Akha Chronicles
Book 2: Maesai
Chapter 9: The Akha

 

Once again, I would like to note that there is much editing and additional information that is needed below.

 

The Akha

     Commenting on some definition of the Akha or what it means to be Akha is no small task. I hardly think that this chapter comes close to saying it all, but only a few musings about the Akha. Maybe in this entire book I form some impressions. But much of the Akha, what it means to be Akha, and Akha life remains to me a mystery, a beautiful mystery. I much appreciate what I can see.

     These are the lives of the Akha as I have come to know them.  There is not enough time to write down all that they know and what is being lost. Land, culture, language, traditions. There is not enough time to write down all the stories and memories about the Akha. And there is not enough time to comment on all the good people who have passed on. But maybe in some small way, all that is written down here will cause someone to think about how important the Akha are, and do something to help protect them and their way of life. I in no way support the US Drug War. I in no way think that missionaries and the teachings of Jesus Christ are related.

 

Discriptions of things within Akha life, culture and experience

It took me years to get out to all the villages.  I would have done it in much less time but for years I had only a motorbike and that is very tiring.  I got to many more villages once I got a truck. Many more in one day.  Fuel was expensive and then went way up, nearly double in 2000.  So it took a bigger part of my budget even though it was still priority number one.

The villages were in  many different locations, very different roads, the other towns close to the village all having some effecting personality.  The geography could be very different, the Akha used what was close to them, to make their lives as good as possible.  Each was faced with different difficulties and had come to their current spot for different reasons, under different conditions.  Many had fled war in Burma, others had been close to the border then burned out by either the Thai army or a raiding party from the other side.  Some had just plain been told to leave, or the first location in Thailand got too full.  Whatever the reason, many villages had migrated deeper into Thailand.

They were all related, a very tight network and though scattered about the mountains they traveled endlessly back and forth to see each other, to communicate, to go to funerals, weddings, to date women from the other villages, looking for a wife.

The roads were almost always bad, I said that if the road wasn't horrible it couldn't be an Akha road.

In years of late some roads had gotten patches of concrete on them in the worst locations.

The Haen Taek region had gotten the most concrete and the army said that was because of all the yah bah sales flowing through the district and into the Ampur's office. True, concrete was not cheap.

Because of the Akha style of a gable hut roof with two crossing rafters on their top end one could pick out their villages from a long ways away, knowing it wasn't a Lahu or Lisaw village. 

Many villages now have an ugly grotesque church now placed in some domineering location in the village.  Just by the arrogant placement you could get the feeling that another village had been steam rolled.

If you came in the day time often the village was very empty, only one person to watch each house and they didn't even appear if it was hot.

Evenings were the best time to visit any village just before it got dark by about an hour, when everyone came back from the fields, but of course one couldn't visit all the villages at this time of day.  Due to security reasons, the villagers being afraid or asleep already I seldom went into a village after dark unless they had asked me to, told me it was alright or needed something quickly.  Many times under such terms I had ended up in villages around 1am or 2 am because it was the only time I had left in the day and then I dropped off whatever it was I had and didn't get home till 3 or 4 in the morning.

Often I wanted to stay the night and they wanted me to but I had some other village to be to in the morning so I would leave anyway to be closer to the other location, sometimes sleeping in the truck.  This was always very hard because if they knew me they wanted me to stay and talk and share stories as well as listen to their own.

Each village had problems from mild to serious and I tried to get a grip on what these problems were and what caused them, how they could be resolved.  There were problems with police, forestry, army, Thai business men, drug runners, unpaid wages, failed crops, not enough land to farm, water rights, herbicides, a large number of illnesses, shortage of food, vaccine damaged children and the list went on.

I did my best to listen, to spread a little cheer and hope as I went and find whatever resources I could find to come back and help. 

It all told me the story about a people and the very hard life they faced, not because they were poor or lived in the mountains or were mostly farmers, but because of the situations that were not natural, that other people insisted on exploiting them with.  There were common small problems of their own making, such as family problems, but this was another matter by comparison.

Many many of the villages had been split by Christian missioaries bent on a very western kind of prosyletizing.  Since villages were just large family units, many brothers and uncles, this was splitting up family units, rather laughable when you think of how much Christians in america pride themselves on talking about family values.  Course they never meant that for the indigenous who wanted to be free of their system of rule.

 

The Akha

A Note

Many times it feels rather difficult to talk about the Akha to westerners, because when we work with the Akha we feel that culture is important, that it has great value and worth to the individual, the village, that it is very understandable and working together for the benefit of all.  Culture is something that makes sense and you do your best to protect it.  Some people fail and their cultures are not around any more.  But to most westerners culture is some kind of non sense that you take pictures of.  Being western is considered to be the highest point of education and advancement and therefore it renders all other lesser cultures quite pointless.  A westerner might seldom admit that not having a similar culture to that of the Akha is of any loss at all.  So from this standpoint, it only makes the look into the society of the people a curiosity.  An assumption is made affore hand that their culture, their knowledge, their view of the world, as not being western is useless.  This is reinforced by consumer tourism and people like Lonely Planet.

 

On the other hand

Maybe we will have to bring up at some point what the Akha say about westerners. It is not too flattering. “Westerners don’t bathe. They have sex in other people’s houses. They eat more than their share of food at the table. They think THEIR money is way important. They kiss and fondle each other in public. They take pictures without permission.”

 

Who are the Akha?

By Mooh Jurh.

Occasionally we may see the Akha people in their colorful dress appearing in tourist guide booklets and sometimes we may see them on national tv programmes.  If we travel onlong the mountain ranges of Chiangrai province in Northern Thailand we may see them in their villages and if we happen to witness one of their feast such as the new year or the swing festival we will see them dressed in their finest.

Who are these people and from where do they come?

If we try to trace back in their history based on their oral traditions their native place is Mongolia like many other asiatic peoples.  Later due to various situations such as war, they migrated down with possible influence from Tibet and later ended up in Yunan province of southwestern China.  Here they could form their religious texts in a proper way and settle down with their own laws and regulations.  From this region they borrowed from Chinese influence and formed their own calendar.  Their civilization begins to shape quite apparently in this region.

If we look at their geneological charts we can say that their civilization appears to have started later than the Chinese because there are about 150 generations in the Chinese charts while only about 70 generations in the Akha geneological charts.  From these charts we can tell that the Akha civilization started some 1500 years ago at a minimum.

According to the oral traditons the first 11 ancestors or generations belonged to the spirit world when in the old days the spirits and human beings stayed under the same roof, born from the same parents.  Later due to some disagreement between spirit and human being they parted company and the spirits agreed that they would stay in the forest and the humans would live in villages.  The humans would work in the day time and the spirits would work at night.  Although the spirits could see the human beings the humans could not see the spirits any more except certain individuals with the power to do so.

Some people call these myths, and others say not.  Certainly similar situations can be found in traditional western religious texts highly subscribed to by many people today.

Later some of the Akha migrated into Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and even Cambodia.  Today we see the Akha people spreading into these countries.  Most of them still remain in China and unluckily, from their language mixing up with the Chinese it is increasingly hard to understand for the southern Akha.

Some people claim that the Hani are related to the Akha because they share some of the same language but many Akha declare not, that they are distinct groups, for which there is quite some amount of evidence.

The Akha people are a simple living and quiet people by nature and would like to stay peacefully without mixing in with other tribes.  They are seldom found by the governor of a place to involve themselves in rioting or revolting over land rights or anything else.

But today the Akha are being blamed by higher authorities for trading drugs and making use of them in some countries.  In some places they are being threatened not to be granted with a national identity card unless they can prove that they have totally withdrawn from their linking with drugs.  It is true that they are to blame to some degree but not all the Akhas are doing in this fashion and as well many other tribes and races have even greater and higher organization in the drug trafficing business.

Some Akha's smoke opium as a mountain pharmaceutical, but when you see their very hard mountain life style you may understand why it is a pain killer for the very hard work they do and the very hard difficulties they live under.  Crop substitution programs, initiated and insisted on by the west where drug consumption is very high, didn't really substitute anything.  Impoverished families now send their daughters to town where they may become prostitutes to help pay for food, land is increasingly being taken away not for reforestation but for villas, and rather than the slow process of smoking opium where one might get caught many people have opted to smoke heroin and inject it as well, increasing the transmission of disease.  It is highly unlikely that the American Super Cops thought of this one, nor care, just as long as opium is not cultivated.  Similar policies have met with disastrous failure in places like Columbia as well, while drug shipping into the west has gotten more professional and increased in quantity.

Although you can find the DEA in Thailand you will be hard pressed to find any American Government money assisting the Akha with alternatives to increased poverty.

In some countries the Akha have no level of security.  Border guards, police and army rape Akha girls at their convenience.

