I live in Saen Cheroen village, my name is Abaw Buseu. My age: this year is the year of the rabbit when I am 66 years old. The name of the village is Saen Cheroen, Mae Suay district, Chiang Rai Province.
I live in Saen Cheroen Village. In the past, I didn't know anything outside. In the year 1974, the government came to establish village headmen, after that, we had to attend a meeting in the district office once a month. Then I was village head for 20 years. When I was village head, I set up a school for the village. Students from Bangkok came to help, more than 100 students. Also we set up a water system, which was 6km far from the villages. The budget was more than 300.000 Baht. Then, I built the village hall for the use of the villagers, the money for the meeting hall came from the Netherlands. This village hall is for community service. Before we started building, we discussed where we should build it. But others were afraid of deforestation. Then I said ok, if the other villages donıt want to set up a meeting hall in their villages, I will set it up in my village.
I proposed it at the meeting, at the district office, and then the government gave me a chance to build this.
Then, about ID card and birth certificate: It is very useful for the villagers. But before we got an ID card, they offered us a ³coin². We carried those coins for 5 years, after that they were converted into ID cards. The public welfare came to help in the village. They helped a lot with agriculture, because they came to train us about agriculture. We followed every step of what the public welfare was teaching us. Then they also built a road to the village. I donıt remember exactly around which year, maybe around 1974-78.
After the road was made, -we have our own community forest but never thought that they were coming for logging!
We were very happy at the beginning that the road was made. But soon after, the Forest Department sent people to mark the big trees along the road. One tree can build one house, but all big trees and fruit trees and chestnut trees are gone now, probably they logged more than 600.000 - 700.000 trees.
Nowadays there is also a road in the mountains. After that , the electricity system came. Many people wanted to use household appliances, and also television.
The television set you can get for many different prices, expensive ones or cheap ones. Many people are watching television, they don't go to the dancing ground in the villages any more.. Everybody thought television is good and concentrated on Chinese movies only, This is why I think that the dancing ground in the village will not be used anymore.
thatıs why I am worried about the future and if we will loose our culture. They donıt talk about their own culture and way -of-live any more.
I think I would like to write down all the information about our culture before all those who are knowledgable, die, but one man cannot get done it all.
Regarding the ancestral service: actually we are having services 12 times a year, but the Akha people are saying 9 times a year only. But we have to think clearly. Many people are still saying that we do the ancestral service 9 times a year. However, actually we don't even realise that we do the ancestral service 12 times a year.
We should also keep our community forest, and the water sources. This type of knowledge, we should write down on paper. Why? Because the young generation nowadays goes to school studying within the Thai system, so they don't learn anything about their own culture. The youth will not know about their old culture.
Talking about Yani way of life. This way of life we didnıt set up in Thailand but we maintain from Kunming. The village has a Dzoema, [...], Pima or Reciter, and then the Elderly. If it hasn't these four things, the village structure is not strong enough.
The problem is that as long as we live the culture is losing and losing. Nowadays, our culture seems to be weak, because the young generation doesn't understand our culture very well any longer. Just like the village heads from the government side, they think that they are strong enough for everything without asking the elderly.
In the past we solved all the problems in the village by ourselves. Now all the things by Thai law are more important than our way of life. In the past, if you were just consulting with somebody, it is a great way of life. However, now, they are only using the Thai law, even if they don't exactly know what the Thai laws are about.
Like in the past, if someone was going to do something wrong to other people, the person had to pay pigs or whisky offerings to the elderly people. Everybody was believing in the elderly people, thatıs why there were not many problems. However, now there are serious problems, because the village head from the government side doesnıt exactly know the Thai law he is acting after. So if I am talking about this point I am getting very tired on it.
Talking about the elderly. In the past, when there was a ceremony or funeral, they were supposed to join, they had to go there. When they did the ceremony in the family, the elderly of the village had to join the ceremonies. For example, the wedding ceremony, or funeral, or other ceremonies in the village, also the reciting of the buffaloes at the funeral, the elderly had to do this ceremony together. I think this system is very weak now. In the past, when I was 20 years old, I learned from the elderly. I learned most of the cultural ceremonies already when I was 20 years.
As the Akha use to say, the Akha people within 30 years build an understanding, and then this whole knowledge cannot be learned by one alone but they have to help each other. Therefore, we should record the voice and keep photographs and show them to the younger generation, because today the younger generation is only watching television. Then we should write everything down on paper, the funeral ceremony, everything of our culture, and we should show it on TV as well, so the kids can see it on TV. If we donıt keep many things I believe that our culture wonıt survive for long.
Now, I see, I have been traveling around in different countries, and nobody studies the Pima knowledge anymore. In the past, they could recite the funeral ceremony for 10 buffaloes, but nowadays, it is already difficult to find someone who knows to recite 3 buffaloes and one horse.
Also the reciter system should be recorded on video.
One thing I believe is that the reciter should also teach in the school where the kids are studying. The Pima himself has secret words, they donıt teach them to everybody, but I think in these days we should teach it. If we keep it secret in the future, nobody will know about our old culture. In the past, they were learning by memorising through practising, but now not many people like to teach this knowledge anymore. I think if it was taught in the writing system, one can learn it quicker than in the past.
