Akha / Hani People


Akha/Hani religion is a combination of animism and ancestor worship. Their worldview is completely colored by their animistic beliefs, thus even the cultivation of rice is bound up with myths and rituals and must be done in the "Akha/Hani way."

The Akha/Hani people also have an understanding of a great world-creating divinity. All sicknesses are under the control of this spirit; therefore, sacrifices must be made continually in an attempt to gain its favor. Every village has two spirit-gates. The gates are situated at the village entrance and exit to mark the kingdom area of the spirit and its people. The villagers build new gates every year and dedicate them to the spirits with many sacrifices. The Akha/Hani people also are heavily involved in ancestor worship and show a remarkable knowledge of their ancestral past; most Akha/Hani men are able to recite over 60 names of their male ancestors.

Veneration of the ancestors is important because it is believed that the ancestors can bestow blessings on those still living. The ancestral altar kept in each home is well maintained. Nine times a year, on special occasions such as New Year and the beginning of the rice harvest, sacrifices are offered to the ancestors and to the demons whose paraphernalia also clutters the ancestor altar.


The Akha/Hani language belongs to the Lolo branch of the Tibeto-Burman family. It has three main tones and two types of short vowels. A Romanized script is used in Thailand, Burma, and Yunnan, although the script used in Yunnan is unusual in that it uses letters for tone marks. The orthography makes the written language appear monosyllabic - each syllable is written separately. However, this spacing is merely to accommodate the placement of tone marks

Akha-culture and Christianity

The Akha were ruled by headman and spirit priest in every village. The spirit priest told his people what they were to do and what they could not do. He had tremendous power over his people.

The Akha religion knows no love, no mercy, no pity. Fear and anxiety is predominant and especially when someone is sick there is great uncertainty what the cause is. Have the spirits bitten the person? Have they not sacrificed enough for the ancestors? New offerings have to be brought, the spirit priest has to try and find out what the spirits are asking for. 

It is or was a religion of fear, oppression and slavery. 

When the good news of Jesus Christ was first brought to the Akha, the spirit-priest of course feared that he would loose his tremendous influence and power. So many bad rumours were told about the white missionaries and again fear was predominant. 

The Akha needed concrete evidence of the power of Jesus Christ over the spirits. The first Christian village was such an evidence and visitors came from far and wide to see how Christians lived, how the Jesus way worked. 

Years later we heard again and again: we have now watched the Christians on the Jesus- way for a long time and it works. What did they see?

    -      The oppression and fear of the spirits was eliminated through faith in the power of Jesus.

-      This meant that they could change their way of life completely: No more fear of the water spirits meant that they could lead the water right into the village.

-      Hygiene, especially among the children meant that the rate in child-deaths rapidly diminished. People were much healthier.

-      They were open for new things: e.g. better eating habits, new methods in agriculture.

-      Twins in the old religion  meant spirits in a human body and they had to be killed immediately. Now twins could live and were a joy to their parents.

-      Animal sacrifices were not needed any more. Meat could be prepared when the people wanted and needed it, especially during festivities.

The people were much healthier and happier after they had left the spirit-way, burnt all the paraphernalia used for sacrificing to the spirits.

They were now free for new things like learning to read and write, singing and learning to know the Word of God. This gave new meaning to their lives and they did not need to smoke opium to cover up their inner emptiness any more. Parents wanted education for their children and began to look for possibilities to let their children study, something they had never known. Hostels were built so that the children could stay there during the week while going to school. 

Of course there are other influences to-day that have an impact on the people. Not all of these influences are good:

Children are playing with computergames. Both pictures show children playing  a war-game,   shooting people.

TV watching with its aggressive advertising, individual-tourism, the arrival of wholesalers, they all create desires and often the money is lacking to fulfil all these dreams. 

Christians in Thailand 

The history of the Akha christians is fascinating. l954 the first missionaries began to work among the Akha tribe. Peter and Jean Nightingale from Australia worked for many years without any sign of fruit. Yaju, an Akha-Evangelist from Burma came to help the couple in their effort to reach this tribe. l962 the first two couples decided to go the Jesus way as they had heard from Yaju. So far animism and spirit worship had been their religion. The three couples were driven out of the village community and had to start their own christian village on a nearby hillside. During the next 30 years many families followed their example and now there are thousands of christians among the Akha. The first two pioneer missionaries Peter Nightingale and Peter Wyss did not see all the fruit of their faithful labor as one died from cancer and the other one was killed in the jungle.

In l976 the Akha church association was formed by the first seven christian villages. It was called ACT (Akha churches in Thailand). The original group has now expanded to include fifty-eight Christian villages in Thailand. Chiangrai province is home to the oldest and most established group of Akha christians.

This group leads an Akha worship service every Sunday and oversees the center for the production of Akha literature. Bibles, hymnbooks, tapes and the Jesus Film in the Akha language are all available at the Akha Centre.

Besides ACT there are now other Organisation working among the Akha.

In North Thailand there are only a few villages left where there is no christian testimony. Many of the Akha Evangelists would like to bring their “brothers and sisters” in the adjoining countries the good news of Jesus Christ. 

You can read the moving story of the history of Akha Christians in Thailand under  Akha-History    

Where are they?

The Akha /Hani people are found in 5 countries: Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, North Vietnam and South-China. The largest number of Akha/Hani are found in South China


Southern China

- Northern Vietnam

- Myanmar

- Northern Laos

- Northern Thailand

Population of Akha-People

In Southern China          1'550'280
In Northern Vietnam       13'000
In Myanmar 80'000
In Northern Laos 30'000
In Northern Thailand 40'000
Total 1'813'280

Of these 1.8 Million Akha/Hani only a small percentage are christian. The rest still are in bondage of spirit oppression and need to hear the Good News of Jesus who can make them free.