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The Ethnic Groups in Southeast Asia - Essay Example

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But there are oral accounts in the form of folk tales, out of which some suggest that Burma is indeed their original home, but there are some folk tales which point towards their origin being China. The Karens have script of their own as well, which is often termed as 'chicken scratch script' because the script resembles the scratches made by the movement of a chicken when it moves on sand or soft soil.
Smith (2003) stated that, "until the annexation of Burma in the nineteenth century, the Karens were largely a hill of forest-dwelling people without a written a result, the Karens appear as an ethnic group very much on the fringes of the recorded history." Myanmar has at least 15 major ethnic groups with Burman (Bamar) comprising about half the population. The population of Karen is the next highest with 6-7 million people. The last comprehensive census with ethnicity count was held in the year 1931, under the British Colonial government. Thereafter the Burmese government avoided the questions about separate ethnic identity (Bowles, 2000).
Basically, the Karen tribe is known to be agriculturists, with Buddhism being the predominant religion amongst the tribe. A belief amongst the Karen tribe is that historically they have come from a place called "Thibi Kawbi". This is termed as their representation of Tibet and southern Gobi desert. As time passed, gradually during the 18th century, Karen began to move down south towards Thai Payap (old northern kingdom of Siam)1. The Karen tribe have been demanding an independent identity and land for them since early 1880s, with the formation of Karen National Association. At that time, Burma was under the colonial rule of Britain. After independence of Burma in January 1948, they tried to have a peaceful existence under the banner of Karen National Union (KNU), with some important posts in the government offered to Karen people. Situation started changing after the Military junta took over the country in 1960s. Subsequently, the demand for a separate land for Karen became more vocal. The military junta started adopting oppressive measures after it took over. As a result, a large number of Karen people were forced to leave their homes and fled into bordering Thailand with the result that many thousands of Karen are now living in Thailand, Australia and elsewhere as refugees. The strength of Karen fighters depleted with Burmese army declaring a full scale war against them in early 1990s and by 1995 the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw fell to Burmese army.

Culture and Religion
The brass rings around the necks of Karen tribe people are stated to be because of a number of reasons2. Some say it is done to prevent tigers from biting them; appears to be a credible defense, because the tiger prefers to pull the life out of a human being with a firm grip around the neck. Another version is that it is practiced to make women less attractive, so that there is less likelihood of them being captured by the slave traders. But, there is still another version which finds that this is being practiced to make women for attractive, so that they are able to attract a better husband. Besides the neck ring, large sized ear-rings also make an important component of the beauty products of the womenfolk. As the age of young girls increases the size ...Show more


Karen tribe is well known for their long necks, for which they are called 'long neck' tribe or Giraffe tribe. Originally belonging to Myanmar a large of Karen tribe is also found in the hilly terrain of border areas of Thailand. Many of their women members put on typical brass rings around their neck, which helps in providing a separate identity to the tribe…
Author : pmcglynn
The Ethnic Groups in Southeast Asia essay example
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