"I am an Akha woman, from a hill tribe that originally lived in the mountains of China, Laos, Myanmar and northern Thailand. I was born...
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"I am an Akha woman, from a hill tribe that originally lived in the mountains of China, Laos, Myanmar and northern Thailand. I was born in Myanmar in the 1920s. When war broke out there in the 1960s, my husband was killed. With my son's family and some relatives, we came to Thailand. For a long time we lived near the border, but it got very crowded with refugees there, so eventually we moved further south. We have been living here for almost 20 years now.
"Now I am too old to go to the fields, although I worked most of my life as a farmer. My son and grandson died young, so there are no grownup men left in our family. Fortunately, I can now support myself through my sewing, and have other responsibilities that keep me busy in our village, including important roles to perform during the rice-growing ceremonies each year. Also, many people in the village come to me for medicinal plants when they are ill or injured.
"It has only been for the past several years that I have been making Akha-style banners and handbags. My daughter-in-law and granddaughters sometimes help me with this work. We weave traditional, handmade Akha cotton cloth, and then use small scissors to cut patterns in other patches of cloth. With needles and thread, we sew these fabrics together to create beautiful things. We Akha have many patterns of our own, but for many years we almost stopped making our own clothes. Now we do this again, much more often, using our beautiful traditional designs and new ideas.
"I watch the movements of insects and animals, the colors of flowers and birds. Sometimes I get ideas from my dreams. Sometimes I look at the trees and a pattern comes into my mind.
"I like this work because this has always been an important part of our Akha way of life. I learned it from my mother and grandmother, and now I teach it to my daughters and granddaughters."
The Akha people originate in Tibet and migrated into Burma, Laos and Thailand. Military persecution in Burma caused many more to move to Thailand as refugees. Though many have lived there since childhood, they remain a stateless people subject to discrimination, persecution by drug lords, and abuse from local authorities.
Today, there are about 20,000 Akha natives living in the Northern Hills of Thailand. Akha villages are distinguished by beautifully carved gates, protected by fierce guardian spirits. This is a proud and timeless culture, struggling to preserve its cultural values through their traditional skills and knowledge. In the Akha society women play an important role, and among them, prominent artisan Aphi is committed to spreading their colorful handmade items all over the world.
Aphi Mina Photographs by Jim Goodman
As each new item by Aphi is individually made by hand, no two are ever exactly alike. Please expect slight variations in size, color or motif.