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The Akha

 

Traditionally farmers, The Akha's deep relationship with the land is influenced by their holistic, spiritual beliefs that stem from animism and ancestor worship. 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.

 

The traditional Akha dress for women is heavily decorated with embroidery, pressed metal and silver adornments, beading, and rich colours. In Thailand there are three styles of dress for the Akha, Ulo Akha (wearing a sharp hat), Lomue Aka (wearing a flat hat), and PhameeAkha (wearing a flat hat with a different shape). The headpieces are beautifully detailed with silver coins and beads.

 

UloAkha Dress

An iconic Akha headpiece, a tall conicle shape made of two parts : the base, strapped on the head decorated with silver buttons, coins and small beads, and on the top a bamboo structure is placed and covered with a cotton cloth, again, adorned with silver, small beads, glass drops, tassels made from dyed chicken feathers and many other trimmings.

The complexity and detail of the adornments often reflect the age and status of its wearer. The garments that are worn with the headpiece are made from indigo-dyed cotton. The jacket has a distinct striped applique design down the back and on the cuffs, and the skirt is long to the knees with layers of silver discs, red tassels and beads hanging from the front.

 

LomueAka Dress

Usually worn by a bride in a marriage ceremony, the LomueAka dress is highly decorated, identified by the pressed silver square sheet rising from the back of the head-piece, and the large round silver decorations draped either side of the face. Falling to each shoulder are ribbons of silver coins and beads.

The accompanying garments of the dress are embroidered with colourful stripes and embellished with shells, small beads and tassels, accessorised with a matching shoulder bag and calf-wraps.

 

PhameeAkha Dress

With a shape very much like a “Guard's” helmet, the headpiece for the PhameeAkha Dress is also adorned with silver buttons, coins and small beads, with strings of beads hanging to the hands. Blue stripes of applique and embroidery are sewn to the back of the Jacket, with similar details on the sleeves, cuffs and on the small bag that accompanies the outfit.

 

Traditional Akha Men's Dress

Typically a long , knee to calf length jacket, detailed with colourful stripes on the cuffs and collar. The front is buttoned to the left or the middle and the buttonhole is embellished with silver coins or a small silver bell necklace.

Originally the Akha were known for their cotton farming and indigo dyeing, with this tradition continuing amongst Akha hilltribes of Laos, but no longer amongst the Akha people of Thailand. In the past, spinning cotton was a pastime of the Akha women, who taught their children from an early age. They would place the cotton ball within a box, strapped on their wrist then draw it out and around a hook, spinning the cotton into a thin strong thread. The Akha women would often compete against each other for fun, to see who could spin the fastest.

Indigo plants are found throughout the region, with the leaves used in various forms to create different shades of blues and greens. Fermented indigo leaves, stored in large clay pots, is used by the Akha to dye their cotton traditional dark blues. The cotton is immersed up to 30 or 40 times in the fermented solution to achieve the deepest color. Within villages that practice this method, you will notice the dark blue hands of the people who dye textiles, as the Indigo dye is difficult to remove from skin.

Like other hilltribes the Akha people struggle to maintain their traditional way of life in an increasingly modern Thailand. eBannok, in partnership with The Mirror Foundation, works to assist the Hilltribes in addressing these challenges, providing practical solutions to provide poverty alleviation, sustainable community development and cultural empowerment. The eBannok project employs 15 Akha hilltribe women within their Clay and Textile workshops - providing them valuable business and skills training, and fair, sustainable incomes.

 

View our range of Akha textiles >

Akha Hilltribe People