleep during a wedding which officially lasted thirteen days, though there was only three days of ceremony.  This was out of respect for the traditions.

On the second day there were more ceremonies, the second part of the pig was eaten spare a few parts which would be saved to feed the elders on the third day. It did not matter how big the pig was, the pig was split up for these three days to be eaten on schedule.

I took turns between feeding the Old Women whiskey, cigarettes and then they in turn gave me token money for my marriage.  It was really fantastic, that tiny side of the hut, all those elder Akha women in a circle talking and smiling, many of whom I had not met before, so kind to me, blessing me that we would have many boys and girls together and that the children would be raised up in the full traditions of the orthodox Akha, which I assured them would be the case.  Both the many children and the orthodox traditions.  I can not say that I have ever met such a collection of elderly women so engaged in their place and role in life as the vitality of the village as that group and such groups in Akha villages.

Then my wife, by this time, after the eating of the egg, took her turn feeding the men whiskey and cigarettes and receiving their blessing and permission in the marriage as I had done with the elder women.  The singing went on and on this second day one man stood out for his ability to sing the traditional songs.  He sang on for hours.  Many visitors came and went.  We ate the last of the saved parts of the pig from the can, them being split between us with careful instructions as to what to do with the bone, it must be put in the fire, not discarded through a hole in the floor.

On the third day my wife took two bottles of whiskey to her parents and the ceremonies were over.

 

Rice Planting

There is a lot to rice planting and care, care we must call it.

My wife's family, they got 120 Bpoh of rice this year.  A bpoh is a five gallong oil can by measure.  There are three bpoh to a sack of rice, but this is with the husk on, and that is how the harvest is measured.

Planting the rice took one day with ten people to help us.  We hired lahu workers, one a very tall and funny man, it rained and the wind blew and he was very  happy with his long planting stick.

It takes about six days to burn the slash and chop the sod on a large mountain side field.  The slash is usually not trees, sometimes, but is the bamboo from the field setting fallow for at least three years. 

Five days of work are required after planting the rice, to weed it the first time, with two people working.

The second cultivation and weeding takes five days but this time with five people. I helped this time too and it is very hard work.  We also have to walk three hours to get to the fields and back, an hour and a half each way.

The land is very steep.  The women get a mark on their left leg above the knee from resting their arm or hand there while they stoop and work.  They use a small hoe for opening the soil and removing weeds which they twist into bundles.  Vines are the worst and make the work difficult because as you take  them out it is possible to damage the rice.  One vine has a fur all over it.  One vine is smoothe, these get very big and long.  They come from a great tuber under the ground, which when you are busting the sod you try to find.  When you dig it up quite deep it is round.  This is good because you kick it good and due to being round fat and heavy it bounces and rolls very fast all the way into the brush below the field way down in the  canyon.

There are also thorn plants, that maybe would become very big.  When you find these small the leaves are many and red and the stalk soft and you can boil them and add sugar and the juice is bright red and has a very nice wild berry flavor.  There is bunch grass also and other wild grasses.

There are bees that love to sting you and if they do your face will puff all up for three days and it can leave a big poc scar on your face.

There are many ants, some bite very bad and you get a big infection and fever, others leave you alone, even if they are big and dangerous looking.

Erosion is a big concern so the men make side trenches.  The women plant cucumbers, the Akha type, and sunflowers so there are things to nibble at harvest.  They plant this throughout the rice.   The cucumbers are large and provide wet fruit when it is hot and dry at harvest time.

Terraces are needed but if the army moved a village it takes them a long time, maybe twenty years, to build new terraces.  The Akha say it takes a full fifty years to build a village.

The terraces start in the bottom and catch the soil from erosion, they are essential but do not get built when the village worries about yet another forced relocation.

Today we found a viper in a piece of wood stump and killed it so it would not be living there in the rice field, these long green whip vipers go very fast, they are very thin and hard to see, yet they can leap an jump up off the ground, moving like a whip.

The wind and rain continued in the afternoon cooling both us people and the earth.

Our view was as good as food, which of course to the whole lot of us we didn't have much.  Mountains and valleys all around and below, we ourselves nearly at the top of it and very close to the Burma Border.

 

Planting

Actually we cultivated quite a lot for the final time there on top of the hill.

Amazing what you notice.  There are frogs (the Akha girl claimed they  made warts - Ah Pah Buuh See, something like that).

There were tarantulas that I dug out.

There was the one viper, they have a chisel head like stealth shaped and hard to see.

Meeh Chooh the Nyeeh Pah was there and she had a dream about the snake then that night.

Then there was quite a commotion down the hill.  Though the mountain ridge is big, it is one long family from t his village, Pah Nmm Akha.  The otehr ridge is cultivated by Pai ah Praih Akha.  So every one can see every one else through the distances even though it is a great way.  One can call out which is heard a long way or is passed on.  Sometimes one can hear the other Akha singing from very far away.  From here you can also see to the south to Huuh Yoh Akha. And down below there is a Lahu village.  What is beautiful about this now is that it is still natural.  The Thais want to build the whole area up so it wont' long be this way but will soon be full of business.

The village itself sits on very small ground, far to the east on the trail and towards Hua Mae Kom and Burma.  It is the land that is worked from it that gives the place life.  The children cheer when their mothers come home.

But anyway, there was this commotion down below on the far "beach" five Akhas jumping about obviously trying to swat or rid themselves of a  bee.  When we got back to the village one woman's face was swollen so bad her eyes were closed shut.

These people die quickly.  After the big funeral by only a few days one man went out to work cutting bamboo.   Came home not feeling well.  Began t swell up and a day later went to the hospital and died.  I figure he tore a kidney or something.  But theser would b e little hope of good medical care to these people if the chips were really down.  When the hospital does save them from this or that, particularly by way of surgery, I am always impressed.

Many of the services coming to the area don't seem to be intended for them, but for Thais who will move in and displace them.

We got the cultivating done.  Lahu will plant the rice.  Ten people for 60 baht a day was 600 baht.

Lots of plants.  They know which ones you can gather and cook. 

The road we used is steep but clay drys very quickly from a rain.

I am learning how much one family farms.  What different crops etc.

A medical note.

Swollen stomach is a pain they complain of here.  Ulcers or too much chilis, not sure.

The other is what I call creeping death.  The hands and feet drain of blood which appears to be just a lack of enough high calorie food and fruit.

Maybe I should have been out in these villages earlier, sure I should have been, I knew that.  It was learning the language etc.

Can't do it all but there is no doubt a great demand for help, books, first aid, etc.

And all the birds and bugs you get to hear every day.  You learn to listen to that and you never forget.  Rock and roll was a crime against birds and insects.  Cause after you listen to that too long you won't be able to hear them.

Its funny, the west is so concerned about the export or use of drugs from these places, which the west exports huge amounts of toxic chemicals to these places, and sure in greater quantity. Paraquat,  hedonal.

The Akha here spray salt water mixture on the weeds in the rice when it is hot in the middle of the day.  Then they gather up the weeds after the salt has burned them.  I am not sure why the double action.

The loss of one working person to a family would be significant.

 

Beating the Lahu Village, Mobilization, foreigners

 

The Story of Ah Meeh

What they did to her, missing my cue

 

Building the Pah Nmm Road

Conflicts with the Lahu and their motivation for those conflicts

Jeh Teeh

Jeh Boh

The Lahu (Jeh Teeh) try to get me thrown out of the village

Help from Foreign Volunteers

 

Rich Moments - Funeral

I see so many rich moments among the Akha, like the old man's funderal at Bpah Mah Hahn.  Then the coffin sprung a leak when they were taking it out of the village, not nice that was, us all dodging it when we were climbing the trail, death in the village, up close and personal, and no one likes it, that is why there is a culture for handling it.

While the men make the final preparations of the hole in the ground, there is quite lude talk between the men and the women, the only time that I know of that it is allowed, in a fashion to be the celebration of life, as compared to the death before them.  I find this quite interesting, the perception of the balance of this.

 

The Lahu Block the Road

Pah Nmm

Jeh Teeh the lahu blocked the road from the village to the fields.  He joined with Jeh Boh, the headman who the village was named after.  Jeh Boh did not want the road to cross his rice terrace.

Jeh Teeh tried to get me thrown out of the village but I was still there.

 

The Pig

I remember the time I bought a pig and hauled it to this village to have a little feast.  And what do you know, the "family" took possesion of it and said no way were they going to cook it, they'd get it fattened up real big and use ift for some other occasion.  Perfectly logical from their standpoint.

So much for my sense of joy that I wished to share.  You see anyone in this house having any joy, we're dirt poor and broke, sorry.

These people could suck water out of a stone.

They appear to have a religion of non want.  If they can't make it come up out of the ground they don't want it.

There are exceptions.  A pig is not one of them.  Couse this is just one village.

There appears to be no want of one kind for outside items and then onother want of another kind for everything.

A joy to back good ideas and actions.

 

In Their Heads

Best I could tell the Akha were still in their heads.  The rest of the people had fallen out and were walking around outside their heads, doing everything in their imaginations to get back in their heads.  Buildings, cars, houses, toys, refrigerators.

And so the Akha lived from within their heads, singing was the only communication outside of that, and everything else was an unimportant external item that you used only if needed, that you did only if needed, such as planting rice.

This varied from village to village.

The missionaries spent all their time trying to beckon the Akha out of their heads into the missionaries state of Eternal frustration.

Even the body seemed external to the Akha from my view of it.

 

Opium

Opium was the most powerful "I don't care" medicine known to man.  Some people claimed that the evangelical version of Jesus was a drug of the same nature.  Christianity a religion to opiate the people.  A comparison for this reason.

A good smoke left the man "unconcerned" for days and sleeping for a couple, so one could only wonder about those who smoked a new piece of opium as long as your thumb every day.

The new stuff was dark yellow pitchy and left a big hangover.  The old sticky dark black stuff smelled like fine deep perfume when you inhaled deeply through the nose and people who smoked that stuff said it was super smooth.

But it was all a diversion from what was happening to them and was like having somebody inside your body taking the controls and not doing anything with them.

Used in small quantities it had it purpose, few people who used it hurt anyone else as compared to alcohol related traffic deaths or spousal abuse.

The drug war to get rid of it as compared to getting rid of alcohol was an incredible hypocrisy.

 

Squash Leaf Notes

If you wrap squash in their own leaves it sticks to them and protects them on the way back the village down bad trails which you must walk.

 

For Her Love of the Fields

Sometimes she wanted to go far away from these mountains, all the heat, the sun, the steep and slippery trails, the long walk to the fields and then working all day only to eat a few vegetables with chilli pepers and salt.

Her back hurt so bad at the end of the day, from stooping all day in the fields that it took her a couple hours to get to sleep.

 

No Smoke

I went up to Ah Chooh's village. This is like the 17th of Nov. 

An excellent  farmer, she loves the earth.

The village is very excited about making use of the n ew road.  It will be finished.  I thi nk a circuit road would take back to the old village and make walking safe again.

Everything has been on standstill for a very long time.

I alway enjjoy so much to go and be in the villages.  My greatest sadness is that it is taking so long to do more fore the Akha.

I do h ope this changes very quickly.

Anyway, the villages, dusty, alive, full of life, people, friends, personalities.

And there is belief and hope that things will get better.

Nyeeg Pah Meeh Chooh has just made up a beautiful garden below the house.  Many things growing now.  This is what I want to encourage.

There is so much to do and give careful care to.

My little boy has been sick but very well growing also. 

 

Back in the mountains

Was a beautiful ride on the way out. 

Stopped  by Booh Sah's place and met a Shan women doctor.  The little girl of Booh Sah is not getting better but the Shan doctor tries to help her with herbs.  I dropped off some cotton for the flat village.

 

Running Goose

Ah Seh, he told me that of his family he was the only one who carried ammo for the Burmese army over the years, ten years, and two years for the Wa.

The Burmese went to kill everyone.  So the Wa faught them also.

He would walk carefully in the old foot prints, to avoid stepping on a mine, Two Akha died one time.

He saw so many dead.  Near Tapin bridge too.  Heads blown off, faces, arms, legs, and he helped with a lot of medicine.

The Burmese used mortars that had poison gas in them.  Everybody close by died.  Ah Seh smelled it, was real bad, would smell the shells before they were fired.  He packed them for the army.  Where ever they hit everyone died.  Their faces turned black, green snot and blood ran out of their noses.  The Burmese killed Wa and Lahu this way.

They used long pins to probe the trail for mines, then walk exactly in the foot prints.

There was gold mining too.  A mine shaft near Meh Joh Akha in a place called Meh Poh Akha.  The Akha called them bird holes because hundreds of birds like swifts, flew into them, straight down a hundred feet.  Akha and Lahu didn't work them, only Hmong.

Then in a place called Meh Bpah Tsaw there was a waterfall.  The Lahu found gold there, lots of it, at the  base of the water fall.  But Kuhn Sa told them not to work it.  But they kept digging so his solders came one day and killed all the Lahu, the men, the women, the children, everyone, some thirty people.  This was only five years back.

There is another palce where the old men divined gold.  Soh Yah Akha is the place, the old men said it was there but no one dug long enough.

Sometimes the Burmese army, he went with them for 20-30 days at a time and they would come to an Akha village.  If everyone fed them, no problem, but fi they had run away they always burned the village.  He saw 5 Akha villages burned, 10 lahu villages burned this way.  The Burmese seemed cruel to him, always killing. They "took" women, and "took" her daughter too if she was a widow. 

He used to live in Loh Meeh Shaw.  Then his folks moved south because of all the war of the Burmese.  Every year war and carrying weapons.

Ah Seh also rode many years on the opium trains for the Chinese, speaking Chinese, Lahu, Burmese, Akha of course.

They packed bags full of opium bricks fro here to there on horses.  Then there wasn't allowed to be heroin so much, the chinese did t hat, and it was very dangerous.

In all th ose years he bagan opium smoking.  Ah Gaw in Tachilek had such an old man in his mango orchard too, one who had seen so much.  He gave him every day opium, cause he was worn out from the same war.  I remember that.

Ah Seh said he saw thousands killed.  Lots of times 300 to 400 soldiers at one time, both Burmese or Wa. 

So his wife is back, I told her not to bother to run away any  more. 

 

Rice Shortfall Pah Nmm

I noticed in Pah Nmm Akha that after the rice harvest (shortfall) that things really got tight in the village financially immediately noticeable.

 

Impressions of Ah Seh

Ah Seh's wife came back, it really was silly on her part.

She must wait, as the rest of us have t o do for things to get better.

Ah Seh sat there, talking to her through the wall, to himself, his hands stained dark from opium, his hair always an incredible black tussle like a bear, a small  man.

My concern was the mountain road and economics, bringing in cash, but also good land and food security.

There were rice terraces for sale that I could help them buy, but I didn't have the  money for this.  One close buy, quite large was overpriced at $8000. 

A tribal center was also needed, I thought of this, say high up on the mountain if I could find a donor.

Pah Nmm Akha was far removed from the farming land, everything was made much more difficult by this.

This year Ah Seh had good crops of all kinds.  Less people in the house this year as well.

The ginger crop would be big and healthy, everyone else's crops had caught fever and turned yellow and died.  They dug the ginger all up and sold it very cheap.

Crops really were best for humans to survive, not quite so good for raising cash.

 

Malaria

Nov. 2000

For a surprise from my Burma trip I got malaria.  I  knew something was bad wrong, then went to Maesai hospital twice, they even did blood tests, said I had nothing but next days in Chiangmai the hospital there found it and cured it but it was very miserable, no strength and my energy much failed me.  My head felt near to come off.  I had money at the moment so was very lucky.

I was glad to be over it, working hard and then wham, nearly dead.

The risk with malaria is that you can have pf malaria, or cerebral and it can kill you very fast.

The medical staff doesn't really care about the difference, as they say, some live, some die.  Karma.

 

Pig to Loh Mah Cheh

Back in the village was good.  Lots of work to do and progress to make.  Ah Seh and I took one of his large pigs to Loh Mah Cheh Akha and butchered it there in the very early morning.  It was still dark. 

The manner of killing a pig was to stick it in the heart down through the bottom area of the throat, catching all the blood in a bowl, then the pig is burned all over to clean the skin, then scraped white, then scribbed white with water.  Then the guts are removed, and the pig is chopped up.  There is not much of it that is not used.  But there were not too many people so we were unable to sell it all and I hauled the pigs head between my legs on the motorbike, a big sack of meat behind me on Ah Seh's lap.

Quite a load.

 

Disease

One only has to get hit with a disease here one time to know how hard these people have it.

Malaria, even if it is treated, really takes it out of you.

 

Complaint

One common complaint I heard about the Akha was that all the young men only sat around the village.  What they didn't note was that it wasn't always the same young men.  This was the village defence force and the Akha had plenty of reason to have one.

As to the Akha men they were no light weights when it came to hiking, hard farming or hauling bambooo out of the mountains over incredible distances of long and steep trails, dragging huge loads.  The women worked long and paced in the fields.

Men half my size carried 100 lb sacks of corn straight up mountain sides through the brush to the ridge trails where it could be packed out by horse.  Same for harvesting rice, ginger, beans.

Some men caught fever which they called "Meeh Yeeh" in the rice terraces while they got them ready for the planting, in days they wasted down to nothing, taking men months to come back.  Others died, one got kicked by a horse, dying in days.

Some limped scarred by bullets from porter days.  They were the lucky ones.

 

Burmese soldiers took long needles and probed the mud for land mines. 

Ah Seh was walking behind two other Akha porters when there was an explosion.  Distracted for a moment, one man did not watch his foot step placement and stepped on a mine.  Both died.  Ah Seh didn't like portering.  The Burmese shooting then the Wa or Shan shooting back.  Everyone got their chance to die.

Muling opium was better.  He had a gun.  He had a big bag of money, and he went and bought 400 to 500 kilos of opium at a time and brought it with five horses back to Khun Sah.  He said those days were good and happy days.  Yoh Byoh.  No one stole from you, the Lisaw headman wouldn't allow any robberies.

I met the one Lisaw headman at Loh Mah Cheh Akha.  Long nose, fine fingers, thin, he was quiet, soft spoken, and came across as a very straight man.  He too had lived years on the top but Thai army moved everyone.  No imagination then, killing people's souls, robbing their eyes.

The Thais took the land, broke up history and villages.

There were many villages now that had no land at all.

 

Don't Hit that Snake

A viper lay in the road.  The drive didn't hit it.  He got out of the vehicle and hit it with a stick.  He said his brother told him to never let the vehicle hit an animal because later on the vehicle might go to hitting a person.

Seemed good logic to me.

 

Opium Lives

Some of  the men smoked opium and after years of this their wives would sometimes run away, maybe more than once, but smoking opium was not always a detractor.  Viagra had nothing on opium.  And the women knew this.  Opium smokers also stayed close to home, didn't beat their wives, were laid back, watched the kids.

Some people would jump to conclusions and condemnation, but this was to miss the moment of human beauty in the event.  Opium was not evil, it was not near as dangerous or bad to the body as alcohol, and it had many wonderful uses.

That is not how it was portrayed.

Because the husband denying nothing , would put on his best attire, and the village all wishing him well, he would go off to the distant mountain in pursuit of his wife and woo her kindly and gently back, promising to do better and get off the smoke, or address some need that was a grievance to her.  Maybe work more and smoke less, but surely it was part of the marriage and not all women that I knew were full opposed to it.  I would doubt 50% of them were against it.

This was theatre of human hope and given the land hard atmosphere that men faced in the rugged illages over land problems, it was a noteworthy moment.

The dispute was, they couldn't get it up or they could keep it up a good long time.

 

In Search of Akha Dreams

Best way to say it all these years, getting in their minds, trying to understand their lives, and living long enough to do it.

You had to lay down in their beds to catch their dreams, looking at the laquered ceiling thatch, bamboo, listening to the talk, the smoke rolling up thruogh the light, the warble of opium, dark colors, creaking boards, brown boards, village to village, the days and years gone, wrinkled faces, clouded eyes, scratching life from the good earth, us outsiders, it foreign to us, but these poeple lived upon the earth ntimtely, as if they knew they hd to scratch its ears.

Over the years and up the mountains I had come, looking for their dreams, listening with ears and eyes, their trails of songs, labor and tears, dancing in the village square.

 

Akha Pigs

Some of the pigs were really big, faces so fat they could hardly see.

Some big pigs were 100 kilo, but the really big ones, maybe 200 kilos.

A big pig was five years old.

But 60 kilo was a good size pig to kill.  You could sell all the meat in one day.

Bigger than that and there wasn't enough peole to buy it all.

Chopped up in pieces.

Pigs were mostly all fat.  Really every best part was lots of grease, but the hide was really fantastic, peole chewed or fried the hide.  Salted chilled fat was relly good.   Raw of course.

Killing a pig was a village affair, but it started really early in the morning.  To see it happen you had to really get up early.

It certainly was part of a community event.

The Akha were expert dividers of the meat not only by weight but also by content.  Keeping it fair.

 

Gah Tauh Bpah

Festival end of the year.

In an act of community the festival of tops and tossing seeds noted when the whole village at once got a year older together. 

Ah Durh Tsaw urh, thowing seeds.

Chauh Beeh, throwing the tops, slamming them into each other, keeping score, making bets.

One man spun his top down, then others took turns striking it with their tops, spun with cords and sticks from the hand.

 

Somebody Important

Every now nd then somebody important came to the villages.

The boss's lined the roads with flags, police and so many big important cars went by

All the villages waited for ours till the cars got there, a few gifts, a few photos, many men and women with cameras, rushing around from house to house, door to door, classroom to classroom, then in a cloud of dust and flashing lights they are gone and everyone wondered what it had all been about.

The wait was long, the food poor and usually for the hundreds of people who came and waited with their small chidren there was no running water or no toilets.

The babies and small ch ildren cried, the legs and b ack hurt, and it either rained or was hot, the air full of dust covering the motorbike riders as they went home again.

Always there were these events, much flury, much fuel spent to get there, and nothing come of it.  The actual event of the day lasted a few minutes only.

Big gates, big fan fare, big deal.

 

Denial in an Akha Village

Best seen in christian villages.

Villages were different.  In some villages problems were an aside.  The village was mostly prosperous.  In other villages the problems were the main dish and overwhelming at that.  In all th ese cases the problems had been imposed by outsiders.  Army and forestry.  Missionaries did best if they had the help of tragedy.  They considered tragedy a b lessing for their own agenda when it conveniently happened to other peole, in this case the Akha.  One could go so far as to say that by omission the missions prayed for tragedy upon others.

In the case of tragic villages, ones with immense problems, a n ew trait appeared.  Denial.  Total denial of everything.  No body moved, there was no where to move or attempt to alter the situation.  In the ase of Pah Nmm the fields were way to far.  To admit there was a food and economic crisis was way too much, the soul would collapse in despair.  Instead they denied everything.  The food was excellent, there was plenty of it.  Rice, vegetables, fruit.  Well, there wasn't, so what there was plenty of was salt and chili peppers.  Dirt.  So you  forgot to take the cooking pot to the fields. So what, putting off eating for a day urnt nothing, did that all the time.

And it traslated into everything.  If first you couldn't get to your fields, no hope of survival, then responsibility or admission of all else was denied as well, to preserve ones self.

It was down right maddening.  If people have been denied hope, certainly the case here, then all else collapeses.

No matter what it was no one knew anything about it, who was suppose to do it or why it didn't get done.

Where did something go? No one knew.  

Why didn't something get done, no one knew.

But the salt and chili peppers were excellent and drugs were the main  theme.

For me I was trying to help. I knew what the solution was, and I struggled for resoureces and energy, amazed that the Akha held on so long, like dying, withering child.  Death asleep in the door , been thre so long, not doneyet.

 

Akha Frailties

Few people understand what it took for me to hold this whole effort together, from keeping the basic doors open to the needed communications, computer, phone line, rent, fuel, transport, and supplies.

I didn't ride hard on the Akha, because words would not be sufficient to describe how hard their lives were.  Full o freasons for despair if not despair itself.

I didnt have to be there, but if I was going to be here, if I was going to be effective, it demanded that I be as close to their lives as possible, and this was real close to poverty.  Mostly their houses had scant rice and nothing else much to eat.

I could not sustain myself on wat these people ate.  And to say nothing of the haunting lok in their eyes as they looked around a dark hut, shelves bare, just the mind.

This was a herculean effort, not to just go into poverty, but to set up camp there nd try to do something about it over the long term.

It was not easy to see how hard these people had it but also to explain it, or do something about it.

 

While Back in Pah Nmm.......

I got up to Pah Nmm Akha and found out that one of the girls had tried to kill herself with poison, but they got to the doctor in time.

The kids work hard, and despair effects them too, in this case it is a three hour walk per day to the fields. Sometimes they would like a break, go to town and can not.  This means a lot to overworked people, let alone young people.

 

Two Kilos Opium

One Akha man bought two kilos of opium which he was busy reselling to others.  Everyone trying to make a go of it, I wondered how much he would smoke.

It was some thick and sticky, not this years he said, but not thick as older stuff I had seen.  Like the one ball I found in the bed.

 

No Money That way

One man had a white truck.  He was owed some money and the man wouldn't pay him so he caught his wife and tied her up, leaving her in the jungle for two nights, thinking that this would get him his money, but instead he had to pay the man and the man had to pay him nothing.

 

Ah Meeh - Meeh Yuuh

In a place without mercy.

I have to say that seldom had I seen such a helpful person as Ah Meeh.  Meeh Yuuh. 

I think that Ah Meeh had quite a capacity to help out in the village.

I have seen so  many beautiful things here either damaged or destroyed yet I hope on.

Ah Meeh was an extract of all of this, able to hope the best.

Then there was pain, a good share of it, and that is proof that you are alive because the intensity comes across in all forms at that level.  Capable of experiencing great joy and great sorrow, good will and kindness.

 

Aug 16,  2001

Pah Nmm

The encouraging sign in the Pah Nmm was that the villagers were talking about giving up opium smoking, but there were nasty rumors of brutality from the army. 

About five younger men went to a dry out camp with the army nearby.  The older men would have to stop in time as well, while those over sixty I think would be left alone.

Opium smoking was an impediment to consumption so one could not know for sure which was the chief motive, health or consumerism.  Market economy.

Ah Seh was going to have to quit in two or three months as well.  What I wondered was how many men would ultimately end up in prison or on meth?

Not all events are related.

But one could not help but notice the size of the Chiangrai prison.

Other than that, making all the men quit was a good idea.  Allowing some smoking for medicinal use was valuable however.

Pharmaceuticals sure had an interest in this.

 

Sept.  2001

Sick

This time of year I got sick with cold and fever, sinus infection.

August and september.  August had been lots of rain. Then hot.  Not much wind.  Lots of clds and  I succombed.  The stress over the rent money of course did not help.

I had one sinus infection one day and then came bck in a couple of days.

Usually if I got a cold at all it was in the winter.

I covered the rent and then the Sept 11 attacks on the World Trade Center shut down my donors so I sold everything and moved out.

 

The Flavor of Eggs

On Sailom Joi the Taiwan man, his wife and daugter, ran a cafe and I tried to teach her how to cook western food.

Eggs had flavor but the Thais always boiled them in oil.  Chili peppers were used to disguise bad cooking was my opinion.

So I tried to teach her how to cook scrambled eggs without oil.

 

Nov. 6, 2001

Pah Nmm Akha

Ah Meeh worked in the village at her own little store. We had been friends, now she was married and had a daughter. I hadn’t seen her in years. She was the cousing of my wife, daughter of Ah Beh.

 

Around Nov 12, 2001

Transition

The transition from Maesai to the mountains was more confusing than substantial problems.

I needed a while to organize my mind about it al.

Ah Chooh's mother made a great stir in the village, I am sure it was not only her, but the whole family, which was not helpful and added to our matrimonial stress.  By spending long hours with Ah Chooh I was able to heal much of this.

Everyone hears everything in an Akha village so the fact that we had the Lychee Tree and terrace land helped us to find space apart where we could go a shrot way from the village and talk.

The entire process had beeen an illustration to me that I would narrow my project and my contacts and would be very careful not to let people get inside what  I was doing and needing to do and destroy it. 

Many of the porjects that I wanted to do were too widely structured to allow them to succeed without better donor support and committment.  I now knew the limits of that.  Although Sept 11 was a not too frequent occurance, it did help me to make major restructuring of how I was going to do things in the future.

Being better integrated into the village was my goal and now I was moving back in that direction.  I gave the building and accumulating useful resources a year, and did not like the result, so now went the other way for a low financial overhead and profile, limited physical assets, outsourcing all that I could, and high mobility.

I still had to seek funding, but apart from old bills I now had nearly zip overhead. 

My next project was to get the Pah Nmm road built.

I thought about buying the press then decided that I would look at having all my printing done in Chiangrai so that I didn't have to have a place for a press either.

The relief of the stress always left me feeling that something was wrong, having been under it for a year or better. 

I was getting a better feel for the village life and the things that were going on there.

I do knot know if my situation with Amy would be healed or not.

 

Nov 25, 2001         

House in order.

I was slowly getting my own house in order here in the village.  I had sperated Ah Chooh, my wife, from the connection with her mother, but I and her mother were still friends in the end of it. 

When ever I got a little peace I tried to write down the events I had seen happen around.

I had gotten very angry that night..

I moved Ah Chooh to Ah Hkauh's house, my adopted father's younger brother.

Ah Baw Sah was my father, Byauh Leh Gooh.

My name was Pooh Jurh.

Ah Hkauh's wife had run away and married another man who then had to pay him a fine.

But now I was back in the new hut which sat empty for more than a month and was fixing it up and trying to mend my heart and other things which was not easy.

I finished the bathroom with the help of Ah Baw Gurh, Meeh Yeh's father.  Also my Ah Shauh.

My house had concrete posts but not concrete walls yet.  I wanted to  build them soon enough. 

Building the bath was my first experience at laying brick or block  and I was learning fast, but building with block was very slow, tall and narrow, was a little work to keep them straight, but not bad for my first project.

I had built a metal hotplate in my house, for cooking pancakes on.  I would have liked a stone biscuit oven.

There was much I needed to do to weave the house together.

I had books.  One computer, the other one sold to Zera who didn't pay me in time.  I was beginning to finally decide that Zera was on the taking end only and didn't know how to give back.  I wanted nothing more to do with him.  He could keep the money he owed.

 

Making a transition

Making a transition into the village as I had takes much time, much effort, keeping relationshiops in tact and so forth.  You must crack the whip but not too much, not too often, because it takes timefor people to learn what you are like and why you are different.

In a village many problems are caused by ME not understanding what they are doing, and I learned a lot in a short time when I moved fully into the village.  I made many mistakes.

 

The Light Through the Door

Nov 25, 2001

Pah Nmm Akha

Meeh Chooh's Kitchen, afternoon.  Door closest to the the wood pile and village road.

The light through the door in the late afternoon was always a special time in my mother in law's cooking house.  The light came through the bamboo slats in rays, lighting up smoke, dust, ashes and faces.  The cooking fire produced more smoke than heat by times and it was a wonder they weren't all dead of lung disease.

Faces were beautifully lit in the golden light.

Bags of recently harvested rice from the worst year I had seen, lined the kitchen wall against the house.  Squash sat on shelves, and a few ants crawled the dirt floor in search of food.

Black posts, bamboo shelves, water bottles a few plates and spoons, such a small inventory of wealth anyone had ever seen.

Corn boiled for the pigs, and smoke stained the two bamboo drying shelves above the fire, where dried meat and tea were kept.

Bags of seeds and beans were deceptive of the fact that there was so little nutrition in the house.  These shelves and all on them were balckened with laquer and webs of dust hanging down.

 

Pah Nmm Road

As of January I was still promoting the Pah Nmm Akha road to te fields, the Lahu, particularly Jeh Teeh and Jeh Boh were giving me fits about this.  They were trying to block the progress at every turn and one time there was a big fight the Akha punching the Lahu guys, outnumbering them many times.

Jeh Teeh was an evil  man, taking Akha land.

 

Pah Nmm Akha, Army, War

There is a fair amount of army around Pah Nmm, Burmese army thieves ty to steal the Akha men and the women for loot.

Lots of humvees but none for any good.

 

Christmas Eve - Pah Nmm

Now there ar two incidents of random shooting and abuse that I have documented near Bpah Ma Hahn and Pah Nmm Akha, Soi Yah Akha below us.

In on e case three men taken out, in another case one man who escaped and hid.

Shot at, shot, beaten, burned with fire, their heads pushed under water till they couldn't hold their breath any more.  So I am teaching a new story to the Thai army.  Don't come in my village or the ones next to it after dark and shoot at anything or anybody.

In the end I went to Bangkok, after the two army guys came in the village at 2AM, and after Ah Dteeh showed me his bruises from the beatings.

The Bangkok post printed the articles and the third army commander Udomchai was furious at Col Apisit who allowed it or ordered it.

 

The wedding

So much it was fun but the younger sister wept as they went down the road, the procession, slowly walking.  They all wept, they younger woman especially.  It was very hard to see their great love and sadness at parting.   The marrying sister would not be back to the village for nearly a year and they had been close friends all their life.

 

Sharp as a thorn

That was the Akha saying for a smart clever person.

Best to keep the mind that way.

 

A few days later

A few days later I visited Pah Nmm akha.  No noe h ad said anything about the road.  Would let it rest for a while.  That is how one got things done around here, run hot, then run cold, then laugh.

 

Going to the fields

I got up late, around 7.  Some had already left for the fields.  I washed, didn't eat, slurped coffee and slung the baby onto my back, heading to the fields.

You cut it first, sets a few days then carry it and strike the rice free.  Cheh Deeh Deeh they say.

The fields are an hour and a half walk up trails that could be made better, but who walks an hour and a half to fields, who just tell me?

When I got there I ate some green sour mustard leaves which I loved and they were good in the heat.  But there wasn't any sugar cane, the Lahu had stolen it all.

 

Feb. 10, 2000

Marriage Pah Nmm

Ah Chooh's older sister Ah Shurh was getting married.  Tommorow there would be a party in the village late in the evening and then in the morning she would go to Cheh Pah Kah as a Mah Nyeeh, or second wife.  Ah Zah, her husband to be had a first wife and son.  He was a good enough fellow.  I hoped all worked out well. (later they divorced 2002 Feb.) In the afternoon at Pah Nymm there would be lots of people coming from Cheh Pah Kah and a pig would be killed plus whiskey, breads and such, all courtesy I provided.

I sat on the heavy wooden bed and contemplated it all.

So far it had been a hard winter and I was only now being able to take some time to myself with any kind of kindness.

The battle through January to hold Huuh Mah Akha from being moved had put a considerable drain on my energy, moneys and time.   Following right on the heels I had done a two week video with an Italian film crew which had only finished days ago.

Events were over running my mind.

I had no time.

I occured to me that if yu troubled yourself with any of the porblems of men beyond your own you needed supernatural power in order to keep the mind and keep moving forward.  At the same time it occurred to me that the capacity to heal would be of incredible worth.

 

Changing Lives - Loosing a sister

Tonight was going to be the last normal night in Ah Chooh's house because Ah Shurh was getting married.  And so after tomorrow she would be gone, the house more empty because of it.

 

Feb 18, 2002

Miscarriage

Today I brought the headman's son and wife back from the hospital, Sriburi, where we had to induce labor to give birth to a dead child.  Cost me 10,000 baht, but I wanted to be careful and sure so I took her to th at private hospital.

I brought them back here to Pah Nymm Akha and the still born child and the old men took the dead girl to be buried, calling ahead of themselves, for the children to go inside and h ide, not to look.  That is the law.

Turns out that a Zah Taye or wild bore came into the village.  This is considered un natural, so to protect from illness or disease, tomorrow there will be a ceremony at the village gte to cleanse the village.

Only dogs, horses, water b uffallo, cats, ducks, and chickengs are natural to an Akha village, not these other critters.  Pangolins you are not supposed to see in the day time unless digging them, and snakes screwing you are not suppose to see, both are bad luck omens.

Ah Lmm from Cheh Pah Kah came and we are talking about raising leadership among the young people, men and women. 

The chief issues are the loss of the law and the loss of the young women to the missions.

But actually we talked about all the things which are effecting the Akha, not just these.

My truck is in worse and worse shape.  i am not sure of the date above but it would require my attention soon as I have sufficient money.  For now I must build a new house day after tomorrow and get married the day after that.

Of the last two days I have felt better than mostly before.  It is as though m y mind had some great burden or obstacle removed.  My girl friends sister was married last week making room for us to marry so that was one thing.

There are these different things I must buy, things I must build, services I must pay for, and work I must do.  None of it is unpleasant but I do have need to do them if I am going to ever feel caught up.

Pah Nmm Akha is such a peaceful village.  I wonder often at this because the difficulties for the village are sufficently great.  I feel for thepeople in this condition.

Tonight a man came from Doi Chiang Akha to date Booh Teeh's older sister.  They sell coffee at his village so I would like to buy from them in the future.

 

Feb 20, 2000

Enjoy?

When I am in it I'm often enjoying village life too much to note it in different parts.   All of it seems to be there, teaming with life.

The jungle out the back door is full of trees and birds.  There are so many different species of trees, all companions of bamboo.  I wanted to propegate trees, and learn more of this culture of course.

The huts were along a saddle and then climbed up the hill in a curving row gving a wonderful visual sensation.  The entire village only hung over the very top of the ridge to each side just a little and behind each house the hill fell steeply away down into th e jungle.

Propegating trees to protect the land and also things to plant to protect for them the land so they wouldn't loose it to other people.  Tis was going to require lots of moeny, lots more than I had.  Lots more than I had been finding so far.

In the end of each house in the gable there were two eyes in the thatch to let the birds in.  The swallows.  Every good hut should have swallows.

It is only February late, the jungle is dry, bamboo leavese falling everywhere, yellow and rustling, the bamboo moaning like a good woman.  You can see through the bamboo stands but a storm blew through yesterday leaving lots of rain and clue that once again in only a few months the rainsyt season woudl be on us again.

What troubled me about this most was that the earth, the village peoples, who lived in it, were in trouble.  There were more forces trying to destroy them than forces just trying to live.

The concrete way was coming and runinig all in its path.  I myself didin't think much of nor like the "concrete way".

One could hardly feel that the earth had a chance any more.  The evil hwas that a system of destruction had been made which was rolling over all at very great speed.  I lived in both worlds.  Sensing the steady gentle pulse of the noe while seeing a huge amount of the other rush by me, computers, highways, the internet.

In the end of the hut Ah Chooh fried me potatoes and through the wall in the n ext hut Meeh Tsoh sang to herself in Thai.

 

Tomorrow Build My House

So all the men gathered around on the eve of building my house and began to tell me what my relational names were to all of them n ow that I was taking a wife.

The teh fat bugs came, flying, the first hatch of the season, the men stood silouhetted against the late evening sky, taking their very important place on the earth, even in passing there wasn't a one of them who wasn't important and I was going to need them all come tomorrow building my house.

And then that night the old man Ah Baw Dauh called me up to the house of the Dzoeuh Mah to talk about the religious building of the house and my life began.

 

The House

Since Ah Chooh was rather pregnat and her older sister was married now, the mood in th evillage swung to our needs and the village began to hold elder meetings.  Ah Zah,  the headman was there, Ah Dauh, Abaw Yah Peeh, we called him, he came for me and led me to Ah Sah's house, who he and his wife were to be my Akha mother and father.  And his wife had such a fantastic way about her.  At age she was playful and gentle, child like.  Careful for others.  There was a meeting before th is, a somewhat stern meeting.  Protecting Ah Chooh,.  Did I wish to marry and stay married to her, not too many other wives, etc.

At the second meeting I followed Abaw Dauh through the village, a pilgrim behind a sage.  At Ah Sah's h ouse I was told about Ah Poeuh Law, how to care for it at my house, and what it meant.  It was remembrance to the long line of elders before us, we must do our part and pass it to our children the same.  Ah Sah and his wife would give me a family name that would carry to my children down through their generations.