Rather than helping the villagers government and insurgent troops enter the villages and steal the domestic animals, rice and take men for porters.  The raping of Akha women is quite easy to document.  People who resist are killed in many cases depending on what country it may occur in.  So the Akha are left not knowing who to approach for their security.  In some countries the missionaries take wholesale advantage of these extreme conditions, teach the Akha that all they are, know and do is evil and that only when they will become like white evangelicals or white catholics can they become free from "darkness and bondage".  These people behave worse than criminal ambulance chasers, imposing big churches on villages, forbidding the

culture, the dance the songs and the traditions, splitting villages of large extended families with religious disinformation that their home churches would be shocked to see.  Those of the Akha who help in this practice are handsomely rewarded by these missionaries for helping to do these evil events which further fragment and marginalize a culture that needs friends, not opportunistic predators in the name of the "gospel". (for more documentation and information on these human rights abuses by missionaries go to our page on this subject) Huge sums of money are spent on church buildings to claim a village for this or that denomination in the same competitive fashion as churches are built in the west and the villages still remain impoverished.

Money that could have been used to buy them farming tools, farming land, seeds, build a clinic and so forth is spent to meet the western agenda of these mission people instead.  To the Akha this is not the "good news".  How could it be?

The Akha seek to get a secure life without interference from the outside world.  Running and hiding, dodging immigration, the police, insurgent groups and so forth much of thier life is spent in a kind of hiding from the world that they are not asking for.

For those who have ended up in town and have gotten a better life by some definitions, they are always craving to share equally in the life that they see around them.  Some of them have sent their children to University and hopefully some of these people can gain a better life and help their own people with security.

Due to modernization many defects are popping up. One defect is prostitution.  Many of our Akha girls are earning their income through this way of business and it is a great injury for our people, especially to those who are trying to settle down in the town.  At the beginning when they could not match their life with the expenses of town's life they are forced to end up in such a way to solve the daily problems.  This is one of the chief problems that the Akha would like to solve.

At this time we need help with Identity card rights, with assistance in farming and feeding our families and protecting the land we do have use of.  Many people think that because we are not a major race and have migrated to many areas due to war that we have no right to land.  But we are people too and at one time or another everyone migrated.  We seek justice, not wealth, just room to live.  We do not burn up the worlds environment as fast as western cultures do which are far removed from the resource sources they use and can not see the results.

Many people blame us for shifting agriculture but in fact our village sites are very stable.  We rotate crops in regions but are often pushed off one land and given another.  The old land is not replanted into jungle but into a tree farm or a resort and then we are blamed for the deforestation that occured.

Particularly in Thailand, where the government and the people have a love hate relationship with the hill tribe, the economy makes millions of dollars off tourism to the hill tribe and then the hill tribe get blamed for damaging the environment, for drug trafficing and so forth.  If we got our share of the harvest from the moneys which come in from tourism we would be able to take better care of many things.

Roads which were pushed into isolated areas in the name of helping us were actually environmental disasters.  Huge quantities of erosion followed these projects.  As well electricity and schools that were brought in were said to be for our good but now as we see the nationals taking control of more and more of the land and pushing us down to nothing it appears that helping us was not the long term goal at all.  Many of the villagers are being asked to leave the mountains and go down to the town with nothing and be a slave class.  Any inspection of these lower villages will prove this out.  Tiny huts, no land to farm, slave wages for daily labor with hazardous chemicals and construction.  Many times our babies are turned away from the hospitals in conditions that they die from because of uncaring selfish and racist doctors who don't like hill tribe people and won't help people who don't have much money.  We take our babies home.  They die.  Sometimes they die while we are still in the waiting room.  Many women are sterilized while they are delivering a baby and are not told.  The nurses are very aggressive in asking a pregnant woman how many babies she has already had.  We do not think this is fair.  Population development really means population control, our population.  Population suppression when you add it all up, population decline.

And the missionaries tell us that all this has happened to us because we are not American Baptist or this or that and that we are under the power of "darkness and bondage".  These carpetbaggers should learn it is not our darkness that has put us in bondage but the darkness of other people who they don't mind being friends with at all because those people have money.

Other NGO programs also get and spend huge amounts of money for projects to help us but we usually don't see much of it at all and then the intended or stated goal is usually not met so in the end we were not helped much at all.

We need land, ID cards, clean water and a say in our future.  We may not be a nation state and we may not have many laws which protect us from the exploitation of tourism and prostitution of our young people but we are people as good and as deserving as anyone else.

 

Where they live - Map

The Akha, considered of Mongolian decent, through Tibet, split from the Hani in China possibly as long as 700 years ago even though the current geographical distance between the Akha in China and Burma, and the Hani, is not very great.

It is said that the Akha migrated so as not to give up their culture. The Hani chose to stay, and kept the land but lost much of their culture.

At any rate, subsequent wars right to recent years, with the Japanese invasion, the Burmese army invasion of Shan state, Chiang Kai Shek (sp?), the KMT and now the Shan and Wa border wars with the Burmese army have been forces that repeatedly caused the Akha to migrate away from their villages, often after their villages were burned.  This migration from war brought them into Thailand.  Once in Thailand their villages were again burned and the Akha migrated further into Thailand, some to very remote locations far from the border with Burma.

 

Their lifestyle

The Akha are farmers. They have a close relationship with the land for all their food and medicine needs.  Forced relocations make this relationship difficult, much labor being lost which they invested in the land.  Their supply of food and medicinal plants can end up not being adequate.

 

Traditional Akha Spirituality

What the Akha have is a very close spiritual connection to the earth. I am not sure that Christians understand their own beliefs as well.  One of the problems with Christians is that they have fallen to only believing in dogma which removes the necessity for having to think. Mass money making religion.  In the belief of that rhetoric, there is no need to really learn anything. And certainly in a great aspect there is an actual denial of the spiritual quality of man because the rhetoric and dogma relieves all need for that .

To me that spiritual is that part of man that is spiritual and seeks to understand his place in the world and in the afterworld. There is a need to understand what is really going on around him and what about that is important.

So how do you study the spiritual and how do you mesh what another people know and have learned over thousands of years and combine that to improve your own life?

Now there is a pop commercialism being sold to everyone, so the time for culture and individuality is short.  I can see the fact that the world will not much longer be fit to live in. That everything good is snuffed out and that evil and evil people and evil ways and evil systems will destroy all that we see before us that is good and in the end men will still not give God credit for being the creator, but will be worshiping the ability of machines such as this one for what they can do, for collective human thought. My mother would say, “ Well folks, I think its time to close up shop!”   What a glorious God we have!

The question that I am asking is whether or not modern day Christians are part of the solution or part of the problem?

Now with the Akha, I like to say that they are invisible. Meaning, that if you take a culture and put it on a two dimensional plane, most cultures register above a median line as visible, with only a very little not spoken of or spiritual or below the median line out of sight, but in the Akha culture the vast majority of who they are is not visisble, it is not above the line and I am not sure that they talk about it or that they put it in words.

One of the tradgedies of the Akha and their confrontation with christianity is that they never really come to understand who Jesus was or what he emphasized from anything they see from the missionaries. So the converted Akha become bankrupt, leaving behind what they did understand for what they know nothing of and what ends up being hollow shell in many regards.  I don’t think that many Christians understand their faith, let alone the people they preach it to. I always found as I grew up that adults didn’t have the answers and weren’t interested in talking about it.  There was always this great assumption that it was just understood. What, I don’t know, but it was. 

Pull out any theme in the Bible and all they will give you for the most part is established pat answers but there is no real independent thought on it from their part.

 

Knowledge System

This seems to be collected best in Akha songs and “heart books”.

It would appear that the Akha are much more quick witted because of the fact that their knowledge is completely relied upon from the heart.

They have many stories and songs so interwoven into their lives, to say nothing of the huge collection of knowledge of their environment and the people who live in it.  This appears to be in a fashion that gives everything meaning and describes their human existence.

Songs, stories, ballads, rymes, expressions and ceremonies.

All guided by the elders, Peeh Mah's, the Boeuh Maw, Gneeh Pah's, the Dzoeuh Mah, Booh Seh and the village Bah Jeeh.

In the end we are as advocates, trying to understand their system so that we can represent it to the outside world as something that the outside world should stop destroying.

 

The Akha Belief And Life System

In the west we often say a single word to streamline an entire event or collection of events or ideas.  However much can be lost in this process, much can be assumed as known and taken for granted by the speaker when it is not.  Culture and Relgion are such terms.  As soon as we use such terms, and have taken the quick judgements to label events under one or the other, we also quickly jump to the pronouncement as to wether they are good or bad.

There is not much way in which a person could quickly have a clue as to the complexity and detail, the subtle tones of meaning, that the culture of another people have.

The culture of the Akha People has often been dismissed by those who don’t understand it and would redily replace it with their own alternative.

The chief problem with this, is that it is the culture, the way in which a people live their collective lives, which gives them strength, and to come and tell them that all which they are and know is wrong, and must be abandoned, is to destroy them.

This is true in any instance, but particularly true whe speaking of people already greatly marginalized for numerous reasons.

The Akha find themselves in such a situation.

The lives of the Akha people are settled in mountain jungles, a progression over many centuries that has not moved very far geographically.  They are erroneously considered nomadic and migratory by some, yet the distance total is no more than what a person could do in a few hours by car over many hundreds of years. 

