Traditional costume of the Akha people

photo courtesy Hakbong Kwon

My today's ethnic post will be about traditional costume of the Akha people. The Akha are an indigenous hill tribe that live in villages in the mountains of southwest China, eastern Myanmar, western Laos, northwestern Vietnam, and northern Thailand. In all these countries they are an ethnic minority. The population of the Akha today is roughly 400,000.
The basic costume of an Akha woman consists of a headdress, a jacket, a short skirt, a sash with decorated ends and ornate leggings. The clothes are spun by hand, weaved together, and dyed indigo by the Akha women. The back and the sleeves of the jacket are embellished with embroidery, satin stitches of bright colours, seeds, silver buttons, coins, beads, shells or tassels depending on the sub-group of Akha.

The skirt is knee-length and low-waist. It is straight in front and heavily pleated in the back. The sash is tied around the waist under the jacket with the ends hanging in front. Being heavily decorated with buttons, coins and beads it falls between the woman's legs when she squats or sits protecting her modesty.
The headdress is the most important and elaborate part of the Akha costume. It varies from village to village and its ornamentation depends on marital and economic status, age and how recently the woman has had a baby. There are three main styles of Akha headdress: a pointed one (U Lo), flat one (U Bya) and helmet-like one (Phami).

U Lo style headdress has two parts. The base is a wide head band decorated with silver coins, buttons and beads. Above it perches a high conical-shaped framework of bamboo covered with cloth and embellished with silver ornaments and chains, coins, beads, red-dyed feather tassels, gibbon fur, seeds, pompons or small round mirrors, actually with anything the woman fancies.

this and above photos from  here

U Bya (or Loimi) style headdress is characterized by a flat trapezoid-shaped silver piece at the back and alternate rows of beads and silver buttons over the crown. Strings of hollow silver balls, coins and beads hang down to the shoulders.

photo from here

Phami style headdress is shaped somewhat like a helmet and is totally encrusted with silver buttons, coins and beads. Numerous strings of mostly red beads are attached to the sides of the headdress falling nearly to the waist.
The coins used on the headdresses are of several types. Those who can afford them use Indian, Chinese or French Indochinese silver coins. Burmese and Thai coins of small value are also used.

photo courtesy Fritz Hanke

Different styles of the Akha headdress

Many Akha women wear antique glass beads of Chinese origin, which have been handed down from mother ot daugther for many generations. In addition women also wear broad flat silver neck rings and wide plain or engraved silver bracelets.

photo from  here

A few words about the Akha man's costume. It is not as pretty as the woman's dress and consists of: a jacket decorated with embroidery and sometimes with rows of silver coins or a silver chain with bells; the Chinese style pants free of any embellishment; a black turban (sometimes it can be red or pink) wounded in the shape of a hat. Men also wear smooth round neck rings and bracelets and sometimes crown-shaped silver rings in their turbans or on their fingers.


  1. Wow, all those metal balls and discs. I wonder what kind of metal are they made from... probably silver... Very elaborate! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Usually these balls and all other ornaments are made of silver. Nowadays to avoid robbery those silver things are hidden somewhere and replaced with aluminium ones.

  2. Aren't the headdresses very heavy? The women have to walk very upright to avoid backache. But anyway they are wearing their treasure, and are proud of it, rightly. The embroideries and the colors are beautiful.
    Sabine xxx

  3. What a beautiful post Olga! I love to learn about different cultures and traditions. It blows my mind to think how much work it involves to make these unique pieces.
    I also want to thank you for your wonderful comments on my post. I have greatest respect for people who care. Thank you my friend:-)
    Hugs from New York,
    Ask Erena

  4. These images of tribal wear are so interesting and very inspiring, thanks!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing, Olga.