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The Hani- Akha

Alternate names: Hani, Haoni, Aini, Akha

Population: 2,500,000

Localization: In China, Yunnan Province, Honghe and Xishuangbanna prefectures. Also in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Hani/Akha are a group of culturally and linguistic related peoples that inhabit the southern part of Yunnan province and neighboring countries. Divided in many ethnic branches with some important differences, the most known of them is the known as Akha out of China (Aini in China).

Basic Facts about the Hani Culture

Introductory Articles in Ethnic China

Introducing the Hani nationality: They inhabit mountain areas with warm climate and abundant rains.

Hani's ancient society: Hani Apeicongpopo is a poem of that relates their migrations from the land of their ancestors, until their current territory in the south of Yunnan.

Outline of Hani History: It is possible that during the years between the fall of Nanzhao and the Mongol conquest of Yunnan, the Hani formed a unified and independent political entity

Hani nationality Main Gods: They worship their ancestors and the forces of nature. They think that every natural object of the nature has its spirit.

Hani nationality Daily Life: Their terraced fields follow the contour of the mountains in one of the most impressive landscapes created by human work.

Birth Customs of the Hani: When the child is born the person helping the mother will not pick it up until it has cried three times, the first for a life span, the second for the whole village and the third as a request of help.

Bark clothes of the Hani-Akha: in the past, as they were very poor, and some people have no money to buy clothes, it was somehow common to make cloth from bark tree.

Sexual life and marriage of the Hani nationality: In the past young Hani young enjoyed sexual freedom before marriage. They met usually in musical gatherings.

Main festivals of the Hani: The Hani have many spiritual ceremonies to be carried out along the year.

Amatu festival of the Hani: The Amatu Festival is one of the most important for the Hani. It is a kind of homage to the village's goddess.

The Yiche (Yicyu) branch of the Hani Nationality: There are three main characteristic that differentiate the Yiche people: the short dressed by the Yiche women, their retarded marriage and sexual freedom, and the specill way they celebrated the Kuzhazha Festival.

The religion of the Hani Yiche: They believe that people are eminently spiritual beings that have twelve souls. After death the soul of people becomes a spirit.

Traditional marriage of the Aini - Akha: when the boys reached puberty age, they usually moved to live in a small hut near their parents' home that was called the "Flowers' Room"

Wedding song of the Aini - Akha: The singers express in this long song their best whishes to the newlyweds; with their hope that the new formed couple will be auspicious they transmit also a detailed account of the traditional way of life.

Traveling to Hani lands: Ethnic-china can help: yunnanrd@ethnic-china.com

Academic Materials about the Hani- Akha

Selena Ahmed, John R. Stepp, Robban A. J. Toleno, and Charles M. Peters. Increased Market Integration, Value, and Ecological Knowledge of Tea Agroforests in the Akha Highlands of Southwest China.

This study assesses the persistence and change of traditional land use patterns and ecological knowledge in response to expanded commercialization of tea (Camellia sinensis var. assamica (L.) Kuntze Theaceae in an indigenous Akha (Hani) community in the midlevel montane forests of southwest Yunnan, China... They have resisted state reforms calling for the cultivation of high-intensity plantations and introduced cultivars. Consequently, they have benefited from price premiums through niche market networks for tea sourced from agroforests and proprietary landraces not available to other communities disempowered by market cycles.

Jean Baffie.- Highlanders as Portrayed in Thai Penny horribles

As a result of the success of khon phu khao many more films of the same type were made, and in partieular Phaitun Ratanon's ido, 1984, which offered an even more stereotyped vision of the same Akha people.

Bai Bibo.- Hani Language Preservation and Maintenance — Hani Language and Literacy

Through the Hani literacy project, we have obtained some exciting achievements: Firstly, some Hanis have changed their attitude toward their own language and culture. They have witnessed some practical activities and cultural events they organized for themselves, in which they have realized their own nationality responsibilities and prides.

Kayoko Ishii.- Akha as cheap labor: Minority and touristic stage.

This study examines whether ethnic tourism positively affects the ethnic minorities, both from the economic and social perspectives.

Leo A. von Geusau.- Akha/Yunnanese Chinese symbiosis and strategic identity in the Southeast Asian mountainous border areas.

Historical relations between the Hani/Akha, and the Chinese in Yunnan, are complex. Both the Hani, and the closely related Zanyi or Akha people, consider themselves as having been marginalized into the mountainous parts of the Southern Yunnanese border areas by Tai warrior types of people.