The jungle and mountains bring the Akha life, life up and out of the earth, the elevation brings fog and rain, growing all that they need abundantly, including their farming.  The hunt from the jungle, collect many items of food and shelter, as well as till mountain side fields. 

The Akha are maligned as slash and burn migratory farmers.  This is not true.  Stable village sites are many years at the same location, the land being farmed in a circle around the village for years and years on end, rice terraces slowly creeping up from the bottoms of the watershed.  Forced relocations and wars have resulted in the Akha villages being relocated over and over, leaving them no option but to cut and farm in the new location.  Distant relatives of the Akha, the Hani, in China, are regarded as “The terrace builders” for having used terraces at the same locations for centuries in a fine tuned harmony to get along with what supplies them with food.

But it is more than farming, and it is more than the misperceptions of the Akha that make their lives go on, carrying out the annual cycles for centuries. 

This is the Akha life, not something you can so much name, or seperate into parts, not even name it as of them as compared to their environment, because they are not so seperable from it.  Their lives are built in a unique relationship, interweaving with the land, the soil, the water, mountains, jungle and fields around them.  Both with the plants, animals and people.  They have continued on in an environment of geological isolation that has only known wars and forced moves.  Amidst this careful interweaving with their environment, they have built over an incredible history of time, a lineage, that has carried them on better than a thousand years from anywhere anyone can identify.  They have their own language, and the names of their fathers and fathers and fathers going back so much further than that.  All passed down till now, knowledge, careful rules for living safely together and getting on with life, and carrying themselves into the future.  Part of it is a law, but it seems so much fuller than that, than a law, as in western terms, it is a carefully orchestrated piece of music, each note in its right place, all done up at once, every instrument going, as Handel’s Messiah would require. 

The Akha have a couple of items not native to them which they trade for.  Salt, iron and silver.  The salt for food, the iron for blades and axe heads, the silver for ornament.  It may vary from village to village, but these are the intrinsic things that the Akha don’t produce themselves in their villages.  All the rest of their lives is going on by themselves, the mountains and jungles, and the plants, animals and bugs that grow all about them.

Best descriptions of the Akha, still dwarf who they really are, what they really know.

The Akha have a collective mind.  To say that you know something, does not mean that you have those informations in your head, but that it exists in the Akha mind, and that possibly you need to go down to that hut there on the left to talk to the woman who can speak it out of the collective mind and into your ear.

Do Akha songs and recitals carry forward what they know? I don’t think so, no more than sheets of music make an orchestra.  The songs, in part or completeness here and there, made up as they go along, or well known traditional songs sung by different peoples during different times in the village gives only hint to what resides within them as a group.

Akha Zauh, it is the law, but their villages and life are made up of so much more than that.  The law is just like tally marks on a map, which are cause for pause or turning here or there, which is located at the places of chafe or rememberance which they take note of.

This law would appear to be no more than the framework on which all the rest of their knowledge and interactions are reflected to.  The law is the top points of collective memory that help remind each person of things to remember to do or not to do, or the settling of disputes, marking of times for harvest and so forth.  Long experience in the same family has taught these people, that if you do like this, you get a problem, but do like that and you avoid it.  So they make each such item which is crucial to remember to avoid injury, insult or pain, as an event.  Some people call this culture.  A small spoon for such an event. 

Fighters, bombers and missles have computer memories.  Culture is the collective memory of already charted waters that a people have lived upon for many hundreds of years.  It becomes automatic.  You remember your parents, your mother, your father, your grandmother and grandfather and how they lived life such that carefully you got this far, because, unbeknownst to outsiders, a whole lot of people didn’t.  They died.  Early.  And so the memory is an ongoing thanksgiving to doing it right, surviving, living on to be old, to have lived to the end of life, after which of course there is nothing else to do for the moment.

And the cloth of Akha life gives testament to this, the Law, the Zauh, the songs, the dances, the festivals, all the goings on, to how people should live their lives by the day, in all the available events which can occur to them. 

A wild boar runs through the village.  Well, that isn’t suppose to happen, and it isn’t normal, don’t tell me why, but villagers know that boars are not safe, they have long tusks, are generally quite nervous, and can hurt you and don’t belong rousting around in the village.  And I suppose there is much more to it than that, but they stop the village for a day in the case of this rare event and do a purification ceremony for the village.

Now on a particular day, an old woman in the village gets sick.  You don’t have to be appointed an elder to be an elder, you get old and you are an elder, they are one and the same.  So on this particular day, the village elders take counsel, and in order to cause the illness of the Akha woman to leave, the elders order that today when everyone goes to the fields, no one will work on any soil that has rice planted on it, or is prepared for rice, but can only work on other soil, such as bean fields or corn fields.  Not to minimize it, but not a bad show of support.  And once again I am sure that there is much more involved. 

The point being made is that these people live carefully, not adjancent to the earth, the soil, but within it.  Relying on all of it for what they need, what grows up by the year, and what is more complex in making and getting than that is not needed it would appear. 

There is this identity, this keen understanding of how the people and the earth best work together.

Eden wasn’t lost, people just forgot they were still in it.  Blinders put on their eyes, people tried to do a different thing with the land and the elements that came from it.  Possibly good, but increasingly looking as not. 

Some of the Akha migrate or are forced into the cities, but there is some understanding that as poets of the earth, they would prefer to stay in the mountain, listen to and write more poetry.

Not all that the Akha do has a detail to it, but the Akha are quick to tell you what is related to the law or a special order and what is not.  Generally they say about something that it is tied up in Akha Zauh.  So on this day we have a ceremony to this, this is the order.  Then when you go into the forest to look for Zah Mah, the mother pig of yours that ran to the forest to have her litter, you take a knife.  It is illegal, or against the law to go looking up the trails for you pig without a knife, like a machette.  No one bucks the law, or questions why something should be a part of it, just understands that it is part of the formula for knowing and doing carefully all that you need to know and do.  Cause when you find that pig, it will have made a great nest of sticks and leavers like a great bundle, and inside you must look for how many pigs were born, and then later load them into your basket and carry them back to the hut where the mother will return and care for them, but you mustn’t look into that nest with your hands, you must cut a bamboo stick, with a hook on it, and use that hook to pull aside the nest and look inside. 

There is no part of Akha life that is not carefully guided by these traditions and ceremonies of time.

They lived completely till now by their use, harming no one, no apparent need to abandon them now.

In any village environment, some people are more wealthy than others, some have better luck with a crop at a season than an other has, one’s pigs do better than anothers, and in the end, one family may not have near as much meat as other families, thus suffering from less protein in the diet.  One can not say this is the sole reason, but certainly bares logic, that many of the ceremonies requiring the sharing of meat, relate to this.  If you build a new house, you have a new house ceremony, carefully done, more than another people, and the meat is shared.  The poorer in the village get to eat alike.  The richer you are, the more meat you will take down, the poor are fed. 

Mother in laws.  Some people fight with them. 

The Akha end sentences with certain words that ascribe specific feeling about the event.  “I won’t do that to avoid being illegal” or “I won’t do that due to fear of the consequences, physical fear” not because it is wrong or illegal.  In the case of a new bride, there may be many cases when it is illegal for her to return to her mothers house, and the groom seldom will, married, she moves to her groom’s village and the families are seperate, life goes on.  There are many laws among the Akha regarding the relationships between the relatives of married people and also the different clans among the Akha, family names. 

All order, to carry on life peacefully, know where and who you are.  The Akha have great emphasis on relationship.  We occasionally say, our uncle, our aunt, our cousin or our friend.  In the case of the Akha they speak of people who are related to them by marriage in a host of names for relative position by age and marriage to another person.  And each position has a name.  Among the Akha names are not much used, as ones name given at birth or family name, but names of position in relationship are used instead.  Ah Meeh, one doesn’t call her, instead they use the name for what one calls their brother’s wife’s younger sister, and so forth. 

When you harvest rice, and watch the Akha do it with such fine grace, carefully set amongst just how hard it is on a lean stomach in the heat, on the steep hillside, well, you take a bunch of rice in your left hand, many stalks, grabbing them low, cut them off  with a cycle, and take a few stalks and twist and wind them to hold the bundle, then you let it set back gently on the top of the ends of the remaining stubble where it will be allowed to dry for a few more days.  But you don’t justset it anywhere, you set it with the cut end towards the rice hut and harvest threshing point of the field.  Why? Because it is the law.  Sure, there is a reason, but it is also now part of the law to do that.  You don’t do anything carelessly if you live in the earth.

The law, much different than we hear of the history of Jewish law or Christian law, was not about being wrong, or getting punished as much as it was about keeping yourself in a good position with the world of life around you, the elements that produced your food, and that could also leave you with nothing to eat.  A code of survival.  You don’t do it not because you don’t want to get punished but because, why would you want to do something that is bad for you to do?  Do you know more than all those who lived before you in combination?  So will you change the law? Just for today? Just for you?