That night I had a little too much smoke talking to the father of my wife, Ah Seh and Ah Yeh,  my other friend of so many things we talked for hours, how to protect us, being Akha, going on, and then in the morning I woke a dizzy corpse, unable to m ove my eyes, so I stayed in bed after a good up chuck with a little blood from my throat, I guess.  Meanwhile I could hear all the men dumping long barges of bamboo they ahd hauled all the way down from Burma.  All day their knives fell like certain snow flakes, a chorus of choping and shaping.  The old man Ah Dauh woke me to go with him and bless the house by pouring whiskey three times on the foot of the post.  Taking a bowl of rice with an egg in the mound of rice.  I took a pinch of rice, touched it to the egg and then I dropped it in the hole. I did this three times.  Three times applied to many things in Akha.  Next I struck the gauh cheh in the hole one time.  Then I took the post in my arms and dropped it into the hole three times saying "Shurh" each time.  After that they could go on building the house.  This post was the dividing post of my hou se, grass fastened to the top which woudl go in my house all my years.  I thought it was all community and a happy thing. It was. 

After I slept more for hours and then got up again when Ah Sah's wife came and inside the finished house she broke a boiled egg and rubbed egg on all the tines of the fire irons blessing all th e hosue and the children to eb born and grow up there.  Then we ate it from our cupped hands and she fed it to many of the small children also.

Then Ah Dauh came and took five parts of a chicken he had cooked in the house over the woman's fire carefully and put it in a bowl, leaves, 3 and rice and shiskey went into the Boeuh Loeuh, behind the partition on my wife's side, and then we plugged it with a cloth.  This carried the house.  Later we came back and ate the chicken parts.

 

Pah Nmm Kah

around the 7th or so, March 2000

I woke up late, the light pouring into the hut through all the slats and slits of the bamboo.  I was late to rise because I had gotten up from the low lands so late.

What a nice place to be.  The sun was up and getting hot, the village stod still, the air mostly clean and the dry nestle of the hot season stirred the leaves.

A nice place to be and of course any tie is a nice to be be.  One family brought in wood on a horse, dumpoing all the cut limbs off next to the hut.  Some 0pang in me about the forest and alll that was going wrong.  With turning more of the land into tree plantations from forestry department, remaining jungle carried more of the burden.  Errors imposed by those who laid claim to the land but didn't live near it or on it.

The day the Shade.  A horse whinnees, a seeping dog, wandering chickens, a mother walks a child home. Flies.  Blood from the boys nose, nose bleeds being common during the dry season.

The old man stacking the wood was little girl's grandfather, her mother left, no poblems, grand father there and all the kids and familys.  He spoke in a big way, a big voice, an old man.  And he had these great eyebrows, huge eyebrows, that stuck out.   Funny how everyone gets part of the mint stamped on them.

Grass thatch shingles stacked about the village, and grass bundles, like one legged people.  The uges of the village were dusty brown mostly where ever  you looked.  Dusty brown.  Red dirt and the dust from that.

How so many things made by people were very much like people.

Surely it was all slow motion but the earth appeared to me lost, in face of the new and large economic machine that was developing every last bit of natural land and natural people, drawing money as it were off an account it could never repay.  Shortsighted is corruption of course.

 

Ooh Cheeh

Wild flat leaf garlic.  You ahve to cut the roots back to the ball before planting it or it won't grow new roots and will only stunt.  And  you cut them down to abotu 6 inches in length top to base.

 

Not enough time to think

My wife was washing clothes.   The we would go to her sister's village.  Cheh Pah Kah to see about Akha books and Tea Land. Lots to do, never enough time to think.

 

Wa Notes

Abaw Jah Gaw

Awa Chief

He used to live on the border where Pah Nmm was in a place called Nah Moh.

He was ambushed and killed near Sam Yak Akha village about 40 years ago.  Probably by Shans.

While riding his horse along the trail there.

He and his people numbered an easy 10,000 in this area.

There is an old air strip, Lisaw used to live there too.  Air America planes used to fly there.

 

The Akha say they are long hearted, slow to move quickly in a bad way.

 

A Full Head of Hair - Ah Seh

The man grew a full head of hair, always talking to himself, repeating his words in a cadence directing the house, listening carefully to each passing footstep and conversation.

 

 

Bees came and filled the holes in the concrete post with nests and eggs.

 

Geese

The geese came, wagging their tails in the standard way, often referred to.

First grey as young, then black, always crapping about but considered rather indestructable, much more durable than chickens, they never seemed to die except under the knife, and always raised a lot of young, because some of them fell prey to animals.

 

The Road Dilema

The village used to be at the upper location but the army moved them years ago.  8 at least 9 years by now.  In the old land they had many good things, good wind, good air, good eyes, nectar, water, level land, heavy forests nearby, just way too much land to farm and Burma close at hand.  At the old location they were also close to Pai Ah Prai Akha.   Their lands were either closely present or all down hill shortly from their village location.

The army moved them. I say that because they are still scared of both the army and forestry department.

Teh effect was profound or a catylist with other events and personalities.  The present headman had only been there one year at the old location before they were moved.  He took over the job from Abaw Dauh who we referred to as Abaw Peeh.    Ah Baw Zah had previously been at Hua Mae Kom Village.

But currently Abaw Zah and a couple families were in the  best position to be in the low land village without suffereing.  Their house only grew while other houses could not sufficient get by.

At the current location there was not land close by, the villagers went to the lower reaches of the land from the old village location, but they had been relocated so far that this was a very long walk across the face of another mountain.  The walk took an hour and a half there and the same to come back.  They had many miscarriages ocurr in the village.  From the lower fields they had to walk quite a ways up to the old villag or you could walk out of the new village straight up to it, shorter way, but still very far.  The village needed a road along the present trail so their trucks could go instead of walking.

 

Cutting Onion Grass

Making sah byeh he took the hhandful of onion grass (ooh jeeh) and cut it in half.  Took the one h alf and doubled it up, and trimmed the long pieces that escaped under the trimed end so they would get cut to, and then began carving thin layers off the end of the bunch until it was all cut into the sah byeh.

 

Ah Djuuh Is Gunned Up, Gunned Down

Ah Djuuh was killed no more than ten days after his brother Ah Doh.  Bad boys they said.  Ado was killed while he was watching TV and having a fight with his second wife who tried to steal some money.  A man shot him through the bamboo wall and then came in and killed him and shot his wife. She was pregnant and lost the child.

I came the next day and saw him still laying there, the police around. I hauled him back from the autopsy on my truck.  Big for an Akha man.

He was shot once through the arm and once through the chest coming out the upper back by his neck.

Ah Djuuh was a real bad guy.  Wasn't always.  He beat his wife and she miscarried.  8 months. He was said to have killed many people.  I knew him, he had a short violent temper.  He often came and parked his motorbike at Ah Seh's house. 

He was said to have killed his younger brother and his wife and the three children.  He first would not let them go to school.  It was said that the brother stole a lot and had a lot of money which Ah Djuuh wanted.  Ah Djuuh made the whole family live in the jungle, then one day went and killed them all.  The Akha knew where they were buried but did not want to talk about it.  Probably the family had no idea what had come upon them.

I saw him quickly hit a guy when I first came to the funeral of Ah Baw Meh at Pah Nmm Kah.  Ah Djuuh was from the village of Soi Yah Kah right below us.

I was also around, didn't see it, but heard about it, when he beat his wife, .  Her fathers and brothers told her not to marry the guy as a second wife because he was very bad but he fought them and the girl Ah Myauh did not listen.  He had a second baby with her. 

Then one night they came for him, he went to a man's house, not his own, around 4 am to sleep.  There were strangers in the village who said they were looking for a lost buffalo that day.  The man at the house got up and left.  Ah Djuuh stacked many mattresses on top of each other, and slept, a gun in each hand.  It was not good enough, fifteen minutes later two men shot up through the floor with machine guns.  Then when they could not hear him move any more they went in side with all their friends and shot him many times.  80 times.  The old grandmother and a baby boy cringed on the women's side of the hut the whole time, safe but extremely frightened.  The men kept shooting.  My wife kept very quiet in another hut not far away.

 

Pah Nmm Kah

Various villages had been at that location for over 100 years.  The Thai army moved them greatly reducing their immune system.

For many reasons.

This area was determined Thai because of control of the water coming ito Thailand, starting on these ridges.  A watershed line and a natural border.

 

Khun Sah was kicked out of the area 20 plus years  ago.

Some of the local boys worked in the Burmese candy factories.

But all the chemicals for the various local candies came from the Thai side, least a big percentage of them.

This was no secret to the Thais.  Wich chemicals were needed.  They flowed from Bangkok probably western companies involved as well.  Maybe some came down from China.  People talked of "tagging" explosives, maybe the same could be done for chemicals, oh, I forgot, I thought someone was serious about doing something about all the drugs.

All very much a game.  The lives of many people at stake.

The west produce the chemicals, the chemicals have to make it in, the drugs have to make it out.  Simple, and a few hilltribe along the way.

Little dealers get caught but the real flow has legs.

Ah Seh said that they built an airstrip near Pah Nmm and unloaded poppy seeds.

 

Self Sufficient Times

There was a time when people were more self sufficient, self reliant, simple, focused, now they are beguiled to have many eyes and see what all they can buy.

Now it is as if they scoff at knowledge and expediency.

 

Bamboo Walls

They took bamboo, split it in the sides, then cut end to end one side and laid it out flat, even weighing it down, then built nearly anything of it.  Walls, flat bench tops, but mostly walls, decks, beds.

 

Marriage Rules

The rule was among the Akha that you could not marry anyone within five generations of yourself. And they preferred not to take a second wife of the same clan as their first wife.

 

Seperation from Knowledge

The young generation was being seperated from knowledge, their current survival being relatively easy in apperance if you didn't count those who didn't make it at all.  So there was this gap between the knowledge they used to have and the impending destruction that they faced as a result of not having it. 

And there were many people of the white race who were deliberately telling them they didn't need it, to destroy it, pressuring them, forbiding them, it was not all benign or passive effort.

 

Akha Dreams

I often wondered what dreams the Akha had.  Maybe I was a spectator first, come to help them I think I enjoyed them first and maybe it was even simpler than that.  But there was the innocense compared to what was coming.

There appeared to be a lack of well defined collective leadership of more than one village and a dominantly Akha leadership.  Quite frankly they seemed unconcerned  of this impending destruction, very certain of it even in a fatalistic way, that was shocking, could even make you angry, like a people who were being wiped out, knew it and didn't give a shit. 

I don't know if "deserve" was a good reason to help anyone.  Sometimes you had to fake being selfish and only help them for the general good, keeping the whole thing on purpose at arms length without working on a big agenda. 

Either way one was building hope and the good.

And it was the mountains and wind and nector for the eyes that I was interesd in.

Looking off a mountain top was a singular event.

Live and work in the mountains with tribal friends.

It was also just something to do, to learn and hope for an event.   These people lived  in one of the most interesting places in the world, I could speak their language to some degree and they had very interesting stories to tell.  The stories of their lives.

Maybe I was working, secretly hopoing all this time without having put words to it, to ind their secrets which expalined their lives.

The Akha had a saying, "Mah Beeh Seeh Nyah Urh" which meant to not give someone the understanding of what was going on. 

So they were secret people.  Of late I had to ask more and more of a matter, to try and see the picture better.

But this sense of control of the understanding of a matter that they had still didn't explain their unwillingness to tackle an obius obstacle.

Or maybe it was the mountains, repeatedly replenishing itself, with people, then shedding them down into the valleys.  From the n orth, south and away the mountains lowlands divide shedding from high to low.  Mountains to flatlands, Scots to London.

Then maybe we can say that figuring out the mind of the Akha is a great event?

But I tend to favor the concept of the migration of people from highlands to lowlands, from hard, to easy, only the toughest choosing to remain or return to the mountains. Or possibly they were not volunteers but fled to the mountains and thus later are choosing to leave.  But even this has contradictions.  A very carefully guarded culture that then goes to pick the easy way?  Sounds an odd contradiction.  AS well the abandonment of the culture for the slow death of a foreign culture is a very strange event as well.    Fatalism.  A choice of Christianity as an event of fatalism rather than hope?  I wonder if the missionaries think or care about that?  I would guess they don't think about it and arrogance would prevent them from admitting that they care.

One fellow suggested to me that it was obviuos that the Akha were once a proudh high muontain people, but that it appeared that they were very broken now.

At any rate, here I was with a son in the low end  Pah Nmm village and I could see that the only hope was to take hard at the location of the old village basin and slopes.

For the Pah Nmm Akha this seemed revolution like, but oddly the old village location was very close to cheh Pah Kah.  These villages farmed to the limit.  The only reason they didn't go further was that the land belonged to Pah Nmm who wasn't using all of it yet.  And they said that the only reason Forestry was planting was because Pah Nmm wasn't planting, wasn't planting anything long term.

So I had to build my own team here somehow. 

 

Good Cigars

Got up late, oh only a little.  Smoked some good cigar last night, ong slow havana but I smoke it fast. 

Then ate some passion fruit this morning, wife's sister crying, husband smokes it all up in Pah Ymm.  The passion fruit first I'd taken time for in three years, always seeing them cut and empty on the trails, the rain stopped the fog hanging in the jungle, somehow like the breath of hanging leaves, branches and vines.  

 

Rebuilding the Trail

I would build trail today to try and help this village, trail and up the hill to the fields.  Trail all the way to the old village and around.

 

Growing Boy

The baby boy got bigger and happier such potential joy there.  Potential joy, yes, that was it, first we must look for potential jy.

 

Village Nutrition Pah Nmm

My chief concern was the nutrition of Pah Nmm village.  Few wvillages that I knew of had to walk so far to fields.

From concern over this matter I took another hike to investigate the trails to the old village and to the fields. 

First I hiked out of the village up the high trail to the cattle coop and then down that road to the second cattle coop at the curve of the road.  On the way I met some of the village women tending to the water buffalo the water buffalo life was to once a year work, and the rest of the year be welath to their houses and eat.   The distant clunking of their bells could be heard in the jungle. 

At the cattle coop I could see the old village, nestled in the forest.  So much forest in act that the fields could not be seen.

On the way to th e village, the trail not so good, I gathered wild egg plant and some of the long pods for mixing in meat.  They were too mature but I took a few with me anyway.  Jaw Rgah Lah Mah.  The pods were at the top of the tree so I had to first go down the steep slope and cut a bamboo, leaving a piece on the end for a hook, and with this I pulled down the pods.  Five but later I lost one while crawling through a thicket.  As it turned out they were already old and tough.

On the way t the village I found where someone was trying to catch an ant eater or some such animal.  They had tunneled for it, then ran water frmo the creek in trenches and bamboo trough to try and glood it out.  It looks like they had just left.

The whole area was creeping with drug runners and bird hunters.  The old village sat just below the ridge and the runners from other places ran back and forth through this area just out of site of the gunners on the top, where the Burmese encampment was.

Near the creek I found an old wooden bamboo tube box but trying to get back with it through the thicket it broke so I abandoned it at the original village.  Maybe that was all to be, just getting back.

Finally crossing the last creek I missed the trail to the right so I had to fight up through the massive yellow flower thickets of the village chopping all the way. 

A thin machette was best for this, fast, much wielding to do, for at least an hour.

Finally I got above the village to the trail.  There were many old house posts left and it looked as though they had all burned.  But after nine eyars they still stood in defiance.

Above the village site I cut across to the grass lands hill could see the Boeuh Maw's village from there, Cheh Pah Kah, the workes.  Buffalo tenders had lunch there and I nibbbled at their chilli peppers and salt that they left behind I was so famished.  The carved at two chilli hammers that they left behind unfinished.  Maybe they would finish them tomorrow. 

I was very tired by this time having cleared much trail, carrying a big long knife for lopping bamboo and a heavy hoe.  But dark was soon to be on me and there was very far to go.   First to the fields and then all the way back to the village.  It was nearly dark through the long stretch of woods and I got down to the upper fields in the last light.  I grabbed an ear of corn and munched on kernels with a dry choking mouth.  By te time I passed the top farm hut I had to drop a good ways down into the forest to the first spring.  It was dark and I could barely see the trail now.  There was not much moon, only stars.  It was so dark I missed the cut off and hit the lower trail before cutting right toward the village again.  By then it was black, wit the long knife I felt the trail, luckily I knew it, and catching any sky light in puddles which formed in the spots where the buffalo's feet had mushed down in the mud.  I sang a little but was soon too tired even for that, the trail endless at least two hours it took me now in this pitch black to the village.  I didn't get back till 9 pm and was covered with mud from slogging the last hour of trail. 

 

Pigs

Her father wanted a pig house but I was so close to getting something started on the ridge that I would hold off to do it there.

This first step phenomenum actually was more complex now that I thought of it.  Once the idea was talked about, then it got talked about more, wishful thinking and testing the border of risk.  First talk happened and on that foundation people built first their own words then action, becaues in this case there was plenty of fear t go around that there would be a blocking confrontation on part of forestry or army.

 

Victor

Victor was a full three months on Sept. 24, 2000.  What a wonderful blessing the little boy was.  Small, bright, his mother didn't have enough good food to eat.  They came to town for a few days and a time so I could feed them.

These personal events made clear how important my fish project was to all the Akha.

 

Pah Nmm

After a spectacular but very exhausting hike in the pouring rain up through the ountains to old Pah Nmm vilage it was taking much time for the fond writing.  Sense in my mind to return.  My body felt both envigorated and stiff also.  A cut on my hand was not healing so quickly. Yes, a cut I made while sharpening that blade with a file.

 

Road Back To Eden

October 14, 2000

The village had been moved now for nine years, a move into poverty and

despair, far from their original stable

farming fields and developed rice terraces in the high mountains where the

view to the eye made them none less

than kings, and the water was cold and clear the wind rustling the might

uncut forests all around their village

and blowing the tall grasses near to their fields.

Their village was in a way unique because much of the forest near by had

been passed over by the logging of

the very large original trees which was done by the Thais in the whole

region many years before.

Their village had been there for more than a hundred years, and it was no

jump of the imagination to

understand why, top of the mountain, a view of forever, surely there had

been a village here as long as people. 

Some groups moved on, others filtered in, just as some were born and some

would die, buried deep in the heart

of the forest.

But then one year the army had come to Haen Taek.  The Thai Army.  For four

days helicopter gun ships

bombed and fired upon the inhabitants, Khun Sa and others, driving them

from Thailand.  Drug Lords.  The

Akha all looked down on this far below them, the thump thump thump of

rotors, the chatter of gunfire and the

concussion of bombs rolling up to them on the wind from far below, a days

walk away by trail.

But a few years later, the army not satisfied, soldiers came up to their

village where it sat on the top of the

mountain.  There were always soldiers, Burmese, Shan, Wa, Lahu, Lisaw,

Chinese Haw, but these were Thai. 

They demanded that the Akha move down off the mountain ancestral home or

they would be driven into what

was formally Burma and their village burned. 

The Akha cared not whether they happened to live in Burma or Thailand,

since there was no marked border

here, only the noted flow of the water shed, and they sat atop the mountain

farming both sides, with meters

either way.  But having seen villages burning which the army had set afire

before they knew this was no idle

threat, and with no guns or army of their own they loaded up what they

could of their village and began what

was no less than a short march of tears down the  mountain.  For tears

their were, and great weeping among the

elders.  Even tourists had occasionally come to this spectacular place, but

now there would be no village.

The Thai army, illegal to force the move of the village, gave them a month

to move.  There was not enough time

to move everything and the remnants of the village were burned, the

standing posts still scarred by the flames,

black and engulfed by caring flowers.

But over 9 years of grief had left the Akha at a great loss at their new

location.  What were suppose to be

replacement fields were an hour and a half's walk or more away up steep

trecherous trails, not the five minutes

from the hut as before.  This immediately effected the nutrition of the

village to say nothing of joy and energy.

It could be fairly said that the Thai Army had and has no soul.

While demonstrators were being massacred repeatedly in Bangkok, Akha

village women and girls were raped

by Black shirts commandos on patrol.  The American Baptist Mission knew of

this dirty little secret but it

never made its way into the press for some odd reason.

The villagers were under incredible pressure.  Big roads were coming, and

they were trying to keep the young

people in the village but conditions were desperate.  The long hike to the

fields, and poor medical care at the

clinics related to at least 8 miscarriages in two years in the village.

There was a trail back to the old village fields, to the ridge, to the

fantastic elevation that gave view of forever,

but it was narrow and shouldered by thick brush.  Robbers and soldiers of

unknown origin or from Burma

would capture the village women and rape them, sometimes shoving burning

cigarettes into their bodies when

they were finished with their captive, her hands and feet tied to wooden

stakes they had driven into the ground.

