Saturday, August 22, 2009

House of Akha

There is an aura of sacredness about an Akha house, for in it is kept the ancestral altar, which is the focus for all ceremonies relating to the ancestors. Consequently there is a prescribed way in which household items must be brought into a mew home. First all the paraphernalia to do with the ancestral altar must be taken in, along with the three-legged iron cooking stand on which their rice is cooked. After that other household furnishings can be moved in.

Houses are usually built up on posts, although sometimes the side on the upper slope of the mountain is built directly on the ground, while the down-hill side is elevated. The space under the house affords a convenient shelter for the animals, as well as storage space for firewood and equipment. In case of two-level houses, the cooking and eating area is on the ground, and the family sleeps on the elevated portion.

Akha houses have no windows, and the roof is constructed in such a way that the eaves come down very low on both sides. This results in a dark interior, but keeps out the wind and rain, and provides a work space outside under the eaves. There are two main sections , the men's and the women's, with a shoulder-high partition between the sections extending as far as the central house beam. One area is for sleeping, the other for work and various activities. The ancestral altar is hung on the woman's side of the partition.

Each house has two open fireplaces for cooking. The one in the men's side is used primarily for cooking meat and brewing tea, while rice and vegetables are cooked on the woman's hearth. Usually there is a third fireplace on the woman's side where pig food is cooked.

It is improper for an outsider to walk through an Akha house, entering one door and leaving by the other, just as it is not acceptable for a person to go directly through an Akha village without entering some home and having at least a drink of water. Food or drink will always be offered in an Akha home, and it is important for the guest to partake, even if only a token amount. Otherwise it appears that the visitor is an intruder-perhaps even a thief. Male guests should not enter the women's section of the house unless invited to do so by the head of the household. Women visitors, on the other hand, can enter the men's section along with other visitors.

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