Saturday, August 22, 2009

Clothing of Akha

The well-dressed Akha woman looks stunning from the tie of the elaborate headdress to her ornate leggings. The Akha man's clothing is not so elaborate, but there is a certain smartness in the cut of his jacket an the tilt of his turban. The basic material used in Akha clothing is a firmly woven homespun cotton cloth, Akha grew all of the cotton used for their clothing, but now some purchase raw cotton from the Thai. They make it into tufts about 20 cm long, which they carry in a decorated bamboo section or a basket which is tied to the woman's waist. She attaches a tuft to the hook of her wooden spindle which she rolls at high speed on her thigh. When the spindle is released the cotton spin thread. Girls are taught to spin when they are six or seven years old, for the mother alone cannot make sufficient thread to cloth the entire family. Women and girls spin thread constantly-while walking to the field, carrying wood and water, sitting by the fireside in the evening, and during every other available moment. Akha girls like to have contests to see who can produce the most spindles of thread in a day.

The thread is woven into firm cloth 17 to 20 cm wide, using a foot-treadle loom. The cloth is then dyed with indigo which is grown in Akha gardens. It takes about a month of dipping and drying the cloth daily to produce the deep color typical of their clothing. [See Campbell et al 1978:140 for the process of preparing indigo dye.]

Akha in Thailand have three basic styles of dress. The first, 'U Lo-Akha' (Pointed-headdress) is worn by most of the Akha who have been domiciled in Thailand for many years. Their attire resembles that of the A Jaw Akha in Burma. The second style, 'Loimi-Akha', is named after a large mountain in Burma from which many of them have come, and includes most of those who have migrated recently from Burma. The Akha often call them 'U Bya' (Flat-headdress). The third style is commonly called 'Phami_Akha', named after a village near the border town of Mae Sai. This type is worn primarily by the Mawn Po clan in Thailand, Burma, and China.

The basic costume of an Akha woman consists of : a headdress, a jacket worn over a halter-like garment, a short skirt, a sash, a with decorated ends, and leggings. The hip-length jacket is made of two strips of cloth about 20 cm wide, with seams down the back and sides. The wrist-length sleeves are straight, with no tapering or rounding where they are set into the body of the jacket. The front is plain, except for a strip of colored binding around the back of the neck and down to mid-chest. The back of the jecket. The front is plain, except for a strip of colored binding around the back of the neck and down to mid-chest. The back of the jacket and the sleeves are embellished according to the three basic styles. Sometimes a plain white under-jacket is worn for insulation and to keep the wearer's skin from getting blue from the indigo dye.

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