Mountain Tribe Celebrates Freedom With Swing Festival

Mountain tribes in northern Thailand celebrate their freedom – with a wacky swing festival.

The Akha people were once native to China before being being conquered by rival factions and forced to flee to Burma in therapy 1900s.

Following decades of struggle many of them settled in the mountainous Chiang Rai province.

The group – which has more than 40,000 living in the region – now celebrate their freedom once a year with a colourful swinging and dance festival.

Footage from the Akha Swing Festival on Sunday August 9 shows villagers soaring into the sky on a rope swing suspended from 30ft high bamboo poles.

Women in hand-woven costumes and brightly decorated hats are pulled on the rope while the men-folk are able to use their strength to propel themselves and whiz back and fourth.

The symbolic act celebrates throwing off the bonds of constraint and is also the tribe’s new year celebrations, in line with the peak of the rainy season.

”When you don’t have your country any more, you still can feel free while swinging in the air,” plays their Akha New Year song.

Historians once described how the Akha villages would ”reek of opium” and that they were the ”most unhealthy and miserable of all mountain tribes”.

However, government and charity schemes to replace opium poppy cultivation with other income has transformed their lives.

Hundreds of tourists now visit the remote region, sometimes only accessible by motorcycle to watch the spectacle.

The unique festival is one of the most recognizable in Thailand, with five other tribes which wear different costumes joining in with the event.

The late Dr. Leo Alting von Geusau, an expert on the tribe, wrote: ”For centuries they have fled suppression. So, when missionaries and anthropologists described them as semi-nomadic, this was a rather slanted interpretation of the real situation.

”They are born losers who have internalized their fate. Mere survival has become the core of their culture. They regard the outside world with great suspicion, as being full of potential evil forces. Even now, visiting officials are regarded with distrust and spoken to with sweet words and offered glasses of rice liquor to appease them.”

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