Some of the robbers attacked them in field huts, others carried knives or

guns and would try to steal their head

dresses.  More than once groups of village girls hard hurdled themselves

down the steep slopes of the jungle

off the trail into the bamboo to save themselves from being captured by

these bands of robbers.  There were no

Thai Army patrols securing the area they claimed was Thailand.

There was no real concern for the Akha villagers.

So it was decided to clear the trail wide from the existing fields up the

mountain to the top.

There were months of discussion and weighing what would be the army

response, but the nutritional situation

in the village could not be endured much longer.  The village of forty huts

was cramped on a tiny hill with no

room to move or farm around it, the sides sloping off steeply below each

hut.

Pigs were routinely shot or poisoned by others. Chickens died of fever.

Mosquitos, heat and illness were

prevalent.  Malnutrition, not experienced before, was common as well as

other nutritional related illnesses.

First there was a group of five men that went out to work on the trail.

Then the work paused for two months. 

Then there was a second group of 4 men that went out and cleared a longer

length of the existing trail.  Finally,

several days later, some 15 men went with hoes, machetes and plenty of

drinking water to work on the trail.  A

considerable length of the trail was cleared and improved, only a couple

days remaining.  On the finished

sections one could see very far in either direction, both ahead, behind and

to the side, and the trail was wide

enough to walk in the middle and feel safe.  The village women often came

here for nuts which added protein

to the diet.  Now even light fell upon the trail. 

But the army heard rumor of this work at this point and called a meeting

with the village head man.

The army was very angry.  No one works on trails that go up, around here he

said.  No body goes anywhere

without the armies permission and no one is going to go further up on the

mountain to build a farm hut, a trail

or anything.

He could not reply to the fact that the women were not safe, nor to the

fact that unknown persons, under the

cover of the trail being so poor, were illegally cutting trees.  With no

trail, the process was hard to prevent.

Didn't matter.

It also became quite obvious that there was not only no regard for the Akha

as human beings, but that the Army

ruled the Akha in a kind of silent implied terror and gave them no room to

move whatsoever.  The only option

they were being offered was to leave for the low lands if they didn't like

the furnace being applied to them.

Water pollution seemed to be the criteria, since the tree cutting was still

going on by someone.  Yet water

pollution was hypocrisy since large pig sheds were located right next to

the creek once it came out of the

mountain before it fed anyone's water supply.

The real point appeared that powerful people wanted the land, it was going

to all be taken from the Akha and

that was that.

Just the same, the incredible boost and joy in the eyes of the Akha men as

they stood at one ridge crest of the

new trail could be seen, looking at first this village below, ones across

the valley and further on.  Green

mountains and jungle as far as one could see, as they all remembered

growing up before Hitler, Himmler and a

few others showed up with their chauffeur Eichmann.

Hoes swung firmly all day that way, 15 men in a row, flattening out the

trail, hoes flying in song, like the many

rows on a Norseman Long Boat, up, into the soil, and again.

Old stump snags came out, rocks, and holes filled.  Thick green cigars from

Burma filled the filtering sunlight

with smoke, and a lunch made of noodles, one chicken who wasn't happy with

the proceedings, and of course

chili peppers with heavy mountain rice.  Everyone sat on chairs of leaves,

backs against trees.  In the distance

could be heard water buffalo bells.

The trail mostly built they had filed down the mountain, knives in hands,

hoes over the shoulders, singing

songs, never to be the same again.

So the Army stopped them.  Maybe this was bigger than the Army.

 

The Road Back To Eden 2

Finally the village got into it and we built 90% of the road up the mountain.  The army, with no flexibility and way into the control thing told us to stop.  The village got scared and that was it for a while.  The trail is already there, we are just making it wider and safer for the women, since there are lots of "strangers".  It will also put a stop to the illegal logging.

We cleared the leaves and branches wide to each side to let the sun come in.

As the road grew long and took shape you could see the rise in hope in the eyes and voices of the men.

 

Meeting With Army

From the meeting with the army it was obvious that they were going to allow the Akha no growth at all.

This was hardly community forestry rights.

 

Meeh Tmm

Meeh Tmm was an Ooh Loh Akha girl at Pah Nmm Akha.  Her and a couple of others hitched a ride to town there at Haen Taek  once.  She got married and was pregnant but with all my work and passings I didn't hear the story till two months later. 

She had her baby early in the 9th month and it died within hours, was buried in the jungle quickly.

This was as of fall 2000, one of many miscarriages in Pah Nmm Akha.

 

Centipede

The Boeuh Maw's youngest was bitten on the foot by a centipede.  No swelling, painful but not deadly.  The creatures were long, strong and ugly.  They also seemed intelligent in a very sinister way.  They were hard to kill, could scatch poison into you with claw like antenna on their tails and then their mouth was heavy and ugly and had two great curved fangs that faced each other, red dark fangs, more like horns, not like teeth as fangs are normally thought of.  And these in themselves would be like getting pierced with a small set of nails, but dirty and poisoned, very nasty yet.

Hateful you could call them.  They marched fast, and made a noise even doing that since I assume they couldn't afford shoes for all those hard feet.  Ah Seh said there was a monster one in the kitchen that he had heard or seen but it darted off through the wall.  Coming for food bits left around, like I say, the things are evily intelligent.

 

The Boeuh Maw

He lived on the Burma side in that new village that later ended up being the location of attacks and battles.  I went over to it twice, took pictures and video, there were large trees that they fell when they built the village and were still there.  Later the Burmese Army tried to sneak up on the village but the Shans and who all else were waiting and shot and killed scores of them.  They were waiting behind those big fallen trees in the village which you weren't about to shoot through.

The Boeuh Maw's hut in Pah Nmm at the upper end was really full of corn.

 

All the Clues

I was coming to find out that difficulties for Pah Nmm Akha had been much generated by the Lisaw headman who was there before them.  He gave many of their  opportunities and benefits down the river.

The Lisaw and the Lahu were first to fold to the missionaries and they did all in their power now to crush the Akha.

The young lisaw Pooh Yai whose older brother had been Pah Luang before Ah Soh was a good guy.  His older brother had been killed while Pah Luang.

 

Booh Nymm

Bpah Mah Hahn Akha

Raped by Burmese soldiers while working in her fields in 1998 or 1999 around May.  She was 30 at the time, they staked her on the ground, then when they got "done" they shoved burning cigarettes into her.  She lived in Soi Yah Akha.  The women in Pah Nmm told me about it. 

 

Lahu Thieves

Lahu seem to be well known to Akha for stealing farm crops.  Flat village it was the same, here at Pah Nmm it was the same.

We suspected that the Lahu who had five or six huts ont he side of the canyon facing Cheh Pah Kah were responsible for a lot of this.  Once the army came and shot around the house of one and he ran off and they took everything he had, cause he was dealing in pills. Not so sure this is all that effective, like breaking someone without sending them to prison, they just become more desperate like Ah Djuuh's story.

 

The Little Man of Compassion

Plaid pouch

He was in the fields working and came and found some small bits of wood, and ashes and alittle bronze man, who had a look of compassion to him, so he kept him for good luck.  He needed all the luch he could get after all, in those days there was so much war.

Sometimes they carried the wounded only to have them shot and die, and so they would pitch the dead man off in the bushes and get another wounded man to carry.  People died quickly and violently.

 

The mountain Fog

The fog appeared to crawl up from the valley  into the canyon as th ough it was on its way over the pass at the Thatong Maechan checkpoint.  Mountas of wavi to the south, the mountain guard gate I sat on. Guarding to the touthwest below us it was.  The wind not strong but clear in the face and nostrils, going bright sight to the eyes.

Stars, mountain lights, valley lights, the noise of bugs, the silence, the largeness and the murmur of voices in the huts.  Nightime but no electric to blind the eyes.

 

True Life

There was a life of existence, order of life, based on the land, procreation, the raising of animals, and food by the individual that superceded all the consumer adventures that modern man went on.

One thought in terms of fields of corn, ginger, beans, fish, pigs, horses, cattle.   These thigns gave food and life.

Land, water, good soil, good sun.  Varieties of plants, all that one could gather.

It was good to see the kids be born and grow up.

 

Akha Houses

Not Quite Empty

It finally came to me why Akha houses were so empty inside.  Their hearts were full.  Their hearts were where all their existnce was, heart book, conversation.  Talking to each othr around the fire, their minds little cluttered by possesions or how to get them,  not by accident but by intention, their houses demonstrated th is.  On first visit even Akha concrete houses seemed very lonely.  But it was only because we have been taught that possesions fill the soul.  They do in a way but not in a ood way.  The Akha on the other hand had their h earts and lives full so seldom felt lonely.

They did not thi nk in terms of what they could buy, not yet beguiled, what did a man with a full heart and lots of songs, much joy, have need of.

 

Akha's don't tend to help their neighbors

 

Two Black Chickens

I got a really late start, was headed for a distant mountain nearly after dark and still didn't have my two black chickens.  I wanted them to eat them with friends, it wasn't that the only friends I had were in this far mountain but there was a village being forced to move and I must be to go and see that as well and be all done in the next day. 

Stumbling from hut to hut in the dark I asked if anyone had two black chickens, big enough but any size then, any reasonable price.  The Akha grabbed flashlights and went out and shone them up in trees, first this one, then that one, we chased one chicken out of a tree and around the hut till we caught it under the wood pile.  Bad luck chicken.  But finally I had to check with the Chinese guy, well his mother was Akha, for the last chicken, he was good at raising them too, since I now saw that he had many.

He proudly showed me his stock and the reason for it, a nice chicken hut.  All pushing by size in rows, older and bigger to the top, hens a place to the side for their nests. 

I bought the second chicken I needed and put the bag in the truck, off to the mountain, it was bloody cold.

I got up on the mountain late, slept in till almost all my friends had gone to the fields, save a few who gladly ate  a little fresh chicken with me.

One of them was an old Nyeeh Pah woman, before she ate she took a tiny piece of the chicken meat and made like she pitched over each shoulder, the behind was always the past to the Akha, your parents before you and to pitch over your shoulder was a sign of respect to your parents, if they were dead and gone already.  Even the Nyeeh Pah's husband was dead, and she was alone, with her kids and grand kids so we cared for her.

She took some whiskey and dipping her finger in the glass did the same with the whiskey, over each shoulder.  She was more than 73 years old.

 

Akha Friends

How can you write the story here? The Akha friends of thousands.  The light caught in the eyes, coming back to you till you feel guilty for having seen it so strong, the faces, the smiles, the postures, the hopes that made the chores all worth it.

The villages, the dust, the village centeres full of playing children like friends to the earth, custodians of joy.  Not afraid of the soil, living in it, all in the most careful of embraces, caring for it, building trails in it to the fields.

Babies carefully carried on  mother's back, to field and hut, and always a horde of playmates to hold them, as they grew older, pinching and teasing.

 

Akha Harp

Akha harp, Akha music gourd.  There is also sign language that can go with the Akha harp that is quite good. A man at the blacksmiths house in Keng Tung named Ah Durh could play the harp this way.

 

Black Teeth

There was a plant, a tree, my friend knew and pointed it out to me, which you pound and chew the leaves and they make your teeth black and bring happiness. 

A girl with black teeth was highly coveted in the old days.  The black teeth actually  shine like ebony.

Sometimes the kids take these fat red ants or termites and smear them together and rub the red paste on their lips for fun. 

 

The Akha

Marginalized by religion and government

 

Tea Seeds

July and August were the months to buy  tea seeds, buy ten cans.

 

Feb 21, 2000

I am learning as much as I can about Akha law.

One spirit women teaches me a lot.

She is kind, patient and willing to repeat.

Carrying the zauh in your house, "Ah Poeuh Law Taw Urh" and keeping the fire going.  Required.

 

Really was Hot

The valley was incredibly hot with storms and rain every few days.  Up here in the villages were even hotter and dry, dusty, grey.  Everything begging for water, the fields dry, fires.

There was even less food in the villages than water.  I brought up dried fish, we didn't eat the heads and a girl from another house came and grabbed them all.

One chicken had a hard day under the knife.  While I was helping to eat the garlic grass root soup the little boy was behind me ammering on the head of the chicken with a big knife, trying to get the brain out.  The girl ate the cock's comb, boys don't eat that, might make the face red they say.  Then the boy wouldn't lok tough enough.  The only house with a hut side garden was ours, a year in the building.

 

The New Village

I had heard rumors for weeks if not a month or more and so I asked my good Akha friend if he would accompany me to find the road that led to this new village that was being made on the Burma side of a ridge with Thailand.

The village is above cheh pah kah or Pai a Prai as we call it.  You take the trail out and come across the border to Cheh Mai Akha on a saddle and then take a steep hillside up to the new village for about 45 minutes or less. On the way there is some opium being cultivated.  The new village is on a beautiful ridge that sees most ways and telephone reception there even, a very nice aspect, you can see for ever.

They had seven houses done when I got there and more coming, said there would be a 100.  Big trees were felled only at the very village site for new wood for the houses.  Really big nice trees, really nice wood.  But the actual area that they were building in was  quite small.  They wanted to know if I would help them with the cost of pipe for water from the spring.

I knew the Boeuh Maw from Pah Nmm Akha where my girl friend lived, he and others had already moved up, concerned about all the loss of life condition and land on the part of the Thai situation.  I could not fault him for the location and also for the fact that it was so very Akha here now.  I am sure that I would visit the village more than once.  My girl friends older sister who wanted to be a second wife for a man, said that she would find her new village here to farm with her husband and run a store.

It was not so far from fields that the Pah Nmm Akha had now.

 

Dec 24, 2001

Keng Tung goes waiting - Pah Nmm Road

I didn't get to go this year, just not enough money.

The building of the road back to the fields moves forward slowly.

The Lahu are all pissed off and I chased Jeh Teeh out of the village.  So he tried to have me kicked out of the Akha village as well.

He had been giving away the land of the Akha for years.

Funny how they would go along with this if they felt they had no hope to fight the army.

Now the villagers even wanted the road, understanding it, seeing it built, getting more and more hope.

Sorting out good foreigners who would donate and help build the road was not so easy.

Many just wanted a free be so I charged everyone to sort those people out, they otherwise wanted me to feed them for free.

The Lahu would not let us cross their rice terrace, what they had actually built on the old army road.

So this held us up but we worked on other parts.

Jeh Boh owned the terrace.

The Lahu wanted the road too except for Jeh Boh and Jeh Teeh.

The road would make farming easier for everyone.

These two wanted to make life hard, keep it hard, on more than 450 people and the Pah Luang Ah Soh didn't have the strength to over ride them yet.

The lahu village was so unable to get along that over the years it had fragmented into four pieces.  Jeh Teeh was the pastor, forestry agent and city council guy called an Oborthor.

Jeh Boh was the headman and who the village was named after, Jeh Boh Mooser.

Jeh Teeh got paid well for all his jobs, about 9,000 baht a month which is about 9 times more than people here make.

The foreigners helped with the road and this gave the Akha confidence to move on.

We didn't dig further on Lahu land but continued on Akha land till the killing happened to Ah Juuh and I was busy with that and then my truck engine blew up, maybe I needed to change the oil more often, the oil went to jell, never seen this before, gas engines have the oil go thin when you don't change it but diesel engines the oil goes to jell.  It blew up and cost me a fortune to put a bigger motor in.

We had about four days left to dig on the road, had the upper part done, all the way to the Ambush stone or the Bird Rock as I called it.

You could see everywhere from there.

I called it that because they cleaned the feathers off hunted birds here on this huge stone that hung on the face of the valley looking at Cheh Pah Kah (Pai ah Prai village) To the left up the hill you could see the Thai and Shan border army camps.  This place was called Pah Noon and the Burmese attacked here last year and maybe again this year trying to route the Shan army.  The Thai army protected them.

There was a Burmese Army camp further back along the border that you could not see, on the way to Meh Joh.  I used the truck to push a trail to the cut off to the old upper village site, the villagers were so happy about this, we had about two days to get the road to the Bird Stone improved and the road to the old village done.

The village had been very fearful all along on this project and I dug on much of the road myself for about a month or nothing would have happened, villagers slowly joined me.  I had little food and would eat one can of condensed milk and that was about it, my hands full of blisters.

The Army would come and ask me if I wanted to stop, I would tell them no.  The chubby seargent liked to play with my son.

We crossed the big creek and then the villagers were afraid to go on so I did four or five days on my own.

The Moosers and Jeh Teeh tried to get us to stop each time.  They brought forestry and police and army many times and this is why I finally chased Jeh Teeh out of the village.

If the road was done they would have full access to their fields.

Now the job was to mark out all the land they used to have and take it back from forestry.

Land demarcation and land divestiture issues were very important to work on.

I think the gov wanted to grab this whole area away from the Akha. They used pressure of every sort from every side.

The Thai government was not strong, it depended on traitors to do the evil.

The Thai government had no love for the hilltribe no matter how much money they made from tourism off using them for bait.

Hoh Nah Sah was the forestry worker outside the village who conspired with Jeh Teeh for the Akha land.

(but by Dec. of 2002 he was gone, the forestry huts breaking down.)

 

Nov 5, 1999

Currently sitting at Pah Nmm Akha

The army in conjunction with the forestry is taking a lot of the village land this year.

This will have immediately effects on the village .

Now the army, Col. Sawat, is directly involved in working in this area.  Place for anew school and improvements to the road.

Yet the issue of the land has not been resolved.  Chiefly there is a great need for mobilization of the Akha.  Currently each village works to itself, and ends up being rather easily dominated depending in some degree on the quality of headman.

In the case of Pah Nmm Akha it would appear that the headman who is somewhat welathy prefers not to rock the boat, baout the land issue which is effecting everyone else because he has lots of rice terraes.

So often this is the case that the headman can be fairly esily bought off, wether he is Akha, Wa, Chinese, Lisaw, or whoever.

If the village as a population are going to make it they are going to have to learn to coordinate and unify between villages and learn to coordinate and unify between villages, and learn to fight for and strengthen the hand they already have.

In some villages the will to fight is quite strong.  In otehrs it is bullied to nothing.

 

The New Village, Burma Side

Boeuh Maw

23 Jan 2000

I had heard rumors for weeks if not a month or more and so I asked my good Akha friend if he would accompany me to find the road that led to this new village that was being made on the Burma side of a ridge with Thailand.

The village is above cheh pah kah or Pai a Prai as we call it.  You take the trail out and come across the border to Cheh Mai Akha on a saddle and then take a steep hillside up to the new village for about 45 minutes or less. On the way there is some opium being cultivated.  The new village is on a beautiful ridge that sees most ways and telephone reception there even, a very nice aspect, you can see for ever.

They had seven houses done when I got there and more coming, said there would be a 100.  Big trees were felled only at the very village site for new wood for the houses.  Really big nice trees, really nice wood.  But the actual area that they were building in was  quite small.  They wanted to know if I would help them with the cost of pipe for water from the spring.

I knew the Boeuh Maw from Pah Nmm Akha where my girl friend lived, he and others had already moved up, concerned about all the loss of life condition and land on the part of the Thai situation.  I could not fault him for the location and also for the fact that it was so very Akha here now.  I am sure that I would visit the village more than once.  My girl friends older sister who wanted to be a second wife, said that she would find her new village here to farm with her husband and run a store.

It was not so far from fields that the Pah Nmm Akha had now.

 

Pah Nmm Akha

All the personalities and goings on in this village

Ah Baw Bauh

Ah Seh

Ah Beh

Ah Soh

Abaw Sah

Boeuh Maw

Grandmother of Ah Chooh

Booh Seh

Ah Soh

Pooh Seeh

Bah Jeeh’s wife

Kuuh Byauh Yoh Huuh Meeh Zah

Ah Zah

 

Cheh Pah Kah Akha Village

He was married to Ah Shuur.

His first wife ran away and left her son behind.

Then she came back and married to another Akha in that village after she was divorced from him.

Ah Zah was a kind man and farmed pigs, tea, had rice terraces and other crops.

Ah Zah had tea close to his house, never talked the fool, and was always careful about what he said.

You see, I like Ah Zah, because he is stand up guy, he is gutsy and direct and dependable and forwardlooking in how he thinks and runs his life.  He is the kind of person that his family counts on and that friends count on. Evidence suggests that he doesn't keep a record of how often he helps people.

