Akha Swing Festival, Doi Chang 2012

Discussion in 'Northern Thailand - Road Trip Reports' started by ronwebb, Sep 5, 2012.

  1. ronwebb

    ronwebb Ol'Timer

    I like these little festivals and Davidfl told me about this one, so off we went to Doi Chang on a lovely sunny day.
    Straight up the R118 form Chiang Mai and a left into R3037 and a right into R (I dont know what) through Saeng Charoen to DoiChang.
    I little bit of road works up through the hills but great views riding along the ridge.

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    Finally made it to Doi Chang Resort and what a lovely spot it is. All very green up there at this time of the year too

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    Good grub too...

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    Doi Chang is a typical Thai mountain village, a bit run down here and there with a few pot holes in the roads but as usual, super friendly folk

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    with one stop satellite TV delivery

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    fresh pork too

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    the road into town

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    and of course lots of great fresh coffee

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    We were fortunate to meet an Akha guy who did a phd anthropology in California. He was a fountain of information as to what was going on during the whole proceedings and he has this year, for the first time ever, plotted the linage of the Akha families in the village. He explained that he has made charts for 147 families but the rest of the Akha in the village have become Christian.
    Doi Chang is a mixture of Akha, Lisu and ChinHaw.
    The missionaries who convert people require that they change their names to Christian names. As the linage is produced from the Akha names, it is apparently not possable to produce the linage with the newly adopted Christian names. As Christians, the missionaries require that they cannot participate in any of the traditional Akha activities, including the swing festival.
    The process of producing these charts is lengthy as there is no written language for the Akha and so it is all from memory, passed down through the generations.

    Our guide on matters Akha explaining to Ian

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    and one of the 147 charts he produced

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    The festival I understood was to celebrate the right of passage for the young girls into adulthood and to wish for a good season of crops.
    Apparently in Akha legend, there was a plague of bugs that was destroying the crops. The legend says that one guy found a poison for the bugs but they wouldn't eat it. His solution to that dilemma was to use his blood to attract the bugs to eat the poison. This worked well but unfortunately it did take up all his blood to get the job done and he died as a consequence. And so the ceremony is to give thanks and to remember this poor chap for saving the crops and the continuation of the Akha race.

    The ceremony starts with the clearing of the past years swing area, removing whats left of the old swing and erecting the new one.
    The entrance to the swing area (which no one seemed bothered to use. Perhaps its for spirits only?)

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    Preparing the vines for the swing rope

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    and the poles

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    and up she goes

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    the final touches

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    In Akha mythology, the sky came from three stones, the earth from three blades of grass and so this is the first to be placed on the swing

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    and the headman is the first to swing. In this village the headman is a young guy as his father passed away early in life and so the responsibility is passed to his son.

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    then its all on for young and old

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    guests are also welcome to join in including farang rock stars

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    which drew much amusement from the gals in the crowd as only rock stars can

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    that being the case, I thought it would be worth risking life and limb myself but not surprisingly, there was no similar reaction.

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    Still, we met some lovely people

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    and discovered that each Akha house has their own little swing

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    During the dinner the night before we also witnessed a small dance group of Ahka and Lisu

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    Akha, Lisu and a couple of Thai ring-ins

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    Another fun weekend with good friends and the local village folk and a wet ride home!

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  3. Satonic

    Satonic Ol'Timer

    Very interesting, Thanks for sharing the photos although not all of them seem to be working for me?
     
  4. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Funny how it goes, all set to head off to Mae Yao & the Akha village out there after the first tip-off & then another tip off comes in, no go to Doi Chang "we" will take you & show around to see all the spirit ceremonies in the house & blessing the swing etc etc..Ok that sounded a lot more interesting with a chance to learn something & get the inside line hanging out with the locals.

    My contact phoned ahead to her cousin who booked a room for me the on the Friday night before the household spirit ceremony, plus 3 others for the other guys who would swing by for the Saturday night.

    I set off late as usual & it was a bit of a thrash up the 118 straight to Charin Resort for a cuppa cappu & a couple of pieces of pie & cake to carry me over. Whilst at the Charin the weather set in & it poured with rain - not a good omen for 1500 metres up in the mountains I thought. Dawdling at Charin the contact in Doi Chang rang to see where the hell is was, as she waiting & it was not raining up there. You're joking I thought....no rain le? Impossible I thought.... anyway eventually I set of from Charin as the sun was lowering at 4.30PM+

    Its only a few kms up the road from Mae Suai & you make a right to Saeng Charoen from where it is only 15 kms to Doi Chang. (Dont turn off to Saeng Charoen & it is about 30 kms to Doi Chang via Huai Khrai.)

