There are over 80,000 Akha tribe members living in the villages of Northern Thailand. There are nearly a million different hill people that live in the area, and many of them feel as if they are still treated as outsiders. Some hill tribes are even thought of as slaves, but the reality is that this hill tribe is considered as such mainly as a way to designate those who live in the mountain areas in North Thailand.
The Akha tribe follows the Akha Zang if not the Christian religion. Many young hill tribe members are likely to follow Christianity today. However, many members of the tribe stick to their ancient beliefs in spirits. They believe in an archetypal goddess that creates nature and humans.
The Akha Zang or Way is made up of chants, shamanism and a close relationship with the land on which the people live. There are many ancestor-related rituals and every man in Akha can tell his own genealogy across nearly fifty generations. There is an organisation that works to protect the tribe’s religious culture. The Akha Asia runs what is considered to be the leading school of Akha culture.
In the past, the spiritual beliefs led the people to believe that if anyone got sick they could only become well by visiting with a shaman. The shaman would take a belonging from the ill person and place it under that person’s pillow. The people believed then that the spirit of the sick person would journey to the shaman during the night to relay what was needed for them to be restored to health.
These might include bringing them eggs, pigs, dogs or chickens. In many cases, the Akha needing the cure could not procure these things. They would then be forced to buy them. Today, it is estimated that almost 90 percent of the tribe still follow these beliefs regarding sickness and health. The remaining 10 percent subscribe to more Westernized thoughts of medicine.
There are six hill tribes including the Akha, the Lahu, Hmong-Miao, the Karen, the Yao-Lisu and all of them have separate languages and diverse cultures. The Akha are, however, related to the Hani people of the Yunnan province in China. The Akha tribe is protected by the Thai government as are the others.