And all throughout the life of the Akha they adhere carefully to these known ways of doing things in what is for them a well known and finite environment of plants, animals, people, soil, water, rain, and win.  They believe in Spirits.  There are some good spirits, but also many bad ones who are accountable for the bad things which occur.  Sounds reasonable enough.  And the careless actions of humans can increase the damage that these bad spirits can do.  So even when you are in the jungle, you must be careful, yes, there are guidelines for it all, such that neither you or anyone else get messed up.

In the west, most people not being able to name their great great great grandfather, we often mock or minimalize these sorts of things.  But in this order and understanding of their lives the Akha, as a single race for hundreds of years, have preserved and carried forward their collective knowledge and caution about living long in the jungle and upon the earth, baring children who live and carry forward their people into the future in this way, believing in things which to those who don’t know about them or their true meanings and implications, mock them as foolish superstitions or down right evil.

Yet in travels about the world, seldom will you find such a careful people about how they live their lives.  Through this careful life, they live their lives through many eyes, each giving light and focus to each event.  Carefully the Akha are wrapped up in the arms of this collective mind and cradle that brings them forward, like the new bark on a tree, their life soon to become the wood, straight and strong, going on, the rings never disappearing, one link of time, in a not so long total history of time for humans, not such an insignificant part of the whole, each and every one of them. 

To be Akha is to be a way of being, a way of being alive, not just living, but it is the very definition of life, to have more than one eye, to have many eyes, to have many ears, always one heart. 

You are not seperate from anything or anyone, in one way, yet you part down slightly different roads by marriage, the younger sisters wailing as they see their older sisters leaving the village to become a bride, their dearest friend, leaving from beside them, to take that slightly one over road, from theirs.

Sitting next to fires, looking at the light in the old woman’s face, trying to figure out what it is, within the context of  the obvious temporary status of life for all, not shrouded or masked in Akha life.  To die.

Carefully she has walked all the trails, farmed every clod of soil, sat beneath every tree, picked one of every leaf, eaten one of every fruit, like she has been so carefully laughing and joking, manicuring the face of the earth for so many years her time on it.  You say there is more down off the mountain, different, better? How could she possibly care, she is where and who she is and has done it all, how else can you be old but to have done and seen it all?  Someone else has done more, different, not hardly, think they have, maybe done a whole lot less. She threshed the rice and ate on it for the whole next year, fed it like manna to her children, and gave the seeds back to the soil to give her the next batch also.  Events came and went, the law carefully guided her to remember the unseen old couple who live in the rice field and take care of it when she is not there.

Enough to make you sing a song, if you can figure out all the lines.

 

These Other Guys We Don't Know

I remember going to this spirit woman with a friend because her friend was going to sort out why her husband had up and jumped and run down the road of the village like a crazy man a couple times now.  So while the spirit woman was working, she was thinking and talking and telling this story about (as in around) herself and she said that considering this incident, God was very important.  Apoeuh Meeh Yeh, they call God, and she said it like this. We don’t know what this is (the crazy man running), cause Budha come, and Jesus come, and a whole lot of other ones come, and we don't know who they all are but we still know there is only one God.  Now this was all quite understandable when one looked at  how the opposing groups had sawn back and forth through the Akha community.  I always sort of wonder why western people who support these white religions, can never really comprehend the result of their own actions on the communities of cultures so different from their own which they target?

 

The Akha 1

At this time in North Thailand, to speak nothing of Burma and Laos, the Akha are in a crisis for survival.  A comparable analogy would be to say that as a people, they are no different than an emergency in ER of one suffering from multiple gun shot wounds with great delays in detection and transport, inadequate medical staff on hand, and insufficient skill of those who are.

The Akha, they live in our world, the true world, of true events, however poorly documented. Though it may take time, you can travel immediately from the land of the Akha to a great hotel in Bangkok where free people sleep, to the US where we can line up in a fast food restaurant to fill our stomachs quickly without thinking twice. Or to Europe and laugh at the distant history of wars and the values of western civilization.

Or we can come the other way, like so many western tourists and climb from our waiting van and peer through the video lenses at these curious little people.

In reality the story of the Akha is the story of a proud people with long traditions of sustainable farming while under seige by wars around them.  They have been the battered prey of missions for going on near a century now.  Don’t give a damn what the pope says, the church is unrepentant.  Taking children, totally attacking and destroying the culture, demanding it as their right to have a piece of each village, their voice heard, even though it is uninvited, unwanted, and splits the village.

Missionaries are great proof that justice will never come from religion.

And coming from chiefly western countries they seem to be greater proof that these countries “Just don’t get it!”

In addition to the massive mission onslaught against the Akha there are many government attitudes towards the Akha and policies which adversely effect them without considering that they are humans at all.

We don’t need a bill of rights, the UN or anyone else to tell us what is right.  We know inherantly that people should be treated justly, with respect, with due consideration and process.  Those who do otherwise make themselves the animals in the picture.

There is much discussion of drugs, the need for controlling, stopping the flow.  Yet from a logical standpoint, no effort has been made to alter the situations which bring about the movement of drugs through the villages, and opium.

When issues of human dignity and human rights go unaddressed in the villages it is rather surprising that anyone thinks that they will make much progress on the other fronts.  Yet the construction of a large prison in Chiangrai, now complete, shows that Thailand intends to front the western model, the arrest and punishment cycle.

 

Akha 2

Most of the time that I spent outside Maesai was to the south and west.  Often I took a motorcycle to the Akha villages, once to Mae Hon Son and occasionally to Chiang Saen.

The Akha villages in the hills are where I went most often.  The story was always the same, dirty, muddy roads and lots of rain or dust.  The motorbikes were of poor repair and so there were often problems with them like flat tires, sticking throttle, poor brakes and bald tires.  Add to this poor trails and the job of just keeping the motorcylcle upright could be a large one.

The villages were much the same to an untrained eye, although some were more industrious than others.  The poverty was ever present, even if I didn't not understand the factors that caused it at the time.  The factors were there, I was trying to learn the language and find out what they were.

In traditional villages, with their fields properly arranged, there were plenty of vegetables, in more distraught villages the vegetable production methods needed to be improved.

Some villages fenced their pigs and chickens, others did not, and nothing grew.

Water sources varied by villages, some very well cared fore, others not, the village children and adults sick as a result.

Economically it is very unlikely that the Akha villages would have survived to date on what they produce without being in the drug business and without the sale of their girls into prostitution.  True they don’t consume much otherwise, but even their low level of existence would not survive without exploiting their offspring to the maximum. (and what do you think about this now?)

Shortsightedness was not an uncommon trait in Asia, and it could be found with some village leadershipo as well, no one planning to make the village better for the future, everyone out for themselves.

Thais come to the village and set up gambling to take the money out of the village which they do.

Other Thais steal with their hand in the village and get the shit kicked out of them.  One stealing, one relieving fools of their money.

 

Akha 3

I had my own personal feelings about the Akha.  This even included grievances.

But they were limited and actually I was surprised that I the Akha were not an obnoxious people considering how they are treated.

Overall I found them open, warm and trusting, certainly the former.  People would mystake agreement for yes, when “no” was intended.

One had to have ways to check on an answer before coming to a sure conclusion, sure as that could be.

They lived in a beautiful mountain place, an uncluttered life, and certainly they based much of their knowledge be it plants or songs on “heart books” rather than the conventional western standards.

People had a right to live like this, I was glad that some still did.  This took no tree paper pulp, made no waste, and was in fact probably more firmly known, committed to heart.

I attributed the stresses that the Akha lived under to many of the problems they had with things like diet.  When you checked on how long a village had been in its current place it was seldom over ten years.  How could they eat fruit from trees they planted if they were forced to move and abandon them?

Even infant mortality rates could be contributed to this, if one thought about it.  Villages were fragmented, were unable to get all their traditional leaders, and so it went.  According to the Akha it took fifty years to build a stable village.

On the missionary front I was at odds.

Whatever needed to be done, if one dared say this, certainly wasn’t written in stone. It seemed that people should have been taking more time to separate out Jesus from culture, their own, and teach just the one if at all.   They came, they were not invited, they gave little thought to how well they performed or how they were perceived.  They came until their money ran out, then they left.   This was in fact not the case. 

One would think that missionaries would want to know what kind of effect they would have if they brought any teaching into the village. Let alone have a policy that the villages had to change. 

It is so funny how accepting they are of their own culture but would readily deny the Akha their much older one.  Akha geneologies easily carry them back 1,000 to 1500 years.  People know their geneologies, their reason for being here and live by it.  Akha culture is a fine balance of keeping the village, the life, the nature around them going.  I have heard the Akha give many reasons for  moving a village.  One that the rice didn’t grow any more wasn’t one of them.  I see ample evidence that they rotate a slope and with time build terraces starting at the bottom.  This is logical enough since the sister group to the Akha are the Hani, the terrace builders who have farmed the same land for centuries up in China.

Where ever villages are stable, these rice terraces continue to accumulate.

I think that the Akha need agricultural aid for the obvious. Fruit trees, tea, coffee, more gardens, seeds, irrigation systems, terrace work, tree planting and so forth.  One consideration would be if the Akha had control of all the tourism to their own locations, bringing all the revenue from that directly to themselves rather than it being a big Thai run business, making money off them with little going to them.

