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Thai Hill Tribe Silver Jewellery in the Northern Thailand (3)

Each tribe in the other five main groups has certain preferences in design. The plain flat neck ring with recurved spiraling ends is worn by Akha women. The round solid ring with long recurved and engraved ends in the shape of a bird’s beak are widespread among the Hmong, Mien, Lahu and Akha, while the torque in third from left on top, similar to this round solid ring but twisted, is worn by the Hmong (the Lahu also wear torques, but the twisting is tighter). Finally, the much thicker rings bulging towards the center, are hollow and worn mainly by the Hmong and Mien, sometimes by the Akha.

The group of bracelets in pairs as they were normally worn includes both solid and hollow examples. The twisted wire designs in the center are mainly of Chinese origin, and worn especially by Akha women of the Pa Mi sub-group; the hollow designs, some engraved (one with its date) are worn mainly by Lahu and Akha men, while the small solid ring with the twisted-wire clasp is of the type worn by Wa/Lawa people. The chunky bracelets worn by men have yet another purpose, to protect the wearer form harm, and the most highly regarded are the Chinese influenced designs with dragon heads at each end, and between 1 to 2 cm (0.4-0.8 in) in diameter. They are intended to rattle with movement, and the hollow ones usually contain a loose ball or pellet that rolls around inside and adds to the noise.

The origin of many of the silver pieces in the possession of hilltribe people has been obscured by their itinerant existence; they may have been purchased from the Chinese or Shan, or they may have been made by tribal smiths to similar designs and with acquired techniques. One old Akha man interviewed explained: “Our silversmiths have always learned from our neighbors
When we lived among the Chinese, they made silver that was like that of the Chinese; and when we were neighbors of the Shan, our silver resembled that of the Shan.” The enamellings on the necklace on far left certainly suggests a Chinese origin, but long ago some particularly adept Lisu or Akha silversmith probably learned the process. What is certain is that today in Thailand none of the hilltribe communities have silversmiths capable of working to the same standards displayed in these old pieces.