Oct 18 2013

Portraits of Kengtung

Published by at 1:24 am under Shan State


Now that land border crossing regulations have been relaxed, it’s easy to travel to Kengtung from the Mae Sai-Tachilek crossing. Kengtung is an old British administrative post, the largest town of eastern Shan State and the former “capital” of the Golden Triangle; it’s just a short drive north of the crossing on a decent and picturesque road. Beside being an attractive town in its own right, Kengtung’s main attraction for visitors is trekking to minority villages in the surrounding hills. Here are a few images of some of the myriad hilltribe peoples inhabiting this remote corner of Burma.

Woman from the Enn ethnic group

Woman from the Enn ethnic group.

The Enn minority group, cousins of the better known Wa, are indeed only found in the Kengtung region. Known locally as the ‘Black Tooth tribe’ due to their penchant for betel, the women, as below, also sometimes use a black lipstick made from charred tree bark.

Enn girl on her way to Kengtung market

Enn girl on her way to Kengtung market.

The Enn are also known for their elaborate earrings and elongated lobes. Still very traditional, their villages are generally animist though some Enn have converted to Christianity.

Enn shaman working some magic with a Nikon

Enn shaman working some magic with a Nikon

Also rarely found in Burma outside of the Kengtung region is the Akhu ethnic group, renowned for their tobacco consumption, though betel is again a popular pick-me-up.

Akhu woman with bamboo pipe

Akhu woman with bamboo pipe.

Akhu are a Sino-Tibetan group related to Akha, though the two languages are not mutually comprehensible and traditional costumes are very different.

Akha woman, Kengtung market

Akha woman, Kengtung market.

Akha form the largest hilltribe minority in the area, though no less than six subgroups of Akha are found in the surrounding hills, each generally recognised by the different headdresses worn.

Lomi Akha group - we think?

Lomi Akha group, we think.

Other than hiking to villages in the surrounding area you’ll also see many ethnic groups frequenting Kengtung’s lively morning market. Furthermore hilltribe women and also younger Enn men will often don their best outfits for visits to town; spectacular as they can be, please do be discreet and respectful when taking photographs.

Palaung women in Kengtung market

Palaung women in Kengtung market.

The brightly clad hilltribe peoples can be very shy but are generally very friendly and even inquisitive, so if you have a guide with you it’s easy to engage in conversation. They are proud and we’ve found them more than willing to answer questions on their costumes, traditions and lifestyle and polite requests for photographs are rarely refused.

Palaung women in Kengtung market

Akha hunter with muzzle-loading musket.

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