A rare trait in this neck of the woods.

He always visited his wife's family in Pah Nmm. They were very poor.  And they would go and help him on his rice terraces come planting season.

Planting the rice in the terraces:       

We had a lot of fun when we planted the rice in the terraces.  We sang, joked endlessly and tromped through the mud, pushing the rice down into the mud with a sort of flip and jab of the hand.

This wasn't something you wanted to do with a machine.  This was pushing the rice into the earth, a very intimate thing.  You have to do it more than once and planting rice in the terraces is never seen as a chore.  I think it has to do with the mud pushing up through your toes too.  Lots of mud.  And not like the mud that eats  your skin in the mountain fields.  You walk carefully on the terrace banks, then hop down to the next one, cause you start up and work down.  Three or four rice plants to the hand, your fingers smart, knowing how to grab the next three or four with your right hand while your left hand feeds three or four more out, and when its gone you grab another bundle from the water, someone is always tossing them out there in front of you with a fun kind of splash, calling you through the work as it were. There is something very intimate about this work with the soil, the mud, the water, very intimate with the earth and food, not obsessed like computers and cars and trucks, all those things that take one away from the earth. 

Some people call the earth their mother, but to me that is distant.  One treats the earth like a wife or husband, not like a mother. The earth can be more hostile to us than a mother, more like a lover or a dear friend.  We take great liberties to stride within the trees, to walk within it, to grip it, to feed it.  How often do we feed our mother except when she gets old?  And the earth is never old, upset, impatient, but never old.  We can break its eyes out, but it sees us with others, like we dropped grapes into the mud, only for the mud to blink and look at us again. The earth is like our souls need to be, deeply forgiving, deeply patient, deeply understanding of our condition.  The earth would have us toil on its tough hide, caretakers of its soil flesh, then remember the spot and hope we come back again and again.  It lets us build memories.  Children in the mud, sandcastles for some, mud balls for others, yet endless memory and slate for us to work on.  The tragedy is when people spent more of their time ripping the earth up for something else but food. I don't think the earth minds how many people farm it.  And eventually we find a final resting place deep within its soil.

Proportionately the less people who farm it while eating off it the worse.  People abandoning the earth, we can not abandon our mothers, they raise us knowing that often we will go far away, that is not why we have mothers, but we can abandon lovers, and I think the earth sort of sees us this way.  Looking a long time, wondering when we will come back and take the time to find the magic of the bird hopping on its branches.

There is a great evil that we get carried away.

Pah Nmm and Cheh Pah Kah were not so far from each other.  Directly there were no other villages between them if you took the trail.  If you took the road and went around you passed by several.

Cheh Pah Kah was better off because it had never been forced to move by the Army as so many other villages had been subjected to.

Someone had donated tea to the village years before and the village carried on from that start to now and has many tree plantations owned by the Akha themselves.

Pah Nmm hadn't started yet, lucky to make it to their very distant fields and come back every day.

The road was difficult driving into Cheh Pah Kah, tricky spots to it but I always made it to Ah Zah's house some how.

The road was muddy and rutted very deeply in places.

Ah Zah's family was always kind to me and the sour greens were the best.

His family was tight, his brothers wife was a stocky woman and always cheerful. She was having problems with her eyes, and asked me about it, I didn't know what to do, or what was causing the blurring.  But she could still make a mean soured batch of greens, always gave me a plastic bag of them, all a little frosty white with mold on the inside of the bag, when you know the stuff is going to kick some ass.  If I wasn't driving I'd have the stuff eaten before I got home.

I never saw Ah Zah's mother, can't remember it, maybe she was there, just didn't stick in my mind.  His dad, a small man, yes.

I liked the whole family, their worn wooden two story house, the dark well used kitchen where the fires were, and we drank tea grown right there. They had tea all around the village in the trees, made the village like a big park. Someone gave them a little bit of tea years before and it took off, course the Chinese were near there too and they had tea and tea drying buildings.  They were a bigger village and hadn't been relocated as many of the villages had.

His wife's village where I still stayed used to be way up on the border and closer to Ah Zah's village but the army moved them for no good reason down and further away and this wasn't any good for anyone.  It destroyed much of the economics and made life very hard because they all had to walk so far to the fields now.

Ah Zah wanted me to come to his place many times, he wanted me to live in that village.  He had lots of land and was always offering me a place, he raised pigs at times, and wanted me to go in with him on that but I didn't have much money.  First time around he lost a little on the pigs when he went to sell them.  He had a place for them on the side of the valley not so far from his rice terraces.  He was starting a lot of tea plants in the ground there too and someone got envious and burned them all up.

The idea of the story was that this guy is a character from that one village one, its an important village (didn't go into that did I, oops) and that he is friendly, yet not a jerk, makes for good friends, and that he visits often, showing that there for me, was a closeness between the two villages that was created if you will by this person, a perceptional thing, when maybe the two were not close at all.  That we like people who bind things together, that increase the size of the comfort of humans around us.  That make more safety in a hostile land.

Ah Zah's brother had a real good heart too. His leg was bad, from a vaccine, or needle shot?  I am not sure why. I saw it fairly common, I think it was from a poorly skilled nurse and injection. He could still drive but had to stand on the tip of his foot with that side.  He was a real good hearted guy.

Sometimes I am at an anjacent village where he visited many times to see a girl that he wanted to marry.  Now since then he had gotten married to her. He was there very often and he had an intensity and pleasantness that he could extend to others that was beyond the events that might be going on in his life at the moment that might get some people down.

So he was good company, jokes, laughter, never drunk, never making a fool of himself, never making a problem, never having problems around him, he knew how to run his life.

Since he helped the family of his girl friend, where I was staying, well after they got married then as a return of the favors and help, we would all go and help him on his rice terrace when planting time came, it was a big job, not horrible, just took a lot of people at the right time, and that is how Akha farming works.  Twenty people to this field today, then another tomorrow, always making sure that one pays the other people with a day of work for the day of work they put in on our fields.

And since his terrace was way further than our own fields it was a change we enjoyed,  half way between his village and ours in the bottom of the valley at the upper end near the springs.

On those days a bunch of people came from his family side and those from ours, so must of ben 25 people all told.  We got it all done in one day.  Planting all the rice in the soupy mud pools that filled each terrace.  Lunch was a big laugh, can't remember all the things that we ate, the usual, fruit, chilis, mountain rice, greens, squash, some meat, some meat loaf stuff that the Akhas were real good at making, soy loaf, yeah, was good, and of course a tinge of wiskey to kill the chill and the fatigue because it did rain that day starting about lunch.

After we all ate one man was taking the leg bones from the chicken, and there are these tiny holes in the bones, you take the two of them right and left, and then he took a knife and made like tiny toothpicks.  He stuck a toothpick in each hole, one on each bone, on the side of it.  Now the Akha do this to tell if something is going to be good or bad.  They do it with pigs they butcher, looking at the livers, that is on a female piglet, and such.  Sometimes they want to know a number so they take some paper and light it on fire and then they lay a porcelain white plate over it till it goes out. When they pull the plate up they look at the soot inside the plate and see what number it looks like.

Same with the bones, done at the  moment, part of the events of the moment to look at the future.

If the toothpicks stick straight out at right angles from the bone then things are going to be good with the terrace, a good rice crop.  If they lay down, more in parallel with the bones, then things are going to be poor.

They do this to find out what happened to someone good or bad too.  I believe you can only use a black skinned chicken for that though, got to do it sort of special.

Looked pretty good for this terrace this year.

Then I had this windbreaker that was made like an Akha flag, gold, white, red, blue and black, and I gave that to Ah Zah because I knew he wanted one.

We worked the rest of the day and got the terrace done, all tired, and our group went back to our village the long road and they went up to their village getting there before we did.  Course we got stuck too so that didn't help, took an extra hour cause of the rain and slick green grass on the dirt track, even with four wheel drive.

That labor was shared back and forth, that the rice terrace was a symbolic of this creation he made between the villages from my perspective, it was like extended to me, not sure if other people enjoyed it like that, and that going to that terrace also took one to see the valley between the two villages like it was giving you the opportunity to grasp the perspective of it all.  Burma at the top, the town down below, Pah Nmm here, Cheh Pah Kah there, and all the farm land for both in  between.

It also referred to the rough terrain between them both for a vehicle, but walking only further because of the army move.

Malice, the burning of the tea. There was a fire and all of Ah Zah's tea seedlings where burnt up. Someone did it, Ah Zah says he had no idea who, but someone burned more than a 100 of his boards one time too.

Loss of the first wife and the gaining of the second one, oh he has a boy by the first one too.

Once I visited to Ah Zah's house with the father of his wife, Ah Seh.

Ah Seh said that he was a little ashamed because he was an opium smoker and didn't have much.

I brought Ah Seh there cause he is my friend, when he wouldn't have gone on his own, I feeling like it needed to be overlooked and just enjoy.

Course not sure the family looked down on him just because he smoked opium and was poor cause of it, because he is an excellent historian.

But HE felt he had nothing, see how we all are.

Ah Zah offered hospitality in a more formal way, but Ah Seh's house was more welcoming and comfortable, not so business like, crops, pigs, tea, a truck that needed to be driven, etc.

There is also some erotica in this, two villages both coming off the hill to have a go at the terrace.

 

Ah Lmm

He was a neighbor of Ah Zah, a very well spoken and pleasant man.  Gentlemanly, humor was always on his face, a sensitive desire to understand and communicate with others.  A stocky man in his thirties, he often came to Pah Nmm Akha. Dependable.

He had three kids and was looking for a second wife.

He had various jobs, some in Burma, but the strength of his house once again was in the tea business that had grown up on the forested park like slopes near his house.

There was always a laugh and humor in his face.  A little reddish in complexion.  Ah Lmm wasn't the type to overstate himself, but always left the door open for someone else.  He concerned himself to others. His father also was a good man.

Both Ah Zah and Ah Lmm were honest people that I could deal with and secure enough that they seldom pressed me for help of any kind, which I was glad to get a break from as most the Akha were very poor and I could not blame them for asking me for help.

Both of them supplied me with information and stories about the life of a border village and what went on across in Burma to the Akha in this very mountainous area.  I am not so sure to them that borders were very important.

 

Ah Chooh

Jan 1, 2002

My Pah Nmm wife, she did such a good job raising Ah Soh, our son.

 

Being Electrocuted

While he was being electrocuted he flailed his arms.  But in Akha humor he said that the soldiers beat him because he was acting like a monkey. 

 

Jan 2002

Isaac

Isaac is more than two years old now.

Growing up.  Very blonde.

He had a cold or a cough many times and I attributed this to all the vaccines he got as Ah Soh didn't have this and didn't get any vaccines.

I got in late, slept well at Meeh Suur's parents place, although cramped.  The catholic Akha don't know how to live.

The priest here, Father ?, didn't help teach these people much after taking away their culture.

I still hadn't built a house here, I didn't get treated very well and had so little money it didn't seem rewarding.

Also Akha security was very important so if I couldn't build nice one time, wasn't worth it.  They might as well stay where they were.

Each village was different and took a different kind of grace and understanding to stay friends with it.

I waited while they cooked breakfast over coals in a stone coal pot like what they use a lot in Thailand and Burma.              

Amy as another story.

 

Ah Lmm

Ah Lmm wanted to marry Ah Meeh but she ran away instead.

 

Living in the Village

Pah Nmm was the first village that I actually moved into and lived in. 

Each of us found our distance, I eventually stayed home most the time, did not visit to other people’s houses, even when they called me, as we had or differences and I preferred to stay friends.

Occasionally I visited to someone’s house but not very often.

 

The Tail of the Horse

Someone’s horse and water buffalo were always in my rice terrace tearing it up.  I had spent a lot for it and more to build it and I still needed to work on the walls. 

I asked around and everyone insisted that it was not their horse in my terrace till I trimmed its tail hairs, then they knew which horse it was.  Course it turned out to be the horse of the oldest elder in the village so that did not make us such good friends after that, he wanted me to buy it, tied it by my house for a day and all that.  But the other elders said that I was right, it was tearing down my terrace and I should be the one paid, not the other way around.  I had gotten very tired of telling everyone, so one has to sort of set the notion in people’s mind one time that they shouldn’t walk on me.  Course I always note that it seems there is either the subtle or the obvious and that many times there is not a good interim level that is less blunt, or one doesn’t think of it till after and wonder why I didn’t think that through first. Anyway, we were such good friends that I went and did a healing ceremony with him and patched things up. Ah Baw Peeh.

 

Maidens of Time

The Festival of Swing

This year they didn’t build a swing.  I wasn’t sure what it was all about, something about there being too many men still in the fields and not the four required to haul the heavy bamboo out of the jungle and build it.  There was great argument about it at any rate and the elders were quite angry.  But the festival went on anyway, with four days of dances.  Now it seems in this village that there were two nights when they danced in the early evening and then began again about ten that night and danced all night long until dawn.  I think it was something about the rice.  When you live in it this becomes quite easy to see, the system here is quite easy. You plant rice and live. You get your rice from the land and if you don’t get your rice you die.  You better know something about what the off years are about and picking the right “kaw” for planting rice and for planting corn.  You get the wrong “kaw” (or plot) and the rice isn’t going to grow and then what will you eat? The neighbor’s rice? Guess again.  So each family, unlike much of the west, is directly connected to the earth, to produce the rice that they must eat.  One might argue that less land could be used but that is quite hard to imagine.  For the most part, an Akha village, for people who live in the mountains, is one of the most sustainable ways of feeding people that one could hope for.  The time and effort that go into preparing, planting and caring for the rice leave little time for people to be doing things that don’t relate directly to this.  The earth is like some living part of one’s self that they must care for, must build, must repair, must listen to, must get along with, and must never take for granted.  Not so many generations have lived on this earth and so the effects on it are real, and one cares for it.  Trails, watering holes, wells, springs, when they are “wet” and when they are “dry”.  What time the bugs come out. When the rice got planted it happened over two weeks and everyone had to have their rice in by then.  In this village.  The elders then count between 12 and 13 days.  The days each count for ten, sorry, not sure how this works, but between 120 and 130 days after the planting of the rice, the swing festival happens.  The reason for the two dates is that the elder in charge of this counts 12 days (120) but if he had a parent that died on that day or some other item that he doesn’t want to combine with it, then he moves the date one more day so it can end up being 130 days. This is the end of the work.  The Akha also say that the Akha came down from God through the swing.  And now it is a celebration of the end of the hard work on the rice (not that this day has actually been born yet).  And to this they dance, to their relationship to it all.  In this village they laid out four old planks from the forest and the women took bamboo tubes about a meter long and as they danced around this square they pounded the bamboo tubes on the plank which let out a ressonant sound.  One man works a drum, it looks simple, it is not.  With easy blows to the top of it in a rythmic manner he works out a cadence that ties into the lisping sound of the hand cymbols which they call “wind”. (the hand cymbols).  Actually the sound from the cymbols appears to mimic the sound that the rice makes when a woman tosses it in the tray, while it is yet dry, working the tiny stones and the debri to the edge which she then lets bounce over and out onto the ground.  You can make a lot of sounds with a cymbol, the Thais make one very different to that the Akha do with it.  But once you hear the sound the Akha make with it, you realize that it just didn’t happen, that it is being played with a signature.  So there is the drum and this rythmic pace of cymbols and the sounds of the bamboo and the women going carefully and methodically in a circle.  I think it better drinking to watch this, think of far away thoughts, your mother as when you were a child and the first time you saw her cry, and life moving on timelessly and you not being any more able to change much as an adult than you were as a child, and the Akha women, their backs to you, facing in, dance first to the left where they meet back to back there, and then to the right where they meet back to back there with the woman on that side, but always moving to the right. And it goes on, hour after hour, no one stopping.  And when you see the daily commitment they have to the rice they plant and the earth they plant it in, you know that they mimic this, left side, right side, but always moving on, yet always the circle is the same.  And to this they danced, and they danced all the way till dawn.  Not hard to figure out to do that, the cadence captivates you and pulls your heart onto the Akha soul train and you could stay there a little longer than just dawn.  Being Akha.  The mountain, rice for another year, the rain that feeds it all, and the wind that cools them as they work.  What magic.  The dress was colorful.  The women in this village are always much fully dressed in their traditional dress anyway, but these nights are special as the other festivals are and so much effort goes into making the dress complete, the men with fancy embroidered jackets, and the fantastic silver head dresses of the women, which they started building when they were a child.  The work is sweaty and long and muddy and dusty and itchy and biting ants and bees and by God you got reason to warm it up and dance all night to this one.

An Akha swing is built using four tree sapplings of long length, or four large bamboos and then a water buffalo yoke is used at the top or some such shaped wood, and a long rope made of heavy woven vine and bark strips is hung down with a loop woven into it.  The women may swing on this with a stick slid through the loop or men swing on it by standing in it with one foot and using the other to kick themselves high into the air.  Since the swing is quite tall it throws them considerable length out into the air and the swings are built on the edge of a hill so this adds to the rush.

 

