Entrances to all Akha villages are fitted with a wooden gate adorned with elaborate carvings on both sides depicting imagery of men and women. It is known as a “spirit gate”.
It marks the division between the inside of the village, the domain of man and domesticated animals, and the outside, the realm of spirits and wildlife.
Gates function to ward off evil spirits and to entice favorable ones. Carvings can be seen on the roofs of the villager’s houses as a second measure to control the flow of spirits.
Another important feature found in most Akha villages is a tall four-posted village swing which is used in an annual ancestor offering related to the fertility of rice.
Headdresses worn by the women are perhaps the most spectacular and elaborate items of Akha dress. Akha women define their age or marital status with the style of headdress worn. At roughly age 12, the Akha female exchanges her child’s cap for that of a girl.
A few years later she will begin to don the jejaw, the beaded sash that hangs down the front of her skirt and keeps it from flying up in the breeze. During mid-adolescence she will start wearing the adult woman’s headdress. Headdresses are decorated by their owner and each is unique.
Silver coins, monkey fur, and dyed chicken feathers are just a few of the things that might decorate the headdress.
Akha are an indigenous hill tribe who live in small villages at higher elevations in the mountains of Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Yunnan Province in China.
- They made their way from China into Southeast Asia during the early 20th century. They are often classified by the Chinese government as part of the Hani, an official national minority.
- They are closely related to the Hani, but consider themselves a distinct group and often resist being subsumed under that identity.
In Thailand, they are classified as one of the six hill tribes, a term used for all of the various tribal peoples who migrated from China and Tibet over the past few centuries and who now inhabit the dense forests on the borders between Thailand, Laos, and Burma.
Akha’s speak “Avkavdawv”, meaning Akha language. They have no written language, but there are several competing scripts that have been written by missionaries and other foreigners.