Akha Tribe, Burma:
Sterilization and Blood Theft By Missionaries
Rumoured widely for many years, witnesses have now stepped forward who claim that the American Baptist Missionary Paul Lewis sterilized more than 20,000 Akha Hill Tribe women in Burma’s Eastern Shan State alone. This was done secretly without the approval of the Burmese government by requiring the women to go into Thailand for the procedure and using people in the Church hierarchy to organize the movement of the trusting women, who had little education as to what the long-term effects on their lives would be. Although Burma is much maligned for human rights violations, the activities of Western organizations such as this are disregarded by the same agencies making human rights reports.
In addition, blood was stolen from these women for resale, taken during the sterilization procedure. More than 3,000 of the women have died. Many developed a weakened condition and lost weight. The pain related to the surgery did not subside and in the end they died. Now the children of many women have died and obviously they are unable to have more.
In Akha traditional culture, five people serve as the government in one village. This multiperson leadership system in villages was eliminated and replaced by single pastors who rule the villages with an iron fist, allowing no dissent or return to the traditional ways.
The following is severly condensed from the Akha response to the issues of how their language has been manipulated, and how they were deceived over the sterilizations, which continue to this day. This was written by a number of Akha who fear for their safety should they make their names public. Threats have already been made by people involved with the Protestant missions. Send a donation to the Akha Heritage Foundation for the unedited text.
Of the seven ladies who had sterilization in our village, two passed away shortly after. They went to recieve sterilization because they were poor. After being sterilized, since their poverty demands them not to stop their job, they had to face the new disease of feeling pain all the time. Later, they pass away. Those who survived, many are still suffering from various kinds of diseases and social abnormalities. Some became opium addicts, some became very thin and suffer from bleeding. To me it seems like a systematic way of killing our hill tribe, to annihilate us. Why I dare say like that? As they are experts in these fields, they know ahead for sure that those who underwent the operation would not be able to to do hard labor in the rest of her life. Knowing it properly, they persuaded hill tribes women to undertake such an operation. Now I feel very bad for my suffering people. Whom shall I blame—my poor people or those so-called expets who jumped in with lots of money as if they were our benefactors?
Apart from giving money to each patient, [Lewis] also gave all the traveling expenses to them and 3,000 Baht to the agent for bringing the women in. It became a good income for them. Because of this it seemed that many women received only the good stories of what would follow after sterilization; nobody told them the bad side effects.
Especially in Thailand, due to the high levels of prostitution, under the name of safeguarding young women, boarding schools for girls sprout up. But then the girls no longer feel to marry Akha men. So where will the Akha children come from and what will happen to our people and villages? They do not come back to the villages. In this way the Akha women are being taken away from the Akha world. That is why the present education being given by the missionaries should be closed down quickly, then we will be able to preserve ourselves.
Regarding religion, at the beginning it seemed to be very good. Later, it turned out to be division among the people. Some became Catholics, some Protestants, some still holding their ancestors offering while others became Buddists. All these, they could not face to one another. Now we want to raise a question, how good is the Christianity then? If that is good enough, why there are so many groups, teaching about Jesus and yet fighing one another? First they divided our people now they are dividing our villages and families. We seem to be like a prey for them. Better not to have one of them than having all of them.
They seemed that they did not show any interest for our culture. Why? They just eager to build big churches in every village. We do not know why the missionaries are trying to throw away our culture so eagerly. Isn’t there anyting good about our culture? Why then are they making businesses by selling Akha head dresses and other things also? Making lots of money by writing about our people, culture customs and history? After all, to be able to write such things, from where do they get all these informations? Indeed, these are given by my people and they are still poor. What about those authors? They become rich and well known to the world for writing and knowing about us.
The missionaries quickly seized upon the killing of twins at birth in the Akha culture as a means to villify the whole culture and turn many Akha against anything and everything Akha. Divide us—conquer us? In every culture we can ever find in the world, some part of them will not be ‘up to the mark’ of modern society, some may seem to be with error. In the Old Testament there are human sacrifices, and cannibalism is still going on in some parts of Africa. In that way, our culture also sometimes seems to be cruel. Instead of understanding our culture, missionaries mock us. In those days people were waging war in our land all the time and migrating from one place to another. If the mother had to care for two or three at the same time, it would be very hard for the family. They might have their own reasons for all of this. Today I would like to ask all those concerned about it: since killing is wrong indeed, why then abortion is going on all the time, especially in the US where all the missionaries come from? Abroad they are sterilizing ladies, this is also a strange thing for us here.
Due to those who exaggerated our culture in a mocking way, when they converted an Akha village to Christianity, they burnt our gates, ancestors shrines, swing [representing god’s creation of humans] etc. They also stopped us from doing traditional burying and naming. Now a newborn child will be named in the Christian way by a pastor, eliminating our ancient system by which we count our generations back. Now the children cannot do that. No more recitations, no dancing allowed. In fact all these things enabled Akha people to preserve their culture and language over 1500 years already. If these can keep us for such a long time as a group of people, we don’t think they would be very bad. That’s why we want to ask you, whether to keep them instead of condeming them and throwing them all away?
When the missionaries arrived, they formed an Akha elite, taking them away from the ordinary people, giving them the best education and best facilities in the world. That is why their small group could buy the latest cars one after another. They became very powerful. They could pinpoint anybody they want and start ordering what they like. Now these young leaders are replacing old missionaries. They think that they belong to the upper class; they don’t want to admit they came from the same people.
We have no proper leader, no country, no land to be able to claim as ours, no wealth, no education, numbers also very limited. To such a poor people why do they do that? It seems that they are having two faces; under the title of help they suppress us. To the world, they gained their reputations as benefactors of disappearing tribes. They built their reputations on us for many years. The way they behaved on us seemed as if we did not know about god before they arrived here. Why do missionaries think they are the only ones who can perceive god? If there is no good teachings among the Akhas, we are sure we cannot have survived ‘til this day.
The Akha Heritage Foundation
386/3 Sailom Joi Rd Maesai,
Mobile phone (sometimes hard to reach while in the mountains): 01-881-9288
When in Thailand phone: 66-l-88l-9288
When out of Thailand email: email@example.com