Somhack From Hunter to environmentalist
Somhack was once proud of his hunting gun and never left home without it, carrying it with his bag and the other hunting tools he used.
Now the traps and nets decorate his house, while the gun was confiscated by the district authority.
“If I hadn’t used those tools I would have had nothing to feed my family” recalled Somhach.
Today, Somhack has abandoned his old practices and turned his knowledge of the forest and the animals that inhabit it into a new form of employment-that of eco-tourist guide.
In day gone by, Somhack spent most of his time in the forest after finishing his work in the rice fields. He learnt the ways of hunting when he was very young, first helping the older men to carry the tools they needed.
Using the lessons he leant day after day, Somhack grew brave and became a hunter himself, spending night in the forest alone.
“Each time I went into the forest I took rice and salt and chilies with me because I had to spend at least 3-4 days there” he said.
“I hunted all kinds of animals if I could find them” he said, most were wild pigs, deer, mountain goat (Yeuang) and white gibbons. “Now I know that the gibbon is one of the most endangered animals in the world, but then I knew nothing about such things, so my friends and I often went go hunting for it.”
Somhack, a Khmu man, was a hunter for almost 30 Years. He did not have much choice, given his living conditions, and had very few alternatives in the way of food sources.
Today, Somhack, like many other hunters, has given up his old ways and since 2003 has been working in ecotourism, based in Vieng Phoukha district in Luang Namtha Province.
The eco-tourism project he is involved in aims to increase income in communities in the district. Somhack, one of many new guides, was certified and trained under the district’s ecotourism project.
“What I did in the past was pitiful,” admitted Somhack. “But if I hadn’t hunter I don’t know how I could have fed my family.”
“I liked hunting. There was nothing to eat and there was no lob to do. For these reasons, we were hunter,” he stressed.
Recently, many Khmu villages have moved to lower altitude location is possible. By doing so, they also gain access to the expanding network of roads.
Relocation at lower altitudes is encouraged by the government, which is eager to shift village livelihoods from swidden cultivation to wet rice cultivation, as well as improving access to better education and healthcare.
The Khmu in Luang Namtha Province generally practice mixed economies-wet rice cultivation near the river and hill rice cultivation on uplands provide the rice essential for survival.
Althoudh they raise animals, they continue to hunt and collect forest produce, which not only provides additional nutrition but also some cash income.
The material culture of the Khmu, their tools, utensils, baskets, all reflect their continued reliance on the forest.
Somhack said that even though some people had given up hunting many people in the district still did so, using new typed of hunting implements.
After he received training and became a guide, he gained a deep insight into the importance of the natural environment.
Somhack now realized the mistakes he made in the past, saying “Hunting din’t do much to give me a better life. I got very little from it and wasted a lot of time. My actions lost our endangered wildlife and threatened both animals and the natural environment.”
“If we continue to hunt wildlife there will be nothing left for us in the future, he warned.
He forays into the forest now are a very different experience from before. Then he went as a hunter, but now he guides adventurous tourists along winding trails. His hunting role has turned into that of protector.
Somhack comes from a group of upland forest dwellers who have hunted and gathered forest product for centuries. Their Knowledge of the forest is formidable.
Thanks to his experience, Somhack has a deep understanding of the forest, plants, animals and local cultures. He is well informed about medical and edible plants, animal tracks and birds and can explain traditional agricultural practices.
At the height of the tourist season, Somhack goes for forest treks 2 or 3 times a month, making enough money to take care of his family.