*The following is a cross-section preview sample of the entire Indigenous Voices culture preservation project and photo book essay, which includes 300 photographs along with interview(s) material.*
EXPOSURE: Naïve, my life was going to be forever touched by the highland villagers, as they pulled food and medicine from the forest and stood proud of their heritage. I would experience the nuances of village life with its wisps of wood smoke, early morning rooster crows and clucking chickens, and chilly nights as mountain air streamed through the walls of thatched bamboo huts. I would be warmed by open fires and the wholesomeness of family and community, pick tea and corn with them, and scour a mountain stream for fish to eat. We would laugh and take part in ceremonies together. I would also listen to their woes as holidays in the village are followed by a return to the city. I certainly didn’t understand at-first how their lives had been drastically affected by modern development. All I could do was observe from afar and pose questions, and each village experience exposed me to something new.
A Journey into the Mountains of Northern Thailand
Within a short distance of Thailand’s rapidly developing capital city of the north, Chiang Mai, mountain dwelling ethnic groups, “highlanders,” live in a similar fashion to how our human ancestors once did. They’re more integrated with their natural environment than people living in the cities below them.
However, this is changing as the world market system and lifestyles associated with Western culture perforate the social fabric of the developing world and replace ethnically traditional lifestyles with those of a homogenizing modern world culture.
While the mindsets and related lifestyles of both the older and newer generations can be observed in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, for example, with its slow paced and traditionally conservative culture, has evolved dramatically from what I had considered a “big city small town”into a city-like environment, especially with the development of shopping centers, worsening traffic congestion, and increasing environmental pollution.
This phenomenon follows suit with mainstream Thai culture as the younger generations are abandoning traditional agricultural life for the livelihoods associated with modernity – the I-Phones, designer jeans, new motor vehicles, and subsequent financial debt.
Farmers are selling their generations-old properties as investors purchase and fill in rice paddies with concrete. In this manner, a growing number of Western style businesses and condominium complexes grace Chiang Mai’s mountainous skyline, which is drastically altering the landscape of traditional communities and how people interact with one another.