ELL: Poets of the Earth: Akha Update, 10/17/99

Matthew McDaniel akha at loxinfo.co.th
Mon Oct 18 11:35:43 UTC 1999

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 1999 18:35:43 +0700
From: Matthew McDaniel <akha at loxinfo.co.th>
Organization: The Akha Heritage Foundation
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Subject: ELL: Poets of the Earth: Akha Update, 10/17/99
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Poets of the Earth

Months ago we had all worked together and turned the soil of that very
steep mountain side, the sun burning us, the wind buffeting with dust,
the rain chilling and biting and the mud eating the skin off our feet,
but then the rice, we planted it, crawling up that face with every
muscle in the body urging to just climb to the top and be over with it.
Course that was the difference between them and myself, my body wished
to climb the ladder, they lived on it.  The man had come and cut a deep
rut down through the face of the hill side in a couple of directions to
run off the rain water.  As soon as he had done that one girl took a bag

of sunflower seeds and walked up the hillside crosswise, following the
ditch, planting sunflower seeds on the down hill side of the lip of this

narrow trench no wider than what you could put your foot in.  The
hillside all brown, her scarf of red, it was funny to see in all that
landscape one ditch, cut across it all as if surreal and then this tiny
moving pollen of color creeping across the face like a wind jipsy in a
sea of tossed soil as if on some great voyage lonely and forgotten,
sewing seeds for them to die and birth again in some ode of timelessness

of these people. And the rice came up and we went back over and over,
pulling the many weeds.  You don. use a cultivator the man said, cause
the rain goes in too deep then and the rice grows too tall and the wind
knocks it over, you just pull the weeds out with a minimum of soil
disturbance and pile them up and burn them. And we did.  The woman, old
with work, not with time, she was a spirit woman, she worked at this as
if she her self had been born of one of the seeds to help plant all the
others and to scratch the back of the earth with her love and care as if

it were tired, or jolly or itchy or all of them at once.  She did it
well, loving the dirt, like a kind mother, who tended it in partnership
with the tending of the children.  I loved her, who she was, from her
late night chanting beside the fire in the glow of the coals, all the
elder women gathered around in the darkness, to the way she could wack
into bamboo to find a grub, to the stories she told me of Yah Loh Yah
Shoh Ah Mah Ah Dah, the old man and woman who lived in the rice field
and took care of it at night and on the days that she was gone to
another field.  To them she owed much thanks and did not offend.  And
out in the fields when we worked hard and then sat down to the noon fire

to eat, she always brought something new and different from the jungle
or the field to the fire for us to eat.  She never quit talking it would

seem, as if life was one long poem that you just kep reciting the old
and new lines too, murmuring under her breath, the slights and bumps of
the day and about all the goings on, as if a lung for all the rest of
us.  Her daughter was the same, whatever someone said, she repeated it
again, for all the others to hear one more time, maybe some
clarification added again.  This was a very common trait among the
Akhas, the collective mind, the collective talk. No conversation, no
sentence owned, shared by everyone, passed on with a lift from all the
friends, no they didn. even care to think that they owned their own
words or thoughts, these were all shared in the collective, cause you
dreamed across to the other and then checked if your dreams were ok, if
there was no harm, if you had been right, if your story happened like
the dream.  She could see me in places in the truck, far from that
village doing things she could only know if she had been there, well she

was, she went and spoke to me in her dreams and saw me, who I was with,
what I was doing, and I think that the more that the old spirit woman
and I wove these together in time the clearer she could see it all, me
just some extension of her dream, not her dreams some odd copy of my
reality.  And so in this kind and loving way in gentleness with most of
what all they knew the Akhas had accepted that it must be all woven
together, that there was no seperation of events of people of it all.
And the rice got deeper and I was off doing corn and soy and peanuts and

didn. get in the rice field so often during the long rains, but that
was ok, cause the season would bring me back like to the fire of a
poet.  We pulled corn off the stalks for days, trying not to step on the

