Luang Namtha Photographs
11th August, 2010
I have been documenting Luang Namtha province since 2002. My photographs of ethnic diversity in that province can be viewed at
#1 Posted: 11/8/2010 - 12:14
1st March, 2006
Location United States
I started looking at your web site a couple days ago, then just this evening I went over to the Things Asian article. No words to describe the photos, so many so different. I really liked reading about how you take photos, you reinforced some ideas I'd arrived at on my own. I too came to understand it doesn't have to be about me, and what I'm looking for in a photo it's about what the subject wants. Returning to the same village a few times certainly changes things.
I'm going to take the time over the next few days to meander through the photos.
#2 Posted: 12/8/2010 - 10:11
11th August, 2010
I had some people complaining there are too many images in each folder. The reason for that is that same you mentioned: It is not about me, it is about what maybe some people want to see in detail. Different people look for different things.
Thank you for your feedback, and I'm interested to hear what else you pick up. Any additional information on things you see is also welcome.
I have tried to add comments to photos, titles. or context, but it is a huge job, and in the first place I'd like to have as many as possible pictures online, and am adding descriptions later.
#3 Posted: 12/8/2010 - 12:25
14th May, 2010
Thanks for the pics, I especially like the Lanten pics because they seem so shy when I encounter them around Luang Namtha I'm afraid to ask to take their picture up close. I also like the little kids pics cause they often scowl when looking at me behind the camera!
#4 Posted: 12/8/2010 - 12:41
Thank you for posting on travelfish and giving people the opportunity to see your work. I spent over an hour looking at your pictures yesterday and like Somsai I still haven't finished.... I haven't even started on the pbase ones! The images are absolutely superb and also a historical record of things that no longer exist... I really appreciated the write ups too... learning about how to take pictures and it also made me think about the consequences of ecotourism...pros and cons.
"Ban Nam Mat Gao
Ban Nammat Gao was an Akha village in the hills high above Luang Namtha town. It was selected in 2000 to be on the route of a newly established tourism trek. It was on one of my early visits to the province that i first visited this village. This picture was taken on one of my many return visits to the village. Unfortunately, the village was forcibly resettled in the valley. I am pleased I have an extensive record of the village while it was still inhabited."
Ecotourism is often promoted because it helps to save forests (people need to have somewhere to trek) and improves the standard of living of the local population. But if you move entire villages so to make access easier for these same tourists doesn't that rather defeat the purpose?
#5 Posted: 12/8/2010 - 15:39
11th August, 2010
>Ecotourism is often promoted because it helps to save forests (people need to have somewhere to trek) and improves the standard of living of the local population. But if you move entire villages so to make access easier for these same tourists doesn't that rather defeat the purpose?<
I couldn't agree more. I was sad when that move was made.
A few months before the move, I was visiting the village, with one guide. No other visitors in the village.
At night we were invited to a party, a celebration for the building if a new house. At the party were some guests, Akha from Muang Sing, included a well known Akha singer. During the evening the discussion began to get louder and more agitated. My guide explained that they were debating the proposal of the provincial government to move them out of the protected area (NamHa protected area, kind of National Park). The arguments for it were that the people were growing rice through slash and burn method (Swidden agriculture), and that they occasionally killed wildlife.
Re swidden: They would cut and burn off a piece of land for rice planting, use it for a few years, then let it get overgrown again. Ten years later you could hardly see the difference. they'd done that for 60 years, and you could argue that occasional fires are good for a forest.
They also argued they were there 40 years before the declaration of the area as a "protected area" e.g. they were there first. Re killing wildlife, the villagers complained about the occasional tiger coming in at night, and killing their pigs, but the authorities forbade them killing the tiger. Poor people living subsistence level, pigs are essential nutrition.
The authorities also argued that moving closer to the road would give them betetr access to education and medical facilities in the city (Luang Namtha), 23 km down the road from the new location.
