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The different ethnic groups in Burma

08/07/2019 512 Views
Burma is divided into seven administrative regions (Ayeyarwady, Bago, Magway, Mandalay, Sagaing, Tanintharyi and Yangon) and seven states (Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan). Each state or division is subdivided into villages, communes and districts.

The Burmese state, born from the borders left to it by Great Britain, counts 53 million people and includes more than a hundred ethnic groups (135 ethnic groups listed in 2008) of which the main ones are the Burmese (75%), the Shans (11%), the Arakans or Arakanese (6%), the Karènes (5%), the Mon (3%), the Kachins (2.5%), the Chins, the Karennis (Kayahs), the Lahus , the Rohingyas, Gurkhas, Padaungs, Meos (Hmongs), Nagas, Akhas, Lisaws, Kadus, Was, Mokens (or Mawkens), etc. The country also has 150,000 Chinese and 800,000 Indians.

These different ethnic groups can be divided into four groups: Tibeto-Burmese, Mon-Khmers, Sino-Thai and Karen.
  • Tibeto - Burmese include the majority of Burmese and more than thirty other tribal groups such as Rackin, Chin, Kachin, Lisu, Lahu and Akha.
  • The Mon - Khmers are mostly composed of Mon, living in the Martaban Gulf area, as well as other smaller groups residing in the north such as Inthas, Palaung and Wa.
  • The Sino - Thais are mostly Shan living in the North.
  • Finally, the Karen group includes the many Karen and Kayah tribes living in the border area with Thailand.
The Burmese:
The Burmese, also called Bamar (or Burman) to avoid confusion, descend from the Mongols and form the ethnic majority. They crystallize the hostility of all because they are the most numerous (75% of the population). They own the majority of the land and hold the reins of the current government. They are found around Rangoon, in the Irrawaddy Basin, in Pegu, Magwe, Mandalay and Sagaing, but also in Arakan State, Mon State and Tenasserim State. 70% of the population lives in these territories. These Burmese are most often rice farmers, living on wooden stilts and thatched bamboo houses. They wear a garment draped over their hips and coat their face and cheeks with a yellow powder, called thanakha, from a bark of the tree of the same name.
The Mon:
The Mon, formerly dominant group, have been supplanted by the Burmese. Most other Mon - Khmer groups live in the Indochinese Peninsula, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

In Burma, they are found mainly in the vicinity of Moulmein and Pegu. They are about a million and their culture is largely similar to that of the Burmese. They have been integrated into the Union of Myanmar since the takeover by Ne Win in 1962. Fervent Buddhists, they follow the Theravadin calendar and worship the nats. In their villages, usually surrounded by palisades, there are monasteries and shrines dedicated to nats.
The Karens:
Karens are 2 or 3 million to live in Burma but are scattered throughout the territory. There are three groups: the Pwos found in the deltas and the lowlands, the Sgaws, among which are Pa O, Pa Kus or Karens Blancs and some other hill tribes, and finally the Bwes, to which belong to the kayahs, (or red Karens) the Black Karens, and some isolated groups in the mountains.
The Karenni:
Located between the Shan and the Karen, the Karenni share with them some customs and traditions, recognize some common ancestors but are nonetheless a culturally and historically different group. Speaking about kayah or its different dialectal forms, the karenni owe their name to the color of their costume. Traditionally, karenni women wear a short dress and a piece of red cloth covering the back and torso, held at the waist by a large white cotton belt. Under their knees, they wear lacquered rings and sometimes rings of silver.
 The Arkans and Rohingyas:
Two ethnic groups live in Rakhine State, a coastal region of western Burma: Arakanese of Tibetan-Burmese and Buddhist origin, and Arakanese of Persian or Indian origin, mostly of Muslim faith ( the Rohingyas).
Buddhists claim to be the only historical heirs of the Rakhine state. People not recognized by the Burmese regime, the Rohingya, stateless and persecuted, live confined along the border with Bangladesh. Many of them fled to find refuge in this country.
Shan State and ethnic minorities:
Shan State, home to about 35 ethnic groups that migrated from Laos and Yunnan at different times, is the largest state in Burma. It has a common border with Thailand, Laos and China in its eastern part (Kyaingtong / Kengtung region).
Surrounded by a few rice crops, the ethnic minorities of Eastern Shan State (Khun, Wa, Ann, Lahu, Lisu, Palaung, Akhe, Akha ......) settled near the rivers and on the steep slopes of high, forest-covered hills that surround Kyaingtong. Living practically in autarky to the rhythm of sometimes primitive traditions, they essentially have only natural resources: gathering, fishing, hunting and some farm animals. Ethnic minorities are present in the large daily market of Kyaingtong. The Akha of the forest sell grilled insect larvae, highly appreciated by the local population, and all cross in a riot of colors to buy or exchange goods, because barter is still widely accepted in this region remained long inaccessible.
The women of the Akhe minority are dressed in striped black and longhis, the Ann have black-tinged teeth, the mountain Akha are adorned with beautiful headdresses and finely embroidered garments, and the Palaung women are dressed in a red longhi and they surround their waist with silver hoops.
In its western part (Hsipaw, Kalaw and Inle region), the Shan State is traversed by green mid-altitude mountains, and by a multitude of gardens maintained by the ethnic minorities. They cultivate flowers, tea, wild rice, vegetables, citrus fruits and every five days, they roam the slopes of the hills with large baskets heavily loaded to sell the harvested products to the market.
Shan, ethnic cousins ​​of Thai, are the majority in the region. As the country's leading producers of fruit, flowers and vegetables, they are often dressed in Western style, but the many festivals that punctuate local life give them the opportunity to wear the traditional garb made up of men for a turban. a blouse and wide orange trousers.

The traditional Taungyo women's clothing consists of a dark and striped bag dress that they wear with copper bracelets around the legs and forearms. Costume wearing has become rare among the Taungyo, but it is sometimes possible to see it at the Kalaw or Pindaya market.
The Palaung are very numerous in the region of Kalaw. They are of Mon Khmere origin and the women wear a dark red striped longhi, a blue or green sleeve bolero edged with a red border and bamboo hoops around the waist. Palaung live in mountain villages and practice slash and burn cultivation. They produce tea and gather the leaves of Tanapet which are used to make cheroots, the popular traditional Burmese cigar.
he Intha, who come from the coastal province of Tanasserim (southern Myanmar), migrated to Inle Lake between the 12th and 14th centuries. Cultivators of the fertile floating gardens of the lake, Intha women also sell in the fish markets and the silks and cotton fabrics they have woven.
The Was is a tribal population in the highlands of the Shan region of northeastern Burma. Belonging to the ethno-linguistic group Môn-Khmer, historians attribute the Was to being among the oldest inhabitants of the region, established for centuries between the rivers of Salween and Mekong. This ethnic group has a formidable reputation, since the Was were known as human head hunters, and then they distinguished themselves as valorous warriors within the Burmese Communist Party. Pa-O, who are farmers and buffalo farmers, are also numerous in Kalaw. Very present on the Inle Lake markets, they wear dark indigo and turban clothing, mostly yellow or orange.

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