Myanmar people, Burmese and ethnicity

Myanmar people, Burmese and ethnicity

are split into around 130 groups and there are real differences between them. The  main groups are the Bamar (about 70% of the total), Shan, Mon or Talaing, Karen, Chin, Kachin, Kayahs. Salone or Sea Gypsies, are the smallest and most backward, who inhabit the islands off the southern coast, mainly in the Mergui or Myeik archipelago.

Further south in Thailand they are called Moken. They are probably the oldest inhabitants on the west coast of south east Asia. Salone or Moken can also be found at the Nicobar and Andaman Islands of India and all the way down to Indonesia.

They came in from the north by three waves of immigration from China. The earliest were the Mon or Talaing, they also migrated all down to present day Phuket.

The second and third wave of people were the Bamar and the Shan. The Kachin are of the same group, but they came later. Today they have their Mon State around Bago and southwards.

So is it with Karen, Chin and so on but everything is tightly

controlled by the central government at Naypyidaw. Unfortunately there is a continuous struggle between some ethnicities and the center.

British colonialists

British colonialists and Myanmar People History

One source of the problem were the British colonialists

they brought missionaries into to pull the Karen and Chin away from the dominant Burmese who all are Buddhist and to use them as a counterweight for their political game of abuse. Just in the same way like the old Romans did it, divide and conquer.

They succeeded not really, but the seeds planted by the colonial masters came up in the 198x and later and with strong support from the US Americans in form of weapons and money.

Until about 15 years ago (today 2013) there was still some kind of civil war.

The government in then Yangon and armed Mon groups plus Karen, Shan and some other had yearlong negotiations to settle the problems, they did it somehow.

A other story is with the Kachin, they live in the north, that is the Himalaya region and Chin are in the northwest region. One tribe of them are the Naga which are the same as the Indian people in Nagaland.

Presently the obstacle to peace between the people of today in 2013 are only two groups, the Kachin and Shan of northeast they are more or less left alone by the central government which just take taxes from them.

Burmese People Kachin Shan

Some Shan People

of the very north east, called “the golden Triangle” at the border to China make their money by growing opium poppy  and production of amphetamine and other drugs, they trade this stuff mainly into Thailand. There they make lot of business in the Mae Hong Son and to the north since they all come over to to buy their goods, there is no much supply on the Myanmar side.

Sometimes riots in Chin State and elsewhere erupt since they are really totally neglected and probably the poorest Naga are a sub tribe. Almost all struggle between the central government and the different conflict groups came to an end around a decade ago. The only left who demand their own independent state are the Karen, some parts of Shan and Kachin. This two groups get support in various form from the USA and other countries which took immigrants from this area.

Now some history

Of these the Bamar are beyond comparison the most numerous. It is the idiosyncrasy that gives its fascination with its colors and beauty.

One them are the Mon

of the southern half of the country, not totally absorbed into. About a million of them represent a ethnic group whose civilization once extended from the Assam hills to Annam. Broadly speaking they are now indistinguishable except as to language. People who know them well can however distinguish between them, see Burmese people pictures. Of kin with the Mon, but separated from them by a wide space of country, are the Palaung, the men wear the Shan dress, the women a picturesque costume of their own, which comprises a hood, coat, and skirt, with leggings of cloth.

Mon People

Mon at Dawei

The Karen,

far more numerous and more powerful than the Palaung, owe their regeneration to the British. Borne down by the dominant Bamar, they must have been gradually annihilated, or at best reduced to the least hospitable portions of the country.

Long time ago the Pax Britannica has given them political freedom, and Christianity, which they have adopted en mane, has given them self-respect and an impetus towards civilization. In the modern history of Christianity there is no more interesting

Karen People

Karen People are very easily to spot

episode than the conversion of the Karen. Prepared by prophecies current among them and by curious traditions of a biblical flavor they embraced with fervor the new creed brought to them by the missionaries, and there are to-day upwards of a hundred thousand Christian in the country. They occupy a long strip on the east at the border to Thailand and a considerable portion of the Irrawaddy Delta. By temperament they differ radically from their neighbors. They are singularly devoid of humor, they are stolid and cautious, and they lack altogether the light gaiety and fascination of the other. Yet it is not suggested that in some qualities they do not surpass them.

If their origin is still obscure, it is at least certain that they are not the aborigines of the land. All their traditions point the other way. ” In my early travels,” wrote Mason, their picturesque apostle, ” the Karen pointed out to me the precise spots where they took refuge in the days of Alompra, and where they had come down and avenged themselves on their enemies; but when I asked them who built this city, as we stood together on the forest-clad battlements of a dilapidated fortification they replied : These cities in our jungles were in ruins when we came here. This country is not our own, we came from the north, where we were independent of the Burmese and Thai who now rule over us.