Poets of the Earth

Months ago we had all worked together and turned the soil of that very steep mountain side, the sun burning us, the wind buffeting with dust, the rain chilling and biting and the mud eating the skin off our feet, but then the rice, we planted it, crawling up that face with every muscle in the body urging to just climb to the top and be over with it.  Course that was the difference between them and myself, my body wished to climb the ladder, they lived on it.  The man had come and cut a deep rut down through the face of the hill side in a couple of directions to run off the rain water.  As soon as he had done that one girl took a bag of sunflower seeds and walked up the hillside crosswise, following the ditch, planting sunflower seeds on the down hill side of the lip of this narrow trench no wider than what you could put your foot in.  The hillside all brown, her scarf of red, it was funny to see in all that landscape one ditch, cut across it all as if surreal and then this tiny moving pollen of color creeping across the face like a wind jipsy in a sea of tossed soil as if on some great voyage lonely and forgotten, sewing seeds for them to die and birth again in some ode of timelessness of these people. And the rice came up and we went back over and over, pulling the many weeds.  You don’t use a cultivator the man said, cause the rain goes in too deep then and the rice grows too tall and the wind knocks it over, you just pull the weeds out with a minimum of soil disturbance and pile them up and burn them. And we did.  The woman, old with work, not with time, she was a spirit woman, she worked at this as if she her self had been born of one of the seeds to help plant all the others and to scratch the back of the earth with her love and care as if it were tired, or jolly or itchy or all of them at once.  She did it well, loving the dirt, like a kind mother, who tended it in partnership with the tending of the children.  I loved her, who she was, from her late night chanting beside the fire in the glow of the coals, all the elder women gathered around in the darkness, to the way she could wack into bamboo to find a grub, to the stories she told me of Yah Loh Yah Shoh Ah Mah Ah Dah, the old man and woman who lived in the rice field and took care of it at night and on the days that she was gone to another field.  To them she owed much thanks and did not offend.  And out in the fields when we worked hard and then sat down to the noon fire to eat, she always brought something new and different from the jungle or the field to the fire for us to eat.  She never quit talking it would seem, as if life was one long poem that you just kep reciting the old and new lines too, murmuring under her breath, the slights and bumps of the day and about all the goings on, as if a lung for all the rest of us.  Her daughter was the same, whatever someone said, she repeated it again, for all the others to hear one more time, maybe some clarification added again.  This was a very common trait among the Akhas, the collective mind, the collective talk. No conversation, no sentence owned, shared by everyone, passed on with a lift from all the friends, no they didn’t even care to think that they owned their own words or thoughts, these were all shared in the collective, cause you dreamed across to the other and then checked if your dreams were ok, if there was no harm, if you had been right, if your story happened like the dream.  She could see me in places in the truck, far from that village doing things she could only know if she had been there, well she was, she went and spoke to me in her dreams and saw me, who I was with, what I was doing, and I think that the more that the old spirit woman and I wove these together in time the clearer she could see it all, me just some extension of her dream, not her dreams some odd copy of my reality.  And so in this kind and loving way in gentleness with most of what all they knew the Akhas had accepted that it must be all woven together, that there was no seperation of events of people of it all.  And the rice got deeper and I was off doing corn and soy and peanuts and didn’t get in the rice field so often during the long rains, but that was ok, cause the season would bring me back like to the fire of a poet.  We pulled corn off the stalks for days, trying not to step on the young soy plants planted in between.  They would have pulled it first but I wasn’t there to help and they were always short of hands, so like my schedule would only allow, something that was so extremely odd to them, I blew in like a warm wind and through the fields we went together, spirits lifted with new hands and new labor and we pulled corn till it all got stacked, and even didn’t step on that nigh on foot long centipede that went wipping through the field. Yep, put that in rice wiskey and its really good to drink, what would otherwise bite your ass but real good.  But then Cheh Shuuh Dzah rolled around, and I got to drink some anyway, the thanksgiving ahead of the rice harvest, to thank Yah Loh Yah Shoh Ah Mah and all the rest of them and thank in advance for a safe rice harvest, the careful bringing in of the food for so many souls, grown up and pulled from the earth in a kind of kindness that we don’t have words for in pagan english.  They handed me wiskey, there in the dark, the old elder men all on one side, the old elder women all on the other, and then the Dzoeuh Mah, new to his role, since the death of his father, Abaw Dteeh, put the first kernels of rice from the new rice this season in my two cupped hands which I then lifted together to my mouth and picked up with my lips and ate, the new rice, to all the new rice and to all the people of the past all the way to Sooh Meeh Oh, the first of us all, who had passed down both our seed and the seed of the rice together, that we could have another good year upon this earth, eating rice, drinking whiskey and birthing together with it all again.  And I was to have a child born in the midst of this rice harvest, this birth of the future year, so it was of no little significance that I ate that rice and gave joy to the thought that I should eat for another year, with the Akha, with the rice, and now with our lives together, joint descendants of Sooh Meeh Oh, the first of all the Akhas.  The horses came, we packed all the corn we could on them four times and the boys took them back to the village, more than an hour down the mountain each time, and came back again.  But in the end there was no more light and there was much more corn and there were no more horses coming back in the dark, so we each took forty or more pounds of corn, and carrying it in sacks and baskets on our backs we made our way down the mountain, the last corn pulled from that field.  But in a day we were back in the other rice field again.  They had bragged to me how beautiful the rice was, me, I could only see so much into their minds and lives because like crumbs of bread, not enough for one meal, I was scattered to so many villages.  But it was more than true, the beauty of the rice, and we had done it ourselves, and it was really beautiful, all grown up there like that, still some green but mostly golden heads laid over, curnels ready to drop, and the golden green across all the mountains that we all had planted.  Because though those far hills had some other person’s rice on them from a distant village, how could it at all be separate, they had sung for us, they had danced for us when the bees came, and the had moved as a troup in cadence for us to watch them as they had planted their rice, soldiers of time and man and age, the old women and men together, the young and the old, no nursing home here, in unison trooping up by rank through the earth of the hill, laying in their seeds, long jostling sticks, like philharmonic wands, tossing the earth, making it dance to the arrival of the seeds within it once again, the earth to sing, the seeds to sing, the old to sing and we heard it all and laughed at how silly they looked, like kernels themselves, specks on the soil, moving up the hill like a dotted line, funny like us were funny cooking on the hill on this side, that day, our rice in the day before.  Ah yes.  We took a break in the rice hill hut, didn’t fire up the coals, just sort of said nothing of all the work we knew we had already done, and we prepared ourselves for the new labor of harvest to come, but to day we were only there on a lark, to gather in the big sun flowers.  We took our bags and the old woman was already gone, so the other woman went with  me, her daughter, and then like the final ode of a poem, it all came true.  There was no place to walk or stand in the rice, so the sunflowers were planted on the lower side of the ditch that the man had dug because it was the only place you could walk now, and you didn’t want it on the upper side towering above you, so thus the lower, and we walked up throught that tiny space, our feet one after the other down in that hoe cut, and we broke the tall stalks over, their heavy heads bowing to us as if to stoop to ask us what had kept us so long, the birds biting them, and we put the heads in our bags, knocking the little ruffles off the faces first, curved and weathered knives like sickles, cutting through the firbrouse tough stalks.  But the old woman was way ahead of us and time we got done she had gone back to the hut, looking like a big ball of cotton, white sacks tied all over her back full of heads, till we couldn’t see nothing of her but like some oversized white sheep going through the rice, laughable for how odd it looked, not human at all.  We didn’t pick all the heads, I asked the woman why, she looked at me as if I must be sun soaked, why the workers gotta have something to eat when they harvest the rice don’t they? But days move on and from that day of light work, we went into the lower corn fields, like a swarm of ants, the women going down the mountain picking the corn.  Now picking corn is no easy task.  The women wore sticks, like the bone and metal wedge pins they wore on their head dresses, and these were hanging by a string from the wrist and they shoved this through the ear of corn husk just below the tassle and split the end, took a side in each hand and split it down the ear, long ears, nearly a foot some, beautiful golden kernels, and popped out that ear and raised their arm and gave it this kind of funny flip and it went up and over and into their basket, and they worked down the hill.  Now Akha men are always getting branded for lazy, for always sitting at home and so forth by people who mostly never met an Akha man, nor ever spent more than five minutes in their lives or villages.  Well, got news for you.  Take a muddy hillside you can barely stand on and take two men to every five women and the woman won’t have that their baskets should get more than half full before they get emptied out, and so we go down the hillside in wearied stumbling, passing out new sacks, emptying baskets and then filling these big rice sacks with corn and throwing it on the shoulder and fighting our way up through the mud, the tangle of broken corn stalks and grown over vines, and all the way up to the top again, no point in stopping cause you’ll just fall down more than likely, boots slipping, legs tripping and it all going on.  By days end we know we have put in some work, the women coming up from the bottoms, also quite glad that it is over for one more year, the dust covering their arms in itchy welts from the corn husks and stalks, hands rough and cracked, fingers sore from prying at the ears.  And we still have to haul it all back to the village.  We tracked back over the road we had all rebuilt that washed out with the rains, and grasping the bamboo tube at the spring, filled it with water, drank cold and long and headed off through the rich jungle to the village, like coming home to the crib, both for us and for the corn.  The children all cheered to see us come in, gathered into long line from all the fields as we accumulated to the village, women in head dresses, baskets, men, knives, water jugs, horses, packs, babies carried, grass for feed, herbs to eat, grubs from the forest, melons, papayas, bananas, garlic, onions, peanuts, and then we laughed as we sat down to eat on the last of the years rice, getting enough back and forth from neighbors like the whole village trying to get over the hump before the years end and the new rice of the new harvest.  I climbed back into my sleep, into a poem, into their dream, fresh from drenching cold water, the sash as it were at the end of the day. The spirit woman murmured on before the fire, weathered hands feeding the coals.

 

The Old Woman’s Blessing

The old hut, large and all alive with its overhanging roof of dusty gray and blackened grass thatch hiding the shadows of the porch, took up a noticeable place on the edge of the ridge where the village penetrated from the roots of the jungle.  I stooped to go inside, and as every Akha hut, it was full of the men, the women, the children, that kept the hut alive, kept it from dying, because, in itself the hut was an individual.  Not the making of one hand, but the making of all hands, all hands in the village, the jungle, the eyes that the swallows flew through laced about with amber browns from the escaping fire smoke at the ends of the long hut, the crossed peaks of the roof locking the huts place in time it would seem.

Before every hut I wanted to pause, like I was looking someone in the face, a special kind of face, like that of an old barn in other countries, eyes, a smile, a tired smile.  Huts always gave the sense that they were trying to be solid, like a hen for its chicks, thatch thrown here and there, porches, braces, posts, and steps, pigs, chickens, horses, cattle and dogs, each gathered in its place below and always the big bunker of rice near by.  A carefully calibrated assembly of life.

A fire was going, the men on this side, the women on that, some of the men smoking, others reclining, all talking, passing words to each other like unfinished thoughts and lines that were only one’s to take and pass along to the next man where he might finish it or here the cue words from the woman at the fire as to what was missing next before he passed it on.  The Akha had a collective consciousness, a collective mind and a collective thought.  To say you knew something meant that the village knew it and it was always there when you needed it.  The men didn’t know it, the women didn’t know it, they ALL knew it. This was always true except in villages where the missionaries had performed a cultural lobotomy and the mind no longer worked due to their sinister needs.  But there were no missionaries in this village.  I had seen to that.  I was the mercenary, the holder of the pike, that bought them another day.  For there were missions to every side of the village, all waiting for the day when they could end this collective talk and thought.  I don’t know who had the last part of the line or who passed it to whom, but the old man sat on his bed, giving hand to his tobacco pipe and gazing at me, some change coming about in this all, I, a white man by best account, making some odd entrance into his life that he was not yet sure of but was not so surely opposed to.

For he was the Boeuh Maw and it was to him that I had come for a name.  For sons must have names, daughters must have names, and for the Akha this meant that I must tell them where it was that I had joined to the tree, where I had been grafted in of consent of the Akha, and this village.  Nothing was said of it for the moment beyond that, thoughts also collective in days, not supposing to end on this day or that, hanging there in the air till you came back and took it, turned so many times by so many others as part of the village.  Transparency was an understatement.  I would buy  him a pig and a gift and we would have a ceremony for his favor to me.

And then from behind the wall in realms of power unknown the tiniest wift of the most gentle old woman came out with hands and air moving in circles, leaning her head to the side, catching a vibration of who was in her hut like some great web, some great sensitivity to kindness, and she began to speak.  I don’t know what she said, someone added that at their deaths I buy a water buffalo but she immediately refuted that and waving about her hands in some slow dance told me what a gladness that it was for her to add me to her house like a son and my wife and child.  Her head dress was battered and the silver hung all about, worn down to smooth bead like pieces from all the shifting from all the years that she had worn it, no less than fifty now, through how many wars and village moves and fifty years of stooping to hoe the earth and plant the rice in a dance of seeds and jousting sticks which tossed the soil in the blowing and raining chill of the pre-monsoon spring air on the ridges, from the Chinese border high mountains, across Burma to now some kilometer inside Thailand.  She held no hold on life, nor the history the fools would write after her as so many gathered to cut her village in pieces, but that caused her not to shrivel back in the generosity to me.

I could not describe her voice except that I would never forget it.

All that day the village gathered and on the lip of the ridge of the village, one moment down the steep face, gathered to build me and my wife a hut of our own.  The elder came with the dawn and got me from my bed where I nursed a headache from something I had eaten the night before, and taking me surely down the cliff with each step of his, just below the other hut, he handed me a long skinny stick with a rice planting spade.  “Drive it into the hole one time” he said.  I did, and then pulled it out and he dug the last of the loose dirt from the hole.  His face turned to the side and pressed tight against he earth in exact depth as he reached his hand below. Then he called for the post, the center post of the hut on the downhill side wall.  Motioning, the post was lowered at an angle to the edge of the hole but not down.  There it was held.  Three stems of grass were tied to the post and the heads entered into a hole in the side of the bamboo.  He handed me a glass of rice whiskey, used in all Akha ceremonies to bind the occasion, and together we poured it over the base of the post three times.  Then in the other hand he produced a small bowl with rice and one egg.  I took a pinch of dry rice, touched it to the egg that sat in it, and dropped it on the foot of the post.  I did this three times.  Then standing up, I caught the post as though to set it firmly in the earth and slammed it down into the hole as hard as I could calling out each time in unison with all the workers, “Shurh, Shurh, Shurh!”.  This done, the house was built over the passage of the day.

That night the dear Akha woman who was now my Akha mother, from whom my children got their clan name, came to the ground above the hut, her tiny frame swaying timelessly, and climbed down the steps to my new hut.  Going inside, I followed her.  She had again an egg.  She took a ceremonial rice paddle and cracked the egg.  She placed a piece in my cupped hands to eat, blessing the house and our children all along.  Then she called in a small line of waiting village children and gave them pieces of the egg as witnesses in this life. Them the Lords of the Jury after all.  Then kneeling first beside the fire on my wife’s side and then on my side of the hut she carefully rubbed egg on each inward pointing tine of the fire rings.

I could not remember all that she said, except to be mesmerized by the voice of this old woman who I don’t think I had seen more than two times to that point in the village. 

Then the man came in and brought with him meat and food, cutting it carefully and showing me what parts to eat and how.  He took the three heads of a plant with flat leaves and placed it in the bamboo tube along with a bamboo thatch ring and other things and then place the cloth plug in it with his hands together with mine showing how the regular ceremonies to the continuity of life now and before us were kept to insure it into the future.  This, was the orthodox environmental law of harmony of the Akhas.  The Akha Way.  Some two thousand years now, and I had been made a part of it, as surely as were my children.

The wedding ceremony took off in the morning, many details, many private to the Akha, that I put not down on paper, they were sacred in a day of ridicule and foolish minds.  The entire village turned out for three days.

When I left for town next the old woman told me that she would come each day and bury the coals of the fire in the ashes as to keep them hot for me, caring for the fire till I got back, the hut never left unattended.

She tilted down the road of the center of the village, her hands still doing a dance in the air, the silver coins swinging to left and right, the silver rings on the ends, tiny little legs that had carried her so far and carried her now back from one more blessing.  And all I could remember was the great care and concern and very happiness that she had taken in it all.  The sunlight glimmered on the end of her hut as the swallows floated in and out of the tiny holes in the thatch and she ducked up into the porch as though cloaked and out of view her headdress canted to one side.

 

The Wedding

Going outside with the  basket, for the stick and mud/shit

Jungle context,

The rain comes

It was almost like any other event for me, just something in  my schedule.  I had to remember to leave time for it, for a trip to the mountains for it, just like any other. I would allow what ever occurred to make it something different in its own way for an event occuring with  me rather than an appointment or medical task.  I so often worked in such a daze that this was just how it was, not lacking particularly in sentiment, just pragmatic.

So I knew that I would need a few days and I headed up to the hill with a couple of clean shirts.  Otherwise nothing different.  I drove in the village, I was relaxed because I had gotten a lot done that day, those last few days and so my mind was kind of in a state of play if you will.

The village was anxious, they didn’t know if I would show or not, yes I would show, but not necessarily on time, so I laid that to rest, the wedding would go ahead as planned in the morning.

The very next morning after I awoke at my fiances house the very first thing that they did was to drive me from her house, along with her, and tell us both that we couldn’t come back in for anything for three days.  Now what made this odd, was that because I was gone so much, and I had no village of my own, my wife would be residing in the new hut that the old woman had blessed for us, apart from her parents house, but nearby so she would still have family, since I pretty  much lived either in my truck while it was moving, or in front of a computer and that didn’t leave much community for her.

Since normally she would be leaving to my village, the ban on entering the house was necessary since it was still close by.  Numerous related families in the village would not be attending the wedding, while all non related families would be, to keep the standard custom.  Since I still had to put on a celebration for all of them as my friends, by choice, I needed two pigs, since they couldn’t eat from the one that was the marriage pig.  That was no problem because there were enough people that it was going to take that anyway.  Good thing I had been raising two pigs.

The first thing that happened after we left the house was that one man lost his grip on pig number one and it got away, so we had to wait an hour for it to come back to the shade at which point we made it part of the festival.  Actually, we tried to make it part of the festival once with a spear, but it ran off and we had to chase it into the jungle where we cornered it in the creek and finished what we had started, then slung it over a heavily sagging bamboo pole and carried it back to the village.  Then a great fire was built and the pig was singed till all the black hair and top of the hide was scraped off.  At that point the pig entered into the festival different from other planned cookings.

I was sent to our hut, then my fiance soon showed up, stopping before the hut, where a white skirt was pulled over her head, and she dressed in it, removing her black skirt, the only time a woman ever pulls a skirt over her head.  Then a special Akha Jacket, one I didn’t even know she had been making, was put on top of her wedding woven hat, which she had put on for this moment instead of her head dress, and the arms of the jacket were folded over her head and she entered the hut and went to the woman’s side where she sat down with her back to the partition.  The hut was soon filling up with adults and children, a mere ten feet by ten feet on each side or less, two fires, and soon a man brought her her bed role from her mother’s house.

The pig was brought into the hut and carefully cut up a special way, reading the liver, and then taking part of the pig to the women’s side and placing it in a can which was covered for the second day, the rest carefully cut up and parts hung on a rod over to one side to keep taking from and other parts cut up immediately and going into a pot.  One man took over the cooking duties after the old elder finished all the cutting up and cooking certain items on the women’s side of the hut.  The elder women of the village from the other families gathered in a circle on my fiances side and began to feed her.

The old men gathered on my side, began telling stories and doing recitals done at marriages, carefully explaining all to me as they went along, my not being of the best memory.

Finally I was called to eat on the women’s side with my fiance, splitting an egg together which we ate with the shell from our hands. 

That night, an escort slept in the hut, since it was against the tradition, to do more than sleep during a wedding which officially lasted thirteen days, though there was only three days of ceremony.  This was out of respect for the traditions.

On the second day there were more ceremonies, the second part of the pig was eaten spare a few parts which would be saved to feed the elders on the third day. It did not matter how big the pig was, the pig was split up for these three days to be eaten on schedule.

I took turns between feeding the Old Women whiskey, cigarettes and then they in turn gave me token money for my marriage.  It was really fantastic, that tiny side of the hut, all those elder Akha women in a circle talking and smiling, many of whom I had not met before, so kind to me, blessing me that we would have many boys and girls together and that the children would be raised up in the full traditions of the orthodox Akha, which I assured them would be the case.  Both the many children and the orthodox traditions.  I can not say that I have ever met such a collection of elderly women so engaged in their place and role in life as the vitality of the village as that group and such groups in Akha villages.

Then my wife, by this time, after the eating of the egg, took her turn feeding the men whiskey and cigarettes and receiving their blessing and permission in the marriage as I had done with the elder women.  The singing went on and on this second day one man stood out for his ability to sing the traditional songs.  He sang on for hours.  Many visitors came and went.  We ate the last of the saved parts of the pig from the can, them being split between us with careful instructions as to what to do with the bone, it must be put in the fire, not discarded through a hole in the floor.

On the third day my wife took two bottles of whiskey to her parents and the ceremonies were over.

 

Children of the Gods

The lives of the pregnant women in the village were made very difficult by the long walks to the fields over many hills and kilometers, taking better than an hour, and much hard work when they got there. This was not how Akhas built villages, but the Army had moved them and they now suffered  under this fate.  They often talked of not knowing where they would have their children but one couldn’t be sure that so many gave birth in the field, least not hearing of such an event.

In the early evening the young Akha woman complained of stomach pains, being fully nine months pregnant, and wished to go to the hospital because she had some  perception that the pain would some how be less in that new fangled place.  The Akha women laughed at her insistance at going to a place where you could not move about and had to give birth to a child like a prisoner, in a bed, on your back.  Further they attempted to convince her that where ever she went, it would not be so comfortable, and the simplicity of the hut offered her more.

She insisted to go to the hospital, but only made it half way through the village, in the rain, when her water broke and she knelt in the erosion ruts of the road, red clay covering her boots.  The other young women gathered her up, and led her back to the hut where the old women waited knowingly.  All the bedding had been cleared aside, a call was put out to the elders and a bottle of potion of herbs was brought from one hut which the  young woman drank to speed and ease the delivery of the baby.  One old woman coached her to crouch on her haunches, and then go to her hands and knees each time to push.  The pain seemed to subside greatly with this. Between pushes she would rest her head and shoulders on the lap of the old woman and the old woman would coo and rub her back and belly downward toward her legs, calling the baby to come out in a soft and reassuring voice.  Then she would wipe the sweat from the face of the woman and laugh about this or that, giving light to the situation, until the woman began to push again.  Not coming yet, they kept saying.  The woman kept changing her position in the hut, making herself as comfortable as possible. 

She kept checking with her hand the state of the progress of the baby’s head and finally called that the baby was coming out, she leaned on one leg and raised her other knee to look and the baby tumbled out very much like a fish and was crying in moments, a baby boy, all the fingers and toes in all the right places, covered with hair, and thick black hair on its head, a cow’s lick just above the right eye. 

The head was very elongated at birth, protruding like an egg to one side. One old woman wrapped the cord at two points and cut it quickly with a thin razor sharp piece of bamboo, and the mother stood in the corner waiting for the placenta to drop quickly which it did, with very little blood.  The other old waman took the baby in a cloth wrap and a second old woman began quickly working the protrusion of his head with her hands, like clay, shaping it fully into normal shape in a few minutes.

