Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter 18: Environmental Theology


The Akha life system is best described as an environmental theology.

They belive in good and evil. That there are life forms, spirit forms, in the world and that they are not all good.

They also believe in analogy.

So when they say that there is an evil spirit in the water, what do they mean?

Is this a method of analogy in their culture?

Do they mean that children who go to water, to the creek, to the pond, and drown, are drowned by the water, or in that evil event, are drowned by the spirit in the water that takes the lives of children without permission, without guilt or shame?

In the Akha world view, do the children learn that all evil, all tragedy that happens to you in this world, a less than perfect world, that gives reason for sorrow, is caused by evil as in an evil source? What is evil embodied in? Acid? In what will happen if acid gets in your eyes? Is that evil? Would a world without evil be safe? Will the heaven of the Christians be safe, or can acid fall off the shelf and splash one’s eyes in heaven?


Can you drown in heaven?


What ever the case may be, the Akha give structure to evil events, to tragedy, and make no separation as we do in the west. An axe chops your foot. Is it evil or not, well the Akha would consider that it is only evil, it sure is not good, and that forces were at work to make that happen, spirits, emotion, the human heart and events. The Akha don’t consider in all cases that the axe just went into the foot for no reason, that humans had no role in that, that spirits had no role in that.


Now there is one sense in Akha where they say that spirits were there, they did something bad, like injure a human and then there are those cases where they say that because of thus and so or these situations and attitudes in a person’s life, the axe went into their foot. A sign, an omen, a payback, a warning, a justice or another person doing evil to them.


There are rules. If you interact with the forest and you don’t obey the rules the spirits, the forest, will hurt you. No duh.


If you don’t do what you are suppose to, if you do not take care of grand mother and grand father who are waiting for you always in your fields, if you do not pay them respect, then your rice crop will fail and you will die. No duh.


No amount of chemicals or human stupidity or greed or cleverness can outsmart God, and if you break the rules, you will die. No duh.


Try fixing that one some other way.


The Akha believe that there are two things. Them. And the world around them, both seen and unseen, that they came out of it, but they will never be separated from it after that. That they will effect the world and they will die and they will go into the spirit world and in the spirit world there is God’s land where God is and where all their relatives before them went, to God’s land, those who made it that far.


God, what he has created, all that is, there is no separation between the Akha and that, it is not make believe, it is real, you and the grasshopper and the grasshopper is not just a bug to be stomped on but if you piss him off he will call all his friends and they will eat all your rice and you will die because you are a stupid selfish disrespecting asshole who thinks that because your foot is heavy you should stomp it down on the smaller head of the grasshopper so that he died. Someone saw it, someone told it, maybe the grasshopper after he was dead, to all the other grasshoppers.


No, you go and talk to the grasshopper, and you help him to be comfortable and to fall asleep under a tree, and you carefully pull his eyelids down over his eyes ever so softly and he becomes heavy and falls asleep and then you whisper in his ear as he sleeps to bless him and to send him with all his friends away to another more happy place and eat something else there.


But you don’t kill him, and you don’t spray shit in his eyes and in his lungs and you don’t do mean things to him. Cause he will talk about it and you will die.


No duh.


Environmental Issues

The Akha were often accused of degrading the environment.  I discovered once again that this was a deception.  That is not to say that the Akha never recklessly cut down a tree.  But much destruction came when the army forced villages to move and told the Akha to clear new areas, for which the Akha also got the blame. No mention is made of massive logging, where all the lumber in the lumber lots come from, etc.  Crop rotation, with the clearing of the old plots every four years or so, does not damage the forest surrounding it.  Villages at one location take many years of work and investment to get rice terraces built, collecting run off from mountain farming, building the soil.  The Akha say it takes 50 years to establish a village.  True to their word, in the locations where there are older villages there is less hillside farming and much more use of rice terraces, which once built, are much less work than hillside rice farming.  In consideration of Akha problems, few take the time to find out what is really going on and what might be the solution to it.


Forestry and Pine:

One of the reasons that the forestry department had a hard time gaining any trust from the hilltribe is that their idea of forestry was land planted full of trees by themselves, not land where trees grew naturally.  As well, in areas they reforested, they did so in this same planted fashion, rows of trees, rather than just letting the land come back as the Akha would do. Growing a park for Thai people was what the Akha perceived, not any true forestry effort.  And so often forestry was just out to take THEIR land, not protect trees.  Planting pine made no sense to the Akha at all, as it was not a native specie and dried out the soil, drove away animal species.







Have a comment or question? Like to know more? Send me an email at akha@akha.org
Copyright 2004, by Matthew McDaniel