We headed off from Chiang Mai shortly after sunrise so as to witness the monks floating by in lines determined by superiority for taak-baat (their morning food offerings from believers); a daily ceremony that continues to leave us intrigued & moved.
Northward bound through Chiang Rai, on up to Doi Tung. I'd established a good contact when we visited the Royal Villa & gardens, a 'girl from the mountains' whose family had migrated from Burma several generations ago. Through her I'd been able to determine which Akha villlage was our preferred destination & in turn she'd been liaising with the tribal headman & village priest to ascertain when their Swing Ceremony would take place, to ensure we were welcome to attend.
The area where we were headed is along the actual border between Thailand & Burma. The road one takes is steep, narrow & very windy & incredibly spectacular. Little used, it weaves in & out of the two countries. At times one passes through 'border controls' where armed forces from Thailand look across over armed military from Burma & visa versa. This is the very area/region where the Shan Independance Army is currently fighting the Burmese Army, fighting which has led in recent days only to 30,000 refugees fleeing over the Chinese border. The illegal trafficing of amphetamines is another problem.
We were heading to the Phamee Akha, a village in THE most amazing setting high up in the limestone cliffs looking out over the fertile plains of Chiang Rai province. Arriving to find the older men of the village finalising the installation of the swing, with the ceremonies to start later in the day, we headed to Phahee Village, somewhat higher up the mountain but in an equaly impressive setting......understand, one doesn't even know these places exist until you are 'up there'!
There are 2 dominant landmarks/symbols in an Akha village - the Sacred Gate & the 'Swing'. The Swing Ceremony is unique to the Akha tribe. It falls each year in either August or September varying from village to village depending on when a particular village will harvest its rice. Determined by the village priest such flexibility in dates seems also to ensure that Akha boys, dressed in all their refinery, can move between villages to see the girls from other villages!
The Swing Ceremony is a sacred thanksgiving ritual & form of ancestral worship. Through the ceremony & its associated merry-making, feasting, singing & dancing, the Akha show respect & gratitude to their ancestors, who, in turn, give well-being, welfare & crop abundance to their descendants. The ceremony marks the tribes contact with god, a particular moment in the growing of their rice-fields, a prayer for rain & a subsequent good harvest, & the 'rite of passage' for Akha girls passing into womanhood. Its this later component that makes the ceremony so very spectacular - the girls of the village come dressed in the MOST amazing & colourful of hand-made/hand embroided clothing/costumes. Indigo dyed cotton cloth jackets skirts & 'leg wraps' are embroided in intricate patterns of every possible distictive colour. The most ornate of headware made from silver (they weigh around 5kls each) & colourful beads adorn their heads. Its mind-blowing! The girls laugh their heads off as they launch each other off on this HUGE swing, individually, in pairs, seated, standing.......The swing is set to encapture the brilliant view & setting amidst the limestone karsts - participants are launched with the swing rising to where they surely feel they are flying miles above the earth.
I'll leave it there & let the photos (to follow) do the talking. This is UNBELIEVABLE!