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    The road in a beauty & generally all good but steep & winding asphalt

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    The Saeng Charoen - Doi Chang road is quite spectacular & runs along the ridge line in a couple of places, offering panoramic views.

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    But it had indeed rained on the way in

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    in some parts, the steeper sections? - the road could do with a bit of TLC

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    Whilst pottering along taking photos & enjoying myself, Ms Doi Chang phoned twice more to check if I was ok & still coming.
    Eventually I rocked up in Doi Chang & found the resort, but not before riding right passed Ms Doi Chang, sitting in the Lisu shop wondering if it was lung David on the motorbike riding by.
    She was too scared to call out as she'd never spoken to a farang in the flesh before. It was safer to phone which indeed did, asking if it was me who rode past. Yes well it could have been me, but I dont know if I rode passed you. OK, if you turn around & ride back I will stand in the street & you will know it is me....huh, yeah that's right I thought. Go with the flow...it's all part of the fun.
    My Doi Chang Resort bungalow for the night
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    I'd made it.
     
  5. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Interesting post. I did not know the background information Ron supplied. I do, however know the road up to Doi Chang & what a beauty it is - Myriama & I were up there some years ago with Stu Lloyd of this forum at the nearby Lisu village for a massive tribal gathering; it was so good we stayed late & were nearly blown from our bikes as a storm swept over the mountainside in a full moon.
    Look forward to your photos from the ceremony, David. I see that you are atop a Verseys?
     
  6. ianyonok

    ianyonok Ol'Timer

    I took the 1089 east out of Mae Chan, then the glorious 3037 down through Wawi to Doi Tung, to meet up with the other guys.

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    The swollen Kok river.

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    Always looking for side tracks when on the dirt bike, but this bridge, clearly wasn't going to handle farang plus KLX...

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    Civet coffee anyone..... 1100 baht for 50g!

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    This was the main road in the Akha village of Bahn Hoka, down the end of a dirt road, north of Doi Chang.

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    A christian Akha grave.

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    Presumeably someone important who died last year, aged 84 and had 5 children.

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    Doi Chang clearly gets it's name from the shape of the mountain.

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    Morning view from the restaurant at the Doi Chang Resort.

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    This is probably one of the reasons the missionaries want to suppress the Akha beliefs.

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    I took my time on the run back north to take in the stunning scenery.

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    Tried to get to this park at the top of a Doi at the northern end of 3037, but the mud was just too slippery....... another one to return to one day.

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  7. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    The air is super fresh & clean in Doi Chang & I was tucked up in bed by 8.30PM on the first night - the power went off & there wasn't exactly anything to do in town anyway.

    My contact Ms Doi Chang had said that if I needed anything anytime to ring, so I rang at 8PM to check the schedule or tomorrow - no answer & no return call. Oh well & as it turned she was in bed at 7.30Pm with the family.

    The next morning I was up early, prepared for the day's program whatever that was to be.

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    I finished brekky at the Doi Chang Resort - some simple but delicious kow tom

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    & it always impresses me how good & easy to get it is to get good fresh food in out of the way places everywhere in Thailand.
    Of note too was that the cook was a Lahu gal from 30 kms away, who was born in the Lahu village but did not know her real age or birthday. Her ID card had no birth date & she had no idea if her age was right on the card, but she thought it might be something like that.

    I finished brekky & my guide Ms Doi Chang eventually turned up to say I should go to her house after 10Am she thought, when Mum would probably be ready for the spirit ceremony.

    With time to kill I sauntered off to the Doi Chaang coffee plant.

    Doi Chaang Coffee is an amazing success story:
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    Hard to believe for some , me included. I always thought Doi Chaang Coffee was good & certainly enjoy their coffee shops.

