Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Akha Hill Tribe people of Chiang Mai

by Grant Wills

The Akha people of the Hua-Fai Community
Live along the banks of the canal in the hart of Chiang Mai, not far from the Night Bazaar. They are a hard working people that spend most of the day in work groups, Hand making all these fine cloths. Then at around 6pm they walk to the Night Bazaar to sell there wears. If they are lucky they will sell $3 or $4us of product. Many times I have seen them sell a belt or hat for cost or less just to make a sale to feed their family that night. A lot of the Farangs (tourists) barter them down trying too buy as cheap as possible, You hear some arrogant woman saying to her boy friend, "what a rip off" for something that only costs 200 Bart ($6us). Sure it is fun bartering with the richer stall holders and it is a barter market but to push a poor lady down below cost is going too far. Most of these lady's have dependents too look after, Children, Parents and Grandparents. You see many old ladies's looking after a grand child that has lost its parents. There is no Social Welfare system in Thailand; some do get subsidized Health care if they were born in Thailand with a ID card or a work permit (that most of the aliens can not afford to buy). The Akha people of Chiang Mai, Thailand have fled the NEVER ENDING WAR of the far North (raging since 1947). The Golden Triangle covers a large area. Traditionally where Thailand, Burma and Loa join is called the Golden Triangle. The "Gold" being the liquid Gold of raw opium. The NEVER ENDING WAR rages on every year (dry season usually), it is a bullshit war designed to keep prying eyes out of the growing fields of Burma who produce a massive 3700 tons of raw opium each year for export. That is very conservative as the Shan State usually produces 300 - 500 tons of refined Heroin a year. That said it is still a very real war for the people at the front line. It periodically spills over into Thailand who quickly quells the intrusion. Many refugees end up in Thailand and work there way south. Many have ended up in Chiang Mai. Akha, Karen, Thai Yai (Shan) There are 13 or so ethnic groups that have carved out there own states in Burma running down Thailand's western border from the far north to well past Bangkok. Most Akha people from Burma are devout Christians who turned to Christianity in the 1800s and last century when the British ruled Burma. They speak Akha, read, and write there language with English (A, B, Cs) British influence once again. After the British, a banded them after the Second World War around 1947 there church went under ground as the never-ending war raged around them. The Military Junta S.L.O.K. that sized power would not let out side contact in or out. Akha Hill, Akha hill tribe products is a community non profit business set up by Mrs. A-Noe Yu-Po, Sie to her friends. Akha Hill's directive is to help lift the Akha people of the Hua-Fai Community and Chiang Mai out of poverty. Akha Hill's Mission in conjunction with the local Christian church is buying land around Chiang Mai, building houses for the poor with no interest rent to buy plans. Giving them land paper for the land. At the moment they live on no mans land with no land paper. To give them meaningful work with a good return for that work. Akha.hill and 1st Baan of Silver selling world wide for them. To get them off the streets and the young out of the bars and "karaoke" red light places. To have them living and working together as a family in a extended family village environment. With such abject poverty you see many young girls walking the Bars selling flowers at 2am, by young I mean as soon as they are old enough to walk and say "only 10 Bart Mr". young Mothers of 15 or 16 with a baby on her back selling Hill Tribe Products late at night. Grandmothers with a young child walking the Night Bazaar selling to support her and the child because the Child's parents have died from Aides or some other disease or accident. To get the children into schools. Most Akha people have no education at all and can not read or write Thai or English. The first resettlement will be out at Sansai. With no land paper they have no why of ever getting out of the poverty that they live in. The Banks wont loan against there houses, The mortality rate from sickness, disease, depression, drug abuse, alcohol etc is horrendous. While building for Sie I have attended 4 funerals at the local Chiang Mai Presbyterian Akha Church of Akha people that I had met. Sorry to have to update this but we are attending another funeral now. The "old" (52) lady died three days before Christmas and will be buried the day after on boxing day. One old lady in her late 40s died of ? old age. A young man in his twenties died of a drug overdose after his wife ran off with a rich Farang (European) One Mother of 3 died in the August floods. The old ladies husband died three or for weeks after her, with no one to look after him he just gave up. The lady that died 3 days before Christmas is a sister of the wife who died before her husband. That family has lost four in the last year. While building I have been living with the Akha people. The lady that died in the August floods lived next to me for one month. After that I used to see her every night sitting on the footpath on the side of the road over the canal with her youngest boy begging. they found her 3 days after the flood further down the canal. You can help the flood relief fund at

29th October 2007 The Akha of Chiang Mai are working hard to wards building a traditional Akha village on 65 rai of land just 10 kilometres out of Chiang Mai at Sansai. This is in a rural setting with rice fields etc all around. With Tour groups coming out and staying over night. Hopefully this will help lift them out of the poverty cycle that they are in.

About the Author
Grant started his working life ------ So started his life long love of South East Asia. More at

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