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The Akha People

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The Akha Hill tribe of Thailand

The Akha, or “Ei Ko” as the Thai call them, are one of the most recognizable of all the hill tribes in Thailand due to their exotic appearance.  Part of their exotic appearance stems from the black caps that the Aka women wear. The men typically wear black pants, and a lose jacket, with some embroidery.  These clothes are spun by hand, weaved together, and dyed by the Akha women.  All through traditional methods, including the use of indigo for dye.

 

There are currently between 20,000 and 50,000 Akha people living in Thailand. The Akha are a relatively new group to Thailand, and originated in Tibet and Yunnan in China. The group continues to grow, as new arrivals pour in from Burma every day.  The Akha have only been present in Thailand for around 150 years, making them a very new addition to the hill tribes.

The Aka tend to live along high altitude mountain ridges, though in recent times they have had to move to lower basins due to population growth.  Their homes are generally simple structures, built on low slits.  Generally an Aka home will have a porch, and a steep roof.  The inside of the home will have a stove, generally found in the back, and be very simple otherwise. The homes are typically square in shape.

The main crop cultivated by the Akha is rice.  This is their staple crop; however, they are also known to grow millet, peppers, sesame, and a variety of other vegetables that are indigenous to this region. The Akha also raise livestock, though it is typically only used for special occasions and sacrificial purposes. The Aka are also known to grown opium, though this tradition isn’t as popular as it once was, due to affects resulting from the addictive nature of the plant.

The Akha are a monogamous people for the most part, though it is believed, that there might be possible acceptance from the group for a man who chooses to have more than one wife.  From a religious point of view, they are animists. Animists tend to be very connected to nature, and believe that everything is endowed with a soul, including animals and plants.  Animist type religions are very popular among indigenous and traditional peoples. The Akha also worship their ancestors.

The Akha guard their village with impressive ceremonial gates, enshrined with human artifacts, as varied as traditional symbols of lovers embraced, all the way down to the airplanes of today.  They decorate their gates with these representations of humanities, to inform the spirit world that only humans may enter the gates.  Typically the gates are restored once a year.

One of the biggest yearly events in the lives of the Akha people is the The Akha Swing that occurs every year from August-September.  This festival centers on a large village swing that is believed to be protected by guardian spirits.  Beginning with the village leader, each member takes turns swinging during the four day Swinging Festival.  This is a well loved event for the Akha people.  Another traditional event for the Akha is their New Year celebration which takes place every December.

 

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