Cultural Questions

The next day we visited some Akha people, whose villages tend to be really big communities with many, many families. They were definitely the biggest we saw, like actual towns.

bamboo houses on stilts

Before we got there, Silasak told us that the Akha people tend to be wary or shy around strangers, so if we wanted a picture to take it fast. (I’m sure he was referring to my amateurish fumbling with my big SLR.) And true enough, the adults stood at a distance as we passed through the village. The children, however, were far less wary, and although they did approach us cautiously at first, once the cameras came out it was playground mayhem – kids running around, laughing and posing and then wanting to see themselves on the screen.

I wonder if the younger generations are losing their cultural inhibitions, or if these children will grow up to be as wary as their parents. Hard to say.

the village primary school (no classes in the summer)

dogs on the access bridge

On the walk back, we saw a hill that had once been clear-cut and burned for planting, and was now slowly coming back to life. The Lao government is trying to ween Lao farmers off slash-and-burn (swidden) agriculture, which ultimately renders the land infertile, and while there is less of it happening these days, it still does happen. (I don’t think it’s illegal, per se.)

Slash and burn, however, probably poses less of a threat to deforestation in Laos than the timber trade – both legal and illegal.


signage showing the local areas off-limits to swidden farming

Because Laos is not densely populated and there isn’t much development, at least for now, they have tremendous biodiversity and one of the most pristing ecologies in Asia. However, or so the joke goes, the reason you don’t hear birds chirping in Laos is because the Lao people have eaten them all. Even To told us, there isn’t anything a Lao person won’t eat. So, yeah, the animals in Laos are in danger as well as the forests.

Here’s a passage from the Lonely Planet guide book on Laos:

Laws do exist to protect wildlife … But most Laotians are completely unaware of world conservation issues and there is little will and less money to pay for conservation projects, such as organised [sic] park rangers, or to prosecute offfenders. Lack of communication between national and local governments and poor definitions of authority in conservation areas just add to the issues.

I wonder what the bigger problem is: illegal logging, poaching and smuggling, or locals just trying to feed their families.


And now, more houses!

Hmong houses (no windows, only one door)

village pup

Lanten kids with Mel

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