The Living Legacy Project for Akha Oral Tradition

Preserving Ancestral Songs and Wisdom of Southeast Asian Ethnic Communities
Akha Village in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Project Story
In 2023, Cultural Crossroads Asia launched its first partnership in the villages: the Living Legacy Project - Akha Oral Tradition. This project aims to promote cultural heritage, empower indigenous youth, and inspire global appreciation through a six-month course in Ban Saen Suk, an Akha village in the mountains of Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand. Throughout the program, Master Akha Musicians instruct the Akha youth in their traditional songs, instrumental music, stories, life lessons and instrument-making practices. Lessons also reinforce the importance of maintaining our planet's natural resources and replanting the materials used to make instruments.

Classes are taught using the 'Mother Tongue Method,' call and response between teacher and students, just as their forebears learned. The songs, instruments, and stories they absorb in each class are reviewed week after week, so the students accumulate wide musical knowledge. By the fifth month, when their repertoire and self-assurance have grown, students will break into small groups to prepare demonstrations to present their music and stories, solo and in ensembles, at Akha Festivals and at concerts for the general public.
Through the support of a $5,000 Purpose Earth grant, the Living Legacy Project for Akha Oral Tradition will be able to welcome 22 Akha students, ages 12-18, to the program and empower them to perform songs and stories, as well as showcasing their skills on traditional musical instruments. Every student will receive: a notebook for recording their lessons; 11 instruments fashioned by a master craftsman for practice and performance; tools to make their own instruments; and a large cloth bag to carry their materials. A documentary film will be created following the students' progress and will chronicle their impressions and understanding about Akha culture through interviews culled from film footage shot each week.

“Time and time again, ethnic guardians of age-old heritage-shamans,headmen, wise elders, artisans, and musicians-lament that that they are the only ones left who remember the practices of their ancestors and that the young generation, born in a new technological age, is not interested in learning 'old-fashioned ways.' Enlivening traditional customs through the Living Legacy Project offers indigenous elders the satisfaction that they can train a new generation so their knowledge, accumulated over thousands of years, will not die with them. Additionally, sharing the videos, recordings, and books based on the Master Musicians' lessons through public concerts, presentations, media, social media, and Cultural Crossroads Asia Exhibits, demonstrates to them how Akha culture will be 'seen and heard' in the bigger world.”

- Founder, Victoria Vorreiter

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