The Akha, also known to the Thai as the Gaw or the E-gaw (names that the Akha do not like), are located primarily with Chiang Rai
and Chiang Mai provinces. The Akha are closely related with the Hani of Yunnan province, China, the Akha-Hani complex numbers
about two to three million people, but with just over 70,000 members in Thai territory. The Akha speak a language in the Lolo/Yi branch
of the Tibeto-Burman language group, but have no traditional written language. There are a variety of schemes
for writing Akha developed by missionaries or linguists which employ Roman, Thai or Burmese characters,
but literacy in Akha is still virtually nil. The Akha are traditionally subsistence farmers, growing a variety
of crops including rice and corn.
Though many Akha, especially younger people, profess Christianity, Akha Zang (The Akha Way), a total lifestyle perscribed
in the oral literature of the Akhas, still runs deep in the consciousness of older generations. The Akha Way combines animism,
ancestor worship and their deep relationship with the land.. For an Akha, the Akha Way is a way of life which extends beyond
simple religious practice and infuses every aspect of their existence. The Akha Way emphasizes rituals in everyday life
and stresses strong family ties; every Akha male can recount his geneology back over fifty generations to the first Akha,
Sm Mi O. The 8 Akha groups of Thailand are:
The Uloh Akha is a Thai Akha. This group was the first to move to the north of Thailand and stay, moving to Doi Tung,
Mae Fah Luang in Chiang Rai province. This group is very big and is mostly in Chiang Rai, also moving to Chiang Mai. 'Uloh' means a sharp hat,
with the 'U' from Udoo meaning a sharp, high circle. The name is given to the Akha by the hat that they wear
and this is a prominent group for their hats. The Thai Akha are spreading around the 5 provinces of Chiang Rai,
Chiang Mai, Lampang, Prae and Tak in the north of Thailand. Some of these people retain their traditional beliefs,
respecting their ancestor spirits and others changed to buddism, Christianity and Islam. Sanjaroengao has the largest population
of Akha people. The Uloh Akha language has become the standard between Akha people and is used
to communicate between different groups.
The LorMee Akha is a Burmese Akha. Their population is smaller than the Uloh Akha but this group is known to be energetic.
These groups moved from Burma and live in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai Province. They moved to Thailand after Uloh Akha,
and abundantly, to Mae Fah Luang and the Maesuay district, Chinag Rai. The name LorMee comes
from DoiMee- the hill in Burma where they originated. They didn't stay in Burma and so their name changed to be different
from the original DoiMee. They are living in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and the Tak province.
Around 55 % keep to the old traditional beliefs, respecting their ancestor spirits with the same ceremony
as the Uloh Akha, though some groups changed to Buddhism and Christianity. The language is the same as the Uloh Akha
but uses a higher tone and is spoken faster.
Phamee Akha is a Chinese Akha. These groups have lived in China and had an exchange of culture with the Chinese people
and are therefore called merchant. With lineage from Sibsongpanna, Yunnan, they mostly live in China, but a few groups live
in Thailand in places such as Maesai, Maechan, Maesuay in the Chinag Rai and the Tak province. The village Phamee
is called so because this is where bears are found living in the cliffs around the Maesai area. The Akha people moved
to live in this area and so call the village DoiPhamee, calling themselves the Phamee Akha. These groups have 2 communities
in Thailand; Phamee village in Maesai and Maechan Tai village in Maesuay, later moving to Giwsadai village, Maechan.
When a ceremony takes place, these groups will come together to meet. They have a few different names given
from people outside the group, such as Lahbour Akha which means China Akha or Ubya Akha.
They are spread across Tak and Chinagrai. They have old traditional beliefs,
respecting the ancestor's spirit and also, similarly to the other groups, they converted to Christianity.
The Nahkha Akha moved from the border between China and Burma. They moved to Thailand after experiencing
conflict living on the border, and not having security of the Chinese government from pirates. 'NahKha' is simply the name
of the village where they lived in China. They are living in Chinag Rai in the Maesuay District.
They changed their religion to that of the city they moved to and they are Christian,
using the same language as the Phamee Akha. A big NahKha Akha group in Thailand is in Pattana Seri,
Maesuay district Chiang Rai.
This group is migrant from Burma because of the conflict in their country and they are living in Mae Fah Luang.
'Pear Akha' comes from the leader of their country since they originate in Burma. They are living in Chiang Rai and Lampang.
Around 10% retain their old traditional beliefs but most of them converted to Christianity.
The language is similar to Uloh Akha, but they speak much louder-almost like shouting- so much
that people from outside their group may think they are fighting.
