Cultural Encounters Myanmar
We believe in designing journeys on which there is time for you to have cultural exchanges with those you meet. By travelling on foot to remote villages in Myanmar, you will have a chance to spend time getting to know some of these different ethnic groups.
One of the smallest of the mountain tribes in Burma, the Akha are also one of the most well known. Photos of their colourful, elaborate headdresses and finely woven clothes are a favourite for tourists. The Akha culture includes traditional songs and dances, as well as poetry and ceremonies for the planting of their rice crop. In each village there is usually a Peeh Mah, who knows the various songs and poems for the ceremonies, and a Neeh Pah, a woman who uses a variety of basic first aid, herbs and ceremonies to treat the ill or injured. The Akha live off their rice crops and spicy meats, as well as herbs, sour fruits, and vegetables they find in the surrounding jungle.
The best time to see the Lahu celebrating their heritage is during their New Year festivities, when they wear traditional dress, sing to music from played on bamboo stalks and gourds, and dance through the night. Rice is a staple of the Lahu diet and important for spiritual rituals. Even those Lahu who hold Christian or Buddhist beliefs have an ancestral altar in the house of the village leader where rice cakes are given as offerings to the ancestors to bless the living.
The term Karen is actually used to describe a number of different sub-groups with different languages and traditions. The most famous of these groups is the Padaung, who are easily recognised by the gold rings the women wear around their necks. Karen mythology says that it is to prevent a tiger from biting them and some say that the lengthened neck is a sign of beauty and wealth and will attract a better husband. Music is an important part of Karen culture and women can be found playing guitar in most villages. The Karen are also expert elephant trainers.
From newborn to elder the H’mong boast some of the most stunning traditional costume of the hill tribes. They are highly skilled in embroidery and make all of their clothes themselves, even weaving their own fabric. The different tribes within the H’mong can be identified by their clothing, the Black H’mong wear dress of rich dark costume which they dye themselves using indigo plants, and the Flower H’mong wear brightly coloured fabric patterns representing their various farming industries, including fruit, vegetables and chickens. The H’mong also make musical instruments and the villages are filled with the sound of both expert musicians and children whistling with leaves. The Hmong now often sell their crafts to tourists.
The Mien traditionally live in very isolated jungle in the mountains and use their farming skills as their main source of livelihood. The women gather fruit, vegetables, roots and mushrooms from the surrounding slopes and swamplands, while the men hunt for meat, which is found in the form of birds and wild cats, as well as frogs, snakes and even rats. After a day’s gathering they cook up their findings into hot, spicy dishes. Their traditional costume consists of an embroidered black tunic, the women with vibrant scarlet ruffs around their neck.
Though the Lisu live in some of the largest villages of the hill tribes, with many having close to 2,000 inhabitants, their communities are tight knit. The Lisu continue to live a very traditional life. They come together for spirit worshipping ceremonies as well as for more casual occasions such as “haircut day” with the village barber. Women can be seen making traditional clothes, which are worn every day and men are often found crafting crossbows for hunting, as well as instruments and animal traps.