There are possible solutions, but there are also many things working daily actively against the Akha on a structural level that make it unbelieveably difficult for them, or anyone else, to implement good solutions.

 

The Akha 4

Defence of them as a people and their basic rights.

I think that the basis of my work with the Akha is that they don’t have basic rights, and that they are preyed apon by so many groups including governments and missionaries.

However, it would seem that there is no threat as significant and organized as the missions, which can take effective advantage of the few rights that the Akha have in order to colonize them into evangelical clones or whatever will be the net result of an attempt to do so.  At any rate, what culture they have will be destroyed in this process and the attrition rate of the Akha increased.  The missions like to point out to how many Akha made it better because of what they did, but care not to mention all those who didn’t make it at all.

Even so, a people should not be denied what is theirs, their culture, their uniqueness.  In view of mission activity one can not help but come to the conclusion that the missions are political movements going for political control, rather than there to just offer aid to people.  I don’t think they make much effort to conceal this, but their inability to point to any effort to assist the culture gives them dead away.

Much of mission work appears to be western white race based, and one can find little proof to the contrary of this either.

Furthermore, the stated mission of these people, conversion, not giving up till it is done, would suggest that they can not be open to anything else. 

It is a close minded game. 

In many cases I have personally tried to communicate about problems like these with the missions but they were so closed off to it that I got no where.  Doing it for God seems to be the only cover story that you need in the mission business.  But I would guess that the missions are a crucial part of western foreign policy, certainly help its agenda.  In the golden triangle part of the world this connection was often suspected of being much more direct.

It all plays down to the strong and the weak, the rich and the powerful, and who is taken prisoner of the mission.

Alternative options have always been there and one wonders why they are not used, unless of course the missions have no intention to use them, which I think is the case.  The mission agenda would not allow the mission to act on the best faith for people.

Here in lies the problem and there isn’t much one can do to alter attitudes in a case by case basis because of this.  If they are to be affected, they must be confronted widely accross the board until the entire machine grinds to a halt and people are forced to reconsider, because living in denial is no longer possible.

 

Akha Knowledge:

Characteristics of an indigenous knowledge system.

One of the first problems that I encountered in my work with the Akha was the limitation of time.  There was just not enough time to get to know all the people, hear all the stories and learn enough of the language fast enough so that I could catch more of what was going on as it went by.

This was particularly true when it came to grasping the meanings of their folklore, songs, and ceremonies.  The Akha knew that I wanted to understand it and they could readily explain it but I was missing a lot, the little nuance, the things which linked it all together.

This was crucial for the following reason.

I had the theory that western systems and missions come in and they villainize and displace as much of the traditional culture as they can in a method of denial.  In otherwords they say they are doing what they are doing because they are teaching people about Jesus.  In reality they are doing what they are doing because they don’t understand the culture of the Akha, don’t want to take time at understanding it, and would just rather make people like themselves.  The Akha don’t understand the intricacies of this and the missionaries themselves don’t care.  Yet they wrap it all up in nice words about Jesus.  The ultimate intellectual laziness if you ask me.

My theory goes that when you start intentionally knocking down this wall and that wall of the knowledge system and support structure of a people that eventually you will cause them to collapse as a people and all your help systems in the world will not be able to halt or make up for the process that you have initiated and accelerated.  The need becomes too great in collapse.  Like breaking a dam to get a bucket of water, one will see it all come to nothing faster than any part of it can be saved.

In many of the Akha villages I have seen almost every part of their culture villified at one time or another.  Swings and gates are burned, anything that can  be construed as a fetish, etc.  In the meanwhile the Akha loose a carefully put together system of environmental and life knowledge that has carried them forward over the centuries.

 

Different Clans of Akha

In Thailand there are a number of different groups of Akha, sometimes identifiable by their head dresses.  Some are colled Ooh Loh, Lomi, and Pami, although these are more vernacular than official usages.  There are a few unusual Akha villages in Thailand that one normally only sees in Burma.  In Burma there are host more different clans and head dress variations than in Thailand.  One of these is a very long cone like headress, related to Ooh Loh, but much more distinct do to the length of the cone on top of the head.  Many of the different clans have their own distinct mountain location where they live, and everyone in that area with those clan names have headresses similar to each other.  But once they moved down to Thailand there can be a village of one clan here and a whole different village of clans next hill over.  The migration of the Akha south occurred during many years of intense fighting between the Wa, Burmese, Shan and Chinese.

In Laos the Akha were different again, several groups, in Phongsaly and in Maung Sing, Mang Long areas.

 

Leadership:

There is need among the Akha for leadershipn which is geared towards an increasingly aggressive outside world that is coming to the village to extract its local resources. Current Thai Forestry practices were just one case in point. The Royal Project that took the land from all the villages of Hooh Yoh is another case.  This kind of leadership is something they have not needed so much in the past, each village had its own leaders, and that was enough, but now the attack on the Akha is collective and there is need for some collective leadership, although it should not supercede the village but be complimentary to it.

As a part of this coopeartive leadership, there would be many things that the Akha could identify which effect them all, and which they could compare solutions for in order to protect their villages. This is particularly true in dealing with land rights and mission intrusion situations.  The Forestry department and Army and missions depend on the isolated nature of the villages and quietly try to disrupt one village at a time.  The next village over may have no such problem, so may not notice to join hands in aid to the first village.  Missions more than any other group make use of this situation, splitting and overtaking villages, the weaker ones in particular, with the aid of any dissenter whom they can find in the village.  The village does not convert and decide to all suddenly become Christian, because it is such a better way of life, rather the missions work very hard with money and other incentives to first anchor a pastor (the dissenter) promise him rewards for each house he can add to his new group.  Thus there is rapid conflict in the village as he attempts to split the village into his new power system.  The traditional leadership is just busy living and is not paid to hold the village together, as the dissenter is paid to tear it apart.  The evidence of this is very true in the villages despite the fact that the missions deny that this is how they operate. 

As more and more pressure is put on the land around the Akha and on which they depend, the more need there is for multiple villages to address this issue in order to hang onto all the farm ground they can.  The pressure to take the land is greater on some villages than others, and the knowledge and committment to holding onto the land differs by village headmen as well.  Some villages have been left with no land to farm at all.  The Forestry department and the Army pretend not to notice that this would effect the lives of the Akha, or outright deny they have left them with little to no land to farm.  Though tourism in Thailand for decades now has exploited the Akha and other hill tribes, to make money off them, at the same time the official line is that the Akha have no right to be in Thailand and should be glad for however they get pushed around.  This dispite the fact that many Akha villages have been at the same location in Thailand for well over a hundred years and before that there is not so much record, but certainly the Thais did not live in these mountains.

Only in recent years are the Thais trying to take and make use of the mountains for themselves.

It can be hoped that the more the Akha invest in the land the harder it will be to take it away from them.

 

Knowledge of The Akha

The amount of knowledge that the Akha have of where and why they live, and their daily lives is a major collection.  How can you record a culture? You would have to plug everyone’s brain in at once and record the knowledge of it all.

Westerners make assumptions about culture, but it is always sort of with the belief that theirs will remain and survive and that of others won’t.  This may be in fact the case to some point, but it does not demand that we be silent in our opposition to it. 

Here is an intellectual problem, because with some perception of the hand of fate, that things are getting worse, it is often easier to give in, to admit that all is lost, or soon will be, than to fight for each foot of the wall.

Yet somehow I think that a new manner must be found, one that justifies fighting on in the face of overwhelming odds to the contrary that evil will prevail, that much or most good will come to an end, as I think it will. I believe most good will come to an end.  Good is more powerful than evil or the bad, but there is more of the latter and it is more persistent.  Good is supported by people who are often only half awake and not at all keen to the price that it requires.

I go on.

Once I decided to keep on working with the Akha I continued to tackle the obvious problems, things like clean water, but at the same time try to find what were the pivotal problems that were shaking them most to the pillars.

This had to do with strategy.

It rapdily became apparent that the biggest most persistent threat was missions.  Their policies would leave no room for the Akha to be the Akha in any quarter. The Thai and Burmese governments had policies but they were ineffectively enforced which was fortunate for the Akha, and as well, there was some limited friendship between the Thai and Burmese cultures while none between the western agenda church cultures, scorched earth policy that they had.

From the hub of several major different problems the Akha faced, spokes could be seen to go out to lesser, yet important problems.

For instance, lack of land rights or collective representation, led to poor economic rights, and this led to things like drug running to keep up with their own needs.  People condemned them for running and using drugs, but if one were to look at the careful definitions the powers that be dealt in, this was easier to understand.

Here was an example.  The west accused people of the golden triangle and Burma of suppling substances that hurt people in the west.  Yet certainly the western economic system was guilty of damaging the Akha and peoples like them.  The western system works good if you don’t look at the failures or ask questions about them. Astra Zeneca for one, just how much paraquat has it exported from the UK to Thailand where it has poisoned the Akha in the fields. That is a chemical substance, yet we see no war against the west exporting huge quantities of its “drugs” to poison all the world. Oh, “that’s different”.