The Akher Akha moved from China close to Tibet. Firstly they moved to Burma, but the government did nothing
to protect them from pirates and so they moved again to Thailand. Arkher Akha is the name given by the other Akha groups
because they are so different in ways such as language and clothing. The names they use themselves are Kohkuer or Onjeyor.
The population is around 650 and they live in Chiang Rai at Maesuay. They believe and practice the old traditions
but some groups did change and became christian. The language is absolutely different to the other Akha,
but when communicating between other Akha groups they use the Uloh language.
The ArJoh Akha are migrants from Burma because the conflict in that country and they moved to stay at Mae-seay, Chiang Mai.
They are named 'ArJoh' because they changed from their old traditions to new ways. They are living in the PongPom village.
Most of the population changed to be a Christian and they use a language similar to Uloh Akha.
This group moved from Burma because of the pirates and conflict in Burma and UPhee Akha moved to Chiang Tung.
UPhee Akha are named by the type of hat they wear. They are living in Chiang Rai at Mae Fah Luang. Their beliefs
changed to conform to those of the city and now they are Christian. They use the same language as the Uloh Akha.
Akha is a tribal language in which every word ends in a vowel sound. It is completely different from Thai,
Chinese and other mainstream Asian languages. Akha is in the Loloish (Yi) branch of the Tibeto-Burman family
and is very closely related with the Lisu and Lahu tribal languages.
Akha has 26 possible initial consonants, including a “zero” consonant (a glottal stop before a word beginning with a vowel sound),
13 vowels and five tones. All vowels in pure Akha are simple, but depending on geographical location, Akhas will add one
to three extra dipthongs to their speech to account for sounds of borrowed words from the majority languages.
The tone of a word is abosulutely necessary to the meaning. Many consonant-vowel combinations exist as five distinct words,
depending on the tone with which the word (vowel) is said. While Akha has a number of regional dialects, each with borrowed
words from the respective majority culture, the base phonology of Akha is very consistent.
Lifestyle and House
The Akha is the hill tribe people who have the simple lifestyle, living from hand to mouth. They will sing a song after
they left the village gate while they are out for farming. Men sing when they crop or do something which cause them
the loneliness. They want someone to be with for comforting them from it. They respond the song with women
when they got to their farms. The women may work in the different fields with the men. They sing a song as saying goodbye
and making an appointment in night time at the cultural field. It was a very colorful life but it is quite difficult to be seen
at present because there are the developments which influence their lifestyle. There are almost all forgotten
from the reality and the remained things are only the stories told by the old people in the society.
The Akha's entertainments can be named into 2 groups:
The entertainments played in the ceremonies :
The Akha Swing (Loa Cher Bee Err)
The top (Chong) is the Akha recreation which only played one time a year when there is the ceremony or tradition.
Playing top is the entertainment that brings them joy and it is the male amusement. The day that ceremony is held,
men leave their houses since early morning for cutting the hardwood to make the tops, sharping the top of the wood.
Somebody may put the sharp iron at the tip. This tip can make the tops spin for long time. After the tops are done,
they are playing those tops by dividing into 2 groups and play a game together.
, this tradition is annually held at late of August untill the beginning of September
after the rice and corn planting are done.
The Dancing (Bor Chong Too Err) is held only during the ceremony. Both men and women are wearing thier beautiful tribal
dresses and they come to the field of village or the wide place. There are different kinds of dancing:
- Dancing in a circle, they dance by following the rhythm of the drum and move from left to right all together.
- The bamboos hitting style, women have to have the bamboo tube to hit one another for making a noise
and men may dance in circle with women as well.
A pitch-and-toss game (Ar Ber Chor Err)
is played during the ceremony or The Yoor Kam Day because
they are having free time. This is regarded as a female game. They keep the snuffbox bean for making toys.
This game is usually played in team.
The General Entertainments :
The BamBoo Longed Legs (Mor Nor)
The Three-wheels is a game which is not able to find the its background but it is the popular game
for the Akha children. They get a big piece of wood to make 3 wheels. Next, these woods will be tightly hammered
or tied all together. There is only one wheel at the front and 2 wheels on the back. Moving to the speed tips;
the rinds are hammered or pounded into tiny pieces and stick it on the wheels. This kind of rinds are sticky
and slippery. It makes a great speed for 3 wheels. The children will preserve it for using in the future.
The Akha kids like to bite the rinds and chew them into the small pieces and when they are ready to use,
they stick it on the wheel. Three wheels is a dangerous game. It may cause dangers in the case that children
did not make it well enough.
is the adventurous game for people who have never played before because
the player have to make balance and it is quite tall.