All laughed about at the quickness of the matter and told the new mother how to wrap a sash around her low belly which she would wear for weeks to hold her stomach up until all took back to normal positions.  The baby was immediately fed a piece of egg, specially boiled by the godmother, and then the mother ate the other egg.  Old men came and prepared a meal for the mother and father to eat.  Once the baby was born the woman’s mother could come, not before, and the mother’s father would not be able to see the new child until the navel was healed.

The new mother took some few minutes to begin breast feeding the baby, the old women showing what and how to do, as she made herself comfortable.  Here there were no scolding sanitary nurses but just kind voices of elders, no shining costly stainless steel as at some baby factory, just soft sounds, rain, bamboo, and the coals of the fire.  The mother quickly took a new look to her face, the father held their first born son, and everyone soon tried to get some sleep.  Dawn came soon enough.

With dawn, the real masters of the village came, not one by one, but in a long parade, the children.  Face after beaming face came in to see the child, not quickly leaving, but giving great music as they stood around, laughing and talking with glea, commenting on all the hair, the nose, the eyes, the hands and feet, giving their consent to adding another child to their midsts.  All day long they came, dozens of them, repeatedly. 

For if there was one thing that Akha villages lived for, it was the children.  They did not live to send them away, or to out live or out enjoy them.  Life was considered to pass in stages, watching your own children be born and then  your grand children, moving on and on.  The children were taken with great care by all, they basically ran the village, as compared to other places, seldom reprimanded, it more appeared that the adults were their servants.  It was the Non-Akhas who came to give them ways to stop the children, to sterilize them, to take their children away.  Always these others were saying the Akha had too many children, as though bad, that they would like to take some of the children away to do with as they chose, yet always they admitted how beautiful the Akha children were. And take them away they did, Thais and Foreigners alike.  Somehow, what had been produced so beautifully was not good enough.

Always the center of the village was occupied and dominated by the roaming children, not the objects of a “nuclear” family, but the possesions of the whole village, not so much different than the seeds on the ear of corn.  Although the Akha lived by the guides of a culture that had many ins and out, few seemed to apply to the children. The only time the children were chased off the village square was when a body was brought through, particularly the body of a child whom had died.  Otherwise, the village square, and every other inch of the village belonged to them, coming and going, playing with bugs and birds, squabbling, playing a game of throwing sandles at a arch made from more sandles, trying to knock the arch down, fishing, going for fruit in the jungle, painting their lips red with the bodies of ants they mashed.  Endlessly they paraded the huts going from this one or that, carrying the latest news or development and then moving on, or back to see again the last new baby born.

Ah Poeuh Ah Peeh, the great grandfather and grandmother of the Akhas brought down to them all their traditions of farming and law, which the children noted through the  years as their families grew up and farmed and married together. Never would one meet a group of more beautiful energetic children, children of the Gods.

 

Kings of Eden

I got up early enough, sleeping in the village, but it was already raining while I ate handfuls of heavy mountain rice and prowled the hut for remainder of scraps left behind by the family before they fled to the fields, as is the manner.  The rain came down more and more heavily and all the village was turned to mud so that I waited longer.  By noon, I became quite intent over the matter, looking at the sky, the heavy rain clouds on the mountains to the south, I knew there was little chance for a let up, so accepting the matter I slung a hoe and long knife over my shoulder, picked up a second thin knife for brush, and headed out the upper trail of the village that started so steep to discourage a mountain goat right off the start.  The trail went so suddenly up that I had to weave back and forth between the huts just to get up the slime, the children in the dark caverns of the porches asking me where I could possibly be off to in the rain.  Taking a visit, my reply and up into the jungle I went, soon eaten by the trail.  The first few hundred meters were not so bad, I trimmed some of the brush for the next guy, chiseled some layers off the bad trail in places, and kept climbing what I now referred to as the hump back trail, it was soon so steep.  And so steep that you did not walking panting, thinking that it was so steep, that you didn't like it, that you rebelled, but rather your foot kicked out automatically as if you were falling and did not want to bash your face on the upcoming ground.

Bamboo heavy with rain blocked the trail in places, so I would unload the long knife and lop these big limbs off to make the going easier for the next village person.  The pace was slow in places due to all this work, but I was soon to the first hill top clearing where I had placed enormous elevation between myself and the village.  I was now looking down on that layer of clouds and many hilltops only stuck up through this ocean of grey and white mist now.  At the first clearing there was a cattle pen, making use of this area at the end of the road the forestry people had built three years before.  The road was so big and nice it surprised me even though grown over with weeds in places.  The clearing now used for cattle could still host a helicopter or two if it wanted.  I headed west wondering what this direction was about assuming I knew the other direction.  But soon the road turned up again and I continued on up towards the ridge to near where one can anticipate the Burmese gun emplacement.  Water buffalo bells could now be heard, and I had heard these once before, but didn't know whose they were.  Then I heard voices and soon spotted a huddle under some bamboo that sort of came to life as I trudged sopping wet like a downspout, into view.  The rain did not let up.  Three older village women, Akha, from the same village greated me with surprise and offered me water to drink.  I sat down against the near tree on a banana leaf, wet but not yet covered in mud.  The women immediately exclaimed not to do that as the bark of the tree began to move, covered in nasty black biting ants as if the wiskers on a mans face, wet with dew, began to crawl. I stiffly hopped up and they went to cleaning the ants off, which were already busy digging into my neck.

We sat and talked, about the road, the water buffalo, the cows, surrounded in this beautiful jungle and it just so much home to them.  Yeah, don't go up there in the high grass, that is where the gunners and runners are, stay down here to the road.  But I had been up to the gunners many times before, slipping by, and was not sure today yet what I would do.  I was seeking a solution to nutrition and fields and the trails that tied it all together.  Their village had been relocated and the distance was too far to be sustainable getting to and from the fields.

Finally I headed on up the road which soon turned down, headed for the old village site I decided.  I spotted a hole in a pile of dung on the road, and always wondering what went down through a pile of dung, I availed myself of the hoe and chopped into the stiff red clay earth of the road.  But the host was not home, so I could not be sure.  However, the hole, was very decently carpeted in this broken down dung felt, and mixed in very often were broken pieces of cricket, which I figured must be food for larvae from eggs that would be laid, a pattern among some insects.  But as I was observing all this, one of the Akha women came along and told me about the beetle and that she wasn't home but out about and busy, a nasty sort that smelt worse than the dung she bored the hole down through.  Where had I heard that before?  The Akha woman went back the way she came, and I continued on with the road that now tipped off steeply.  She hollered a few times at the water buffalo but I could no longer see her so she must have dropped off on a trail there, the wooden bell clunking down in the jungle brush.  I spotted a big red fig on the road, and looked up the bank for the tree and there it was, figs that grow right off the bark as many fruits in asia, not off branches, but rather off the trunk, just the stem and the fruit.  I climbed up, stuck a stick together with my long knife and reached up some six feet to bump one of the figs off.  It landed in the grass and I pealed its skin and the inside out which had a worm's untidy room, things scattered around that looked like old brown leather workboots but were not.  Then I ate the fleshy pink outer layer, not much, but no waste of time for its kind flavor.  My mind jumped to those little orange fruits under other trees that had layers you must peal off but have the sweetest nectar when you chew the juice from them, no bigger than a rather small grape, but so fine.  On down the road I soon came to the second cattle pen, made right in the road this time, the muddy track going around it next to the brush of the downside.  Then the road jacked to the right and down some more, but now I was on the edge of a great jungle canyon and needed to take a careful look at all this.  I still wasn't sure what the day was about, how this fit into my plan, or what I could make of it all.  I could see the road way down below and knew I didn't want to go down yet. But I walked a few paces and my mind was taken off questions when I spotted a very large bush, covered in wild eggplant.  So I took a cloth from my pocket, and picked many and tied them in a bundle and fastened this to my belt for the moment.  Then I walked a little ways back to the corner of the road and gave great thought to the matter.  In this great canyon there were a couple islands of jungle if one looked carefully so crossing it directly was no small matter, and I knew the steam would soon on knock the energy out of me and I had tools to carry.  On the downside of the far canyon wall I could see a mud trail, very steep but much eroded or used.  Near to me was an old abandoned terrace for rice.  Now many years gone unkept.  But up to my left, sureal, like some magic landing place, was a velvet of the most wonderful green cleared in the middle of a jungle so grand that my eyes could not believe that people, that humans like myself, had once been living in such a fantastic place.  The view, almost like a shock, because it just did not fit, grasped my mind and eye with intensity.  I pulled the small knife and began clearing vines in the trail that the water buffalo had gone up.  Feet wet from the mud, back wet from above and now vines in the face, I cleared them best I could and pushed it all away with my arms and made it to the other side, now off the road and on to a very old jungle trail, packed hard except where the hollow left the water for the animals to churn it up.  The old village site lay nestled up on the other side of the top end of the canyon and I could hear the water pouring down the creek from all the springs in all the hidings of the trees.  But I had not gotten very far when I spotted the big pods on top of a tree, that we often used for chopping into meat to make a meat cake.  So I dropped all my tools again, took my small knife and headed down into the bamboo to find one piece that was long and skinny and a hook on one end.  Soon found I then hefted this very long pole up into the top of the tree and pulled down a couple of pods.  I tied them together with a small vine on the trail, one of those super strong ones which always caught my feet, and hung the arm long flat pods over my shoulder, hefted my tools and was soon climbing higher into the canyon. The trail wove through fantastic forest of bamboo and large trees, never cut by any Akha.  Matter of fact I could see no fields any where which I looked, only large trees.  I came into a dark turn in the trail and there was a creek full of stones that I made it across, not so big, wet, fed by a spring.  A very neat trench, very new, a hand width wide, was cut from the spring and went down the trail.  It was leaking, so not even seeing yet where it went, I had compassion on what I figured was someone moving water for a small planting of some sort, so I patched the little water sluice and then headed down the trail further.  Then I saw that the water sluice dumped the water into a carefully split bamboo that was now a pipe for this water and walking further I saw signs of much activity right there were I was, surprisingly lacking a human sitting stone still there watching me through all this.  And then I came to see that there was a big hole dug under the trail, someone persuing an animal, and that the water was dropped onto another split piece of bamboo and directed into the hole to chase the animal out.  I could hear it falling like in a cave as it ran into the hole deeper but no trace of animal come or gone.  A hoe handle stood against the bamboo, freshly made, but no hoe blade.  A huge tailing of dirt, spread out below the venture.  Then I spotted on the side of the trail an old bamboo hand made box what the Akha use in their huts. Not left by this worker, but just sticking out from under some leaves.  I carried it some ways.  On along the trail I went, more forest, great emerald leaves on huge stems sprouted all along the trail, towering over me and showering me with water when I bumped them.  I crawled on through this like a field of corn, and slowly ended up in the bottom of the canyon.  The land was full of drug runners and the trail was covered with fresh boot marks, the hairs on my neck not raised yet, my mind on other things.  The villagers told me they would cut my throat, said it with their hands first, drawing them across their throats as they stuck out their tongues, and true, many corpses were seen up here by the Akha women.  What amazed me is that they came up here, but that was another tale.  Anyway, I was on the other side of the event from terror, so kept on, expecting at any moment for the leaves to give way to guns and small dark skinned faces with quick eyes from the Burma side.  There were many groups running drugs from Burma to the Thai side here, all under the big guns.  Sometimes you could hear other people here too.  Some people were here only to kill them.  No one was sure who was who.  I wondered how many were squatted close to the trail watching me walk by meters away, the tracks still fresh, not washed by rain.  I almost expected to get slapped by a bullet as well, figuring that there were worse and more noisy places to watch your blood run in the spring than here, cold but warm, in the hands of the jungle.  Occasionally I could hear the tink, tink, tink of a single gunner, then suddenly came in a heavy dmm thack, dmm thack, dmm thack of a heavy gun homing in on a target higher above me on the grass covered ridge.  But today was silent.  Never the less, I felt not reassured just because my neck hairs were not bristling, but it was only myself and the trail, steep down to the right, steep up to the left, and not much anywhere or energy to dodge. 

Finally I made it into the very bottom creek of the canyon, but now was so high up that the water was small.  I looked for the trail to come clearly out of the creek, but it did not. It dissolved, as though blurred by vision. So I went left after leaving the creek and was soon in lush bananas and huge flower bushes, so massive and their many soft branches nearly impenetrable.  I was on the left side of the village clearing suddenly not on the right side where I wanted to be, and I did not realize I was already this high up, but thought I was still far below the village.  One look at the thousands of flower branches towering above me was enough to dishearted me, waterlogged clothes, and a bit hungry by now.  No trail. I tried not to think about what I saw, and began working my way through all these black arms beneath the great leaves, felty leaves, that wanted to cling to me when I touched them.  Some branches I had to only cut or I could not go on, as they were so long as impossible to move aside.  Despite all the branches, it was as if the space was clear down there below the leaves, and then I saw them.  Standing on these flat  earthen benches, like prisoners of time on a vigil, silent, not speaking, watching me before I had spotted them, towering above me, were the posts of Akha houses.  Their tops each carved with a notch or a peg, in distance from each other, but still in line, their arms out to each other with the branches of the flowers, silent, but all in hand, bodies charred, termite tunnels built up their legs, and then the sound of wheeping came to me.  I suddenly pictured the old man telling how when the army had moved them from this place they had wept so sore, moving his hands across his old and wrinkled face as he sat in what was now the village, a lowland hole, more like a prison without walls.  The cavern of the flower arms from post to post, showed the red earth of each clearing for each hut, the soil not collapsed or eroded, more than a hundred years of carefully notched mountain and not so much as one collapse that could be seen so often on the hastily built motor roads of the asian wishful empire.  The flower velvet leaves and branches were too thick to spot any trail so underneath them I found my way to the back of the bench, stuck my knife deep in the earth and pulled myself and all I had up to the next bench, noting the incredible size of this village.  The Akha told me that always someone had lived here, someone came, someone left, but this village never sat empty and I could see why.  Poking my head above the clinging velvet leaves I could see for quite forever below, but know also that I was very deeply in the forest.  I was surrounded by forest, the bananas were the only buffers, and anyone would have a hard time getting here silently or quickly.  The trees so tall one could feel like the whole village was in a well of sorts.  Bench after bench of crawling, I could still spot no trail, no memory of how the huts had talked with one another.  I knew it would not be my last trip to this mountain kingdom.  Save for the charred skin, the posts had not shrunken in size, not round, but flat, as the Akha split the wood.  I could look at all the notches for the cross members and spot the whole Akha house, knowing where what and all had been, and that the total use of wood was small, the bamboo above the ground not rotting, only the grass on the roofs being changed every couple of years.  Huts inside laquered from fires, I imagined that I was crouched below the floors, the thunder of children's feet above, holding my finger to my lips, hoping the pigs and horses would keep quiet, the dog still asleep on the porch, the mother calling one of her sons to come and help with the rice barn.  Every sound was eaten by the forest, the banana leaves rolling back and forth slowly, like great flat and green eyes.  The soil was asleep, not now polished by feet, but I could see that the Akha lived with here, not in here, this place in the forest. The forest was full of fruits and nuts, was so cool for the animals and in many places not overgrown like the abandoned village was now.  The burned skin on the posts made me wonder if the village wasn't burnt, what was left behind, or how many years it stood, huts, roofs, before it was burned.  Who burned it?  I had seen other abandoned villages due to forced army moves, they never called it that, but the huts stood for many years.  Vines and all the fruit and flowers the Akha had planted growing without one kind hand or voice to tend to them and the laughter and gleeful shouts of all the children gone so far away.

The wind blew, but not like it does when there are people, more in a slow sad chant from this mighty place, an Eden of Akha Kings, a proud people, not needing or asking anything from anyone but to be left alone.  No phones, planes, motorcycles, roads, only trails, the clean clear water of the creek strong as the light in a diamond of liquid.  I drank deeply, afraid of nothing, the cold water running down my chest, shirt and into me.  As I plunged my hand into the creek the stones were cold, reminding me that the water was cold, clear and real, so far it seemed from the steam of the jungle trail.  But my thoughts pulled back to the village clearing and I asked myself how anyone could want to leave from this place, and what anyone at the prison village now had possibly gained in all the promises that the army had made them?  Nothing I could see, only being turned into consumers for some, and paupers for others.  The chickens, pigs, and water buffalo died.  So did the people.  The mountain cool, had no fever for them before, no fever for the animals either.  Least they talked that they had it much more often now. 

Everywhere I looked the water dripped off the leaves of every variety around me, I shoved my hand to move the next batch of flowers away and make it past a post and up the next embankment and filled my hands with thorns, pushing one under my finger nail.  I looked, was only a stub now, would have to wait till later to take it out, feeling the poison aready biting my flesh.  I cut my way on, hoisted my tools up, and suddenly was on a well worn tiny narrow trail full of fresh boot marks of tiny feet, there above the village.  I looked back, one of my pods was gone.  I now had four.  I contemplated going back for it but refused to enter that mass of towering flowers again, even though now it all looked distant and knee deep and easy.  Ah, how different life looks when you are top.

But now I had the most fantastic of views and wondered if this was not the throne site, vast greens and towering trees to all sides and down below the tops of trees that made you feel that sure you could take flight down over all of them and stir the foggy mist that sat upon their tops.

No, I could not imagine that to move from here was anything but an act of violence of rogue people upon the articulate.  I felt like one thread must feel when it stands next to its fellows in a piece of cloth, knowing that all works together and all belong here.  In my minds eye I could see well worn bamboo items, boards, woven walls, thatch and angles in what was a village borrowed from the earth around it, all careful sounds, ones that only these items make, as they gently rot away into the soil and must be put aside for another piece on occasion.  The posts stood firm however after more than thirty years, standing in the wet soil, laughing at people who believed in machines that flew and iron, compared to their own beautiful feet there upon the mountain. Times and times again.  Like some long poem that I settled under the light next to a fire to read, this clearing, the Akha wrenched from it like a sheer wind, spoke to me all in one piece, all in one moment, as a place that all fitted tightly together, growing children, no piece of steel gear, but no piece out of place in a careful pattern of work, sound, water, leaves, air, birds swiming on wind, and always those brown colors of it all, some borrowed place agreed upon with the forest, to use, in as kind a human way as possible.  These people did not dominate the forest, they quietly lived in it, like the poetry upon the pages, like the children of the very forest, so big, yet feeding them of its hand, not asking much, and all ears to all they had to say to it and each other.  The ox bell, or the clink of two silver coins, a dash of salt, the only intruders.

It was sad when I thought that now so many people said the Akha had the poem all wrong and ripped their pages out of the book.

The earth had places in it.  Places for water to fall very great, places for wind to blow the grass, places for the sea, and places for villages, Akha villages, and though torn away, this was still a place for an Akha village and neither I nor the forest had overlooked the matter.  I knowing not nearly as well, as the forest knew it.  And all about me there was great forest, still not cut down.  All around the village.  After all, what could they possibly need trees for?  To fill the lumberyards down below? not hardly.

So I walked on out the upper trail in the evening breeze knowing that darkness was soon to be at me and I was not out of the woods yet, but I let the forest hand close back in around the village as I pulled away from it, the thinking and job not finished.  The trail I was on now was a very old one that came from Burma on one side, through the village and back into Burma again up ahead.  I was still down below the gunner on the top.  The Akha told me that sometimes the Burmese army would run the trail, and then they might take my slingshot.  But I did not have one, and a hoe was boring.  They jabber at you a long time in Burmese with questions they said.  One time the women told me they saw these two men coming, so then they hid along the trail, and while they were hiding, there on the other side of the trail, like leaf people, was a whole army of men, all crouched perfectly still, looking at them, the two walking men going by.  They had not soon gone, and the women jumped up too and got off down the trail and into the bamboo before that mystery motionless army of men stirred.

Along the trail to the right, were more posts, to guide it, and now I was in beautiful golden green tall elephant grass, blowing in a song to the wind, like slow dancers.  But the normal trail stopped, couldn't see it any more and seemed now to be muddy going off to the right instead so I followed away from what should have been the curve and went to the right and soon was in a see of grass with occasional trees and a huge number of trails going everywhere with new boot marks, all fresh, enough to have moved a thousand men through here.  Still I was in the land of all these couriers moving so many items which I did not want to encounter.  I made it across the top of these gently sloping flatlands of the mountain tops to the far ridge of grass that I would walk back down.  For these were the fields of the Akha village, beautifully level, farmed for at least a hundred years, taking no new forest, and such a sight for eyes.  For everywhere you looked, there were clouds and sky and mist and fog and rain and mountains, and all below you, your eyes feasting, I dropped my tools with a clank, mindful everyone knew I was here anyway, my boot print twice the size of theirs, and took off my hat.  The wind blew my hair as with a shout, and cooled me.  Yes, kings, they were kings these people, and this was their throne room, and the other people could not stop them being kings so they put out their eyes.

