On the road in Laos #3 – Akha villages

There are so many different peoples living in Laos that it would be impossible for me to try to remember the characteristics of each group, but the Akha people make themselves memorable by living as high in the mountains as they can. 

On the way to visit a group at the top of a mountain, we came across another Akha village where a young girl was out near the side of the road cleaning cotton bolls.

You might notice that apart from the headscarf to protect her from the sun, and the thongs on her feet, she is clad entirely in traditional Akha garb. The Akha still live quite a traditional way of life, especially the women, who, I was told, often only speak Akha (and no Lao) and rarely leave the village, particularly not to live and work elsewhere.

Akha embroidered clothing is popular with tourists, in fact I scored a fabulous Akha jacket when I was in Laos two years ago (have you seen it? If not, click here and please ignore the terrible layout). Kommaly bargained with this group to buy a few pieces.

Most of the girls were actually not wearing anything Akha – except for their headgear. And their headgear shows that I shouldn’t really be calling them girls, because they are in fact married women, many of them with babies, although I’m pretty sure most of them were still only about 18 – at the oldest.

We were treated to lunch at the chief’s house when we got to the village at the top of the mountain. It’s not particularly appetising to look at, but this grey dish was DELICIOUS. It’s banana flower and lemongrass soup, and I must have had about a zillion helpings!

We were also treated to a fashion show of sorts, as the girl in the picture was helped to get all the heavy headgear on (over her totally modern outfit!). Once a woman is married, she wears this headgear all the time – apparently even to sleep in, although I’m hoping that I misunderstood that, as it would be so heavy! 

The headgear is covered in all kinds of embellishment including coins, beads and tassels, and it gets handed down over the generations as a form of portable wealth.

The embroidery is very intricate and colourful, with seemingly few rules, except that white must be used as it has some special meaning. This lady is holding a hip covering which has a coin and tassel attached to the corner. I bought something similar, but with no coin and tassel – the coins are often close to 100 years old and quite precious to the Akha, so they don’t like to part with them.

I ordered a few accessory samples from this group, but I’m not sure how long the embroidery takes, so have no idea when I’ll actually receive them. Soon, hopefully!