young soy plants planted in between.  They would have pulled it first
but I wasn. there to help and they were always short of hands, so like
my schedule would only allow, something that was so extremely odd to
them, I blew in like a warm wind and through the fields we went
together, spirits lifted with new hands and new labor and we pulled corn

till it all got stacked, and even didn. step on that nigh on foot long
centipede that went wipping through the field. Yep, put that in rice
wiskey and its really good to drink, what would otherwise bite your ass
but real good.  But then Cheh Shuuh Dzah rolled around, and I got to
drink some anyway, the thanksgiving ahead of the rice harvest, to thank
Yah Loh Yah Shoh Ah Mah and all the rest of them and thank in advance
for a safe rice harvest, the careful bringing in of the food for so many

souls, grown up and pulled from the earth in a kind of kindness that we
don. have words for in pagan english.  They handed me wiskey, there in
the dark, the old elder men all on one side, the old elder women all on
the other, and then the Dzoeuh Mah, new to his role, since the death of
his father, Abaw Dteeh, put the first kernels of rice from the new rice
this season in my two cupped hands which I then lifted together to my
mouth and picked up with my lips and ate, the new rice, to all the new
rice and to all the people of the past all the way to Sooh Meeh Oh, the
first of us all, who had passed down both our seed and the seed of the
rice together, that we could have another good year upon this earth,
eating rice, drinking whiskey and birthing together with it all again.
birth of the future year, so it was of no little significance that I ate

that rice and gave joy to the thought that I should eat for another
year, with the Akha, with the rice,
descendants of Sooh Meeh Oh, the first of all the Akhas.  The
horses came, we packed all the corn we could on them four times and the
boys took them back to the village, more than an hour down the mountain
each time, and came back again.  But in the end there was no more light
and there was much more corn and there were no more horses coming back
in the dark, so we each took forty or more pounds of corn, and carrying
it in sacks and baskets on our backs we made our way down the mountain,
the last corn pulled from that field.  But in a day we were back in the
other rice field again.  They had bragged to me how beautiful the rice
was, me, I could only see so much into their minds and lives because
like crumbs of bread, not enough for one meal, I was scattered to so
many villages.  But it was more than true, the beauty of the rice, and
we had done it ourselves, and it was really beautiful, all grown up
there like that, still some green but mostly golden heads laid over,
curnels ready to drop, and the golden green across all the mountains
that we all had planted.  Because though those far hills had some other
person. rice on them from a distant village, how could it at all be
separate, they had sung for us, they had danced for us when the bees
came, and the had moved as a troup in cadence for us to watch them as
they had planted their rice, soldiers of time and man and age, the old
women and men together, the young and the old, no nursing home here, in
unison trooping up by rank through the earth of the hill, laying in
their seeds, long jostling sticks, like philharmonic wands, tossing the
earth, making it dance to the arrival of the seeds within it once again,

the earth to sing, the seeds to sing, the old to sing and we heard it
all and laughed at how silly they looked, like kernels themselves,
specks on the soil, moving up the hill like a dotted line, funny like us

were funny cooking on the hill on this side, that day, our rice in the
day before.  Ah yes.  We took a break in the rice hill hut, didn. fire
up the coals, just sort of said nothing of all the work we knew we had
already done, and we prepared ourselves for the new labor of harvest to
come, but to day we were only there on a lark, to gather in the big sun
flowers.  We took our bags and the old woman was already gone, so the
other woman went with  me, her daughter, and then like the final ode of
a poem, it all came true.  There was no place to walk or stand in the
rice, so the sunflowers were planted on the lower side of the ditch that

the man had dug because it was the only place you could walk now, and
you didn. want it on the upper side towering above you, so thus the
lower, and we walked up throught that tiny space, our feet one after the

other down in that hoe cut, and we broke the tall stalks over, their
heavy heads bowing to us as if to stoop to ask us what had kept us so
long, the birds biting them, and we put the heads in our bags, knocking
the little ruffles off the faces first, curved and weathered knives like