The main problem the Akha faced was defending their villages, land rights, economic rights, ID card rights.  ID card rights was a big issue, because the Thais really didn’t care to recognize the Akha.  That was a western gig, not an Akha gig. Yet by defining this as an important issue the major powers forced the Akha to play their game, and at a disadvantage, because the Akha had no nation, no state, no official lands or resources.  As soon as they had something good it was taken away.  One can not imagine working from this perspective but surely many if not most of the indigenous have to.

It is also very odd that the western powers give only lip service to this.  Apparently and to my belief, it would contradict their agenda to listen to it.

Lets just imagine for instance that the Akha had nuclear weapons.  They insisted that Indigenous peoples made up nations, races, groups that had the right to protect their racial identity and that as such they had the right to land, to ask certain people to leave town, to demand attention to grievances and so forth.  Imagine how much would change.  They could then control any source of resources that they had access to such that they had a base to pay for the services that they needed. 

Instead we see only predatory treatment of the Akha because they have no power that they are allowed to harness.

One case of this is how tour operators make a fortune off the Akha while the Akha, if they get anything from this at all, surely get it last and not on their terms.

Tourists go into Akha villages at will, think nothing of pointing and shooting pictures and so forth, yet there may be children dying in that same village that they have no knowledge of nor could care to.  It would seem obvious that one would note the poverty and wonder. It is not.

It is odd that the people from the most materialistic society with so many unresolved problems of its own, including its own church and families, would come here to the mountain top so sure of themselves to push spirituality on a people they see as backward, dirty, inferior to themselves and certainly would not want to share in the hardness of their lives far away from the safe and comfortable mission compounds.

And it is these people who are vilifying the Akha culture and demanding its abandonment.

So often missions have all their strings attatched. An ugly faith.

'Strings attatched' help.

 

Akha "Neh"

"Neh" is usually used in conjunction with refering to something bad or something that someone has done bad, that the "Spirit Fear" will come upon them.

The Akha get accused of worshipping spirits called "Neh", of offering them sacrifices and all sorts of things.

I guess that has more to do with the mentality of their accusers than anything else.

The Akha believe there are good and evil spirits, and that evil spirits make people sick, and that you must ask good spirits what to do to cure the person who is ill. 

I don’t know if they see spirits or not.

They say they see spirits, living and dead people sometimes.

Sometimes they see them in a dancing ceremony and sometimes in their fields or on the trail.

Who can prove them right or wrong?

But it seems that what they say they do in regards to healing and life are pretty resonable. They try to move the illness that they have identified, into a piece of meat to be discarded or eaten.  They also believe that spirits are active for good and bad, effecting the lives of people in bad ways and good ways.  The mention of spirits is often used for something sensed but which has no proof in the common ways but contains suspicion.  It can also be used to mark a situation or item for caution for people later on.  For instance a Nyeeh Pah (spirit woman) commented that a boy found two birds which fell in front of him out of the sky, which he did not shoot or kill and he picked them up and took them home where his father ate them up.  Later the man got a bad leg, and the Nyeeh Pah said it was because of this, which he had done.  So the events and discription of them seem to play into the idea of identifying things that it is not good to do, and potential ramifications, nothing more, nothing less.  In this case, as any hunter would know, it is not good to eat birds you did not just then kill as you do not know how old they are, what they were killed with, or if they were ill or diseased.  The Akha would just say that the evil spirits did something to those birds.

Probably right. In one way or another.

In all observations of the Akha relating to spirits, it all has to do with the prevention of bad things from occuring to the community.  It is wound up in traditions of what is already known, that you stay away from.  It is sensible and wise, and is based on their need for solutions apart from outside assistance or judgement.

In order for other religions to convert the Akha to their manner of mental organization and thinking, they must villify what they do not understand of the Akha to justify this forced effort.

The Akha would appear to give much more credit to the teachings of the Bible than christians would as well. The Akha truly believe in spirits, it is sort of a beauty in their world of beliefs, their closeness to the unseen and the nature around them.  Western christianity talks of spirits, assumes that they are all evil, against the very text they hold dear, and then for the most part really doesn't believe in their daily workings.  Yet they are very ready to discredit the Akha who appear to have a superior sense of faith.

The Akha also have spirits or people who live in their fields and other places.  These are good people, like a grandmother and grandfather, and much respect is given to them that they will watch over the fields on days the family does not come and at night, that the rice harvest is good.  This respect is protected and repaired when damaged, a special meal being eaten in the field to set things straight again if the Akha family perceived that they have made an error.

I perceived among the Akha that their consideration of spirits was a sort of collective community and accountability, identifying evils but also giving all a say in how evil effected them, so that the entire community stayed healthy and in balance.  Commenting on "neh" was a way for Akha to give caution to someone about what they were doing, about to do or the direction they were headed in.  For those people who did something bad, they said that the fear of the evil spirits was on them who would come and collect for the evil that they had done, and was a warning to that person to make their deeds right and correct for what they had done, and the Akha have ceremonies for that as well.  This keeps the village in harmony, as well as relationships between villages. 

One has to be remember that the Akha have preserved themselves as a culture, beyond what any other tribe in the area has been able to do, and they have done it in recent years against the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the missions and others have spent trying to take their culture away from them.

Missions try to portray that the Akha are involved in devil worship and the use of spirits to do evil things, which is not at all the case, but this is the tradition of deception and dishonesty of the missions from the west who are generally against any culture which is different than their own and attempt to villify it at every opportunity to justify forcing change on the people who did not invite them.

 

Problems The Akha Face

Main Issues The Akha Face

War

Village Burnings

Village Raids

Border Shootings

Land Rights

Forestry and Pine

Shifting Land Theft and existing Forests

Drugs and Poverty, economic access

Prostitution

Identity Cards

Tourism then and now

Missionaries and Monks

Missions, freedom for Akhas, freedom from other’s religion

Missions, the cause of village splits and strife

Forestry and Land Problems

The Army and Forestry Enforcement

Village Economics

Identity Cards

Cross Border Family Ties, Ethnic Ties and Business

Relocated Villages, A Question of Survival

Village Leadership

Agricultural Work Sharing

Traditional relationship to the forest and land and each other

Access To Justice Or Representation

Maesai Bridge, why, the ourglass, the convergence and exchange of two lands?  All has to pass there.

Everyone of different race working to maintain their identity. 

Some seeking to hide, cover or increase the size of their identity covertly. The taking over of people and villages.

 

Land -  Agriculture

shrinking land base

lack of sufficient seeds

limited access to sufficient intensive farming techniques

 

Economics, land and drugs relationship

Without much access to better their lives Akha sometimes take the risk of selling drugs for which they are arrested or worse yet killed.  They had best leave themselves out of these affairs, whatever the needs. But that is simple for us to say, when we have options the Akha don’t have.

Land seizures increased this problem, the work too hard and little hope of investing in long term crops such as orchards that would break the cycle of poverty for them.

 

ID card problems

loss of the land

(but the land doesn’t get used better)

cheated in transactions

unequal treatment by the police

 

Police - Prison

Many of the Akha who are caught for this or that are moved to a far prison in Mae Hon Son to make it the hardest on them and seperate them from any support network they might have.  They are there for trying to keep themselves alive.

 

Drugs

drug sales

drug use

arrest and imprisonment

 

Health

no sufficient healthcare outreach

infant mortality

low life expectancy, death of minor causes

 

Hospice

No one to be with Akhas who are alone and dying in the hospital and then no one to pick their body up and bury them properly according to custom.

(Recovery and Traditional Funerals)

Treatment at hospitals

dying sent home, no money.  or just sent home money or not

A proper one time visit would be better than repeated visits, lost money, patience dies and the Akha get frustrated with the idea of health care, figure save the money, if the person is strong they will live, why feed the pharmacies and clinics.

dying alone

 

Prostitution

brothels

freelance

beer bars run by foreigners

 

Education

Access to education

right to non education if it is not integrated

 

Intermarriage

Many of the marriages to foreigners do not work.

The foreigners leave and do not come back.

Marriages to Thais often are as a second class wife.

Marriages ot Burmese often involve a lot of abuse.

 

Akha and Environmentalism

There is a trend in Thailand and elsewhere that environmentalism is

becoming a means of the rich to take the

land away from the poor.  The poor are not considered suitable elements of

the environment.

There are opportunities to come and live in a relocated Akha village and

help with health care, water, and

education projects.

Pooh Cheeh Akha Village is being split by outside interests which are

attempting to buy their way in and

control the village with foreign money.  The traditional Akha of the

village naturally don't have the money to

fight this very well.

The concept of an Akha Nature Conservancy is in its developmental stages,

the Akha seeking to showcase their

care for the environment and the beauty of the areas of their villages.

Thai Water Resources people claim the Akha and their animals damage the

water shed where they live but no

effort is made in Thailand to restrict the sale of chemical contaminants

such as herbicide and pesticide which

make their way into the water.  It would appear that this is strictly a

method to be used to clear Akha villages

from the mountains as outlined by the Asian Development Bank for the Upper

Mekong Region.

 

Situations - Explanations

The Wa

This is an interesting item.

