Artisan Spotlight: Akha Hill Tribe

by Margaret Finnegan
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The Akha tribe originated in Tibet but can now be found across the hills of Northern Thailand, China, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos. According to some, the word Akha loosely translates to “In Between People”.

The Akha people maintain a spiritual connection with the land and prescribe to Akha Zhang (meaning the Akha way) which extends far beyond religion to the all-encompassing way in which they live.

As well as their deep connection with the land, Akha Zhang combines aspects of animism, ancestor worship, every day ritualistic behaviour/worship and strong family ties.

Traditionally, the Akha people are subsistence farmers, growing a variety of crops such as corn soy beans and rice for self-sufficiency. However, many members find it hard to make a living out of agriculture and supplement their income by selling their amazing hand-embroidered textiles and garments.

It is the women of the Akha hill tribe who primarily tend to crops and the creation of handicrafts, where the men focus more on hunting and the construction of hunting tools. 

The Akha women are famous for they hand spun, hand dyed cotton and the majority of their garments are constructed by loomed cotton and hand embroidered details.

The Akha women are synonymous with their striking headdresses. The style of headdress worn by women directly reflects their age and marital status. The Akha adult woman decorate their own headdress so each piece is completely unique to its owner.

Silver coins, monkey fur and dyed chicken feathers are what typically adorn a traditional Akha Headdress. 

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