The Akha, also known to the Thai as the Gaw or the E-gaw (names that the Akha do not like), are located primarily with Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai province. The Akha are closely related with the Hani of Yunnan province, China, the Akha-Hani complex numbers about two to three million people, but with just over 70,000 members in Thai territory. The Akha speak a language in the Lolo/Yi branch of the Tibeto-Burman language group, but have no traditional written language. There are a variety of schemes for writing Akha developed by missionaries or linguists which employ Roman, Thai or Burmese characters, but literacy in Akha is still virtually nil. The Akha are traditionally subsistence farmers, growing a variety of crops including rice and corn.
Though many Akha, especially younger people, profess Christianity, Akha Zang (The Akha Way), a total lifestyle perscribed in the oral literature of the Akhas, still runs deep in the consciousness of older generations. The Akha Way combines animism, ancestor worship and their deep relationship with the land.. For an Akha, the Akha Way is a way of life which extends beyond simple religious practice and infuses every aspect of their existence. The Akha Way emphasizes rituals in everyday life and stresses strong family ties; every Akha male can recount his geneology back over fifty generations to the first Akha, Sm Mi O.But the chain of continuity so important for Akha people is being broken. A combination of Thai schooling, land restrictions, some missionary activities, technology and a feeling of social inferiority to lowland Thais is making the once essential Akha Way less attractive and relevant for younger generations who are rapidly integrating into Thai society.
This article comes from the book- “study and the culture of Akha in Chiangrai: 8 groups of Akha tribe – 2003. Akha is the name of the people of a hilltribe that have their own language, beliefs, clothes and way of living. The 8 groups have basic similarities but some even have a different language; like the Ulow Akha and the Aker Akha, who do not understand each other.
The 8 Akha groups of Thailand are: