While conventional wisdom holds that technology serves only to destroy fragile minority cultures, one of the tenets on which our work is based is that technology can help preserve and document a vanishing way of life, especially in cases where technology can provide documentation not relying on written language. Most hilltribes have only developed a written script for their languages within recent generations and literacy (and desire for literacy in one's own language) remain extremely low.
One thing that makes the hilltribe cultures so fascinating is the phenomenal amount of knowledge that has been passed down orally over dozens of generations: tribal histories, farming and hunting techniques, entire taxonmies of local plant and animal life, etc. Perhaps the most amazing of all is the ability for all Akha males to recite their entire male lineage back over fifty generations to the first Akha, Sm Mi O
. But like many aspects of traditional tribal knowledge, the Akha genealogy is rapidly being forgotten. Many younger males, especially Christians, have neither the time nor inclination to memorize their genealogy.
Working with village elders, we have begun creating a video record of genealogical lines in surrounding Akha villages. By recording the elders reciting their genealogy and producing video compact discs--every village has at least one VCD player--we are both documenting a tremendous cultural heritage and attempting to revitalize traditional customs by making Akha youth understand that they are still valued in modern society.
In this picture, the spirit priest of Atee's
village reviews his recording. Click here
to see an Akha man recite his genealogy.