The Akha are arguably the most colorful of the Thai Hilltribes and everyones idea of
what a hilltribe should look like. This tribe is
the poorest of the hill tribes, but well known for their extraordinary costumes
and exotic appearance.
Most of the 30-40,000 members of the tribe
live now in areas just south to the border to Burma, but the Akha have roots tracing back
from the Yunnan region in Southern China through Burma and Laos. They have reached
Northern Thailand about 100 years ago and are trying to adapt to
Villages of these colourful people are to be
found in the mountains of China, Laos Myanmar (Burma)
and northern Thailand.
There are approximately 20000 Akha living in Thailands northern provinces of
Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai at high altitudes. This tribe originate in Tibet.
Every Akha village is distinguished by their carved wooden gates, presided over
by guardian spirits. They life 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.
Akha women 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. Akha 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.
They have their own religious beliefs and practices, called the Akhazan - the way of
life. It is the guiding code to all Akha activities, from allocating land to how to conduct the
ancestor ceremonies to building a house, it has the answer to how to do it the correct
way. It is handed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next because there is
no written language.