Window to Chiang Mai Thailand
Mudplaying with Elephants
The Akha originally came from Yunnan, moving into Myanmar in the mid-19th century. They did not come to Thailand until early in the 20th century, but the large migrations due to persecution and instability in Myanmar have only been quite recent. Akha villages can be found near the Burmese border in the northern part of Chiang Mai province, but mainly in Chiang Rai province.
Villages vary in size and have elaborate gates with carved wooden fertility figures nearby, demarcating the realm between humans and good spirits and that of the jungle spirits. Ancestral spirits are paramount and are worshipped at an altar in the house.
The Akha have a special "way" which covers all aspects of their daily and ritual life. The "Akha Way" helps the tribe to maintain continuity and is administered by the village priest, who has more power than the elders and village head.
Akha clothing is made of a homespun cotton cloth died to near black with indigo. For women this cloth is embellished with embroidery and strips of colored cloth decorated with coins, seeds, or whatever the fancy. Women's outfits consist of hip length jackets worn over a halter, a short skirt, a sash, and leggings. The most distinct item for women is the headdress, which gets more elaborate as the wearer matures. Men tend to wear loose jackets that may have an embroidered strip down the front as well as the back.