The Akha tribe in Laos Between tradition and modernity DW Documentary

a remote village in Laos high above the clouds the people here speak their own language time seems almost to have Stood Still we meet a family that is holding fast to the old traditions while also making small steps out into the wider world [Music] today is a special day a photographer has come to the village [Music] the father Pao King has wanted a family photo like this for a long time he wants to put it in a golden frame and hang it up at home [Music] now that art is his youngest son King LOM is only rarely here he's been living on his own since he was 11 when he moved to a town in the valley to attend school the girls of the family will probably spend their lives here on the mountain like their older brothers [Music] the family have pinned their hopes in king LOM the youngest son as their best hope for a different and easier life for the younger generation [Music] [Applause] for the women of the family the day begins with starting a fire cooking and feeding the pigs sometimes they sell a pig to a neighbor to bring in a bit of money that goes to help support Kiang LOM the youngest son apart from that the family are subsistence farmers one of the neighbours pigs has snuck into their yard [Music] Palkia has plenty of time to relax his wife your toy has chores that keep her busy from dawn to dusk [Music] among the akka people of the mountains of Laos fetching wood is women's work for the women of the family walking without carrying a heavy load on their back is too leisurely so they spin cotton along the way in the past acha women were not supposed to wear shoes your choice still prefers it this way [Music] haha I went to school until grade 3 then my father died and I had to work with my mother I had to do all the men's work such as chopping down big trees I built myself a letter out of branches so I could reach them I worked very hard as hard as I possibly could and we still didn't have enough rice to last the family the entire year after my mother died I married my husband he's rather old but he said that if I married him he would take care of me and my younger sister he's 12 years older than me I named him me up all your coat your Choi is 59 years old my first daughter when I was 23 my second when I was 24 and my third at 25 after that I had a child every year 15 pregnancies in all because they had so many children I look much older than my age I had to work very hard because I didn't want my children to go hungry one day my mom my father's IQ my god [Music] [Music] No [Music] one of her daughters-in-law has stayed home to cook a midday meal for the family my every meal includes vegetables and rice breakfast lunch and dinner sometimes there are eggs and rare Lisa meat the love and family eat in the kitchen the parents and the oldest son sit at one table the other son the daughters-in-law and the grandchildren sit at the other 12 people live in this house in all much of life is governed by custom and tradition from the seating arrangements at meals to the women's dress to the work they do their daily routine and their festivals pow King keeps a close eye on things he's a member of the village council of elders and a former village chief [Music] and although no one says so directly he's also the shaman this is for fortune-telling [Music] don't watch it if someone is old and very sick then I can know the day of their death by looking at this it's fine that I can make these predictions but it would not be good for me to tell someone else that bad luck is coming their way a neighbor comes to fetch him a child is sick with a high fever the family says the boy was frightened in the forest and his soul left him now the spirits are trying to lay claim to him they want the shaman to prevent this instead of entering the child the spirits will be lured into a doll made of paper gold tobacco and rice will entice the evil spirits [Music] love had born on mastery thank you the soul of the baby chick is supposed to enter the child [Music] the chick is also sacrificed to the evil spirits [Music] put on your like cavite having the evil spirits are now inside the paper doll the shaman is removing it from the village the sword will ensure that they remain banished from the village that afternoon the fever is gone and the child feels better he took a pill a fever reducing medication but as far as the villagers are concerned that's an irrelevance II more than 30 years ago pal King picked this hilltop as the location for the village payin son line three sacred trees mark the spot [Music] a bidet yeah we're not allowed to cut these trees even the tiniest cut is forbidden no one can cut any of these trees and if you cut there you're also cutting here all of the treats are sacred huh well if someone cuts them somebody in the village will get sick those holy summer Tigers will come from the forest to eat or kill our animals till a long you need there's no electricity running water roads or neighbors the acha have maintained their traditions over centuries but pal King also experienced a different way of life when he served in the military I fought in the Vietnam War for this country and for the people of Laos for 16 years when I fought to liberate the country in the people she beat I was a soldier fighting our enemies I was at the locker camp and shot down six earthlings over there behind the harm Alton that's where I was when the planes arrived I thought oh he's had Maheu veto or not I fought harder than anyone in the province if I hadn't returned to the village I'd be a government official by now [Music] pal Kang's second son has just become a father again it's his fifth child he lives next door this is castle did your wife give birth already is the baby crying a lot yes she and the baby after the harvest the rice needs to dry under the Sun every day at night it's put back into the sacks when the women work the men take care of the youngest children [Music] [Music] [Music] women moved to their husband's village when they marry they begin wearing the traditional dress and start adding to its decoration you Troy had to so each of her three daughters-in-law a full costume [Music] [Laughter] [Music] my mother-in-law is old so she doesn't want to wear bright colors like us