Tuesday, August 26, 2008
To look beautiful in the Akha world is to dress in the most carefully crafted costume possible;
Two Akha tribeswomen display their intricately crafted headresses and costumes.
This also Akha tribewoman
Lisu women buy raw material at a local
market to make their vivid costumes
Recycling the past; old colonial British rupees are often melted down to create local jewelry including these Padaung neck rings.
Besides silver jewelry, some of which are family heirlooms, tribals fetch ornament materials from their jungles. Both the Akha and the Karen use Job's tear seeds and the shiny wings of green beetles as decoration. The Karen make beads to be used in necklaces from coconut shell, while the range of Akha embellishments includes animal parts such as gibbon fur and red horsehair tassels. Also, the Akha are perhaps the only people in the world to make a decorative device from chicken feathers. Women twine the tail feathers around a two-string bow loom, knock them in place with a bobby pin and tie off the tassel at the desired length. They next dye them red and attach them to headdresses, shoulder bags and jackes.
As for hairstyles, most women in the hills keep it in turbans or headdreasses and even those who don't ordinarity, like the younger Lisu and Karen, wrap it up for festivals. The simplest, and even strangest headgear is that worn by the Palaung and the Lahu Sheleh. It is nothing more than a brightly colored hand towel, like the sort you see hanging in your suburban friends' bathrooms. Most other headgear is a version, in one from or another, of the turban.
The most elaborate headpiece, though, is that of the Akha, which varies according to subgroup. The Ulo Akha headdress consists of a bamboo cone, covered in beads, silver studs and seeds, edged in coins (silver rupees for the rich, bath for the poor) topped by several dangling chicken feather tassels and maybe a woolen pom-pom. The Pamee Akha wear a trapezoidal colt cap covered in silver studs with coins on the beaded side flaps and long chains of linked silver rings hanging down each side. The Lomi Akha wear a round cap covered in silver studs and framed by silver balls, coins and pendants and the married women attach a trapezoidal inscribed plate at the back. By the way, Akha women sleep with their headdress on, though the Ulo women remove the top half first.
The stype of visiting tribals to other traditional villages contrast with that of the welcoming host, and the burden of adapting to the unfamiliar is on the visitors more thn on their hosts, who are, after all, on home ground. But just as the guests usually find it easy to behave respectfully once they discover their hosts behaving likewise, they also have no real trouble in the tribal world. Some adjust so well they even fall in love.