Known as a people of storytelling, the hill tribes have been handing down their genealogies mouth to ear over generations, without any form of written record or alphabet to keep the words, protected only by the high hills of Northern Thailand.
How could these stories help to understand the close relationships of people and their land, who are living from the forest, cultivating food as subsistence hill farmers and inform our urban ways of communal living?
Travelling to the hill tribes we stayed with two Akha villages: Suan Pa which is located near a city, and Lhor Yo which is higher up the mountains and further remote from urban areas.
Although the Akha still speak their own language, many of the stories have disappeared together with the tree and water spirits, ghost gates and swings, or farming practices such as crop rotation and slash-and-burn. Younger generations replaced their handcrafted garments with regular clothes and rural animism with other religions, educations, and careers in the city.
Today, the stories of the hills tell about the low urban land: from there, healthcare, energy supply, schools, commercial products, cellphones, TV and tourists have come, together with waste problems, contract farming, industrial corn seeds, fertilisers and herbicides.
At the same time, people in the flat, urban land are unaware of how closely they are connected with the upland through the daily food and water they consume. Often they even hold prejudice against the hills and their people.
In this project, we want to make these relationships and dependencies between high and lowland visible. In a workshop with product design students from Srinakharinwirot University we brought the knowledge we collected to the city of Bangkok, trying to find out if we can take a new perspective and apply hill tribe learnings to urban issues, hoping to continue the possible future storylines.