But I was still not at the top, however now a good ways from the gunner.  I headed for the last leg of trail going to the ridge, switching from this horde of trails through the grass turning everywhere, like so many secretly dodging each other, and soon cut across to the top of the long ridge that I would run down, for it was way at the bottom of this ridge, with a small patch of forest in the middle, that the Akha farmed now.  They had been content to be where they were, asked for nothing, but they were moved, made again to clear land, and thus trees were lost.  Now even that land was being taken, but one could see that the land that they had needed all along had never grown.  They had used it carefully,  so many families need only so much food, only want to walk so far, which in the past had been only a few minutes from the village and clean drinking water, now it was hours.

Some sticks and leaves made a shelter nearly torn apart by the wind and there lay a piece of salt that I quickly grabbed up and ate and a chili pepper.  I popped that in my mouth and then ate some of the tiny wild egg plants I still had with me.  The fire still smoldered.  There was wind and sky in every direction.  I could see a big village further below and one village just a tadd to my left into Burma, the grass thatch of one hut peaking out from behind the hill which hid the village from view.

The sun was biting into clouds and it would soon be below me if I didn't get going.  I still had to drop down very far and go through one big forest to reach the new fields and from the new fields I must still walk more than two hours.  It was already past six in the evening I figured.  Too tired to make my body or feet scurry, I began walking down the rolling ridge expecting to take off into the great forest when the trail hit the bird rock.  I called it the bird rock and all the Akha knew what I was talking because sometimes game birds were cleaned here, you could see the feathers, or someone hung their legs off it and had a smoke, looking far away at the sky and villages below and other mountains in the distance to the east and north.  I jumped out on this huge rock for a moment and then headed down the trail into the darkening forest.  The bird rock was called after an Akha man shot by a Lahu there many years ago, they didn't call it the bird rock to themselves.  I turned onto the trail and headed immediately into a very big very dark forest, closing over me like black lava, while I hoped for a spot of light to peer at me from the other end, but it did not, and just got darker and darker as I made my self do the best I could to dart throught these stands of trees.  The going was rough, the trail getting slippery with time and dispappearing completely.  I guided myself by spotting tiny light to right and left off the ridge through the great trees to know that I was still on the center of the ridge and not headed down into some haunting hollow that would plunge off into steep gorges from which you could not get out of quickly.

Twice I had to find my way back to the center of the ridge.  Snaking through the trees, as if a ghost, no one else there, least not talking to me, which was just as well.  Compared to the jungle, this was the woods, and not so friendly,  not to me, not to the Akha it would seem, who now had to live below it.  I went on endlessly, the sun long gone, the darkness soon to be black and only sparked a little hope when I caught the last light dimming as it fled the stands of rice fields on the sides of the lower mountains as I came out into them from such a dark wood.  The green quickly turned dark like deep water and I found a trail now west and still down.  But each time the trail had to cross some spring, it went back into the woods, because there was always woods around the routes of the springs and then I could see nothing, only listen to the water, guage the curve of what must be the trail, as trails tend to be like that, and grope on with my feet, then coming back out into a little lightness and rushing along fast as I could stir myself, knowing that I must save energy for two hours still.  Mountain working huts stood in the deep green rice now, forest above, looking quite disaproving, the bottom of the valley below, not the same valley, not the same forest, no kindness here.  I hurried on, the bamboo chafing a noise to send me on my way, but no sun to heat the sound of the ants so that it would come up to me off the trail.  Sometimes in the day I saw those ants, great troops of them, far as you could see, in great ranks, or the termites, that all snapped back and forth to each other as they marched and finaly disappeared down a hole, but this night was not friendly and this trail felt less friendly than the ones above near to the gunners.  I got on along, but soon it was hopelessly dark, only one star, clouds, all dark.  The trail sometimes made a dim light spot in a long line before me, but I had to think more what the trail might be up to than able to see it.  I could only feel it.  I dropped the long knife down off my shoulder, it no longer clanking to the hoe, and taking the handle in my right hand began feeling out the trail for every step.  Sometimes the star shone light into the holes of the water buffalo tracks which had filled with rain, so it appeared that there were white circles on the ground in front of me.  As long as I walked in this splashing sucking mud, I could know that no soft voiced water buffalo would put me wrong and went on.  But soon as the trail went hard I had to find it again with the knife, when all around me it was mostly wind swept hillside, so dark was it.  I got off the trail a time or two, soon got back on, like walking off a cliff or into a wall, but my mind dull with how far this was and how long it was going to take, crossing creeks still in the jungle, not being able to hear a thing or even see the white of the water as it crashed over the rocks.  I couldn't see the rocks either, cause it was so black, like a black hollow sucking light from fields, dropping it into the water and washing it down the mountain.  So unable to see even stepping stones or bamboo walks I had to each time cross through the water, because I could feel the water on my legs and know I was at least not stumbling into the jungle again.  The trail was hopelessly chewed up by water buffalo, horses, and rain.  Very steep in places, I falling down more than once, feeling the blade of the long knife slide into the flesh of my one hand, then planting the knife deep in the dirt to hold myself, getting back up and going along side ways one step at a time through narrow places the trail went in the dark, brush to each side, nothing but mud, no steps, and nothing to see.  I trudged on, down as it were into a swamp, no place for kings and found the village before anything else found me, covered in mud, soaking wet for some ten hours now, and knowing a little bit more about how a proud people had come to poverty.  Oppresion.

 

The Button

The button lay imbedded in the trail of red clay as I climbed the mountain.  the Akha man was saying thomething about fruit trees down in the canyon.  I stopped and picked up the button.  One side was melted along the edge.  Four holes, black plastic like what one might find on  army clothes.

My friend wanted to go into the canyon for fruit butI recomended him that we were already in the high grass and that it was only a short way to the top of the ridge from where we could catch the wind and the view.

We were close to Burma, real close.  He relented and we climbed up the increasingly over grown trail through the tall grass.  Only big trees remained this close to the border. No one wanted to get shot planting new ones and line of sight needed to remain excellent.

As we crested the ridge the wind and the spectacular view hit me and I let out an exclamation in Akha for that.  The man showed concern and I turned to my left just in time to see a small Burmese army mountain fortress some hundred meters to the left on the ridge.

They would want long conversation about what we were doing, where we were going and we weren’t interested in light conversation so we turned right and went down the ridge that way.

Ooh Loh Akha used to live right there on the Burma side of the ridge .  My friend used to live on the south slope and they all farmed together on the Burma side.  Rice, corn, greens, peanuts, opium for their own use and so forth.  22 years at that spot.  They had lots of wealth when they lived there.  Wealth of the eyes if nothing else.

The view below was spectacular.  All mountains, all of Burma was mountains one would think.  Beautiful jungle.  Then below I could see the road that wandered from the south west towards Tachilek which is across from Maesai at the bridge border with Thailand.  But that was far to the north and here all I could see was the road and one tin roof.  The tin roof marked the building that was a road stop, a temple was there and people could get water.  Even from this great distance one could tell the road was a mess to travel in the rainy season.

The Burmese and the Thai armies swapped control of the hill tops here.  The Thais used to be over on the right but went below and now the Burmese held the left hill.

The armies took a cow or two when they wandered from the village.  But then the armies made them move below.  Armies were a problem for the Akha.  Girls had gotten raped and the Ooh Loh Akha village broke up and scattered over the rape of two girls by soldiers.  I had long heard of these rumors but only now first hand from a villager.  For these reasons Akha women only went out to farm in groups, never alone or in two or threes.

My friend said he once owned a very nice five shot revolver that he bought.  He bought and sold cows and water buffalo, and carried the gun with him on the trail so he wouldn’t be robbed of the stock or the money.  But a Thai policeman caught him.  He got to go before the matter was settled so he gave the gun away.  The policeman was still after him for some reason and so he moved his family to Burma for five years.  He stayed there with the Thai Yai’s for five years.  The Thai Yais’s were often in their village area.  But the “Aba” or Wa were growing stronger and stronger with help from the Burmese and fighting increased year to year.

The Aba had the Akha men cary munitions and their wounded soldiers. The Akha would pack the wounded soldiers ten at a time but sometimes they got shot at and even the wounded they carried were killed and so they would throw them off in the bush, pick up the newly wounded and carry them down the mountain.   In the end the Meachum, as the Akha call the Thais, dug in near their village.  I don’t know how long they were there from what he said but the men visited my friend regularly and the kids all got to know them.  One was a teacher in his late forties, and two were doctors. They were polite and the children liked and felt for them.  They didn’t like the “dirty Aba” who were known to eat human flesh.

But one morning the Aba over ran the Meachum trenches near the village and so the villagers watched as the Aba shot the Meachum soldiers from very close range trench after trench.  When the assault was over some three hundred Meachum soldiers were dead, the last of the band.  Their three friends were mortally wounded.  The Akha carried them back to the village and cared for them but they died.  The chhidlren were very sad to see the kind men die.

When his famiily had been living there five years they moved back to the mountain village near their present location.  Now the Thai government wanted the mountains for forest preserve and water shed.

The Akha were loosing a battle of Thai dis-information.  The Akha man showed me where they had farmed, how much land they farmed.  He laughed at the Thais trying to plant one tree at a time.  He said you had to cut all of one section, turn the soil one time and then it would all grow up huge at one time, a full forest.

But the Thais accused the Akha of deforestation.  This was hardly the truth.  The Akha could only physically farm so much land.  They formed one section for five years and then let it grow over for ten years.   There were deep forests, that had no undergrowth.  Fruit trees were there and that is where they ran cattle and pigs.  The jungle forest was immense, the farmed faces relatively small.

Without the forest there would be no animals to hunt.  The Akha, while farming some of the mountains, had immense knowledge of all of it.

But as we descended the ridge past an old Akha cemetary we dropped off into the canyons and discovered we were a few days late.  The fruit which used to be part of their backyard had all dropped to the ground, thumb thick dark blue fruit with a long pit inside.  Not a plum, something different.  We did find red figs which grew directly out of the trunk of the tree, a trait of many fruits in this part of the world.

We headed back down the moutnains through the old village site of a Lahu village too.  They had lots of cattle here, in a nice m eadow, but now they were gone, forced to move to the road below where they mostly came apart, spent most of their time smoking opium, no view and now wind, prisoners in the bottom swamp as it were, previously a proud mountain people.  They used to have fifteen houses here. But now their only friend was fever it seemed.  They lived off the Akha for work and food.  I had met them, some of them old gallant men and women, so I knew that the stories  must have been true, because I had seem them rejoice and dance to plant the rice for the Akha and they did it as old hands, hefting the gauh cheh’s, the long planting sticks, like old friends.  (A gauh cheh was a small metal cressent blade spade that had a very long handle maybe twelve feet long or longer and when they shoved the blade in the ground they would use the “wag” of the top heavy end to help toss the soil out of the cut)

We were soon down to the old village site of my friend.  Another beautiful spot and he pointed out where his house had stood for so many years.  Only plants and flowers there now.  But most of all it was a private place.  Part of the life of these people.

Everything grew well and was good here before but the Thais had forced the Akha to move into low lands, the Akha were mountain people and in the lowlands only sicness, death and poverty found them.

The Thai government plan seemed to be the displacement and total assimilation of the Akha into Thai society, all without their permission of course.  And the Akha would take the blame for all the ignorant blunders in the process.

 

 

22 July 99             

The Baby

 (Pooh Seeh’s Daughter)

The old man was funny.  He had this way of talking in a big way, a booming voice and lots of gestures and these bushy eyebrows that got out there before he did.  If you put your hands over your eyes and stuck your fingers out straight everyone knew who you were talking about.  But he was really good hearted and everywhere he went he had the baby with him.  In my mind’s eye I could always picture him at the fence next to his hut, standing there with either a black and white plaid cloth baby wrap holding the baby to his back or the baby in his arms, always talking to her.

And she was so expressive, this tiny face, full of character already, looking this way and that, making some inquisitive look.

She was lucky because she was seldom sick, and had grandfather’s constant care and attention and that of half of all the young people in the village.  Her father worked in the mountain fields and as life sometimes has it, because of differences her mother had left and gotten married to another man in another village.

In the Akha way, children were adults it appeared as soon as they were born.  It was not very Akha to strike a child and children were allowed to have much of their own say very early on.  As with disputes between themselves, parents made gestures of striking with a switch or spoke of striking but didn’t actually do it.  I had watched this many times.  A child having a tantrum and laying in the road.  Her mother tried to get her to stand and walk on home, but she would not.  And so the mother went and got a big switch, big enough to give any child in America serious concern, but then when she came to the child she would wave it and then tap it on the feet, on the back in dramatic gestures of striking.  Then having distracted the child sufficiently she grabbed her arm and led her on home.

As I think of it, I can not remember one time seeing an Akha parent striking a child by hand or with a stick, not in any more than a gesturing kind of way.  The Akha preferred to yell, to be loud, but seemed to have the most incredible patience for their children. And then of course they were always talking, talking about everything, ad that included talking about what the child was doing at that moment.  The others would all chide in, “Now see, momma’s gonna beat you with a stick”.  She never did, but it was all in the talk.  I had heard the young women say that a good husband wouldn’t strike his wife or kids.  I had only seen one Akha strike his wife, and that appeared to be in a humiliating way, not by blows.  But it did serve to humiliate her un-necessarily and she paid him back by running away and not coming back, for which all the villagers chided him.

The small children however seemed to strike each other quite a lot and there was the immediate sense of getting a big stick, bigger than you were and going for pay back, and then all the other kids told the object of wrath, which way to run around the hut to get it on home. But at some age they appeared to outgrow this and I seldom saw the older boys get into any kind of dispute.

There was a time when young men were allowed to fight over a girl, but it was more or less a tradition, and they could say very angry bad things by right, but once again it was considered illegal to actually strike.  All part of getting along for centuries it would seem.

The baby was at the gate when I left, well fed and following my every move.

 

Now That Is A Grub!

I have no idea how she knew it was up there.  We were way out in the “Jungle” (see note).  Now the Jungle was like going out to a place that was say part of your house, not all that different than running your hands through your hair.  I had gotten down the trail a ways because I saw the trail as something to walk down, while she was busy viewing what she could do with this knife she had while relating to all that was around her.  Knives were like devices for exploring, no harm intended to the plants. Plants were like life pods that you opened, borrowed, cut for a piece and ate.  Predestined meals.  Anyway, I heard this “wack, wack” sound of that knife and Akha Mah was three quarters buried in the brush of life, dragging on this great bamboo stalk till it toppled and then politely asked me if I would grab the tip and pull it out of the thicket onto the trail.

I thought she was looking for those tiny little bamboo grubs. But instead she wacked away at the top of the bamboo stalk that had still been growing, grabbing it dispite the fact that it was covered in brown hair which were these wonderful incredibly fine slivers called “jah saw”, just like sand they were really great for covering the forearm and in between the fingers before they ‘changed’ from sand to micro thorns like what you might find on cactus apples. (hey, I remember stuffing a bunch of those in my pocket during a ‘raiding party’ in the dark of southern California when I was a kid. Boy, I thought I was really hauling home some fruit till I went to dig them out of my pocket and looked at my hands)

Anyway, with total apparent indifference that belied her precision, she wacked off the external layer of the tip of the large bamboo stalk to show me, completely revealed now, the compartment in which there was a very large grub.  Now this was a GRUB.  It had a black embony head and a tough skin of rinkles on a fat cream yellow body that wsa bigger than a bricklayer’s thumb.  Serious stuff.  She popped it out with a flick of the blade onto the trail and said that when they grew completely tired of bamboo that they jumped out and dug a hole in the ground and later became a huge butterfly.  But she was taking this one back to the village for grandma. She did, and it sat in a bowl, looking for the corner door, till grandma came but with all the people in the cooking hut, someone popped that grub, I mean took it completely out of the bowl and it was gone.  Poor grandma.

But there were some of those bamboo grubs, the small white ones.  My friend wacked down another stalk she spotted and I don’t know how she did that, but she knew and she popped all the compartments open like she could have shaved a man with that knife from a distance, sort of laughing as she went along, and came to this one grub.  One grub? Where were all the grubs?  She looked again.  Then she found this tiny hole with black around it and she told me this tiny green snake had gone in that hole and eaten all the grubs but that one.  Ah, we were too late.  But then I took her word for it because last time I saw a snake it was cooking itself in a stump because it had a nasty habit of being in the rice field and wanting to bite hands, so the Akha got the stump real hot, then put it on top of the stump for a sky bird to eat, which it did.  And next thing I knew that green viper was jumping out of a dream that this old Akha spirit woman was havin, so I stayed way clear when she started tellin about what snakes were up to.  I think she could see these invisible trails they left.

I looked in this hole in the clay bank.  Shouldn’t do that she said, there is a snake lives in there comin and goin.  The hole was dead end but I took her word for it because when I took a small stick and pushed it in the hole, the stick went through the dirt and kept going, so maybe there was even a staircase in there, wasn’t sure.  Leave it for now.  Not a big hole, just about small tomato big was all.

Now course there was these big hairy holes like a wind gypsy spun them with down and if you dug down in there it had this silk thing like a laundry shute and at the bottom was this really big hurkin spider the size of a thimble before you added on the legs.  It had really big hairs on it and went hoppin down through the field.

Well, while your diggin around, never know what you might find. Now there is this tiny vine, grows in the rice.  Sort of like an ‘earth joke’ because when you dig down in, there is this really huge hairy tuber down in there sometimes as big as a melon, and all these hairs are like a really thick stubble on an old man’s chin, and when you pop it out of the hole you don’t have to give it but the slightest poke, really I think it just hops on its own between blinks and off it goes down the hill, the stubble like ‘anti-lock NO brake system’ same as the ones melons have, and it don’t stop for nothing but goes leapin and jackin way up off the ground way on down the hill faster than you could run or catch it or crash yourself, all the way into the bottoms of brush where you can’t see it no more.  Hey, I tried to get a big stone to roll like that, lots of times in kid life and I always had to go down there half way and kick start that damn stone again.  God I hate that.  But not these earth jokes, they jump outa that hole and go hard set for the bottoms all on their own.

Well Akha Mah showed me where the corn was gettin high, some had three ears on one stalk, she was really proud of them, good seeds she said.  We made it to the spring.  Drank long and cold from the water, she told me the Lahu put a dead dog in it way up there somewhere, but I think that was before.  And never let a Lahu know you have a melon patch, gotta hide it, cause they’ll bloody steal them all, hey I knew that one for true, cause they took my melons and next thing I saw my whole melon family in the market headed off in some Thai woman’s slave train. But hey, they were really good dancers with rice plantin sticks so what the heck.

I even forgot where we were goin that day, oh yeah, it was up on the ridge to the border, but I met this Akha guy huntin and Akha Mah, she said really bad things happened up there at the border in the trees so she took off down one trail and me I headed up into the forest and it was all plumb dark time I got my dogs on home to the village. It rained and the pucker brush was kneck high and bein soaked wasn’t the word for it.  Course I didn’t notice that because the sky was gettin dark and I couldn’t see the trail, cause the brush was that thick, lots of the trail was washed out, so I was steppin in these narrow ruts, the only sound that came out was the poppin of my knees as I kept from pickin up speed.  And it was a long time gettin to the village from the time I could first see it.

 

(Note:  The Akha did not view the earth from the outside it would appear but

more seemed to see themselves as creatures exuded from its surface as if

they were attatched to an external womb by an invisible cord.  They did

not appear to see the earth as its components that they walked on, named

and interacted with, but more as if they were walking on the skin of

what bore them, the latest scene current before them in a show that

their ancestors had lived as part of a great connected distance in the

past.  It was a very different way of viewing the earth, what it was and

what they were as individuals, and how it was all sewn together.)

 

 

 

 

End

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Copyright 2004, by Matthew McDaniel