Then we had a city and a country of our own near called Toungoo. All the Karen of Thailand and Myanmar came originally from that region.’ When I asked for the time of their dispersion they were silent. The fact was clearly before them ; but the retrospect was too obscure to determine the distance. Yet they saw far beyond Toungoo. On the edge of the misty horizon was the river of running sand which their ancestors had crossed before coming. That was a fearful trackless region, where the sands rolled before the winds like the waves of the sea. They were led through it by a chieftain who had more than human power to guide them.” The river of running sand was boldly identified by Mason with the Gobi desert, of which Fa Hian, the Chinese pilgrim, has left this description : “There are evil spirits in this river of sand and such scorching winds that whosoever encountered them dies, and none escape. Neither birds are seen in the air, nor quadrupeds on the ground. On every side as far as the eye can reach, if you seek for the proper place to cross, there is no other mark to distinguish it than the skeletons of those who have perished there ; these alone seem to indicate the route.” But the identity of the traditional desert of the Karen with the desert of Gobi has yet to be established.

Shan People

Shan People at Lake Inle

The Shan people

with his wide trousers and flapping hat, his instinct for trade and his considerable civilization is a much more notable person. Shan from South-western China came into today Myanmar about two thousand years ago. Its migration was hastened by the pressure of the Chinese behind, and as this pressure increased they spread from the valley of the Shweli river, its first home in Burma, southwards to today Thailand and eastward to Tonguing, and north and west till it reached the Brahmaputra and founded the Ahom kingdom of Assam. They are now found in the Shan State and far down the eastern peninsula to Mergui or Myeik. In the north they spread over the whole of the upper territories of the Irrawaddy from Myitkyina to the Third Defile; and along the

Chindwin, where traces of their former supremacy survive in the principalities of Singkaling, Hkamti and Thaungdut. They have ruled at Ava, and have come near to the mastery of Burma. They owe their failure to their inability to combine on any national scale, in economic qualities they surpass the other.

The funny or rather not so funny thing is that on the one hand the US have their war against the drug and opium growing business in the north east Shan state, called “ Golden Triangle”. On the other hand they support them against the central government. Its typical US politics, nothing makes sense and the left hand don’t know what the right is doing.

Chin People

Chin at the north west

Of the Chin

who lie upon the mountains which separate central Myanmar from Arakan and Assam there are two great divisions the Northern and the Southern. Of these the Southern Chin, living as they do upon the narrowest portion of their country, are of the least consequence.

They have yielded most to the pressure of the Burmese races on each side of them and they are a sparse and disorganized people.

Chin have a wider territory, known administratively as ” The Chin Hills.” It consists of a much broken and contorted mass of mountains intersected by deep valleys and it is utterly devoid of plains and tablelands.

The Northern Chin have a strong tribal organization and time has developed in each of their tribes a separate idiosyncrasy. They are of interest because he reveals the material out of which Buddhism and civilization between them have evolved the Burmese.

The Kayahs

are natives of Kayah State, which is between Shan State to the north, Thailand to the east, and Karen State to the south. Covering an area of over 7200 square kilometer, this is geographically the southernmost part of the Shan plateau, with mountain ranges, ravines, depressions and gorges.

From north, the Thanlywin (Salween) River comes into Papun District. To the east of the Thanlywin River is the Loilem mountain range forming a natural boundary to Thailand. Timber is the main product of that area. The land on the east bank of Thanlywin River is covered with dense forests, partially of valuable high quality teak. Other areas have other hardwood such as iron wood plus pine trees and more.

They mine tin, wolfram, iron ore and more, best known are Mawchi Mines. There are plenty of reads, but not in good conditions to have a look around even into remote corners. The area is very similar to Thailand’s Kanchanaburi district.

The Kayahs form the majority in the State. Ethnic minorities include Gay-hko, Gay-bah, Yinn-tale, Pa-ku-kayin, Shan, Pa-oh, Padaung, or Kayan, and Innthas natives of Inle lake. Of them, Padaungs are known for some of their women with elongated necks. Known to foreign tourists as “Giraffe Women of Myanmar”, such Padaung women put solid brass rings round their necks of different in size.

