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Akha tribe Thailand

The hill tribe with Chinese roots: Akha tribe, Chiang Rai

The Akha are an ethnic hill tribe indigenous to China and Tibet, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos. The Akha tribe originated in Yannan province in southern China in the early 1900s. Over several centuries many Akha have been migrating southward from their original home.

The conflict in Myanmar brought many Akha to Thailand, where they make up the largest hill tribe population. With around 14 subgroups and about 80,000 live in the Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces in northern Thailand.

An area with a large percentage of Akha hill tribe people is Mae Salong  in Chiang Rai province. The hill tribe villages are also found in the area of Ban Therd Thai, a former residence and base of the so-called “Opium King”, Khun Sa.

In Thailand, there are basically two subgroups of Akha hill tribe: Akha Loi Mi and U Lo. The Loi Mi are easily recognisable by the distinctive metal plate on the back of the women’s head dress. The U Lo women wear a conical headdress.

The hill tribe speak a language which is a branch of the Tibeto-Burman language group, which is called Lolo or Yi. The language has no traditional written script.

The Akha have no traditional written language. There are a variety of schemes for writing. These have been developed by missionaries and employ Roman, Thai or Burmese characters, but literacy is still virtually non-existent.

The younger people, profess Christianity since many of their ancestors were converted by missioners over 200 years ago.

Akha Zang also known as the Way, a total lifestyle prescribed in the oral literature of the Akhas, still runs deep in the consciousness of older generations. The Way combines animism, ancestor worship and their deep relationship with the land.

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For an Akha tribal, the way of life which extends beyond simple religious practice and infuses every aspect of their existence. The tribal Way emphasizes rituals in everyday life and stresses strong family ties; every male can recount his genealogy back over fifty generations to the first, Sm Mi O.

The hill tribe generally live in bamboo houses which are raised on low wooden stilts in hilly areas. These huts are divided by gender. One side is for the women and the other side, occupied by the men.

The Akha

subsist through an often destructive form of slash and burn agriculture. This can result in elimination of old-growth forest, native animal species and serious soil runoff problems. They are expert farmers who focus on mountain rice, corn, and soybeans that are planted in seasonal shifts. The tribals are also very efficient hunters, though their prey sometimes includes endangered species.

The tribals love to sing and dance, most of their dances are developed from daily life chores such as the rice husking activity which is practiced during harvest season.

A night stay at any one of the villages is an excellent way to get a feel of their culture and they will be more than happy to teach you a few of their traditional dance steps.

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