August 29, 2010

050107 herbalists at CRU

The cat goes on holiday only to end up at a biomedical conference - just no way to escape from any reminder of work...!

Mekong regional ethnomedicine conference at the School of Traditional & Alternative Medicine, Chiangrai Rajabhat University:


Showcase of plants used for traditional medicine:


Once we arrived at the conference venue the Ban Apa herbalist & pals made a beeline for the plant display:


The cat started thinking of Getafix & the annual druids' conference in the Forest of Carnutes in the comic book Asterix & the Goths:


It must be like having the entire pharmacopeia/encyclopedia stored in their cranial harddisks spring to life in full 3-D glory, &/or looking at their dream garden/pharmacy :P


Traditional massage:


For the conference dinner:


One very tired conference organiser:

Photo by the other cat

050107 AFECT - 2

On one of the beams above the cat's head:


ผู้ phu เผย phoei แผ่ phae (evangelist) ศาสนา saatsanaa คริสต์ khrit (Christian)
ชาว chao จีน jin (Chinese) ไต้หวัน dtaiwan (Taiwan) และ lae (and) อเมริกัน amerikan (American)
คือ kheu (be) ผู้ phu ทำ tham ลาย laai (destructor) วัฒนธรรม wattanatham (culture) เก่า gao แก่ gae (ancient) ของ khong (of) อาข่า Akha
ขอ khor (implore) เพียง phiang (enough of?) เรา rao (us) ปฏิเสธ bpa'dtiset (reject) พวก phuak มัน man (them)

Northern Thailand has a large missionary industry (a few examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 & 12) that targets the Akha people & other ethnic minorities. The cat has been to Chiangrai in 2004, 2005, 2007 & 2009 (plus a couple of times in the late 80s-early 90s). Every time it returns, it sees even more new churches planted since its previous visit. By late 2009 churches appeared to outnumber Buddhist temples within the central part of Chiangrai city. Growing in tandem is the number of Christian-run 'orphanages' & children's homes (a few examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 6, 8, 9, 10 & 11).

While many of the missionaries are from/sponsored by the Bible Belt of USA, evangelists from other countries like South Korea, Taiwan & Singapore* are also making their presence felt in Chiangrai & Chiangmai (a few examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6). Apart from preaching at schools & universities, recruiting & training local pastors, & filling 'orphanages', homes & dormitories with hilltribe kids, they also do street evangelism (including at the Saturday walking street), offer free English lessons in return for 'souls', place copies of bibles in Buddhist temples, paste stickers on ATMs & try to get the monks at Buddhist temples, including the temple at which the เจ้าคณะจังหวัด jao khana jangwat (chief monk of Chiangrai province) resides, to attend church & convert to Christianity.

Many provide the hilltribe people with infrastructure & services that the Thai government has failed to, such as running water, clinics, schools, student dormitories, shelters & care for people living with HIV/AIDS. However, the help & 'love' professed by these faith-based organisations for the people is not unconditional, but comes with an agenda, resulting in what critics have condemned as cultural genocide. The current director of AFECT speaks about the problems here & here. Many Ban Apa people like Ata & the happy Apa appear in the Al Jazeera video, including the buseh who talks about his son at 1:58. The cat has heard quite a few similar accounts of Akha & Yao students who were forbidden to leave their dormitories & return home when they refused to convert & be trained as a new generation of local missionaries to be sent forth to convert their entire villages. With the proliferation of children's homes, 'orphanages' & such dormitories in northern Thailand, is a 'lost generation' of hilltribe people (much like the Stolen Generation of the Aborigines in Australia) in the making?

On another beam - Matt McDaniels was here?


While Christian missionaries form the overwhelming majority of faith-based groups operating among the hilltribes, there are also a few Buddhist temples that ordain hilltribe boys as temporary novice monks during the school holidays (e.g. in the Ban Thoed Thai area), & many in Chiangrai & northern Laos also accept them as long term novice monks (probably the most famous in Chiangrai being วัดถ้ำป่าอาชาทอง Wat Tham Pa Acha Thong of Buddha's Lost Children fame). Hilltribe kids who attend Thai government schools are also required to pay their respects to images of the Buddha during school assemblies & functions (though knowing how to 'go through the motions' is useful for them in integrating into Thai society). However, Buddhism isn't bent on demonising all other religions - many around the world happily mix all sorts of beliefs (e.g. Shinto, Tao, Brahminism, all sorts of animism, etc) with Buddhism without fear of being denounced or excommunicated - & are free to question the teachings & to leave the temple & religion if they so wish. Apart from the Christians & Buddhists, Muslims have also come into the picture, although the cat hasn't heard anything firsthand about them, having met only ethnic Chinese Muslims in Chiangrai.

