By besting over 30 participants, Aya Dzoedah's victory in the recent "Akha Idol" song competition was a special accomplishment for the young man from Saen Jai Mai village where the competition was held. The morning after the competition, the Virtual Hilltribe Museum team walked over to Aya's house and he gave us an encore performance of his winning song.
With lyrics such as "We respect our ancestors, our ancestors are not ghosts. The law kah is the gate of our village, not a 'spirit gate,'" Aya poetically summed up the frustration of so many Akhas whose deep and articulate culture stressing connection with one's ancestors is belittled by outsiders as cult of backwards ghost worshippers.
If the minority cultures of Thailand are to be saved, it will be the work of people like Aya. The reality of life for Akha youth in Thailand today is that they are bombarded with Thai and Western media, while their own cultures are portrayed in either a negative or patronizing light. Without singers and artists such as Aya to bridge the gap between modern media and traditional culture, there is little reason for young hilltribe people not to agree with the prevailing Thai opinion that tribal ways of life are primitive and should be rejected.