The argument grew heated. I was explained that the man expressing his anger had a son, who wasn't here at present. He was detained by 'authorities' in the city, who were trying to "convince" him to change his opposition against the move. The village seemed 50/50 split on the issue. Some were of the view it couldn't be stopped, others vowed to stay and fight if necessary.
I visited the new village a year later. They complained of not enough land for rice, being told instead to go work as day labor for a Chinese rubberplanting enterprise. The houses looked a lot poorer, bamboo shacks built on mud, instead of the large wooden stilt houses in the old village. They had a new school. Soem rumours that some of them were going back to the protected area to grow their rice, yet others who wanted to move back there altogether.
#6 Posted: 12/8/2010 - 16:02
came across the zenfolio site a few years ago, & read the part about your approach to taking the photos & the thingsasian article, ever since then the site has been linked on laomeow. can't remember if you were the person i wrote to asking about the internal layout of Akha houses in NW Laos (about the dividing wall)...? each time i go back to the same photos i find even more new details - a rich resource. wish i could show them all to Akha friends in Thailand.
would you ever consider doing something like this in Phongsaly?
the Dao ordination ceremony - some bits here & there seem similar to Taoist rites as practiced in Malaysia & Singapore. my dad used to earn pocket money writing those Chinese character 'spells' on yellow/white paper & many SE Asian Chinese still carry them around folded up in wallets/purses/etc for protection. & a Hong Kong guy who visited a Yao family in Sam Neua said that they have an almanac similar to what SE Asian Chinese use.
as far as my understanding goes, the villages are moved down not for the sake of making them more accessible to tourists, but as part of the government's policy of resettling uplanders...ostensibly for improvement of their access to markets & services (electricity, healthcare, schools)...but in reality there's a lot more to the story. interesting to find out what exactly becomes of the land (not just the village land, but the areas that they farmed & hunted in) after the villagers are out of the way. some issues about resettlement are covered in this long video:
perhaps somsai has more to add, he has been to quite a few villages in that area that have the suffix 'gao' or 'mai' in their names, & i think more than once to some.
couple of friends' villages in Chiangrai were similarly resettled (under a lot of pressure), & i've also been to one of those (actually the remaining half) that refused to move & is still up in the hills without electricity - & that is the one that is most popular with (& has the most room set aside for accommodating) tourists on trekking tours to that area.
#7 Posted: 12/8/2010 - 16:32
Hi wanderingcat. Thanks for the video link. The video seems well worth watching but I'm having slight difficulty with the sound and images (buffering problem perhaps?). Is there another link URL I could try?
My remarks about ecotourism were based on the text I quoted in #5.
"Ban Nammat Gao was an Akha village in the hills high above Luang Namtha town. It was selected in 2000 to be on the route of a newly established tourism trek."
What does happen to the land after the Akha are moved and are they allowed to go back if they want to?
#8 Posted: 12/8/2010 - 18:02
1st March, 2006
Location United States
Did you know I walked through that area back in 06 I think with Ket the half Lanten guide? Not knowing him for long I didn't discuss relocation but or any other topics slightly controversial, seeing the abandoned Namat Mai and then seeing the new village down close to the road was an eye opener. I was alone with Ket for that walk, a good way to ask questions.
A couple of weeks later some officials were staying at the same guest house as me in Muang Long and I mentioned my concern for the villagers. I didn't bring up relocation itself or the poor condition of the houses but rather the malnutrition of the children. I can't help but wonder why the village was relocated into what was soon to become an extensive rubber plantation.
The writing under the photos is the best. I like to know as much as I can about a photo, it adds tremendously to my understanding. Looks like I won't lack for something to do for a long time. Thanks.
