Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Akha's Swinging Ceremony

Akha's Swinging Ceremony
Written by Panida Suvapiromchote
Sunday, 09 September 2007
Loud cheers by visitors and villagers were heard as soon as the Akha ritual men begun to perform the high swinging show to mark the start of "Yae Khu Aar Paew" or Akha's Swinging ceremony held recently in Chiang Mai's Mae Ai District of Ban Huay Sai. The Akha way of life can be observed from their characteristic bamboo huts and well preserved culture. After the opening ceremony, an Akha lady in her fine traditional costume sat on a swing and two Akha men pulled the attached vine strings to help her move higher in the air. Other young Akha boys and girls all received their turn in the swinging ceremony which ran late into the day. This Akha cultural tour was organised by The Royal Project Foundation to encourage the cultural preservation of these tribal people and to promote the numerous tourist attractions in the Mae Ai District under The Royal Project Foundation support.

Prior to the ceremony, on a sloping hill of the village with a spectacular view of the surrounding forests and mountains, a tall swing of a height of some five meters was erected by simply tying together with vine and nylon strings four slabs of small trees. As the participating players swung themselves higher and higher, I could not help feeling that it was more like tempting fate as the swing seemed barely able to support their weight. However, the villagers were able to keep swinging for three days and the large swing would be kept for the whole year until a new one would be built the following year. With the deep belief that such traditions would yield an abundant harvest, the ceremony is held yearly in either August or September depending on when the crops ripen.

An Akha youth leader, Mr. Por Ayi, said that the Akha 's swinging ceremony reflected the unity of villagers because men joined hands in cutting trees for the wood to make the swing and helping to create it. After the ceremony, starting from sunset until dawn of the next day, the old tradition of rice milling by using bamboo tubes to crush rice grains was held together with Akha musical performances. Akha boys and girls rotated in doing their duties the whole night with the ancestral superstition of receiving great yields of rice.

The village of Ban Huay Sai is comprised of 368 Akha families who initially migrated from China to settle in the Mae Salong District of Chiang Rai and moved to this village about 20 years ago. The villagers earn their living from cultivating rice and maize, working as farm workers and merchants. On the ceremonial day, the main road passing through the village had become a catwalk for Akha girls and women who display their most elaborate traditional costumes according to their blooming to charming ages. Female costumes are classified into four age periods of new born to 13 years, 14 to 18 years, 18 to 25 years, and 25 years up. There were three dressing styles with eye-catching headdresses of “U-Lo Akha", "Lo Mee Akha", and "Pha Mee Akha." Unfortunately, due to heavy rains, the Pha Mee Akha ladies did not show up that day. A headdress is about five kilos in weight and is elaborately decorated with hen feathers and monkey fur dyed in bright colours. These headdresses have been handed down to the young girls their families generation after generation.

The Akha fun games of snuffbox beans called "Sa Baa" dancing and throwing, stilt walking and top twisting game were revived on the ceremonial day. The villagers have also preserved well their sacred watershed in the forest near the village to use in their important rituals and ceremonies.

Interested persons can contact
The Royal Project Foundation's PR Department for next year’s visit to observe the Akha's Swinging ceremony by calling
Tel.: 053 810 765-8 ext 104,108

Images of Akha's Swinging Ceremony
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