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    A bit more nity gritty for the hard core coffee lovers
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    The Doi Chaang Coffee project first started in 1983 when HM provided the initiative for growing coffee to replace the opium poppy fields in the area.
    The Akha village headman at the time was Piko Saedoo, & he is the original founder of Doi Chaang Coffee company. It is Mr Saedoo's face who is on every packet of Doi Chaang Coffee.
    After 20 years, the beans flourished under the leaves of plum, peach and macadamia nut trees and in the nutrient-rich soil of the region; but the local Akhas lacked good business acumen & were not getting fair prices for their coffee.
    By luck he met Wicha Promyong, a trekker & plant lover.

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    Mr Wicha helped resurrect Doi Chaang coffee into a promising product. First, he encouraged the villagers to unite and form their own independent company to represent all Doi Chaang farmers. With initial capital of 320,000 baht, a small company was set up to handle the production and distribution, eliminating the middlemen.

    Out the outset Doi Chaang Coffee had less than a hundred acres of land owned by the village, they now have 8000 acres with 3000 under coffee cultivation.
    Doi Chaang Coffee has boomed.

    They were fortunate enough to join forces with a Canadian company, headed by John M Darch, who also was setting up the first potash mine in Thailand. The Doi Chaang Coffee Company is now a unique partnership between the Akha hill tribe of Doi Chaang Village and a Canadian coffee distributor, Doi Chaang Coffee Co. The Thai families cultivate and process the beans, while the Canadian firm finances, roasts, markets and distributes the coffee.

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  8. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Great success story. David.
    Excellent travel photos, Ian.
     
  9. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Back to the Akha Swing Ceremony & household spirit ceremony

    I was very fortunate to be able to witness a step-by-step guide to the rituals conducted inside & outside the house, with a request to take photos of it all.
    And true to form I got too many photos, as some of you might say. But I did enjoy it all & felt privileged to witness "every step."

    A few pix with a very brief rough outline...

    1. Mum cleans the cooking utensils

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    performed only by a woman & not a male.

    Inside the house the cups are cleaned

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    A fresh lot of sticky rice is cooked to offer to the spirits

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    & then some seed (sesame?)

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    is cooked

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    I noted her she used her hands only to stir the seed in the wok. No cutlery was used.

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    This was then pounded

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    Sticky rice is cooked inside the house

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    & an offering made to the spirits.

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    Move along outside & the cooked sticky rice gets a pounding.

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    Done by a male only, who must wear a hat / cap.

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    and believe me this sticky rice really is sticky & take considerable muscle to pound it into submission. I'm glad my turn was only a brief spell!

    When finished you just twist the super sticky rice round the pestle.

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    and pull it off with a bamboo lasso.

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    Then roll the sticky rice in the pounded seed

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    Sticky rice "cakes" are the finished product

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    to be continued...
     
  10. Jurgen

    Jurgen Ol'Timer

    A great destination so close to home! Just regretted that I did not make a move to follow the party. It seems a nice place to go for an excursion … even without the swing. Thanks to everybody for posting the story and the pictures. I will for sure put it on my todo list.
     
  11. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    The lady of the house prepares ceremonial sticky rice & cakes, the senior male (wearing a cap, no hat no can do) prepares for his role to conduct spirit ceremonies.
    A corner of the house is reserved for this function.

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    A chicken is sacrificed

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    but it gets a "head bath" first.

    Then a few knocks on the head

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    which don't quite do the job & its hands on for a broken neck.

    The wings only are then cut off

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    and it's onto the fire to burn off feathers

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    & be plucked, gutted & cleaned.

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    Then into the pot for soup.

    Once cooked, small servings are made up

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    ready for spirit offerings.
    More rituals are conducted in the corner.

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    Offerings are prepared for the spirits

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    and everyone gets a small serving of chicken

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    Finally the sticky rice cakes are placed in the corner for visiting guests.

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    and it was all over in the house from what I understood.

    Time for a beer outside..

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    My / our happy local Akha guides + 1 Thai.

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    a bit more to come still..

    The Akha Scene in the mountains of North Thailand & Laos is changing rapidly. Their traditional culture is going fast.
    Go & spend time in Akha villages while you can.
     
  12. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    With the household spirit ceremony out the way it was time to kick back & relax.

    The # 1 Doi Chang "mini mart" was across the street from the Doi Chang Resort & the place to hang out.

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    the shop was Lisu owned, a relative of the Doi Chang Resort owners & had a good biz. Pulling in 10-20,000 baht a day; & 30,000 baht on high season festival / holidays.