#9 Posted: 12/8/2010 - 20:26
does this link work better? http://vimeo.com/5246780
yes, that statement does sound like 'the village was selected for ecotourism, so it was relocated'. perhaps a bit more background would help put things in context...& then it would read as 'the village was selected for ecotourism, but then it was relocated'.
many upland villages have been resettled regardless of whether they were selected to be involved in ecotourism. there is this 'demonisation' of swiddening as mentioned in #6, with the annual haze in March blamed on this practice (in reality, i see a lot of burning coming from plantations & clearing of lowland rice fields, & it's not just in northern Thailand & Laos, but even the provinces immediately north of Bangkok). you keep hearing the government declaring that they will put an end to all swiddening by 'next year'. & there is this belief that by relocating all uplanders & eradicating swiddening, poverty will magically be reduced & Laos will meet some UN Millennium Development Goal.
relocation - having easier access to education can be a double-edged sword. better literacy, easier for them to learn the (national) language of the dominant lowland ethnic group & integrate - also easier to bring them under political control (some use the word 'subjugate'), & greater cultural 'dilution'. uplanders grow hill rice, different from the wet padi cultivation system of the lowlanders. a lot of food is sourced directly from the forest & streams = less reliance on cash + a sort of buffer against rising food prices. adapting to lowland life isn't thst straightforward, especially when they are moved to areas where most if not all of the decent arable land & reliable sources of irrigation have already been occupied/controlled by others (nowhere to grow any sort of rice), & they are cut off from the forest (totally screwed if no cash to buy the food that they used to obtain for free from nature). the video mentions how the first few to resettle are the most successful, having moved down when land & opportunities were still available, while others who followed later are the worst off. it also mentions problems like disease.
don't think this is mentioned in the video, but Akha people have a traditional method for choosing the site of a new village (some ritual involving an egg), a place where the spirits allow them to stay. wonder what happens when a village is forced to relocate to a site not of their choice, would they (esp the elderly) feel less secure in more ways than we think?
for Thailand, some i know were forced to move when the land was 'suddenly' declared as national park or forest reserve & they automatically became 'encroachers'. but it has been years, & still no sign of the place being protected as a national park or forest reserve, save for the resettlement of uplanders. for NW Laos, what i've heard of is at least some of the land has ended up as Chinese rubber plantations. note that land here doesn't necessarily mean just the actual village site, but encompasses the entire area that villagers farm & forage in. can be quite large in some cases, given that some Lao Hmong friends used to walk 2 hours to get from their village to their farms (4 hours roundtrip).
am learning lots from the photos about how similar/different the Akha in NW Laos are compared to their Thai counterparts are you based in Thailand? end of this month is the swing festival for Akha in Chiangrai, it's the time when new swings will be constructed & put into use for 4 days, & also the ferris wheel that you photographed here: http://www.pbase.com/kees5/image/125280255
have written a bit about it here: http://thewanderingstraycat.blogspot.com/2010/04/020107-akha-ferris-wheel.html
if you want details for the events in Chiangrai let me know, should be able to get you in touch with a village that will let you tag along for the whole process (going into the forest to cut the 4 trees for the swing, constructing it & so on). for the ferris wheel am not sure which villages still construct it, though might be able to find out.
#10 Posted: 12/8/2010 - 23:46
11th August, 2010
I wrote a long post yesterday, responding to some questions, but when I pressed the 'post your reply' button, I didn't realize i had been logged out, and lost the lot !?!
OK, I'll try again:
>would you ever consider doing something like this in Phongsaly?<
I might, but maybe if someone would invite or commission me to do so. It has taken me years to build up connections with people, villages and organisations woking in the are, and win trust. The last few years, i found it best to work with some existing organisation, who have connections on the ground, and have a clear agenda of what they want. i've worked with the EU project in LN, with GTZ, with the nat Tourism authority, and more recently with TAEC, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (taec.org) in Luang Prabang. If i am focused on a specific goal, my own personal pictures come along during that process.
>the Dao ordination ceremony - some bits here & there seem similar to Taoist rites as practiced in Malaysia & Singapore.<
As they will have similarities with ceremonies in any Tao community, including as far north as Korea. But the relative isolation that the Yao in Laos have been living in has caused their rituals to evolve in different directions. i have recorded Ordination ceremonies in both Yao Mun as well as Yao Mien villages, and they are distinctly different from each other.
