KACHIN ETHNIC GROUP
Kachin fighter in WW2
The Kachin are an ethic minority that lives in Myanmar near the border with China. There is also large numbers of them in China where they are known as the Jingpo and some in Assam, India where they are known as the Singhpo. In Myanmar, they live mostly the slopes of mountains between 1,200 meters and 1,900 meters in the Kachin State and to a lesser degree in the Shan state, regions filled with monsoon rain forests and dominated by mountains. In China the live almost exclusively in Yunnan on the slopes of mountains between 1,470 meters and 1,980 meters in the Dehong Dai and Kachin Autonomous Prefecture, a region filled with monsoon rain forests and dominated by the Gaoling Mountains and Daying and Ruili Rivers .
It is estimated that there are around one million Kachin in Myanmar. The term “Kachin” comes from the Jinghpaw word for “Red Earth” and refers to a region where two branches of the upper Irrawaddy come together and where powerful chiefs have traditionally been located. The Jinghpaw (Jingpo) are the main Kachin subgroup. Their dialect is the lingua franca for all other groups. Other groups include the Maru, Atsi, Lashi and Achang. Kachin have been described as the Scots of Myanmar.
The Kachin is also known as the Acha, Aji, Atsa, Chasham Dashan, Jinghpaw, Kang, Lachi, Lalang, Langshu, Langwo, Lashi, Maru, Shidong, Xiaoshan, Zaiwa. A 1990 census counted 119,000 of them in China. They live mostly in Dehong Dai and Kachin autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. There is no good figure on their numbers in Myanmar but it estimated that there are more than a million of them there.
The Kachin tend to have fairer skin and broader features than the Burmese. The Kachin speak a Sino-Tibetan language and have their own written language. There are a number of dialects. Some linguists assert that the Kachin and Zaiwa dialects are different enough to qualify as different languages. Their written language is not used much anymore. Few people speak the native language in China anymore.
Sources on Individual Ethnic Minorities in China: (click the ethnic group you want) Ethnic China (very good site with good academic articles) ethnic-china.com ; Cultural China (site with nice photos) cultural-china.com ; China Travel chinatravel.com ; Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; China.org (government source) china.org.cn ; OMF international (a Christian group) omf.org ; People’s Daily (government source) peopledaily.com.cn ; Ethnic Publishing House (government source)e56.com.cn ; Paul Noll site` paulnoll.com ; China Highlights (on some groups) China Highlights
Sources on Ethnic Minorities in China: Book on Chinese Minorities stanford.edu ; Chinese Government Law on Minorities china.org.cn ; Minority Rights minorityrights.org ; Minority Travel: China Trekking (click under Minority Towns) China Trekking ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Interactive Map nytimes.com ; Ethnic Groups in China (Chinese government site) chinaethnicgroups.com
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Kachin Groups and Kachin State in Myanmar
There are four main Kachin subgroups: 1) the Jingo (Jinghpaw in Myanmar); 2) Zaiwa; 3) Lachi; and 4) Langwo, with the Zaiwa and Kachin being the major two. The 1990 census counted around 70,000 Zaiwa in China. According to Myanmar government the original name of the race known as Kachin is Jinghpaw. Jinghpaw is the racial name for the tribes known as the Hkahkus, Gauris, Lashis, Marus, Atsis and Nungs as well as for the Jinghpaw proper. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]
According to the Kachin National Organization there are six different Kachin sub-groups—each with their colorful dress and dialect. According to Myanmar government Kachin are comprised of 12 different ethnic groups: (1) Kachin, (2) Taron, (3) Dalaung, (4) Jinghpaw, (5) Guari, (6) Hkahku, (7) Duleng, (8) Maru (Lawgore), (9) Rawang, (10) Lashi (La Chid), (11) Atsi, (12) Lisu.
Most Kachin live in Kachin State. Some Shan, Burmans, Chin and Naga also live there. In 1983 the population of Kachin State was 933, 800 and in 1996 it was 1.2 million. According to the Myanmar government 57.8 per cent of the Kachin State's population are Buddhists and 36.4 are Christians but Kachin groups and human rights groups say the percentage of Christians is much higher. There are also some Muslims and Hindus. The Burmese language is widely spoken and Kachin languages such as Jainphaw , Rawan and Lisu are also spoken. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]
The Kachin State lies in northern Burma with snow-capped mountains in the far north. It is also where the confluence of the Maykha and Malikha Rivers gives rise to the mighty Irrawaddy River. Kachin State borders China in the east and the northeast, India on the west, Sagaing Division of Myanmar to the west and Shan State of Myanmar on the south. Many of the Myanmar ‘s vast natural resources are located in its ethnic nationality regions, particularly in Kachin State.
