Tea picker, Northern Thailand

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I spent quite a bit of time in this region between 1976 and 1979. I was fascinated by these hilltribe people, living almost on their own on the hills. I remembered mainly five of these minorities, the Hmong, the Akhas, the Lisu, the Yao and the Karen. I walked far into the mountain to find villages and stayed with them a few days at times. Very little was known about them at the time. Their costumes and their jewelry were incredibly rich and varied. And then there were the poppy fields, the KMT army, and the Karen army, and more.

I was very excited at the idea of returning there. This time, I would be with a guide and with a car. We could go almost anywhere to visit these villages, meet these people and again have a glance of their unique culture and incredible costumes. But times have changed and many of them have entered the modern world. The traditional hand woven cloth has been replaced by simple T-shirts. The hilltribe people have given up part of their cultural identity while entering the Thai society.

New groups such as the Kayan Long Neck and the Palaung have arrived in Thailand, fleeing war and discrimination in Burma. And then I discovered the Mlabri. Unheard of a mere 30 year ago when they came out of the jungle where they were living, isolated, in small groups of 10-15 individuals. They number between 300 and 400. Now, thanks to external help, they are regrouped in a few villages where they live a normal life.
Tea picker, Northern Thailand



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