Far from their original homeland, the Akha hill tribe holds on to an oral tradition to remember their roots.
On the occasion of the Chinese New Year, I am reminded about the ethnic minority groups from China who celebrate the New Year on the same dates as their country of origin. Throughout the past two centuries, many of them — Akha, Hmong, Karen, Padaung, Lahu (Musor), Mien (Yao), Lisu — have migrated to Thailand, Laos & Myanmar… bringing with them their own New Year customs as well as their own myths, legends and traditions.
I met the Akha in Thailand
Originally from Yunnan Province in southwestern China, the Akha are truly peuple de la mémoire, “people of memory”. Some are able to recite by heart the genealogy of their male ancestors… back to the fiftieth generation.
When two Akha men from the same clan meet and wish to know their ties of kinship, they trace back their lineage together, until they find a common ancestor. Not only do they memorize names, but they also memorize all the migration routes taken by their ancestors from China, to Burma, to Thailand.
Once a year, the Akha people gather in a remote village in the mountains bordering Laos and Thailand for the Swing Festival or Yehkuja (which translates as “eating bitter rice”). The sacred place chosen by the shaman is on a peak overlooking breathtaking valleys.
The Swing Festival is also known as Women’s New Year — a festival full of eager anticipation (and opportunities) for Akha women of marriageable age. They wear elaborate traditional costumes with magnificent u-coe, their iconic headdress intricately decorated with silver coins, shells & pearls.
Decked in their finery, these Akha ladies aspire to meet their soulmates during the festival. Perched on an inner tube that serves as a seat, while a hopeful suitor pushes it towards the sky… the Akha girl swings and swings and swings… and dreams of her wedding.
I feel privileged to witness this ceremony.
PHOTO CREDITS: Photos courtesy of Michele Jullian
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MICHELE JULLIAN is a blogger, author, traveler & photographer. She lives in Paris and travels the world. “La vie est un livre d’Histoire” (Life is a history book) is Michele’s approach to life — she leafs through this ‘book’ during her travels (learning about all the things they don’t teach you in school!) — and she shares these precious lessons with us in her delightful stories & vignettes.
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