The Akha/Hani people of Southeast Asia encompasses at least fourteen distinct subgroups. These groups differ from each other in terms of geographic location, language, and dialect. The Akha/Hani living in China prefer to be called “Hani”, while the Akha/Hani people in Burma and Thailand prefer to be called “Akha”. In Thailand there are four main Akha groups: the U Law, the Law Mi, the Pa Mi and the A Keu.
All four groups speak the Akha language as well as their own dialects. The dialect spoken by the U Law, the Law Mi and the Pa Mi is very similar; however, the A Keu speak a very distinctive dialect of their own. Each sub-group of the Thai Akha also dresses very differently. The headdresses of the ladies are particularly noticeable markers of the sub-group identity.
The entire Akha/Hani region falls within the 10/40 Window. The Akha/Hani people are originally from Yunnan province of southwest China. However, the increased mobilization of the last century has resulted in a southward migration of many of the Akha/Hani people. Today approximately 1.8 million Akha/Hani people live in China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and North Vietnam. Although detailed census information is not available, the estimated population distribution is as follows:
The Akha/Hani language belongs to the Lolo branch of the Tibeto-Burman family. It has three main tones and two types of short vowels. A Romanized script is used in Thailand, Burma, and Yunnan, although the script used in Yunnan is unusual in that it uses letters for tone marks. The orthography makes the written language appear monosyllabic – each syllable is written separately. However, this spacing is merely to accommodate the placement of tone marks.
The Akha/Hani people were formerly slash and burn cultivators who grew their crops on the mountain sides where they lived. They raised cash crops of cotton and opium poppies. Today, the Akha/Hani are still primarily agriculturally based; however, they are no longer as transient. The typical crop in today’s Akha/Hani village may be chilies, soybean, cabbage, or tomatoes. Pigs, chickens, ducks, goats, and cattle are also raised. Most Akha/Hani people live in bamboo grass huts. Easy to build, and easily worn out, the grass-roof is replaced almost every year. Rice is the staple food. It is often eaten with salt and chilly paste. Each evening, the village women measure out their rice for the next day and then leave it to soak in water overnight. This one pot of rice is steamed in the morning and then made to last through the day. Most Akha/Hani people live below the poverty line.
Social and Community Life
Each village has an elected Headman who is responsible for the welfare of the village. He usually has one or two assistants who work with him. There are also two important priests in the village. One priest is responsible for performing religious rites and sacrificial functions. The other priest is usually responsible for dealing with the evil spirits that cause sickness. He/she functions as a village “doctor”. Interestingly, the blacksmith is also an important person in the village because he is responsible for making a new knife for each village person when they die.
Religion and Beliefs
Akha/Hani religion is a combination of animism and ancestor worship. Their world view is completely colored by their animistic beliefs, thus even the cultivation of rice is bound up with myths and rituals and must be done in the “Akha/Hani way.”
The Akha/Hani people also have an understanding of a great world-creating divinity. All sicknesses are under the control of this spirit; therefore, sacrifices must be made continually in an attempt to gain its favor. Every village has two spirit-gates. The gates are situated at the village entrance and exit to mark the kingdom area of the spirit and its people. The villagers build new gates every year and dedicate them to the spirits with many sacrifices. The Akha/Hani people also are heavily involved in ancestor worship and show a remarkable knowledge of their ancestral past; most Akha/Hani men are able to recite over 60 names of their male ancestors.
Veneration of the ancestors is important because it is believed that the ancestors can bestow blessings on those still living. The ancestral altar kept in each home is well maintained. Nine times a year, on special occasions such as New Year and the beginning of the rice harvest, sacrifices are offered to the ancestors and to the demons whose paraphernalia also clutters the ancestor altar.
Missionaries first reached the Akha in Thailand in the 1950’s. The entire Bible, as well as the Jesus film, is available in their language. Akha Christians divide themselves into approximately eighteen independent groups. There are about 7000 Akha Christians in Burma, but there are very few in China, Laos, and Vietnam.
Christian Churches in Thailand
Akha Churches in Thailand was formed in 1976 by seven Christian Akha villages. The original group has now expanded to include fifty-three Christian villages in Thailand. Chiang Rai town is home to the oldest and most established group of Akha Christians. This group leads an Akha worship service every Sunday and oversees the center for the production of Akha literature. Bibles, hymnbooks, tapes, and the Jesus Film in the Akha language are all available at the Akha Center. 20 individual churches are self-supporting and involved in reaching out to others in Thailand. ACT’s vision is to effectively reach out their own people living in China, Laos, Burma, and North Vietnam.
By God’s grace we purpose to reach out to all the Akha/Hani people living in Thailand, Burma, China, Laos, and Vietnam with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our vision is to establish biblical, indigenous church planting movements in all these countries.
1. Mobilize the church worldwide to adopt the different unreached sub-groups of Akha/Hani people living in China, Burma, Laos, andNorth Vietnam.
2. Recruit workers to facilitate church planting movements.
3. Partner with existing churches in Thailand and Burma for evangelism.
4. Partner with others working with the Akha/Hani people.
5. Recruit capable team members to :
a) Conduct a full survey of the geographical distribution of the Akha/Hani people
b) Survey the languages and cultures of each of the Akha/Hani sub-groups
c) Understand the present trends among the Akha/Hani people
d) Mobilize faithful prayer partners and provide them with regular and specific prayer items
e) Network with churches, groups, and individuals worldwide.