Akha Language Radio Presenter at Chiang Mai Radio Station.
interview as part of VIRTUAL BORDERS production conducted by Manu Luksch in Chiang Mai, Thailand, January 2000, translated by Aju Jupoh.
My name is Apho Chirmi Chintana Ratanawichaikul. I work for the Chiang Mai radio station of Thailand. It's the government's radio station. This radio station is broadcasting all over Thailand, even in the provinces. But it's only the Chiang Mai radio station that gives the mountain people a chance to talk. I've worked here for three years and one month. At the moment, I study 'Community Development' at Chiang Mai Institute or Chiang Mai University, that's the second one Chiang Mai. I will finish my studies next year, in May 2000.
At the radio station here we speak all of the tribal languages, six languages altogether. We've done so for more than twenty years, almost thirty to be precise. Now we've introduced another language, Chinese, that the news group uses. People here have spoken Chinese for over a year now. The mountain people are very happy that they get to speak on the radio station because, still now, those who live in the mountains or those who never studied don't know how to speak Thai.
I work here. We broadcast news from Thailand or abroad. We feature programmes about living, housing and agriculture, and tell the Akha how to improve their lives. We can translate from Thai to Akha and many Akha people or people from other tribes listen in from the mountain regions. The mountain people's programme starts at five o'clock in the morning. From five to six o'clock we have a programme for the Hmong tribe, from six to seven we broadcast in the Miao tribal language. From seven to seven-thirty we have news from Bangkok. It's very important that all Thai people listen. From seven-thirty to eight we have a programme for Lisu people for half an hour. From eight to eight-thirty it's the Akha programme. Eight-thirty to nine-thirty it's the Karen programme. From nine-thirty to ten it's the Lahu programme and from ten to ten-thirty it's a programme in Kachin language. So, in the mornings we broadcast the Hmong tribe programme for one hour. The Hmong and the Karen, they have two hours per day. They get more time than the others because they prepare better and they have more to say. 19:57
The Yao tribe gets one hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon. The Akha get a half hour programme time in the morning and one hour in the evening. The Hmong tribe have an hour more than the other tribes. Every day we talk about different subjects like, for example, when and where the government does something to do with the mountain people so we give out that information. Where do we get the news from? We have Thai people who type up news and get them ready for two broadcasts per day, one in morning and another one in the evening. Organisations that want other people to know about their projects will send news by fax, telephone or in form of a letter. Some of our news are taken from newspapers. We use local or Thai newspapers everyday. Certain articles or news, like the full moon story I'd told you about, are taken from newspapers.
Q: Is there an Akha newspaper? 21:47
No, there's still no Akha newspaper, we only have Thai and English ones but here we use Thai ones because it's difficult to read in English.
Q: Do people read newspapers in the Thai villages? 22:01
Not in the villages. But the people who go to the city and read Thai usually buy the newspaper.
Q: Is the Chiang Mai radio station the only one?
No, we have two places. One radio station of the mountain people is in Mai Chiang, a Chiang Rai province. Chiang Rai province is the last province of the north.
Q: Do you have Akha/Hani radio stations in other regions? 22:56
Akha/Hani? In China they also have Hani/Akha radio stations. They came to visit last year.
Q: What do you know about the history of the radio station? 23:25
People who work here told me about the story of this radio station. They say that in the beginning of this radio programme many years ago a lot tribal people lived in the mountains and sometimes they didn't know who they were: Thai or Burmese, etc. The Thai governement thought it better to get some news or information from the government to the tribal people in order to establish contact with them. That's why they started the mountain people programme, now they can all listen to the radio programmes. They want people to calm down, to live happily without having to be afraid. They want them to know who they are. And establish easy contact with the Thai governement. It is important for the mountain people to know each other well, to know about living together, about what's going on every day.
Q: If you could chose, how would you like to see your future?
25:07 That's difficult to answer. If I could choose? I'm Akha. Akha is a tribe that's based in Thailand or in a country like Burma, China or Laos. They have their own language, their own culture. Now, many Akha in Thailand are afraid that they're going to lose their culture and their language. Many young people come to the city and study. They learn more about Thai culture. Many old people are afraid that the young people are going to forget about the culture or language of Akha. I'd really like to keep the Akha way of living and the language. I would like to tell young people who study everywhere in the world to remember where they come from, what language they come from, what culture they come from. I want them to learn from the old people. I don't want them to forget the one group and move on to another.
Akha people from Thailand, for example, who live on the mountain go to the city and only learn about Thai language and Thai culture. Maybe they think that the Akha language or Akha culture is not necessary for them. I don't want them to think like that. I really want them to learn the language and some cultural ceremonies from their father, mother or their family. That's the way it ought to be. Without the school. They'd have to learn it with the people. I want them to be happy and feel proud about their culture and their language. If they go somewhere to see somebody from work, for example, I want them to say: "I'm an Akha" when asked where they're from. Everybody can be happy that they speak Akha, they know about Akha people. Some people are Akha but don't speak any of their language. Why should they want to be Akha people? Let's say to the young people: please learn to keep Akha culture, or any other tribal culture, alive for as long as possible.
Q: What do you know about the internet? Do you think the internet can help the Akha people in the future? 27:57
For Thai people the internet isn't really anything new. But for us Akha people, internet technology has not really been heard of. Many Akha people don't know what the internet is, how it works, etc. Only a few people, like me, my sister or some students, know about the internet. In the future I think the internet will be open not only to the Akha people but to all tribes. A couple of years ago, for example, tribal people didn't know how to listen to the radio. Now everybody knows. People own everything from small radios to big radios. There's telephone access in the village now. They buy themselves hand-phones, they know about telephones, tv's, about videos, etc. It'll be the same with the internet in the future. Everybody will know. It'll be easy for them to use. But whether the internet will do the Akha people good or bad waits to be seen.
Sometimes the internet issues negative features on movie-stars here in Thailand. Some people don't mean well. They'd put (--?--name) or something like that as a movie star face and the owner of that face will lose his/her name. That's not the right way of using it. I hope the Akha people will learn not to abuse the internet, but chose the right way of using it.
Q: Is there anything you'd like to add? 30:08
I'm really happy that Manu, Dara and Tarik have come here. It was very nice to see you and I'm very happy that you're interested in the Akha people. If somebody through watching this video-tape wants to see how Akha people live and how the Akha language is spoken here in Chiang Mai, then please come and visit. Thanks very much for having come here and having shown interest in Akha culture. If I couldn't explain everything to your satisfaction today then I'll tell you more in the future.