Akha are the largest of the hill tribe groups, and originated in Tibet and Southern China, before they migrated to Burma, Laos and Thailand.
The video above is of Akha women in full traditional dress, dancing at the Hill Tribe Cultural & Sunflower Festival, Doi Hua Mae Kham, Chiang Rai province (Nov 2010)
Perhaps the most impoverished of the hill tribes, they’ve in the main staunchly resisted incorporation into Thai culture and religious interference. Their preference is to live at elevations of 1,200 meters above sea-level. Carved wooden gates (Spirit Gateway), presided over by guardian spirits, are constructed within their villages to protect them from evil spirits.
The Akha live in raised houses, within which one small room is set aside for paying respect to their ancestors. The Akha speak a Lolo-Burmese language, but with no written form, its difficult to accurately trace their history. The Akha are closely bound by tribal culture and have developed a rich oral literature tradition in which elders can recite their ancestral names going back 50 generations! A highland tribe, the Akhas have been forced by necessity to move into the lowland hills and valleys for agricultural land. They wear beautifully embroidered jackets and exquisite headsets – especially when selling trinkets to tourists!
Akha ladies are skilled and tenacious salewomen!
The Akha have been in north Thailand for approximately 100 years, their first settlement is thought to have been established north-west of Doi Mae Salong, at Thoed Thai. The focal point of community life is the open ground at the village centre. Here, the village celebrates major festivals such as New Year, and the Giant Swing. Young men and women come to meet and mingle in this area, carefully watched by village elders. More reading; Overview – History