    Despite the appearance of the shabby rundown town, there's money pouring into Doi Chang.

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    Part of the fun at the shop was hanging out watching the locals come in late afternoon / after work for a quick drink of beer or rice whisky then off home. Plus the diminutive dwarf shop assistant was a honey & loads of fun. And surprisingly she is not Lisu from Doi Chang, but Lisu from Pang Mapha!

    Kop hanging out with a local Mum & baby # 3.

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    Evidence of Doi Chang's prosperity was a new petrol station & "shopping centre" being constructed right in the heart of town

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    Akha owned, we wondered how it was all financed. Was it coffee or something else?

    The Akha spirit ceremony for the Swing festival was not the only spirit ceremony I saw, for the Lisu guys at Doi Chang Resort also conducted one at the resort for their ailing mother.
    This one was conducted at the base of the resort's water tanks & I wondered why they selected that spot.

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    A piglet & a chicken were to be sacrificed for this ceremony

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    although this was done in part 2 of ceremony, which I unfortunately missed.
    What was somewhat amusing was one of the participants mobile phone ringing during the chanting, & which was solved by another Lisu guy simply walking in & taking over restraining the pig, so the phone call recipient could walk away & answer his phone. Life goes & you need to take your phone calls.

    Night time at the resort was enjoyable with a small hil tribe dancing show put on for the visiting owner of a Korea tour company.

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    Miss Leo the bartendee from the Kafe

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    playing Lisu.

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    Akha

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    The grand finale: guests & Lisu & Akha

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  13. Jurgen

    Jurgen Ol'Timer

    Nice and great fun ... will double appreciate my sticky rice :)
     
  14. ronwebb

    ronwebb Ol'Timer

    A bit more on the Swing festival..........

    The swing is the centrepiece of a festival called Yaerkuqdzaq (pronounced yae-ku-jar in Akha language).

    The festival honours an Akha hero, Yaerkuq, who sacrificed his life defending the tribe's land in a catastrophic pest attack on their crops.

    The tale goes that a serious plague of pests spread over the Akha land after farmers killed insects while farming their land.

    The Akha people sought help from their supreme god, the Aqpoeq Miqyaer (pronounced aa-per-mi-yae).

    The god sent his son, Yaerkuq, to fight the pests and he began collecting poisonous herbs.

    Yaerkuq mixed the herbs with his own blood to lure the pests into eating them.

    He killed many pests with this concoction. But as there were large swarms of pests, he had to use up his last drop of blood to kill them all.

    The vengeful insects and vermin spirits which survived the slaughter went to Aqpoeq Miqyaer and demanded justice.

    Aqpoeq Miqyaer promised to punish the Akha people responsible for the killing by hanging them one by one.

    The Akha did not dare protest. They decided to have fun with the punishment instead.

    They built a huge structure with four poles erected to form a square base. The poles are tied together near the top from which point a long piece of rope is suspended. The swing was created and a person would hang on to the rope to trick the god into believing they had been hanged. It is the reason the single-rope swing is known by the special name of lavqcep (pronounced la-cher). It means hanging by the hands.

    Aqpoeq Miqyaer and the spirits were convinced the Akha had been punished and allowed them to resume their normal farming activities on the condition that the hanging must be repeated each year after the paddy rice seeds are sowed.

    The Akha villagers take to the swing once a year to eliminate bad luck and welcome an abundant harvest and happy life.

    (Source: Bangkok Post)
     
  15. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Ron & Ian have some pretty good shots of the swing ceremony, plus an explanation that seems correct (what else would I / we know?)
    So just a few pix.

    Constructing the swing

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    and you had to be impressed how these guys worked - bare foot, & no safety equipment / insurance; just balls & a devotion - strong belief in what they were doing.

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    building the swing is time consuming & a very important event in the village. Especially for the village elders. Almost every man seemed to be there, dressed up & offering words of advice on how to go about it.

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    The village spirit gate, just below the swing

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    Happy spectators

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    a lot of pix of the guys, but it is hard to get decent photos of village elders, especially the males; however on the day everyone at Doi Chang was really really very cool with us witnessing the event & taking photos. Thank you Doi Chang Akha!

    The swing finally gets tugged into place

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    Preparing the swing twine rope

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    It's a long rope

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    & so needs to be strong

    And there's quite an art to twisting & making the twine rope.

