Customs and Christian conversion among Akha highlanders of Burma and Thailand



This article considers why Akha highlanders of Burma and Thailand were reluctant to convert to Christianity in the past, why they have been converting in growing numbers in recent years, and, finally, why they convert at all. It argues that a key to answering these three questions is the nature of the traditional Akha cultural equivalent of the Western category “religion,” especially its equation with ethnic identity. Since Akha Christianity does not fit any of the various social science models of religions in contact situations such as coexistence or syncretism, an alternative model, namely, replacement, is proposed. [Christian missions, conversion, cultural change, ethnic identity, Southeast Asia]