If an Akha person were ever to talk about finding his roots, it probably wouldn't take him long to do so. In traditional Akha culture, every man can recite his entire geneaolgy down from the first Akha, Sm Mi O. An average Akha man is between 52-60 generations descended from Sm Mi O. The genealogies are even encompass related people such as the Akeu or the Hani of Yunnan, China.

All Akhas begin their recitation with Sm Mi O followed by O Toe Loe, Toe Loe Dzm, Dzm Maw Yeh, etc. The children of Dzoe Tang Pang (14th generation) mark the first major split, with the Akeu and Hani descending from brothers Tang Pang Sha and Tang Pang U, respectively. Dzoe Tang Pang had at least nine sons. All Akhas are descendant from Tang Pang Mang.

The ability of Akha men to remember their lineages is made even more phenomenal when considering that before missionaries developed romanizations of Akha fifty years ago, the Akha were without a written language. Recitation is aided by the pattern of the names - the second syllable of the father's name becomes the first syllable of the son's - but even with this mnemonic assistance, the sheer magnitude of the data remembered and the consistency of the genealogies of Akhas from different countries makes it one of the most amazing heritages in the world.

You don't believe it? Atee had never seen this man before, but when Atee watched the video of this Akha man reciting his genealogy, he was able to trace his own genealogy back to where their two lineages diverged. Atee, who is of the Cher Mui clan shared an ancestor with this man 27 generations ago. That ancestor was named Byeu Ma Dzang (also 27 generations down from Sm Mi O). One son of that man gave rise to the Jeu Hgoe Akha people who are the vast majority throughout Burma and Thailand, while other sons were patriarchs of smaller sub-groups. This man is a Bo Choe Akha from near Muang Long, Laos.

Emblematic of the great desire for continuity among the Akha, the recitation of ancestors is essential in traditional life. Many ceremonies and blessings require this recitation. Ancestors can also be called on to give aid in times of extreme urgency. All Akhas have stories that attest to the supernatural happenings that have occured with the assistance of their ancestors.

Because funerals require the recitation of the deceased's ancestry, the pima (village priest) must remember not only his own lineage, but that of every male in the village. Unfortunately, soon pimas will be the only ones to remember these ancestries. As more villages convert to Christianity and more Akha youth are drawn into Thai society, the relevance of the Akha genealogy is faltering. As a result, this incredible cultural heritage of the Akha people which has been passed down for 1,000 years could die out within this generation.