The History & Culture of The Akha Hill Tribes

By | October 10, 2013

The Akha Hill Tribe, Northern Thailand

The Akha Hill Tribe of Northern Thailand trace their roots originally from Central China through Tibet, Nepal, and Burma, it is estimated that they number around 70,000 people in Thailand.

The villages of these colourful people are to be found in the mountains of the northern provinces of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai at high altitudes. Each different village is distinguished by its carvedwooden gates, presided over by guardian spirits.

They live in raised houses on low stilts, with a large porch leading into a square living area with a stove at the back. The roof is steeply pitched. They life on marginal land and find it difficult to eke out a living through their slash and burn method of agriculture.

In order to supplement their income, many Akha are now selling handicrafts, employing the traditional skills used in making their own clothing and cultural items.

The Akha Hill Tribe, Northern Thailand

The women of the tribe spin cotton into thread with a hand spindle, then weave it on a foot-treadle loom. The cloth is dyed with indigo, then sewed into clothing for the family. The women wear broad leggins, a short black skirt with a white beaded sporran, a loose fitting black jacket with heavily embroidered cuffs and lapels. The black caps are covered with silver coins.

The Akha Hill Tribe, Northern Thailand

The men and women produce various decorative items of bamboo and seeds. The men make crossbows, musical instruments, a variety of baskets, and other items of wood, bamboo and rattan. This group are deeply superstitious, their religion prescribing exactly how each action should be performed. This tribe is the poorest of the hill tribes, but well known for their extraordinary costumes and exotic appearance.