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    eventually it is all go & the Akha guys get a chance to show off their skills.

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    And wow! Can some of these guys really fly....

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    The visitors join in much to the delight of the Akhas.

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  16. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    A great & at times sensitive insight into the lives, the beliefs, the culture, the values & to some extent the hopes & aspirations of a wonderful people with a long history & a deep sense of their ancestry. I trust their being marginalised, attempts at 'assimilation' or even the inroads of missionaries will not see the differences they offer, the richness in diversity, so enriching to those from outside, being undermined or even vanishing.

    Anything but a rushed appraisal.

    Well done. A very rewarding post.
     
  17. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    AND

    The final day I / we expected to see the young local Akha gals in full dress swinging.

    AND

    there were none!
    The swing was deserted.

    Were we missing something? Should we wait another day?

    No one seemed to know & no one seemed interested.
    Was the tradition still only for the old folks - the men constructing the swing & the elder mothers performing the spirit ceremony in the safety of their houses?

    I strolled around town a little & noted a couple of small swings set up in the yard of A house

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    This was it then I thought: the end of a tradition; with young women of the village no longer residing there; but working in the city earning money to send home to Mum & Dad.
    I saw a couple of hot gals riding Finos / automatic scooters around.
    But when they returned home they were no longer interested in the traditions?

    Indeed I felt lucky to finally watch an Akha Swing Ceremony & the related spirit ceremony in the house.

    Next year I will endeavour to visit a more remote isolated village, perhaps less modern & less connected to the real commercial world, & so more traditional & practising the "full works" Akha Swing Ceremony.

    Nonetheless I enjoyed my time immensely in Doi Chang & can't wait to go back - more good coffee & good food, plus a few cold beers at the Lisu mini-mart.

    Time to fuel up with DC's best go juice

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    and head for the hills...

    The way back was longer but more easy via Huai Khrai & the views were stunning...

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    Thanks Ron, Kop, Ian & Silverhawk for the company.

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    a big thanks to our Akha guides Ms Mot, Ms Kratai plus Ms Leo from the Kafe.

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    A good night view from the Doi Chang Resort.

    If you want to go to Doi Chang, then check it out the GT Rider Golden Triangle guide map. Doi Chang, S-W of Chiang Rai, is located in Grid 4D.
    You can get to Doi Chang via
    1. Mae Saluk & Wawi - all asphalt.
    2. Huai Saan from the Den Ha road - short steep chopped up dirt section.
    3. Mae Suai & R118 - all asphalt.
    Enjoy....Doi Chang is worth it.
     
  18. SilverhawkUSA

    SilverhawkUSA Ol'Timer

    I've been waiting and reading the posts you guys have been adding and you finally voiced the same conclusion as mine. Arriving on Saturday afternoon, I missed David's visit to some of the homes, which sounded like a great experience. It was a nice ride, and the company in Doi Chang was enjoyable. Nice meeting Ian in person for the first time also. It was interesting picking up on the background from the different individuals in attendance and Ron's research. The food was good, and lodging above what I expected. :thumbup:

    BUT! As festivals go, it was a BUST. It was sad to see the lack of interest shown by the locals. The most colorful costumes were being worn by us. I must add I did so (for about 2 minutes) under "protest", but the ladies were insistent. :oops:

    Doi Chang may be a nice place to visit to add to your "been there, done that" list (as the above photos show), but look for authentic culture and festivals elsewhere. :thumbdown:
     
  19. Jurgen

    Jurgen Ol'Timer

    Wonderful write up, with important information and amazing pictures. It is a helpful planner for an excursion and provides a clear frame for expectations. The tribute paid to development and kind of “civilization” is probably unavoidable. Lets hope that the natural background remains enjoyable and that friendly contacts can be build with denizens in western costumes :) :rolleyes:
     
  20. fabianfred

    fabianfred Member

    Great pix...sorry i missed this festival again!
    It would be good if GT could email us with dates and places when he knows a hill-tribe festival is coming up....or anything very photogenic.
     
  21. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    You can buy bulk coffee from Doi Chang farms in Chiang Mai at Hillkoff Coffee
    Chiang Mai - Coffee
    the # 1 coffee outlet in Chiang Mai.
    Check em out for loads of coffee &, coffee machines & equipment.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2016

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