Leo A. von Geusau.- General Introduction: The Akha/Zaqnyiq Archaic Oerzar text on The Life-Cycle of People, Animals and Plants.

In this volume the reader will find a transcription of the orally transmitted archaic Akha/Zaqnyiq text, called oerzar, literally meaning “old words of wisdom”. The text deals with the life cycle of people, animals and plants.

Leo A. von Geusau.- A comparative field-study between two Akha Tourist villages: Tsjaw Pakha Kao and Saen Chareon Kao Akha

In the last 10-15 years an increasing number of ethnic minority mountain villages, Including Akha, have tried to open up for tourists, hoping to gain some income from Tourism, including handicraft sales. As for the Akha, this is in sharp contrast with the past, when they were reluctant to show their sophisticated ¡°internal life, ceremonies and knowledge¡± to the outsider, fearing to be abused.

Brian Hayden and Ralana Maneeprasert.- Feasting Among the Akha: The 1996 Report

Feasting is frequently viewed as extremely important in emic perceptions. And feasting can be viewed as having roots extending far back into primate origins where food sharing is often used as a means to establish sexual relationships or acknowledge dominance relationships. Our purpose in this analysis is to try to place a particular culture’s feasting behavior in the context of cultural ecology.

Cornelia Ann Kammerer.- Territorial Imperatives: Akha Ethnie Identity and Thailand's National Integration

1 attempt to formulate an analytical approach towards ethnie identity that 1 hope will illuminate the current confrontation of mountain minorities and the consolidating nation-states of continental South-East Asia.

Matthew McDaniel.- Human, cultural and community property rights : A basis for social justice. The Akha and how they are affected in Thailand

This paper describes the pressures on the Akha ethnic minority in Thailand, proposing that lack of political and community property rights is detrimental to their well-being and the environment, which their culture has adapted to over the centuries.

Toyota Mika.- Urban Migration and Cross-Border Networks: A Deconstruction of the Akha Identity in Chiang Mai

Over the last twenty years, owing to the dramatic improvement in road transport it has become
much easier for the Akha to access lowland areas. .. A third, urban-based generation has already emerged who have grown up in the city, and they have few opportunities or need to go up to the mountains. The number of the younger generation (between the ages of 15 and 25) who have no experience of working in the rice fields is increasing rapidly

Higashide Noriko.- Activity to Record and Pass On the Oral Traditions of the Akha and Hani Peoples.

The illiterate Akha and Hani peoples have preserved their identities through worship of their ancestors and strict common laws. Their ceremonies and festivals offer glimpses of their practices and Taoist philosophy toward well-balanced coexistence between people and nature and of their ancestor worship.

Duangta Seewuthiwong.- Weddings, Wealth, Pigs and Coca Cola: fareng Tourists in an Akha Village

This is a preferred isolation in which we live. The road has been sabotaged to make it difficult for police in search of people engaged in activities like smoking opium, distilling alcohol and so on. This way the residents are more likely to be left in peace. The village headman also supports this isolationist policy.

Adachi Shimpei.- Agricultural Technologies of Terraced Rice Cultivation in the Ailao Mountains, Yunnan, China (Asian and African Area Studies, 6 (2): 173-196, 2007)

This study aims to clarify how terraced rice cultivation has been developed and sustained over many years in the Ailao Mountains from the viewpoint of agricultural technology. In addition to the protection of terraced paddy fi elds, the unique practice of year-round irrigation plays many important roles, including storing water, maintaining favorable soil conditions for rice growth and providing a habitat for various edible aquatic animals.

Janet C. Sturgeon.- Forest Creators, Forest Destroyers: Akha Land Use in Xishuangbanna

This paper focuses on Akha strategies for land use and livelihood in this upland, forested region. Akha engage in a mix of activities to bring in sufficient food and income, and to cover their bets should one activity not pan out.

Janet C. Sturgeon.- Post-socialist Property Rights for Akha in China: What is at Stake?

This article describes resource access conflicts in south-western China as a socialist regime was legislated away in favour of a socialist market economy.. The discussion is framed around two contradictions and one inconsistency.

Janet C. Sturgeon.- Quality Control and the Loss of the Commons.

This paper examines the local village elections held in 2000 in Mengsong, a Hani (Akha)
administrative village in China. The elections are a focal point for exploring the converging effects of a number of current national policies and representations of people and the environment.

