The Akha People

The Akha people are relative “ new comers” to Laos, only having arrived within the last two hundred years or so. They, like most of the other hilltribes, originated in China. They migrated south into Burma, and also into Vietnam, then into Thailand and Laos. While their official name is Akha, some other groups call them the “Kor” people. Their language is of China-Tibet origin and they do not have their own alphabet.

The Akha do not have any written history but instead have an oral tradition of reciting their history, it is called “the Akha way”, and is a kind of a story handed down from their ancestors that summarizes their thoughts and experiences.

The Akha are deeply entrenched in spirit worship or Animism, they have their spirits categorized as “good spirits” or “bad spirits”. Tree, river and forest spirits are considered bad spirits, while house and village spirits are considered good spirits.

The Akha believe that the birth of twins is a curse and that they must be killed, they also believe that there is a very powerful spirit in water and this keeps many of them from bathing. They often build their homes on top of their ancestors graves to ward off evil spirits.

The Akha women are skilled cotton spinners, it is not uncommon to see them walking down roads while spinning cotton. They also perform weaving and embroidery, often times using beads, coins or feathers as decorations on their clothing.

When Akha children marry, the son must build a small house next to his parents house, once one of the parents dies, then he and his wife are allowed to move into that house. Akha men often have more than one wife, but not more than four.

The Akha build their houses both on short stilts and also on the ground, Akha houses always have two doors, one in the front and one in the back. The houses are separated in the center by a wall and one half is the women’s and one half is the men’s. The houses do not have any windows.

The women of the Akha tribes are some of the most interestingly dressed of the ethnic minorities of South East Asia, they wear elaborate head-dresses with silver balls and silver coins. Their jackets are usually tight-fitting, their skirts are usually dark blue or black and they usually wear leggings from their knees to their feet.

The Akha grow the usual hilltribe crops and also tea, but also have a reputation for being opium-poppie growers and have in the past had addiction problems. The Akha raise pigs, buffalos, cows and chickens, but they are not popular foods for the Akhas and they do not usually eat them unless there is a special occasion such as a feast or visiting guests. They also are skilled hunters and gatherers, like most of the hilltribe peoples.

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