Saturday, August 22, 2009

Villages of Akha

An Akha village can be identified at a glance by its gates, the towering village swing, and the distinctive style of the houses with their massive roofs. Ideally, a village is built on the saddle back of a mountain where there is a good breeze, a dependable source of drinking water, and adequate arable land in the surrounding area.

In addition to using the 'three grains of rice' method to test a potential village site. Akha elders also use the 'egg drop' method of divining the ideal spot where the spirits, ancestors, and the local 'Lord of Land and Water' are willing to let them settle. An area about one meter square is cleared and a shallow hole made in the center with the dirt being tamped down firmly. The 'village priest' drips a raw egg from the height of his ear into this hole. If the egg breaks, the unseen forces are granting permission for the village to settle there. If it does not break-and

Akha insist that they have seen such instances-they try other places until the egg breaks.
The first house to be built must be that of the village priest. Once his house has been completed the village has been established. The rest of the houses will be grouped around his house in an egalitarian fashion. There is one exception, however. Any family which has ever had 'human rejects' must build their house on a lower slope below all other houses. 'human rejects' are twins or any bay the Akha consider to be abnormal. Such families must be at the lowest elevation to ensure that debris from their house will not wash down and contaminate the other houses.

A village will often have more than one name. In Thai it may be named after some physical feature, such as 'Broken Pock Village', and 'Cogon Grass Village'. They prefer Akha names, often the name of the current or former village riest or political headman. When the name or description of the location is used, the word 'Akha' follows, such as 'Law Lo Akha', whereas when the name of a person is used, the word 'village' is added, as in 'Abaw Tu She Pu'

Everyone in an Akha village should be under the protection of an 'ancestral altar', and participate in the periodic 'ancestral offerings'. If a non-Akha man marries an Akha woman and moves into her village, he must first become a member of the clan of his wife, or of someone living there. He has to take part in all the ceremonies along with everyone lese, and must accept the village priest as having the final word in following the Akha Way.

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