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10/07/2010

Women Portrait, Akha (Lao Sung) Hill Tribe, Northern Laos


This photo was taken in the north of Laos, in a small Akha village.The Akha are hill tribe of subsistence farmers known for their artistry. The ethnic group may have originated in Mongolia ar
ound 1500 years ago. The Akha generally live in bamboo houses raised on low wooden stilts in hilly areas. These huts are divided by gender - one side is for the women, and the other side, occupied by the men, is used as a more public area. The Akha subsist through an often destructive form of slash and burn agriculture which can result in elimination of old growth forest, native animal species and serious soil runoff problems. They are expert farmers who focus on mountain rice, corn, and soybeans that are planted in seasonal shifts. The Akha are also very efficient hunters, though their prey sometimes includes endangered species. Some Akha grew opium for income but they are increasingly building up the tourist industry. A village with a large percentage of Akha is Mae Salong (now known as Santikhiri). The Akha put a particularly heavy emphasis on genealogy - they are taught their family history at a very early age, and their culture has a strong focus on honouring ancestors and their parents, though they dispute that this represents a form of ancestor worship. A better description of Akha religion would be animism, as they believe in a world filled with spirits, both good and bad, that have a definite physical impact on the world. They believe in a natural cycle of balance that, if disrupted, can result in illness, hardship, or even death.
Most of the remaining Akha people are now distributed in small villages among the mountains of China, Laos (where they are considered Lao Sung), Myanmar (Burma), and northern Thailand.Lao Sung (or more commonly Lao Soung) is an official Laos PDR designation for highland dwelling peoples in Laos (the others being the Lao Loum and the Lao Theung). The ones in Laos, the actual Lao Soung, make up 9% of the Laotian population. The Lao Soung aren't actually one single ethnic group but are made up of (H)Mong (the main group), Yao, Akha, Phu Noi and other people who live in the Laotian mountaintops. All these groups are related. Their main religions are animism, Buddhism, and Chinese folk religions.

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