To non Kayahs outside the State, they used to be known as Kayinnis (Red Kayins), partly because their dialect is somewhat akin to those of the Kayins in the neighbouring Kayin State and partly because the Kayahs by tradition wear dresses dyed with laced red coloring matter. They however, have always called themselves “Kayah” or “Kayahli” (“Kaye,” in their dialect means “human” and “Ii” means “red”, red human)

The Kayahs believe to be the descendants of Kinnara (Mythical bird with humanhead and torso) that inhabited in Ngwe-taung-pyi (Silver Mountain Country). The Kayah State’s Ba-loo-chaung River rises in the Southern Shan State’s Inle Lake Lake noted for its leg-rowers, and enters the Kayah State from northwest, passes Loikaw, the capital of the Kayah State and continues down south until it disappears underground to flow into Pun-chaung River, which course down Kautarwaddy and later into the Thanlywin River. Now, to the west of Ba-loo-chaung River, there is a high mountain range with a 5,000 ft high mountain top called Lwe-nun-hpa (meaning “Princess Mountain”). It is believed that Ngwe-taung-pyi (Silver Mountain Country) lies somewhere around there. The Kayahs hold these mountains in great veneration, and pray for the return to their Ngwe-taungpyi—the “Land of Kinnard and Kinarri. The Knnara is the emblem of Kayah State which figures it in the State Flag. Also, it is a tradition to turn the faces of their dead towards Ngwe-taung-pyi.

Customs and traditions, while they have their fair share of Buddhists and Roman Catholics amongst them, there are still those who cling to their customs and traditions like nat spirit propitiation, feasting dancing and exchange of gifts on important occasions such as birth, engagement, wedding and funeral.

Clothes and costumes, formal wear for Kayah male consists of red turban buttoned-up jacket and dark baggy trousers. A Kayah female’s formal wear includes a red headdress, red short-sleeved blouse, chest- and back-covering ornaments of silver trinkets and chains lung round the neck and shoulders, red cloak, block and white waistband with one end dropped down front and a short brown-red nether garment.

Minority ethnic groups in the Kayah State are fond of throwing housewarming party. For example, the time after harvesting for Padaungs or Kayans, is the time for house building in which every relative or friend will lend a helping hand. As soon as construction of a new house is completed, the house-owner will have a housewarming party, feeding and giving drinks to all friends and relatives. There is music and sing round a bon fire. The party’s biggest attraction is the young boy’s and girl’s group dance, in which dancers step between shifting bamboo pots timed to music.
The Ma-nu ma-naw ethnic group also loves to hold housewarming party. In it, there is dancing and singing, and the Hpa-zi (Ceremonial bronze drum) placed in a prominent place. There’s group dancing but they don’t dance stepping between shifting bamboo poles like the Padaungs do. And dancing partners are of the same sex. Boys and girls will sing together—not in unison but in a reciprocal way.

Members of the Pa-ye ethnic group, by tradition, hold housewarming party but in their case, their party is held not one night but seven nights!

The Gay-hkos also throw housewarming parties. They have many dance items including stepping-between shifting-bamboo-poles dance, shield dance and Tay-la-doe dance. One interesting feature of the Gay-hko house warning party is that the party-giver is not allowed to do a thing about cooking food or brewing Hkaungye for the party but his friends and relatives do all the cooking and brewing.

The Kayahs, by tradition, celebrate two festivals a year, namely the Ku-Atoe-po (meaning “Flagstaff “) Festival held in April and Paw-mi or Di-ku Festival (Glutinous rice cooked wrapped in leaves Festival) held in August. But the festival celebrated by all the ethnic groups in the State is the Kalu (meaning Ceremonial drum) Festival held yearly in April since 1951.

Kayan or Padaung

Kayan or Padaung


Kayan or Padaung

are some of the most interesting people in terms of appearance are the a indigenous tribe from eastern Myanmar. Famous for the “long neck” women and girls with brass spirals around their neck, arms and legs. Some of them run away to Mae Hong Son, from the continuous fighting between the military and insurgent groups at that area.

Today they earn a living by posing for tourist who come in by large numbers to see this unique brass fashion. They say they wear the brass spirals and rings to remember their mythical ancestors, the Naga, a mythical snake.

Pictures tell more. are real oriental people by any means. Soft, cute and pretty, most of them in the rural areas must already work since childhood and the work can be quite hard as seen at the picture left side. But that’s the unfortunately the same elsewhere elsewhere in the world, they should go to school not to work.

Different Ethnic Groups of Burmese People

Kachin are 12 different
ethnic groups

Lisu – also in Thailand

Kayah are 9 different
ethnic groups.

Ka-Yun or Padaung
Manu Manaw
Yin Talai
Yin Baw

Kayin are 11 different
ethnic groups.

Mon Kayin

Chin are 53 different ethnic groups.

Awa Khami
Kaung Saing


Saing Zan

Bamar are 9 different ethnic groups.


Mon is 1 ethnic group.


Rakhine or Arakan are 7 ethnic groups.

Kwe Myi

Shan are 33 ethnic groups.

Kaw or Akha
Khamti Shan

Man Zi
Maw Shan
Palaung or Kayan
Shan Gale
Shan Gyi

Yin Kya
Yin Net
Yun or Lao

Myanmar people

Shan at Inle Lake