Friday, February 1, 2013

Akha hill tribe

I find it refreshing in a non stop world, that even without language in common people can communicate - if they choose to. Smiles and laughter go a long way to making friends across international barriers, and the people within the Baan Tong Luang village know this. Visiting the Akha group proved this to me. Of all of the hill tribes represented here, this group have the most ornate headdresses. Almost conical in shape, there are variations within the group, some being more trapezoid. The thing they all have in common is the richly coloured embroidered decoration and addition of silver detail. They really are quite eye catching, and seem almost impractical, yet this is the traditional head gear that this tribe is known for. The rest of their dress is again mostly black with the women wearing black long sleeved tunics over black skirts, with embroidered detail, and colourful leggings visible below their skirts. Coloured fabric panels and necklaces finish off their outfit. This group seemed to have more of the imported materials available for sale, rather than hand made items, so we did not buy anything. That said, they seem happy enough with this decision and at no time were we pressured with a sales pitch to buy. On a flat expanse at the top of the incline where the Akha had their stalls was the largest swing I have ever seen. Suspended from four huge bamboo poles joined at the top in the style of a teepee, with thick rope suspended and a wooden plank insert to sit on. I couldn't help myself and jumped on. The swing itself was hung quite low, so it was awkward to swing on without scraping my feet, and I had to negotiate the bamboo supports. A swing though always brings a smile to your face. It was only as I heard lots of laughter from the two women nearby that I realised something more was happening. Getting off, one of them came over to the swing and spent some time readjusting the ropes and the seat. Then her friend came over, swung in the opposite direction to which I had been going (no bamboo poles in the way), but stood on the board, rather than sitting. Oops. No issues with scraping feet. Then, still laughing she went back to her stall. The second women, much younger, then dusted off the wooden bench, and sat down to swing, as I had, but still in the opposite, and obviously correct, direction. By this time we were all laughing, it was infectious. No communication issues, it was just pure fun, and a highlight of my morning.
It was only on getting back to the resort that I was able to do a bit of research and find out more about the significance of the swing. Apparently it is used in a ceremony once a year, between August and September as a means of seeking luck for a good harvest of the tribes crops. Each year, after the ceremony the bamboo swing is taken down and replaced with a new one.

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