by Angelina Christy
Akha Hill Tribe
The village I lived in for nearly two months was one of the 320 existing villages hidden in the mountain regions of the Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces.
It was a very basic and isolated village with bamboo huts and fortunately with running water that was accessible in the main courtyards coming from the nearby stream. The family I was living with was also lucky enough to have electricity, so I could write in my journal during the evenings in order to remember the day’s events.
The electricity was basically used for light as well as the fridge and therice cooker, which we used frequently as rice is always on the menu throughout the daily meals. I must admit the rice was fantastic as it came directly from the rice paddies.
Our days were marked by the routine of a simple and serene work between the farm with the pigs, chickens, ducks, goats and a few cows the chilies, soybean and cabbage crops as well the household work. There are also rice paddies but it was not the harvesting season when I was there.
Farm work consisted in cutting down banana trees with a machete and mixing these with micro-organisms to feed the pigs and buffaloes. We were also busy most days with the cutting and cleaning of the plantation’s wood to make clean cut strips of wood used for building huts and other basic necessities.
I also watched a few fishing sessions while I was there and I must admit I had never seen such a fascinating technique. The fishermen found a relatively deep pond no more than one meter deep and equipped with a largely inter-wined net triangular in shape and a fish bag they slowly dragged the net that was stretched from one side of the pond to the other by two villagers, from one side to the other.
As soon as the fish started jumping out of the water to escape the net the other villagers splashed around the pond trying to catch the squirming fish. Once you successfully caught a fish you quickly placed it in the fish bag before it slipped away again. This was especially amusing when the children were on holiday from school as they enjoyed splashing around with the slippery fish!
I thoroughly enjoyed living with the Akha people and although it was often hard to communicate with them for my knowledge of the Akha dialect was close to zero, they did however know enough English words to understand what I was saying and answer my persistent questions during the working hours and at meals.
The Akhas speak a Lola-Burmese language and their history has been transmitted from mouth to mouth as they have no writing although the civil rights activists have tried to improve this lack of literature by creating a written form of the Akha language.
I was lucky enough to take part in a rice celebration dedicated to the Akha spirits, which consisted in a ritual of the killing of a pig and chicken near the central religious hut in bamboo situated in the main courtyard of the family I was staying with.
After the particularly bloody ritual of cutting the pig up the meal was finally served following a strict traditional ritual with enormous platters and rice bowls. All dishes were pig and buffalo based with vegetables and rice on the side, complimented with the locally made Akha whiskey, that too distilled from rice.
At the end of the meal the villagers sat in groups to drink, talk and smoke (often opium) and finally tidy up and retreat to their huts to a welcomed rest from the day’s work and excitement.
The Akha’s future is in doubt as the modern development crushes these ethnic minorities who prefer to seek refuge in the hills and I am certain that the modern world full of uncertainties and unfounded beliefs will sooner or later crush these people. I am still busy completing the first edition of my book and in which I hope to clearly depict the true nature of this incredibly beautiful tribe.
To view part one of “Trekking Through Chiang Mai” please click the link.