she doesn't want to outshine her daughters-in-law we can't take off the headdress even when we go to sleep we can't comb our hair or wash it when we want only on certain days the most forbidden day is the birthday of our parents and our parents in law that would mean they wished for their deaths women have a lot of work I can't even list it all we go to the rice fields cut firewood carry water do the washing feed all the animals there's no set bedtime we just go to bed when we finished all our work that also includes their highly skilled production of textiles they make dyes for their clothing out of Wild Indigo plants and slaked lime during the day one of the women is always at the wooden machine to separate the cotton from its seeds then comes the spinning weaving and dyeing every family in the village produces their own clothing often we can't find the white lime so we have to buy from someone else we make our clothing out of cotton fabric the fabrics have to be hung to dry for more than 12 months before we can make clothing out of them she and her husband have five children the youngest is - the oldest 10 I can't remember the first time I went to her village I'm married when I was 22 years old she was 21 I first met her at the new year yes we shouldn't talk about such things when our parents are around it's not good to talk about things like this it's embarrassing even sitting next to each other in front of the parents is considered unseemly they've been living in this house as a married couple for 11 years how King and you choy two of their sons their wives and six grandchildren live in this house we are the parents we can sleep in the same room but others have to be in separate remains no why not no well then a blue coat and fo'got for that Nana put in a routine Ernie my first daughter-in-law sleeps over there separate from my son this is the room of our first son's wife she sleeps beside the kitchen the second son doesn't live here anymore the third son his wife sleeps here and he sleeps over there no daughter-in-law may sleep on this side it's not allowed [Music] how king has sent his sons out to look for a location for a new rice field [Music] after three years the soil is depleted then the old rice field is abandoned and forest is cleared for a new one [Music] the men also have a task to do when they head out on a longer mission they hunt for wild animals and birds [Music] their brother-in-law was accidentally shot while he was out hunting [Music] they found a spot for the new rice field Pao king told them they need to start clearing the ground straight away what day is it today today is the day of the pig which is a good day that's why we need to start clearing now we want to start on a good day then we'll come back in about two or three days time to start clearing properly it'll take 20 days to finish clearing this field tell me what many believe here today my own time [Music] they'll clear all the way to the crest of the hill as soon as the rice is growing well they will conduct a sacrifice to the spirits when the rice plants have grown to about 50 centimeters we slaughter four chickens but the ceremony one will have to be a white chicken the white chicken is to feed the spirits in this area the second chicken is for the Hut in the field the third chicken is for all the animals around the field and the fourth for all the plants and the trees they'll need horses and cows to bring the harvest in later in the year this year our rice field will be closer to the village last year was over there this year it's here this year's harvest brought us more than 100 bags of rice but it takes around one to two hours to get them up before they head home the brothers put markers down that way the other villagers will know that their family is now farming this section of land [Music] [Music] [Music] the family's youngest son 18 year old King LOM has come for a visit he brought with him some t-shirts jackets and trousers which people from the town of Fung Sally gave him to celebrate the visit the women are making a large meal today they won't eat in the kitchen I took the motorbike from Fong's early and it had a flat tire on the way once I reach Park song village I bought a new one from an old man and changed it they have no garret so I had to change it myself his best childhood friend has come over even like young he wants the same haircut Kangnam is one of only three boys who left the village of 300 residents to continue their studies after finishing primary school a space hoe nobody would like him to go to university but we don't have money for that he'll finish high school this year no how many here I don't want him to come home I want him to work for the government I used to work for the government but I gave that up to come back to the village maybe so I want my youngest son to continue what I began well who knows who carry have been cool always any poor cleaning [Music] I used to be in love with the girl from the actor but not anymore you'll be you living for me well there are many different ethnic groups Jenny's in Oliver you need Nico I know I'm not just limited to the actor you Nene and Ponte knit warm a banana I don't want to marry in our girl I'm mainly in Fong's early and the women are beautiful their lives in town that he can choose whether to follow our culture or not that's fine for him but not for us for us older ones we can't stop living according to our tradition to be youthful love in the future if my parents are still alive I'll invite them to live in town with me I'll take care of them once I have a job and earn some money and Dave yeah no I mean no need Koval continue I don't know what they'll think they will move to town I believe but I'm not sure if my brothers will go to Koval Canada for no [Music] the question of who might want to move away is a hot topic in the village [Music] every three months a medical student visits the village to carry out vaccinations and to distribute vitamin A and medications against worms the village is remote far from any hospital or doctor when someone is seriously ill and the path is impassable due to heavy rain there's no way to get medical help [Music] that's why the village chief wants to have the village relocated further down the mountainside they would have