Thanks a lot for that link. I was delighted to recognise the voice of the narrator. Rachel used to work in Laos for many years and we met in work related occasions.
Also nice to see the brief interview with See Hong. If I remember her correctly, last time I saw her she was a guide for The Akha Experience, a 3 day trekking project through Akha villages in Muang Sing. Great dancer, too!
Wandering cat; i am aware of more of the issues regarding re-settlement, i just didn't want to write about it too explicitly, i still want to be able to go back to laos
To a large extent, re-settlement is a matter of "Control".
Thanks for the link to your blogspot. Yes, i am based in Thailand now (Sattahip), and if I can make the time, may contact you about the festival alter this month. Not sure, we are going to be involved in launching our book in the next couple of weeks, maybe too busy. But if not, then maybe next year. Where are you based?
BTW, I have photographed a ferris wheel in a Akha village next to the new road from LN to NaToey a couple of years ago, i'll see if it is on my site, otherwise i'll post it
To answer SBE: the land they vacated is part of the Namha Biodiversity are, kind of national park, set aside to preserve nature (AND culture!). I don't think they'd be allowed to go back to live and plant there if they'd wanted to.
#11 Posted: 13/8/2010 - 09:15
thank you for the background behind the video. it's one of the better videos i've seen about Akha people & Laos.
+Wandering cat; i am aware of more of the issues regarding re-settlement, i just didn't want to write about it too explicitly, i still want to be able to go back to laos +
that was in reply to SBE at #8 & i understand your situation. find myself having to think twice (about friends in Laos) when i write about Laos on my travelogs.
+To a large extent, re-settlement is a matter of "Control".+
exactly. in my country resettlement still takes place, ostensibly for urban renewal, but in one recent case as a tool to split up a 'bastion' of support for one of the only 2 opposition politicians who have made it into parliament...residents from that area are being divided & relocated to different places across the country instead of to one site.
for the rest, will save for private message/email.
#12 Posted: 15/8/2010 - 20:49
Your other video link works fine, thanks wanderingcat.
Don't know if I should ask now, but what happens to the UNESCO grant when a village it sponsors as part of an eco-tourism development project gets forcibly relocated?
#13 Posted: 15/8/2010 - 22:31
11th August, 2010
Am I right to assume you are the "cat" who has been adding comments today o my Zenfolio site?
If so, thank you, I need all the feedback I can get to make this site more informed for me and the readers.
The site has my email on the homepage, feel free to email me directly.
#14 Posted: 15/8/2010 - 22:34
11th August, 2010
>Don't know if I should ask now, but what happens to the UNESCO grant when a village it sponsors as part of an eco-tourism development project gets forcibly relocated?<
My understanding is that the Unesco grant was for the development of the ecotourism pilot project in LN, not for individual villages. I am pretty sure the project developers were pretty upset about the removal of that village, just when it had become one of the most popular and successful destinations of the project. The decision to relocate that village was taken on a provincial level, unrelated to the project. But the project was much wider that that one trek, and I'm happy to say that after a few hiccups, it seems that ecotourism is developing in the province.
Still, there are likely to remain frictions between those who propagate ecotourism and conservation as growth inductries for the province, and those interests who prefer rubber plantations....
#15 Posted: 15/8/2010 - 22:42
Thanks for all this information Kees. I'm still working through your fascinating photos!
I'm not an expert on Laos (I've only been there once, years ago) and I've been thinking about going back for a while. What's been putting me off is all the things I've read about impact of tourism there and I hate the idea of human zoos.
Maybe I should wait till I've finished reading all the information you've provided, but right now I'm still feeling ambiguous about eco tourism. Hopefully the money generated by these treks will contribute to making the Akha's lives better. However I can't help wondering if having lots of tourists coming along and taking photos of everything that moves isn't going to accelerate the disappearance of their traditional values and culture too.
#16 Posted: 16/8/2010 - 00:36
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