NZPhotographer Issue 27, January 2020

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y a young 27 year old who would be our guide

and interpreter. He told us that as a 7 year old,

he had to flee into the forest with his younger

siblings when the Burmese Army came and burnt

the houses and destroyed the crops. They had to

survive for 5 days in the forest, can you imagine!

Myself and my photography tour guide were the

first Westerners the villagers had seen in nearly

3 years. They were curious yet shy. It was mainly

young Mums and the elderly women in the village

that day, as every able person was out harvesting

the vital crops located a two hour walk away, with

no vehicles or machinery to help them.

The usual raft of puppies nipped at our heels as

we wandered through the village. The houses

are all built on high stilts, totally wooden, with the

cool underneath used for storage of livestock ie

cattle and pigs, this also being the place where

they thresh the rice. All the precious grain is stored

away from the houses, also on stilts, to keep the

rodents at bay, but also to keep it away from

potential fire - The cooking is done inside the

houses in a special ‘pit’ in the floor so there can

be the accident of a house catching fire. A house

can be rebuilt but food cannot be replaced.

We observed two women who were threshing rice,

it was steaming hot, so I could understand why

it’s done under the house. They have found an

ingenious method of getting the job done quickly

and efficiently, with the added benefit of feeding

the pigs and hens at the same time.

The women were wearing their traditional

clothing, which is worn daily and often handed

down from Mother to daughter. All the tribes

have their traditional dress and their unique style

of beauty. Here it was long earrings, threaded

through plugs in the earlobes and copper coils

on the lower legs which are never taken off. One

theme that ran through the three hill tribes we

visited, was the beauty of ‘fat knees’ which the

copper coils emphasised (I thought I fitted in

well!!).

The first member of this tribe that I got to sit down

and talk to was a 74 year old widow. Her house

just had the one room with a thatched roof, open

windows with one window draped with a cloth

for a curtain. She lived in the barest of conditions,

aside from a mattress on the floor as her bed, the

only piece of furniture she had was a wooden box

that held her worldly belongings, this also doubling

up as her seat and bench.

I discovered that she had been made to move

three times in her life because of the Burmese

Army… If a husband dies (life expectancy is 58

for men and 64 for women) the widow must then

THRESHING THE RICE

F4, 1/320s, ISO500

A HTEKHO TRIBAL ELDER

F4, 1/40s, ISO3200

40

NZPhotographer

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