sickles, cutting through the firbrouse tough stalks.  But the old woman
was way ahead of us and time we got done she had gone back to the hut,
looking like a big ball of cotton, white sacks tied all over her back
full of heads, till we couldn. see nothing of her but like some
oversized white sheep going through the rice, laughable for how odd it
looked, not human at all.  We didn. pick all the heads, I asked the
woman why, she looked at me as if I must be sun soaked, why the workers
gotta have something to eat when they harvest the rice don. they? But
days move on and from that day of light work, we went into the lower
corn fields, like a swarm of ants, the women going down the mountain
picking the corn.  Now picking corn is no easy task.  The women wore
sticks, like the bone and metal wedge pins they wore on their head
dresses, and these were hanging by a string from the wrist and they
shoved this through the ear of corn husk just below the tassle and split

the end, took a side in each hand and split it down the ear, long ears,
nearly a foot some, beautiful golden kernels, and popped out that ear
and raised their arm and gave it this kind of funny flip and it went up
and over and into their basket, and they worked down the hill.  Now Akha

men are always getting branded for lazy, for always sitting at home and
so forth by people who mostly never met an Akha man, nor ever spent more

than five minutes in their lives or villages.  Well, got news for you.
Take a muddy hillside you can barely stand on and take two men to every
five women and the woman won. have that their baskets should get more
than half full before they get emptied out, and so we go down the
hillside in wearied stumbling, passing out new sacks, emptying baskets
and then filling these big rice sacks with corn and throwing it on the
shoulder and fighting our way up through the mud, the tangle of broken
corn stalks and grown over vines, and all the way up to the top again,
no point in stopping cause you.l just fall down more than likely, boots

slipping, legs tripping and it all going on.  By days end we know we
have put in some work, the women coming up from the bottoms, also quite
glad that it is over for one more year, the dust covering their arms in
itchy welts from the corn husks and stalks, hands rough and cracked,
fingers sore from prying at the ears.  And we still have to haul it all
back to the village.  We tracked back over the road we had all rebuilt
that washed out with the rains, and grasping the bamboo tube at the
spring, filled it with water, drank cold and long and headed off through

the rich jungle to the village, like coming home to the crib, both for
us and for the corn.  The children all cheered to see us come in,
gathered into long line from all the fields as we accumulated to the
village, women in head dresses, baskets, men, knives, water jugs,
horses, packs, babies carried, grass for feed, herbs to eat, grubs from
the forest, melons, papayas, bananas, garlic, onions, peanuts, and then
we laughed as we sat down to eat on the last of the years rice, getting
enough back and forth from neighbors like the whole village trying to
get over the hump before the years end and the new rice of the new
harvest.  I climbed back into my sleep, into a poem, into their dream,
fresh from drenching cold water, the sash as it were at the end of the
day. The spirit woman murmured on before the fire, weathered hands
feeding the coals.

Dear Friends:

Finally a break from saving infants and others and solving crisis.

More work on village mapping and this has all been boosted greatly by
the fact that a gentleman from Sweden has donated to us a Magellan GPS
so that we can accurately generate map coordinates, so if there are any
of you out there with map calculating friends, we could soon give
coordinates for the building of a map so that everyone can see where
villages are, completed wells and other projects.

Besides the general work of medicine, and village visits for the
mapping, and rice harvest in a couple days, life has been somewhat calm.


Matthew McDaniel
The Akha Heritage Foundation
386/3 Sailom Joi Rd
Maesai, Chiangrai, 57130
Mobile Phone Number:  Sometimes hard to reach while in Mountains.

US Address:

Donations by check or money order may be sent to:

The Akha Heritage Foundation
PO BOX 6073
Salem OR 97304

Donations by direct banking can be transferred to:

Wells Fargo Bank
Akha Heritage Foundation
Acc. # 0081-889693
Keizer Branch # 1842  04
4990 N. River Road.
Keizer, Oregon,  97303 USA
ABA # 121000248

Or In Thailand:

Matthew  Duncan McDaniel
Acc. # 3980240778
Bangkok Bank Ltd.
Maesai Branch

Web Site:

mailto:akha at loxinfo.co.th

Discussion Groups:
akha at onelist.com
indigenousworld at onelist.com

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