The Cultural Yard / The Community Yard ( Dae Khong / Kar Par), the entertainments which were played
at The Cultural Yard were the night entertainments under the bright moonlight. After the returning from the fileds,
both men and women were preparing themselves to go there ( Dae Khong). They wore their traditional hill tribe dresses
for dancing and singing the songs and they might chat with the old generation about the traditions and cultures.
Turning to the men, they had to collect the firewood for lighting. Besides, they also danced and it was a great chance
for them to choose their mates for the rest of their whole lives. After the entertainment was done, those youngers would
return their homes for taking a rest because they had to work in the fields the next day. The Akha lifestyle at that time
was just like mentioned before because they did not have the great education. Then, they were on the disadvantage
about that. However, they were really smart about the folk knowledge that they should reserve
and passes it through generations.
The smoking competition (Hor Chee Hor Tha Err)
, it is the entertainment for the old people who smoke the tobacco.
They will gather together and make a competition by smoking the tobacco until it turns red as much as possible.
After that, they are playing the games, questioning things. When the games are over, they will have to smoke again
and whose pipes have no more fire. That means, the people are loser and the people who still can smoke are the winner.
This entertainment is the game for the old people when they have free time.
The cup moulding (Orr Mar Tae Err)
, children are digging clay for prick in the middle of the clay by their elbows
and make a whole which is similar to the cups. Then, they pour water in that hole. It is the entertainment
for kids played in the ceremony; they have to pray the incantation when the old people are died.
Therefore, it is one of the important entertainments for the Akha.
According to the traditional Akha legend, no matter what, the men should be superior to the women. Women are the ones
who take care of things. For example, agriculture is done to support the family. They occupations which the Akha usually
do are growing rice, corn, and ginger, hunting, breeding animals, general works for making money such as work in town
or they work with forestry for the forestry department, and looking for things from the forest. They prepare fields for agriculture
that are situated at least 3 to 5 kilometers away from the community. The community's forest will not be used for agriculture.
However, if anyone grows their plants nearby the community and those plants are destroyed by animals, then the animals'
owner have to pay no reimbursement for the damage. This is a rule in the community.
The way to choose were plants should be grown, is based on the beliefs of the village. There are corn, rice and different kinds
of beans and vegetables in the fields. The Akha have their own techniques for growing plants by mixing all the seeds up with rice.
The seeds will all be planted in the same area. They make use of the same area as much as possible. They like to grow vegetable,
chili, beans next to the river or their fences. The reason that they grow these kinds of plants near their houses is because
it is hard to walk 2-3 kilometers to get vegetables. Therefore, they grow the plants close to where they live. When they are
going to the fields in the evening, they will pick some vegetables back home as well. The Akha men do the work in the fields
and they also go for hunting when they have free time to supply their diet. The women take care of the housework
such as cooking and gardening.
The Akha's habit of moving residence is the reason why they today do not have enough land to make a living.
Even the houses they build are only meant to be temporary residences.
Akha houses are practical living places, close together on the inside, everything handy where it is needed,
many items made of wood including the house itself. Posts of wood or bamboo, roof of grass thatch. One to two fire places
fill the work area of both sides of an Akha divided hut, the men's and the women's. An Akha hut has two doors,
one to the front porch, one to the rear. Houses are built by traditional Akha Orthodox rules, by the entire village.
Noteably, Christians even force the Akha to change how their hut is built. Akha huts are repaired each spring
or completely rebuilt every few years.
Cultural and Traditional
The Swing Ceremony
A fascinating combination of rituals, songs and dances throughout the year which are also beautifully woven into
their garments. Akha culture is full of wonderful songs, poetry and a beautiful variety of dances.
Marriage and Family
The Akha are a meticulous tribe for living their lives, and adhere to auspicious days for performing ceremonies.
In the case of a bad day or a bad month there will not be performed any ceremonies for finding a spouse. The Akha men can
marry their beloved woman even though they have just met each other only one time. The Akha have a principle for choosing
their spouse which is a must do and it is a really important one too. They have to ask for each others blood relations
and clans to find out whether they have the same roots or not. If they have the same roots, it is impossible for them
to marry one another. However, if there is 7 generations or more to a common root it is still possible for them to marry.
Furthermore, they have to ask for each others birthdays.
There are some things about the birthdays that are very important. The Akha are careful if a man have birthday on the tiger day
and the women have birthday on the pig day. If this situation happens, there won't be a marriage between the two
of them because it is related to the biting day in the Akha belief.