Thesis and dissertations

Michael J. Clarke.- Feasting among the Akha of Northern Thailand: An Ethnoarchaeological case study. Simon Fraser University. 1998

My research is on the feasting of the Akha of Thailand, in the villages of Mae Salep and Sam Soong. My methodology consisted of participant observation and household interview

Deena Rubuliak.- Seeing the people through the trees: Community based ecotourism in Northern Thailand. Simon Fraser University. 2000

In contrast to popular conventional trekking tours that dominate the Northern Thai tourist industry, this thesis explores community based ecotourism, one of the alternative strategies currently being used among highlang minority groups.

Cai Kui .- Changes in land use in response to socio-economic changes in Xishuangbanna, People's Republic of China

Comparatively Dai people cultivate more intensive on paddy land than the other two ethnic groups, Hani and Jinuo villagers produce more subsistence crops on upland than Dai; and deforestation is most serious in the Hani village than in those of Dai and Jinuo. The evidence shows that the great differences in traditional land use among Dai, Jinuo and Hani have gradually disappeared.

Wong, Gloria Ngar-Yan.- Conversations with a loved one: poetry, melody and social change in Hani dialogue songs. The University of British Columbia, 2000

There are two main types of male-female dialogues: those performed between lovers and those performed between siblings. The varied historical and contemporary social contexts in which these songs are performed give rise to multiple interpretations of song texts and to variations in the structuring of a song’s thematic content.

Books and references

Free books about the Hani- Akha.

Paul W. Lewis.- Ethnographic notes on the Akhas of Burma I. 1969

To Akhas, religion involves about everything that has to do with ancestors, rice and spirits. they use the term for ancestors (a poe a pi) and ‘God’ ( a poe mi yeh) almost synonymously. When carefully questioned they will differentiate, but in practice there is a thin, if not at times almost invisible line dividing them.

Paul W. Lewis.- Ethnographic notes on the Akhas of Burma II. 1969

The Akha in 1905 as seen by Fred W. Carey:

There is an extraordinary variety of them, as they are divided into clans, and again into families. The women of each family have adopted a different head-dress, and by this distinctive mark one may know them apart.

- Bibliographic materials

Basic Bibliography of the Hani

Paul W. Lewis.- Akha Oral Literature. White Lotus. Bangkok. 2002

Stories and Legends, occupying half of the book, is the most interesting. It provides fine examples of a tradition of story telling closely related to that of other peoples linguistically related.

Paul W. Lewis and Bai Bibo.- Hani Cultural Themes.

This book provides some interesting information about the Hani culture, but drawing materials from different sources, lacks a sense of harmony, of being a single book and not a patchwork of different materials.

Chinese Bibliography of the Hani nationality

The Hani in the Art, art of the Hani

Photo Exhibitions

Ethnic China photo exhibitions

Hard working women of the Aini: the Aini or Akha live in the mountains of the tropical region of Xishuangbanna. As in many agricultural societies the women perform most of the works.

Photo exhibitions about the Akha/Hani: Some of the best photo exhibitions in Chinese webpages.


Hani nationality music

Films and Video

Documentary Films about the Hani/Akha nationality: Some films produced in the last years that try to show Akha society and the challenges it will face in the future.

- Soul of the Corn- Documentary film: The film depicts the last places where the Hani people still cultivate fallow lands with the traditional slash and burn method. The director, himself a Hani and a painter started painting all the process of the slash and burn cycle.

Fiction films about the Hani/Akha: After 1949 revolution, there are some films shoot in the People's Republic of China focused in the life and culture of the Hani nationality.

Available dvds and vcds about the Hani nationality
Image of the the Hani nationality in the cinema


Art Exhibitions


Travel to Hani lands: The best place to know a little about the Hani culture is Yuanyang County and its famous terraced fields. In the mountains of this county, generations of Hani farmers have worked the mountain surface to make possible rice agriculture. To do it they slowly terraced the whole mountain, from the summit to the bottom.

hani woman
Hani woman in Yuanyang
hani old woman
hani old woman
hani women
Hani women in the street
hani sun disk
Hani sun disk made of silver
hani man
Hani man shows a big gourd
hani head
Hani women headdress
hani in the market
Hani in the Market
hani mother and son
Hani mother and son
hani book
Hani oral literature

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