Trip to China
Now when I come to Chiang Mai, I met Asseu, the radio speaker, and I met Lawgaw, the one who is writing the Akha text. He records the cultural texts. I said, oh thatıs very good, writing in Akha scripting system, and discussed it with him. Then I met a foreigner, Dara, which is very good.
I heard they were talking about sitting in aeroplanes, but I never sit in aeroplanes. The Akha people said in the past that we have the ability to reach any point by walking. That's true, because when I actually sit in the airplane, I looked down to the mountains, and I see the valleys and I can see the overview. There is nothing to be afraid of, I feel very safe.
I went to an Ajo Akha village. It was my first trip ever to an Ajo Akha village. We talked together. They showed us the village structure. The site, where they set up the village is very strong, and also their style of building a house looks very strong. They build a house without digging a hole for the pole. They then showed us the theatre. At lunchtime they killed a chicken at the villages' head home. The elderly of the village came to eat with us. We discussed cultural issues. They also have their own culture, that's very good.
About the conference...oh there were many people. I think it's good, some people were filming, some taking photographs. I asked many people their opinions and they also said itıs very good, because the conference discusses Akha culture. We should maintain this kind of conferences as long as possible.
After the conference, one night, we went to the theatre. They were to show dancing and the culture. But what I think is that they imitated from Bajaj Balue [?] culture. The rhythms, most of the songs, they imitate from the Chinese, it wasn't the original old culture.
We have 2 days at the conference to present papers, they were allright. We discussed how we should maintain our culture in the future. I see those who became Baptist are not interested in discussing culture. When we discussed culture they seemed a bit unhappy. When we spoke about the different countries, where Akha are living, China, Thailand, Laos, Burma or Vietnam, if one can set up a meeting in all countries, I think it would be perfect. After each country has hosted a meeting, then on the top of this there could be a meeting with all countries coming together that would be perfect. If we could set up this kind of conference more and more, we would be able to discuss cultural matters more in depth. In the past, we didnıt have meetings among different countries wherever the Akha people live. The conference is great, useful.
I came for the conference tonight, there are many foreigners saying it is the year 2000. Many people say it is the year 2000. Tonight I don't feel very well. I miss my friends, the elderly, the children, my nephew and nieces, I miss them a lot.
In the night of the 27th my village has New Year celebration. This is the day of buffalo. The past year is the year of the donkey, and this is the year of the rabbit. Whatever we are talking about, our age is becoming more and more, and when New Year is coming I remember also my age is getting more.
This year is the Rabbit year. The Akha people are counting the years in animals. We count the second circle after 13 years, therefore the third circle after 27, the 4th circle after 45 years, 85 years are 7 circles.
When we went to the Ajo village, they welcomed us with bamboo drumming, trumpets, and offering lots of whisky. They welcomed all the people coming from various countries to visit in the village. We went to the center of the village, and then we attended the wedding. It was good fun, many people around. We came to the house of the groomıs family. The couple was covered in bamboo mats. We got into the house, there, a table was set up, and on the table, they put a pigs' leg. They prayed the songs for wellbeing of the ancestors.
After the wedding, we were gathering at the central dancing place in the village. The Ajo group, Ajl [?] group, Akha group together - in one village alone they don't have so many people, so they called the neighbouring villages in for the welcome. Then they were dancing, the 3 different groups of Akha. Each group was wearing the old costumes, it was very well done, I appreciated how each group was wearing it's own costumes.
The conference in China: nowadays the Akha live in 5 countries: Laos, Thailand, China, Burma and Vietnam. But 2 countries didn't come, Laos and Vietnam. Why? The Laotian government doesnıt allow their people to travel, and another problem is that they donıt have any money to travel. This might be the reason. So these 2 countries couldnıt come. Those who participated came from Thailand, Burma and China. This time those Akha people who live in Laos and Vietnam couldnıt come, but I hope that they will be able to participate with us in the future.
Creating the World
Jiabialong is the one who gave life to plants and animals and human beings. Sumi-O is the first ancestor name we are counting. Another are Patong [?], there are many different groups of human beings and I think also the way of live and culture is different from Patong.
The Akha proverb says: The Akha people are belonging on this Earth, we first come from China, and then moved to Burma and Thailand and Laos and Vietnam. Now the Akha people live in 5 different countries.
Nowadays there are still many elderly in the villages who have the knowledge about herbal medicine. We should also learn about that. When you get a disease, you have to take medicine. Many of the younger generation get knowledge about modern medicine by studying in the school system. Maybe they can develop the herbal medicine, too. I think it would be very good to develop herbal medicine.
In the past, apart from herbal medicine, we planted cotton and made clothes by ourselves. Nowadays we buy clothes at the market and our old cotton is no longer needed.
We have proverbs that get forgotten nowadays, nobody hears the proverbs anymore these days - we have so many of them.
The buffalo can be killed, but the string tied on the head cannot change.
The woman can remarry many times, but she cannot change wearing the white skirt. A new house can be built many times, but one cannot change the ancestral services.
Even if one can change the rice field many times, one cannot change the ceremony-of-the-rice-field.
Thatıs why the proverbs are very useful, please don't forget them!