Kindness & charity are universal to all mainstream religions, & most if not all atheists & agnostics believe in them too. There is a lot of good (double 'O') work that can be done to help others, without having to use it as a tool for proselytising, without having to bring religion into the picture (a few examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8). Isn't love supposed to be unconditional? Respect for others as fellow humans includes respecting (1) their freedom to choose their own path & way of life, (2) their freedom to determine their own identity, & (3) their intelligence to decide what's best for themselves, rather than regarding them as sheep to be herded with instructions from barking sheepdogs. & if any religion were that great, there would be zero need for proselytising & zero need for castigation/punishment of apostates, for if it were really that great, it would be plain for everyone to see & they would flock to it on their own accord. In the cat's opinion, proselytising simply reflects the 'insecurity complex' of the followers of a religion ;)

* The cat is starting to see YEP & OCIP teams partnering NGOs with religious agenda & also orphanages - wonder what is SIF, MOE, MCYS & Singaporean taxpayers' stand on this, voluntourism & orphanage tourism.

050107 AFECT - 1

When travelling in a group, the cat usually has no idea where it is headed. The truck turned right off the Mae Fa Luang Rd & ended up somewhere in the Rimkok area instead of continuing straight to the bridge over the Kok river into Chiangrai town.

Because Dr. AFECT had to stop by his office:


Across from the office:


Bamboo version of the swing:

Video about the Swing Festival filmed in Ban Apa (in Thai with English subtitles) - shows how the swing is built, plus familiar faces like Big Mama & Nalisala

Ferris wheel without seats:

Video of an Akha ferris wheel in action

Spirit gate:


3 types of decorations [L-R] - chains of 'rings', a chain of what the cat calls 'fish shapes', & the asterisk-like ตาแหลว daa leow (a sort of 'do not touch' sign):


The human figurines that accompany such gates:


The Akha genealogy in print form:


All Akha men memorise the names of all their male ancestors all the way back to first Akha, Sum Mi O (written as Suml Mil Ol with tone marks):


Akha guys who meet for the first time in their lives can just recite their entire lineages from memory to compare & determine how closely or distantly they are related. The old chart above ends at generation #56-57. At present some lineages already have ~60 generations worth of names going back more than 1500 years in time. Everything was memorised as there was no written form of the Akha language. Most guys just have to remember their own lineage, but in every village, one guy (the pima) & his understudies (piya) serve as the village database, memorising the lineages of everyone(!!) + migration history of the village from the original location where their first ancestors initially settled up to the present village site + literature, songs & stuff to recite during rituals + just about everything else pertaining to the Akha way of life. Just imagine the number of digits of pi they would be able to handle...

The first time the cat listened to a recitation was during the 2004 trip to Ban Yafu, when Atee, the happy Apa, Jamu, one of Jamu's younger brothers, YK & the cat spent the night chatting about things Akha, & the happy Apa recited his lineage for us. MAG has filmed the recitations of village elders in Ban Apa & nearby Ban Phukhor - here are videos of Agong, Aya & Acha's dad (aka. the basket weaving master), & an Akha guy from the Muang Long area in northwestern Laos. For those interested, the Akha genealogy in depth by the late Leo Alting von Geusau, a co-founder of AFECT.

'Pac-Man maze' design shoulder bag - embellishments like the chicken feathers, chicken feather tassles & pompoms are not found in bags made for sale to tourists:


Made from 2 types of bamboo - smaller diameter for cups, larger diameter for bowls:


Banana flower buds:


The other cat:


August 22, 2010

050107 Mae Yao

Leaving for town - the dzoema & a few other village elders + the girls in the back of the AFECT truck, & the other HY with Lee:


Laughing at the other HY:


Kindergarten at neighbouring Ban Huay Mae Sai:


Hilltribe United youth squad - Lahu + Akha midfield:


Yao goalkeeper + defence:


The road out to Thung Luang junction:


050107 another morning in Ban Apa

Aki & the other cat at 'their' house:

Photo by the other HY

In 2004, AS making the same type of bamboo cups seen in the above photo:

Photo by Big Black Cat

He had truncated the slanted rim, making it even easier to drink from. AS & wife were among the 26 in the 2005 accident, & his wife one of the more seriously injured. She was excited to see man-maid & the cat in 2010 & started explaining to a fellow villager about the accident & the help received from the A.W.E. team - using her own animated version of sign language (she is mute).

To visit Ata at her new house - with windows (traditional Akha houses have none):


She makes some of the nicest Akha clothing but prefers to dress in older stuff unless there's a special occasion. Here she has fixed on the top piece of her headdress:


Here without, standing at her handicraft stall:


She always has oranges & bananas in her bag or somewhere else within reach. & she always refers to herself as 'mama' & to us as 'baby' :P

Older half of Ban Apa as seen from outside Ata's house - the big open space is where celebrations are held:


Changes - (above) more parking shelters for more motorbikes, (below left) a new (as of 2005) 'karaoke palace' in front of the 'panda house', & (below right) benches in front of the info centre replacing the plants:


August 15, 2010

040107 Ban Apa SPECIAL - *CAT edition*

Over at the house of the village herbalist + Big Mama, a cat investigates the visiting cat:


Cat sitting on cat sitting on women's half of the house:


Catwalk on cat:




Dogs & chickens get chased out whenever they try to enter Akha houses, but cats are allowed to come & go as they like :)