The Akha look very down on the Wa, good fighters or not, because they have a long standing reputation of eating human flesh and being head hunters.  Further the Akha feel that the Wa don’t bathe or take proper hygenic care of themselves, particularly the women.  I had to admit, the Wa I had met were a little lacking in this area. 

These days of late they were big time speed dealers, coming into Thailand for gunbattles, shootings, killings, and to buy or sell the occasional dog for meat.  Sometimes above Huuh Yoh Pah Soh I ran into them on the back road, coming over to see the Akha.  Up at Pah Nmm Akha they killed a few people, didn't see them other than that.  They had frequent gun battles with the Thai army and police while making deliveries of speed pills along the border and into Thailand.  They now had a large town called Hmong Yawn, on the burma side across from Mae Faluang district.  One could see the town from the high mountains.

The Akha said that there had been a lot of Thai Yai fighters there near their village but one day the Wa came and killed them all, some 400 men.  They brought the wounded to the village but they all died.

 

Working in the city

Many Akha young people end up leaving the village to find jobs to help compensate for loss of land and wealth.  Often they do not return.  In many cases they end up loosing land which they are not farming that is far more in value than the small wages that the make in town.  It may take them a number of years to realize this.

 

Going to Bangkok

Akhas end up in Chiangrai, Lampang, Chiangmai and Bangkok.  Either as labor or prostitutes, the jobs are not secure and only a few Akha find their way into university.

 

Beggars

Some catholic villages on the border with Thailand, from the Burma side have turned out a tradition of beggars.  The boys end up in drugs and often die of AIDS while using heroin.  The girls end up as prostitutes when they get the slightest age.  The children which do the begging in their young years gain mostly the worst habits and are of ill health.  Neither priest, village leaders or parents are concerned about the problem to the point of effecting change.  There are about three villages involved in this racket.  The children pay a very heavy price for this lack of leadership  in the Catholic community.

 

Prostitutes from Joseph

An interesting note is that many of the girls from Joseph Akha village in Keng Tung next to the Catholic mission end up as prostitutes at some time or another in Maesai.  This proportion is much higher than for other traditional Akha villages in Burma or Thailand.  Very common to see Akha prostitutes in Maesai at the stores with crosses for earings or as necklaces, yet dressed as a woman for hire. 

Certain individuals expressed that there might be knowledge if not involvement of the Keng Tung Catholic mission in this recurring matter. There were some “people”.

 

Akha in prison, who visits?

very few, and little rights

 

Akha intillectual property rights

these are not defended

Tourism rips these people off while the other part of the government blames them for what it can.

 

Akha nannies

Many working for the Thais

Meeh Suuh was one of these.  Working for 1500 baht a month for years.  Growing up in the house, some taking advantage to educate themselves and some not.

 

Akha- natural jungle stewards

because they live t here, there is some stubborness about certain situations, but this came later

 

Akha self reliance

The Akha need to pull together more now than they have needed to in the past.

 

Id cards

sex for ID cards, then no cards, Brian Barney told this one.

how to bone them.  Do you have girls for us tonight?

The lack of ID cards for the Akha had been a foot in the door for every cop that came along.

In the old days there was a coin issued by the king, with a number on the back, that the hilltribe wore, which was their ID.

 

The various reasons for a village breakup

many reasons, missions, stress, etc

 

Traditional akha dance

An important form of social security

 

What good powers did the old ways have and why are they often powerless against the new ways?

Not sure that is so true.

healing, wisdom, land security, food security

 

Thai police, highway robbers of the Akha

Also a problem, planting drugs, beatings, etc

The Thai police were totally corrupt.  If there was no money there was law, if there was money there was no law.  They looked for any angle to extort money from anyone, they in a word were the worst sort of robbers.

 

Thai schools in the village, chop the hair, your Thai now

yes, this is a problem now

by planting trees, building hill breaks and terracing.


Names

The Thai government gave no respect to Akha names. The were racist, it went into their head as Thailand, not Siam, THAI land, or as we joked, THIGH land, the land between the THIGHS.

So an Akha would take in their child to register the birth and the Ampur would give them a Thai name. I know, they did the same thing to two of my sons, the fucks.

 

The Akha Got Studied, Probed

The Akha, they got studied, probed, watched, photographed, video taped without end.

The village was still there.  The missions said the days of “the village” were over. I wondered how long they had been saying that, because the village was still there.  Maybe fourty years.  The village didn’t go anywhere, they didn’t import truckloads of anything, the Akha just farmed, planted the rice year after year and watched as westerners and government officials came to give words to what it was they did.

The huts were still the same, bamboo, wood, thatch roofs, the trail out of the village where it had always been. 

The government, soldiers, army, administrators came to move them or shift them or teach them, but it was all odd, cause they couldn’t figure what else it was they needed or what they had done.  The only time they wanted something was when it had been taken away already, like the land.  So the government up north had a dispute with the one down south?  That didn’t have anything to do with them, why should they have to move the village?  They were fine where they were, the pigs and cattle grew fat, there was forest, jungle, good water, wind, yes there always needed to be wind, that kept the disease out of the village, and everything grew well.

People came and told them that they couldn’t farm anymore, that they would have to eat something else, that farm land was really only forest land and that trees would have to be planted again.  The Akha wondered where the people below grew their food, used to be trees as far as they could see.  Why was it that only trees “here” were worth saving. 

People said that they always moved and cut down more trees.  Easy for others to say.  Any idea what it took to move a village?  And grandparents, they lived within only 150 miles at most, so where had all this migration happened to?  Go 300 miles north and you wouldn’t find any Akha, they sure didn’t do much migration or far.  Course if the army moved you, did that go against your score or their score?

Now someone wanted their drinking water, said they needed it for trees, fruit trees. Funny, didn’t use to be any fruit trees that looked like that here before.

The government was going to give them a concrete road into the village, that was nice.  But they would start getting a lot of visitors to the village then and they weren’t sure about that.  Hadn’t happened yet so they didn’t know.

 

The Akha Situation

Health Concerns in Akha Villages

Storify this

If one was going to attempt to effectively address the situation and needs of the Akha it was best done from a compassionate standpoint rather than one of racial or social superiority.  The appearance at outset that the Akha were poor or in need of help is not basis for arrogance or condescension.

Akha villages arrived at much poverty due to wars for many years in Burma which resulted in violence against villages as well as the burning of villages.  Armies took Akha people for porters of food, weapons and injured.  In some cases the Akha were combatants.  But mostly of late villages which moved into Thailand did so along the border regions and sought nothing other than to farm in peace.  Thailand in many cases failed to provide any security along its own borders and so these border villages were sometimes raided and burned or pushed further into Thailand.

The Thai army moved many villages that were within a few hundred meters of the borders, both further into Thailand, and down the mountain to low and cramped locations where the villagers obviously could not readily survive.

As a result of these conditions villages that one will visit often lack clean water as what they had in the high mountains, and the space for the arrangement of the normal village for sanitation. Eye, ear, skin and injury infections are common in the relocated villages. However the Akha immune system is quite strong and recovery is usually complete without anti biotic.  Ear infections are of the greatest concern in children where hearing can be damaged.  Children often have worms, but the previous village environments were not studied carefully enough to know if the level is the same currently.

Although the Thai government urges vaccination of children, there is a very large growing protest in the west to these vaccinations, that they are both unsafe, and unethical.  Some Akha villages have children damaged by vaccines.  Naturally no compensation was paid.

Akha women are also vaccinated during pregnancy against their choosing, with the tetanus toxoid vaccine, despite the ill logic.  Another vaccine manufacturer's dream combined with the big brother tactics of WHO.

Normally villages are located on the ridge back or hill top, the rains washing all polutants from the village and contributing to health.  Pigs and chickens range, there is sufficient protein, forest and so forth.  Seldom has war not been an issue, so the concern for forestation can not be looked on in the light of normal events.  But it is quite clear that little effort has been made to coordinate the care for the forest with any care for the Akha at the same time.

Discussions with Thai administrators are laughing occasions during which the Akha are ridiculed and looked down upon with insult.  The truth is distorted and twisted regarding any matter that pertains to their security.  Errors on the part of administrators are readily denied in spite of the glaring facts of the situation.

As a result of congestion of relocated villages which are severely short of nutrition the Akha suffer from ailments of the skin and digestive tracts, poor nutrition and stress.  At the same time their village location, culture and control of their own children is brought under pressure from the outside world.  The village is always threatened with further relocation and many lack ID cards.  Cash is hard to come by, there are shortages of farming land which means shortages of rice which means shortages of food and the nutrition we have spoken of. 

Young people are pushed into unsavory jobs, many girls ending up in prostitution. Thailand readily accepts these girls into this trade, as many "fresh" girls are needed as the existing girls get “worn out”.  An Akha girls bodily health will often radically degrade within six months of entering this trade, enduring numerous infections, possibly including HIV.  It is difficult for her to return to much of a normal life, but neither is it an economic option.  She may remain a prostitute from three to ten years.

