Hill Tribe Villages in Chiang Rai, Change and Continuity 2
In Part 1 we discussed how the present context of hill tribe villages depart from the images
frequently presented in tourist oriented brochures and publications. A variety of factors have
combined to accelerate changes in hill tribe culture to the point that it is near impossible to
find villages following traditional life ways. Of course it would be unrealistic to expect any
culture to remain in a "museum state" forever especially in the face of modern technology
and communication. This does not mean that culturally sensitive visits to hill tribe villages
would not be of interest especially if they are done with respect and from a perspective of learning and sharing.
There are several options for tourists interested in visiting a hill tribe village. A few villages
even if some residents have converted to Christianity still attempt to follow traditional ways.
One such village is Ahpa village in Chiang Rai Province. Here they have a basic guest
house and a mix of traditional and modern house styles. Satellite tv dishes are abundant
as are motorcycles and the occasional pickup. However the village maintains its spirit
gate and swing which is used in August at the time of the "womens new year." If you
happen to visit the village at the time of a funeral you may witness an exorcist scare
away bad spirits from the village.
Other villages have cooperated with such NGO's as The Mirror Art Group or PDA to establish sustainable and appropriate tour programs in select villages. Visits to these villages usually require a small entrance fee which entitles one to a village tour and brief demonstrations or video presentation of cultural activities such as hunting, music and dance, looming, blacksmiths etc. At the Akha Ban Lorcha visitors can usually enter a typical house to have a view of domestic life. Crafts are available for sale at a single point and monies generated from tourists are shared back to the villagers.
Another option for Lanna Thai Villa guests is to visit with us tribal friends we have made over the past 30 years. We may be invited to a wedding or we may pay villagers who would like to put on a performance of typical songs and dances. In this way participation is voluntary
and is rewarded. With the use of translators we are able to sit and learn from each other through discussions on life ways and problems. Our approach is to meet each other with respect and the desire to learn and honor each cultures way of answering life's demands
Yet another way of accessing tribal cultures is by visiting hill tribe display villages which were discussed in Part 1. These typically involve walking a path which connects mini villages of several different ethnic groups. Each village will have a few houses typical of that village's culture. A brief culture show may be included along with the sale of souvenirs which may or may not have been produced by the given ethnic group. "Villagers" will have been drawn from Chiang Rai villages save for members of the Palaung and Padaung (Long Neck Karen) tribes which originate in Burma. Some of these villages have their own school for children.
Residents are reported to receive a monthly wage plus proceeds from craft sales etc. Residents are permitted to return to their home villages and to go out for visits to the
doctor or shopping. In general, residents report being better off than in their home villages,
especially those from Burma. Nonetheless many view this set up as a human zoo
though in some ways it does not differ significantly from accessing Ban Lorcha to
view that Akha village.
It should be noted that some hill tribe people are not happy to let tourists come in to inspect village life and that wish must be respected. Some feel that they are being put on display and being encouraged or forced to wear their most ornate clothing or to perform ceremonies that have no meaning when done out of context.
Finally, at various times of the year there are public or open events which can be observed without negative attachments. For example in Amphur Chiang Kham there is an annual
Lue cultural festival that lasts 2 or 3 days and features parades, cultural performances and ethnic food. Every February in Amphur Thoeng the Hmong celebrate Dop Sio Ban near Phu Chi Fah. Here you will find performances, contests and many traditional items for sale.
Some Hmong and Akha New years celebrations are also open to the public and feature
many people in their finest clothing along with performances both traditional and modern.
We believe there is much to learn from people of all cultures and if the interaction is based on mutual respect and honoring what we can learn then both sides will have gained.
|Village Swing at Ban Ahpa|
|Village Spirit Gate at Ban Ahpa|
|Exorcist Preparing for Ceremony Ban Ahpa|
|Exorcist with Hammer and Phallus to Exorcise Malevolent Spirits at Ban Ahpa Funeral|
|Ban Ahpa Residents Viewing Proceedings in Mixed Dress|
|Pahmi Akha Guide at Ban Lorcha|
|Figures at Ban Lorcha Spirit Gate|
|Demonstrating Snare at Ban Lorcha|
|Looming Demonstration at Ban Lorcha|
|Traditional House at Ban Lorcha|
|Wedding with father and bride (right) in traditional dress, sisters in western dress|
Paying Bride Price to Brides Father
Loimi Akha Wedding Guest
|Sermsri Enjoying Lighter Moment with Akha Elder|
|Lahu Culture Show at Hill Tribe Display Village|
|Akha Culture Show at Hill Tribe Display Village|
|American and Padaung, Making Friends at Hill Tribe Display Village|
|UK Couple Learning About Akha Housing at Hill Tribe Display Village|
|Donating to School in Hill Tribe Display Village|
|Lue Women Parade with Ceremonial Flags|
|Shopping at the Lue Culture Festival|
|Performance at Lue Culture Festival|
|Sword Dance at Lue Culture Festival|
|Visiting Traditional Lue Home|
|Making Friends at Hmong Dok Sio Ban Festival|
|Colorful Hmong New Years|
|Hmong Beauty Contestants|
|Dance Performance at Hmong New Years|
|Photo Op at Hmong New Years|
|Reception Line at an Akha New Years Celebration|
|Dance Performance at Akha New Years Celebration|
|Village Dance Performance for Lanna Thai Villa Guest|
|Joining in at Village Performance|
|Peace to All Who Read This|