After attending the rice planting ceremonies a few months back, I knew I wanted to make a return to the Akha Village for the New Year Swing Festival that would take place approximately 120 days later. Near the end of August, most of the boys Urban Light serves made the journey north to be with family and celebrate this age-old tradition of swing building and dance. Urban Light’s Outreach Worker, who is also my Thailand brother and best mate, Fame, was kind enough to invite myself and another Urban Light volunteer, Marissa, into his family’s home for the weekend’s festivities.
On my previous visit, the fields were bare and freshly burned from the slash and burn style of agriculture that is still very prevalent there. The burning of fields is considerable reason not to travel in Northern Thailand during late February through April, as resulting clouds of smoke and debris linger in the air. The climb to the top of the mountain where Fame’s family’s rice field rests was much more of a site to behold, and a considerably tougher trek, with lush, green, and chest tall rice grasses forcing us to take care with every step. Though the journey to the top of the mountain is worth it for the view, we were there to collect cantaloupe and cucumbers that had been planted the same time as the rice. Vines scattered through the field, and we all were excited to come across a ripe melon or cucumber— they were a bit tough to find in the huge field.
The Swing Festival is meant to bring good fortune on the current rice harvest, as last year’s supply is more than likely gone or dwindling. It also seems to be a coming of age event, where girls who have worked hard all year long making traditional dress wear these clothes for the first time, or add to costumes of years past, and boys actively participate in different roles surrounding the swing building.