Missions attack the village and damage the esteem of the people, the elder leadership structure and the knowledge system.  Difficulties imposed on the village are used as proof that the culture is bad.  Promises to aid the plight of the villagers are made if they conceed to conversion and destroy what is left of their old culture.  Many Akha are under sufficient pressure as to do so, or are often tricked by deception as to what is being asked, as it may be asked in stages, the end result not revealed at the beginning of the pressure to convert.

Outside society accuses the Akha of being dirty, lazy.  The Akha work in an earth and farming environement.  They do not have access to large supplies of consumables, including new clothes, so often live clothed in hand spun black cotton, though this is changing.  The original Akha life style certainly made few demands on the environment.

 

Soap and water

Lots of people talk of this, but soap costs cash, they often don’t have it, and soap vanishes very quickly. All the soap in the stream isn’t good either. These people lived in the environment, you could see the contrast of the trash and the stuff being put in the water, where as in town there is even more being wasted but it is hauled away, carefully hid, and people think that because they are in town they are cleaner or easier on the environment, not so trashy. But that is only because it is concealed.

Rather than rethink all the chemicals and products other societies use and insist on, they build systems to clean them up, which they don’t really do completely, the chemicals persist, and the clean up methods themselves add much more burden on the environment.  The bottom line, rethinking how they live, no one is quite ready to do, it would appear.  The Akha in contrast are quite economical with the environment. Westerners, Thais, they hide where they bring all their resources from. Maybe they are stealing the wood from Laos, West Papua, Borneo, South America, Africa? So they can feel that they CARE about the environment. What they really mean is that they want their environment to be nice, while their consumption level is heavy, and put off knowledge of what impact they are having on other people’s environment.

In the case of the Akha, everything that they have, comes out of the environment RIGHT around them, and must be sustainable.

 

Water and Toilets

  Too often the local governor or someone would donate half a crock of money to build toilets, not enough, and the lightly constructed structures soon broke and failed.  The cement delivered to the village was already damaged and hard when it got there.  Course, you could figure someone ate the money.  Lots of foreign governments, embassies and people donated money to help the hill tribe but it got eaten. Compassion for the hilltribe was something that people of other races liked to harvest for the money, that was all.  But ask them in an aside what they thought of the Akha and you would get the real story.

Currently the greatest threats to the Akha are foreign missionaries and the increasing Thai policy to push them from the mountains be it Army or Forestry department.

In Laos there are already a lot of sleeper missionaries. Working as “NGO’s”.

Toilets, yes you can see them too, abandoned. You ask the Akha why, and they say, well, there is no water to the toilet.

 

Widows

11 Aug 97

I noticed that Akha widows had a hard time in the Urban setting. Many of them remarried who lived up in the mountains, but out of the village that was more difficult in town.

 

Malnutrition as a source of problems in the village

Course its a source of problems, why not, you see them eating rice and weeds time after time and wonder how they make it.  The food is horrible if you know that somewhere there is yogurt in a cup, or a whole isle of fresh fruit in a supermarket in Sacramento and that thousands of supermarkets across the country have similar supply of everything you can imagine.

 

Soil conservation and Growing Crops

                Soil conservation would help farming and the jungle and it would also help the image of the Akha.  So many villages are washed bare and nothing grows in them.

 

Macadamia The macadamia nut is a high priced selling nut, could bring in revenue.

coffee too could be planted to bring in money, but not as a monocrop, crop varieties were stable and important

tamarind when green hammered with salt and chili powder attur’s mother’s place

they knocked it off the tree with a long stick.

tumeric as a wound dressing?

Used in India.  People try to patent its chemical makeup in the west.

tiny Akha egg plant

Actually a small round thing looks like a tine striped watermelon, used in som tom as well.

sour fruits good in hot weather

green mango etc

bees in tree boxes

can be found in Akha villages

cloth enclosures needed for farming

blocks sun, keeps chickens out and keeps butterflies out that lay eggs and thus worms

 

Project Doi Tung

Includes the Akha some but I don’t know how

 

Haen Taek area development

This is development by and for the Thais.  The Akha must adapt, must fight to hold what they have while also coping with change and loss.

 

Village Stories

 

Summary:

Stories from the lives of the Akha in the villages.

 

1.  Stories of the Akha

Stories:

Losing their land

Thai incursions

Big roads

Power

Phone

clinics, why?

Prostitution that increases

the buffalo in burma story, Lacey’s father

heavy taxes in Burma

easily imprisoned, the girls mother

Drugs as survival cash

car accident, the Thai doesn’t pay

passport office how the woman treated her at the Zeer Complex

treatment by nurses

the guys comment about Meeh Sah

cases that got sent home

murder of Akhas

corrupted aid dollars?

brokers and pimps, other Akhas, Thais, Westerners, family members

Akha girls in colusion

ignorant statements and referals about the Akha

Missionaries, why can’t they just help and learn, rather than forcing change, forcing people to be like them?

go go bars

the tourist image vs the Akha tragedy

 

Akha Dreams

The Akha people bring with them a long history as a colorful people, both culturally and religiously, but their lives get increasingly troubled at the hands of the western style high consumption economy, that needs them and their resources, chiefly the land. Totally independent until these last years, the Akha see dependency being forced on them more and more.  Exploited on every front yet a good hearted people.

I work with them because I like them, I like to listen to their voices, I like their mountain homes, the clear air, the farming, the wind, and the feast of eyes.

I would like to do more for them however I have only small resources, but what I can do I find to be  helpful, appreciated, and that makes it worthwhile to me to continue to help, because mostly the Akha live in poverty.

 

The Akha

Life is a kindness in itself and the more that we can share it between ourselves, people of very greatly different backgrounds and even races, the more our lives are enriched, the more we come to understand.

It would be impossible as a white person, or an Akha, to know all there is to know about the world, all that we can learn, and stay only in our worlds.  We must reach out to the worlds of others and come to find all the pieces that we don't have.  That in giving, rather than taking, we "get it all".

Life woven more and more with the Akha, it is more than assisting them, it is a matter of working as an advocate for them but also learning to live among them.  It is about them, about discovery, coming from a vastly different world, their language, my work with it, but what it is to me apart from what I want to do with it. There was so much about the tales the old people told me that I wanted to understand, their explanations of life and its events. That was to say nothing about their vast knowledge of the plants and the world around them in which they lived.  I was sad that so much of my work got overshadowed just fighting for their human rights.

My hearts desire is to know more and more about their culture, not in a general sense alone, but in a specific sense, the oral histories, the oral poems and songs, what it all means, trying to see the world as they see it.  Why?  Because perspective, approach to life, how people see life, where people originate from not just geographically, but from their histories, their lives, dreams, thoughts, the consciousness of the culture, these are views of the world we are not born with, those different from ourselves, and we become more complete persons by listening to, learning of the reality of another.  And these realities are often filled with great events, great ideas, and great awareness, yet all different from our own.

They belong to something.  They come from something long and unique, the chain unbroken, I come but the chain broken many times.  There is great loss by comparison, that is the tragedy in all this, that as I go along I see more and more what I am not connected to, with all its support, knowledge and believing.

The Akha I know and meet, have such a deep simple faith in God.  I think that if you want God, or seek God, it will always take you to the same place.  Everyone everywhere.

Anyone who tried to raise a kid independently rather than in a culture, has to be a fool.

 

What are aspirations of Akha people?

 

Akha Death

 

Akha Faces

 

Akha Food and Recipes

 

Akha Law

 

Akha Telephone

 

Elders

 

Peeh Mah

Boeuh Maw

Dzoeuh Mah

Bah Jeeh

Jeh Hah

Gneeh Pah

Shah Mah

 

Developoment?

Western cultures and influences go to long lengths to convince the indigenous that by taking all that they have and destroying them, they are somehow helping them.

 

Oppressors

Missions and government are like scissors working together, two blades really cut the grass (Akha).

 

Loh Guuh

After I started the stories of the killing of Loh Guuh and others in the Bangkok post an investigation was apparently begun into the nature of this shooting by the Thai police and courts.  A final court date for 27 March 2003 was set as a final hearing on his death.   On Jan 8, 2003 we filed Loh Guuh's case via a petition 1235 with the UN.

 

Assumptions

In my dealings with the Akha it h as always been their take on life that fascinated me.  Endlessly having the appearance of this or that breaking down yet it never does. How the Akha hold their lives together with all the evil directed at them I do not know.  Yet also it is a matter of writing and time.  As there is not enough time for me to explore and write down all the stories I discover.

 

 

The Twelve Akha Festivals:

Cheh Shuuh Dzah and Nmm Tsoh you don't save the wings and feet aside: (Ah Dauh and Ah Kuuh)

 

The Standard Festival Procedure:

Don't mention or admit to seeing a snake in the road.

Go before worms (snakes) are out on the road.

Wear a hat

No sex

Setting up for the Poh Law Ceremony

Killing the Chicken

Dividing the meat

Jeeh Bah Jeeh Seeh Procedure

 

Spirit Woman

 

The Akha House

 

The Akha Language

 

The Akha Silversmith

 

The Akha Blacksmith

 

The Village Gate

 

The Village Swing

 

End

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