If a man and a woman decides to marry one another, the respectable family members from the man's side will go
and ask for the woman from the woman's parents. In the case that they can make a deal, the groom will take the woman
to his own house and she will stay with his relatives for one night. The Akha wedding will be celebrated for 3 days.
The New Years yolk
The tradition "Kuem-Sue-Kuem-Mee-Ar-Peaw” is appearing later as bingunder interdiction from burning a farm
in the middle of April. Straight with month of Akha people is "Kuem-Sue-Ba-La”. Alha people will perform a ceremony
"Kuem-Sue-Kuem-Mee-Ar-Peaw” (Kuem-Sue mean New Year, Kuem-Mee mean the night of the old year
and Ar-Peaw mean the deceased ancestor has gone, when altogether that mean the tradition Happy New Year
or call the tradition new year bump against an egg.
The Akha people start assembling that call “Kuem-Aew-Ar-Paew”. The ceremonial day first,
when see 1 period from full moon, the Akha people call that “La-Dae-Thi-Hya”. They will have the beginning
perform a new ceremony that call “Kuem-Sue-Ar-Peaw” that mean the ceremony welcomes the new year
and the Akha people gives the meaning includes the living things greeting , at a new born in every kind
in the world in April. When perform a ceremony finished, they will have performing a ceremony call that
“Kuem-Mi-Ar-Pewa”. This ceremony that happen for celebrate a New Year and celebrate the culture
leader position and community administration “Jow-Ma” by a leader has performing a ceremony
of the bearings calls that “Jow-Hla-Hya-Er” that is the end of the ceremonial.
The Swing Ceremony
This ceremony is held at the end of August until the beginning of September: the origin of swing playing was from
“Ja Dare Long” now is China. There were the leaders named “Kha Bar, Ar Pew, Mhor Loh, Loh Seu” and
“Khor Bor Ar Pew Eaw Kor Kor Kong”. It is the day that all plants are growing and they are ready to be harvested
in the near future. There is the last time for weeding out in the field and wait for the harvest time which is
as same as Chor Lar Bar Lar in Akha’s month. The Swing Ceremony is not only the value ceremony
but it is also related with Akha’s life style. There were the leaders named “Kha Bar, Ar Pew, Mhor Loh,
Loh Seu” and “Khor Bor Ar Pew Eaw Kor Kor Kong”. They were the respectable leaders for Akha
and they said that there was The Swing Ceremony for 33 days in “Jar Dare”.
Everyone in this area both the rich and the poor had to prepare the food for celebrating in the festival.
This rite is very important for women; therefore, they will dress properly by their ornaments and stuffs which
are prepared all year. The dresses show that they are getting older. They are playing the swing and singing
the song alone and in pairs. This rite is held for celebrating the plants which are going to be harvested.
After this ceremony is done, there is no more perennial plants are cut for using in the community. However,
there is one exception for it; there must be someone in the village dead. During this time is also known as
the Akha’s lent because during the ceremony is also the rainy season. In case that there is no rain in any year,
it is not good for Akha because it effete to their plants. It takes 4 days for this ceremony:
The first day :The beginning of Jar Bear ceremony, Akha women have to wear their dresses which are full of the
ornaments and stuff. They have to go to the holy well and get some water for using in the rite. Akha call
“E Joo E Saw” which is the sacrifice for their dead ancestors of each family. Akha would not let men to get that
water because they think that it is women’s work and they pound rice called “Hor Tong” in the mortar.
The second day
:The day that everyone come over to assigned the work for the swing construction of the community.
There is no other rite and the animals will not be killed this day. After the big swing is constructed,
“Jew Ma” is a person who forms the rite and he is a first person who plays the swing. After his turn,
everyone can do their turns. Next, they have to build the small swing at their places for their kids.
This rite is over when each family done their own swings.
The third day :“Wan Lor Da Ar Pew”, it is the biggest ceremony day. There is the celebration in every family.
The old men or the guests from other village are invited for the party in the village.
The fourth day
:The last day for the ceremony “Jar Sar”, there is nothing to do in this day because it is the last day
for playing swing in a year. However, around 06.00 pm., the religious leader keeps the robe and ties it up with the swing.
It means the atmosphere for this rite is gone. After dinner, they will clear all the sacrificed things up.
It shows the last moment of this ceremony.
“Khong-Yaew-Ar-Peaw” ceremony begins every October of each year and during which is plants of the farms are ready
for harvest such as watermelons, cucumber and other vegetables. This “Khong-Yaew-Ar-Peaw” ceremony is a traditional
Akha ceremony where the villagers believes. The Akha people call this devil “Hnae” and the weapon to suppress
and fight with the devil is called a “Tead-Ma”, which is carved out from softwood, forming shapes of swords, spikes or guns.
