Years Go By
One of the favorite jokes in the village is my age. Sometimes it's me joking aroung saying that I'm getting old because the Akha kids run circles around me, sometimes it's my Akha friends who say that since I don't have black hair I'm obviously one of the tsaw maw (the best translation we have is elder or grandparent). But the joke became a little closer to reality when I learned - much to my discomfort - that in the Akha account of time and age I'm 30 years-old. Yikes! This recent revelation that I've reached the big three-oh has inspired some thoughts of days gone by. Now I know many of you reading this blog have seen 30 come and go. Some of you have even seen 30 years twice over. You're probably reading this and thinking I'm insane for writing about my old age, but you have to realize the shock is not just from turning 30, but from hitting that mark 2 years early!
In the Western world we count from zero. This not based on natural truth as much as it is based on a philosophical idea. Our sense of time and mathematics, however, depends heavily on this idea so the first 12 months of our lives are spent in the zeroth year, not turning one until twelve months after we are born. (If you know much about interest and finance the idea is simalar to interest being accrued at the begining of a period vs. the end of a period.) Children have an acute understanding of the problems this system creates which is why we have so many six-and-a-half year-olds running around. In fact that system is not used in school. We do not say that a child in the first year of school is in the 0th grade, we say they are in 1st grade.
So it seems that traditionally the Akha say that a child is one-year-old throughout it's first year of life, counting ahead rather than behind. That accounts for one of the extra years added to my life, but still would have made me only 29 years-old. As my discussion with our friend MiNah proved, the Akha accounting of years is even more involved. Traditionally the Akha say that when a baby is born it is anywhere between 8 and 10 months into it's first year. Naturally within their culture the Akha seem to believe that life begins at conception. This being the case, three months after a child has been born it is beginning its second year - or as the Akha would say two-years-old.
This accounting of time seems to have changed as birth certificates and the western calendar have made their way into Akha culture. But, based on the zodiac (12-year cycle of animals) calendars familiar throughout Asian cultures including the Akha hilltribe, the 28 year-old friend of mine in our village was born two years after I was, making me 30 Akha-years-old.