With the amount of rain we got in the last couple of days, there was no better time to lock ourself in our hotel room and sort out some of the pictures we’ve taken lately. As I anticipated in my previous post, we went to spend two days with a Akha family, in a tiny little village, close to the border with Burma, north of Chiang Rai. We also visited a Lisu village, not far from our hosts’ village and learned something about their cultures.
This time too, like some time ago in Laos, it was a responsible eco-tourist thing we went for – Natural Focus, the provider we chose, call this CBT, or community based tourism. The hill-tribe tourist business in Northern Thailand , as well as in Northern Vietnam and Laos is a quite controversial one (stories of exploitation, prejudice and racism are not unheard of) so, when we take tours like these we try to do it responsibly and only chose those providers who give back to these communities and help their development while also helping preserving their traditions.
Akha people are an ethnic minority originally from South China. They first migrated to Burma, then some moved to Northern Thailand and Laos. All Akha people used to be animist, but in recent years a number of them were converted to Christianism by protestant missionaries from Taiwan and catholic missionaries from the US. While missionaries were accused by activists of attempting to ‘kill’ Akha’s traditions, it is also true, on the other hand, that the adoption of Christianisms put an end to some controversial cultural habits – for instance, if a woman gave birth to twins, she was supposed to kill them, as having twins was considered to be a bad omen for the village. If the women refused to kill the twins, then the community would expel her from the village. Christian Akha have dropped this tradition, and similarly they gave up some propitiatory rituals and festivals involving the ‘sacrifice’ of animals, like pigs and chickens – In the context of poverty, having dropped these rituals entailed more food available to the communities and less ‘religion-related’ costs. Traditionally Akha people where involved in the cultivation and the trade of Opium, which was (and still is) quite common in the so-called Golden Triangle. However it looks like more and more Akha people have quit this business over time. Akha people in Northern Thailand weren’t allowed to get Thai citizenship, with all the disadvantages that this entailed. However, 7 years ago, as part of a wider project started by ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, hill tribes, including Akha were recognized the right to education and health care, so more and more young people from many minorities are now going to school. Also, in the last years many minority villages have seen an improvement in their infrastructure, with some villages being finally reached by electricity.
Our host family was a big family. Archá and Buphae, grandfather and grandmother, their sons and daughters, most of whom we didn’t get to meet, and their granddaughters and grandsons. They all speak Akha, but the younger generation speak Thai because they learn it in school. Archá and Buphae live in a wooden house, with a veranda that allows amazing views on the mountains. They are both great cooks and we enjoyed their culinary abilities. They escaped from Burma 30 years ago. The escape took them 4 nights (they couldn’t walk during the day or it would be too easy for the military to spot them) and Buphae was eight-months pregnant, plus she had a two years old daughter. Finally they crossed the border and settled into Thailand. Archá and Buphae now have a shop, but they also run a little farm where they grow corn and other vegetables. Plus, they host some travellers, from time to time, through Natural Focus, which allows them to round up their income.
Click the pictures below to enlarge them.
Law Yo – The Akha village
Law yo is a small village with less than 50 households and less then 400 people. The majority of houses are made of wood and stand on high stilts, but there are also some buildings made of bricks and cement, including the kindergarden and the church.
The Lisu and their village
Lisu people are another ethnic group living in Northern Thailand and various regions of Burma and China. Lisu living in Thailand are animist and believe in ghosts and spirits. Lisu people don’t have first names, and when a new child is born they’re called boy, or girl, depending on their sex, followed by a number denoting whether they are the first, second,(and so on) son or daughter. For instance, the first girl is called girl 1, the first son is called boy 1, the second girl is called girl 2 and the second boy, boy 2.
As usual I will post more pictures on facebook, so check our page soon.