The Akha people belives that the weapon can be used to drive away the bad luck in the village. Villagers will shout
and children will paint their face to look scary and frightening to scare away “Hnae”, the devil. The children will start to shout
This is a symbol to drive out the bad luck from the village and the people in the village will shout “Cho-Cho-Li-Lo,
Cho-Cho-Li-Lo” to each household to drive the bad luck away.
Religious, Beliefs, and Rituals
Recite the ancestor name
Akha is the tribe who pass on the knowledge to generations by talking, studying. Now Akha change and adapt the way
of living and culture to be consistent with the social. The oldest would like to have a recite the ancestor name because day
by day it will lost and the name change to be the same the local name and the Akha people speak Thai. The Akha have
Thai name because would like to have accept from the society but the Shaman don’t want the Akha people forgot symbolic
and the shaman tell the story about the Akha name.
Style of dress for UloAkha
Akha women look beautiful when dressing fully. For a man dress, not to be beautiful the same women cloth but has a keen
and wondrous. Akha use a cotton for weaving and dye a navy blue color.Akha women in Thailand has a 3 style for dressing ,
the first is call “UloAkha” wear a sharp hat , the second call “LomueAka” wear a flat hat and the third call “PhameeAkha”
wear a flat hat also but the cut different , the silver and have many detail.
Style of dress for UloAkha
A Akha man usually wear a jacket and adorn by many color’s clothes and sew nearly a women clothes
but to short than. For a pants look like a short pant made from a cotton also. For a hat made from a massive clothes
and roll up the end of hat two side together and sew, use a cotton wrap the roll again and adorn by a red tassel.
A sharp hat separate two part like the base is a buckle on the head to put together with decorations,
a silver coat button and a small beads, on the top has a bamboo structure under a cotton cloth, adorn by a silver,
a small beads, tear grass, a tassel from the feathers of a chicken dye. For a shirt made from the cotton,
A jacket dress by many cloth color, a jacket long to the wrist, on the back has many stripes,
for a skirt use the same clothes, has a crimp in the back, long to the knees, adorn by the silver
and has a red tassel on the front of skirt, a stocking adorn by many cloth’s color and a tear grass.
Style of dress for LomueAka
Style of dress for LomueAka
A clothe for Akha man and a childhas a sew stripes around the cloth’s side or around buttonholes cut.
This hat will has a silver square sheet to rise from the back, in the front adorn with a small beads
and alternate with a silver coat button, to surround her face by a silver ball, has a coin and a small beads hang
to the shoulder. In the back, adorn by colorful clothes and alternate with a beautiful stripes and decorate by a shell,
a tear grass, a small beads and a tassel on the calf and a bag do the same way. A wrap’s clothes adorn by a shell,
a silver coat button and a tear grass. For a single woman a hat will large more than a woman who get marry.
For a skirt, Akha wear the same.
Style of dress for PhameeAkha
For a shirt in this group long than other group. Sew with stripes clothes cover, has a buttonhole in front of
or the left side. Adorn the buttonholed cut by a silver coins or a silver small bell necklace. A pants the same other group.
For this hat look like armor’s hat and adorn with a silver coat button, a coins, a small beads
and do not have a hiatus, beside of the hat has a strings small beads till wrist. On the back shirt,
usually sew a blue stripes cloth cover and have many details such as a sleeve, wrist’s wrap and a bag.
This Akha group different with two groups before like this group has a one shirt inside made from cotton and dye,
adorn with a silver coat button, a coins and a silver sheet.
Style of dress for PhameeAkha
The Ahka have their origins in Mongolia before moving to Szechuan and Yunan provinces in China. In the mid 19th
century they migrated to the Golden Triangle area. Their music is represented in a variety of wind, string and percussion instruments.
Music embodies their tradition, culture and history. Every facet of life is recounted in music, harvest, hunt, phases of life and seasons.
Akha Drums: Drum made from hard wood and buffalo hide.
Akha Gong and Cymbals:
The bronze gong and cymbals are used to call spirits during festivals.
Flutes: During courting, the soft and melodious bamboo flutes are played.
You will hear these free reed treble pipes at New Year dances.
Call to the Hunt: The buffalo horn will be heard when it’s time for the hunt.
Here’s something unusual. The bamboo beater on the left is a percussion board
for seasonal harvest ceremonies. The other two bamboo beaters are for funeral rites for women and for men.