access to a paved road as well as electricity and running water 30 families live in the village not all of them want to move some because they don't have the money others because they fear that they will lose touch with their culture and traditions [Music] there are Giannini call-only not the governor said that is village chief I can't simply leave the village we have to move together if I could move on my own I would have done that already Poliquin Oh Nellie if they want to move we have enough to stay here if they're going they'll go but we'll stay the chief isn't here anymore we'll just keep living here no Bob will you go you they hold fast to their traditions the ceremonies the sacrifices of animals to ward off bad luck and their relationship to the spirits and to their ancestors [Music] [Music] the biggest taboo in aquaculture is one that they are not permitted to mention within the confines of the village it's a topic that the older people always told us we shouldn't talk about only the elders can talk about it when there are pregnant women in the house they must never hear anything about this topic it's so terrible people hate this as much as walk Island we're ladies who wanna be Callie it's always been this way if you give birth to twins the family can't stay in the village and they can't move to another village either our cousin in the old village had twins once and we took them away and carried out all the ceremonies the parents would give birth to twins have to build a small Hut in the forest next to a small stream even when we bring them food we can't look at or talk to them we just say here is food for you we're not allowed to say anything about their family when we bring them food we talk as though we were talking to ourselves to the trees if they try to talk to us we're not allowed to respond that's what we are Kerbal even talked about this topic in the village it's forbidden we can't raise twins even if someone wanted to force us to that's our culture although I learn that there Gorby four years ago government officials came to Nepal sang village they came to ask if we could change but even if the government requests this of us we can't change this we can't raise twins we have to respect our traditional culture people are never allowed to step across the river where they buried the twins there got a Cubano like the parents of twins are permitted to return to the village after they have killed their newborn twins their home is burned down with everything it contains for an entire year no one is permitted to speak to the couple acha people believe that only animals can give birth to more than one baby at a time when a woman gives birth to twins an evil spirit must be at work [Music] [Music] you know [Music] [Music] you choice cousin has died a member of the family must attend the funeral which is being held in a village on a nearby hill located part way to town king lung the youngest son is leaving he won't visit again for a month the funeral ceremony began a week ago the figure on the horse represents the deceased on the second horse some of his belongings will accompany him on his final journey the deceased rides into the forest where he will be buried at night the shaman must kill the water buffalo with a single stab of the spear as part of the ritual sacrifice [Music] [Music] to make sure the family continues to prosper the head of the Buffalo must be noisily brought to the roof [Music] [Music] the more prosperous the deceased the longer the funeral ceremony lasts and the more animals that are sacrificed [Applause] [Music] oh they donate summer when I die I will have two horses to ride and about six or seven cattle will be slaughtered for sure big guys anchor here nee I've done so much and I worked for the government so if my funeral isn't the biggest I won't rest well I want my funeral to be the biggest who do you know [Music] king l'm still has a three-hour drive ahead of him he has to go into the valley and cross the lake in order to reach town it's a journey into another world a world he's been living in for seven years now in which he hopes to make his future [Music] King Lum has some rice in his bags [Music] every morning the residents of Fung Sally are woken by a news broadcast through the loudspeaker courtesy of the socialist government King Lum remembers how coming to live here on his own at age 11 was a bit frightening but also exciting back then he found a grandmother an elderly woman without any family in town she cooked for him sometimes and let him watch TV he only comes to the Market Hall to shop on special occasions he can't afford most of what's sold here he has the rice he brought from home and cooks meals for himself in his room in six months King LOM will finish his high school degree God singing I'll do my best to get a high score on the levy exactly so that I can go to university to be and door and be sassy blue recessive or auntie only the top three in his class will get a scholarship 37 students are competing for it King Leung doesn't want to disappoint his father for fine yep again my dream is to study something like IT maybe become a police officer but my father doesn't really support those ideas I'd like it though but who knows in the end my financial situation will determine whether I can go to university or not we don't have the money for it but yeah bug me of whatever here not one [Music] he can't imagine returning to the village after seven years in town he's left behind the customs and traditions of the village high above the clouds [Music] king l'm gets up early every morning to exercise [Music] mm photography University then I think I'll become a driver come looking young what would that mean for his family who have such high hopes for him Gork upload burp tanking Tama - I could work as a chauffeur to earn money I'm gonna have money I'll buy van and operate a shuttle service Shing Leung is determined to earn a living he and his friend from school are making plans for their future returning to the village is no longer an option even if he leaves the traditions of the acha people behind he'll have fulfilled his father's hopes his life in town will certainly be easier than in the village above the clouds [Music] you

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