Describing Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, Jason Motlagh wrote in the Washington Post, “Historically a hub for border trade with China, Myitkyina, a city of roughly 150,000 people, has not experienced the economic growth seen in many of Myanmar's lowland cities. Infrastructure is shoddy, and there are rolling blackouts and perennially high unemployment. Local religious leaders say the bleak social and economic climate has led to a sharp rise in hard-drug use and depression among Kachin youth. "Conditions today are hopeless" for the Kachin, said one shopkeeper, 28, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared trouble with state authorities. He earned an engineering degree two years ago but has found no work in his field. "Our people have so many grievances against the Burmese," he said. [Source: Jason Motlagh, Washington Post, July 14, 2012]
History of the Kachin
The origin of the Kachin is a matter of some debate. It is widely believed that they originated in the southern part of the Tibetan Plateau around the sources of the Irrawaddy, Mekong, Yangtze and Salween Rivers and began slowly migrating southward along the aforementioned rivers about 1,500 years ago into the northeastern part of Yunnan in areas west of the Nujiang River. In the 16th century they moved in large numbers to te thickly forested Dehog area. Many settled along the Burma border because there were lucrative jade mines there.
Kachin and Aung San
The first solid records of the Kachin date back to the Tang dynasty (618-907). They became incorporated into China after the Mongols conquered Burma in the 12th century. After that the Kachin were largely under the control of Dai overlords in accordance with the Chinese tusi system.
During World War II the Kachin earned high marks as fighters. They were skillful ambushers and had a cruel streak. They cut off the ears of the Japanese they killed as trophies. Their territory remained largely unoccupied by the Japanese. The Kachin Autonomous Region was created in 1953 in southwestern Yunnan Province.
Kachin History in Myanmar
There were few mentions of the Kachin in Myanmar until late 18th and early 19th century, when the came in frequent contact with the Shan and Thai peoples. At that time the highland Kachin were trading partners with the lowland Shan and earned income from the opium trade and caravan routes between Tibet, China, India, Burma and Southeast Asia.
By the time of the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885 the Kachins were powerful enough to take Mandalay if the British hadn’t beaten them to the punch. When British ruled Burma, the Kachin area was largely autonomous. When Burma regained its independence in 1948, the semi-autonomous Kachin State was created. A Kachin chief, Sama Duwa Sinwa Nawang, was the president-elect when the government was toppled in a socialist coup in 1962.
The Kachin were a key component of the multi-ethnic insurgency against the government. A peace deal between the government and the Kachin was finally struck in the late 1990s. During the period of struggle some Burmese Kachin fled to the Jingpo Autonomous Region in China and Kachin enclaves in Thailand.
The Kachin Independence Union signed a peace agreement with the Myanmar government. Even though the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) signed a peace treaty with the Myanmar government in 1994 the group refused to give up its arms and retains some bases in the jungles in the valley.
Kachin believe is spirits, called nats, which they believe are superior to human beings and were once human beings themselves. There are lots of spirits. They are everywhere, and individual villages and clans have their own ones. They can bring good fortune or troubles and must be constantly thanked and appeased. Illnesses were believed to be caused by nat bites.
Kachin ladies dance
Important deities include the Sky Nats who are children of the Creator. They include Madai Nat, the youngest sky nat, who can only be invoked by chiefs; Jan Nat, the female sun spirit; Ningawn-wa, the creator of the earth; and Madai Nat, the wife of the first Kachin aristocrat.
Shamanism is still practiced by the Kachin. The Kachin have part-time religious specialists called dumsas. They treat illnesses and other problems by identifying the nat that causes the trouble and determining the correct way to appease it. Dumsas are graded in terms of their perceived effectiveness by the public. In some ways the rankings are like those of priests, bishops and archbishops. There are also dumsa that specialize in certain kinds of nats, mediums, diviners, and prophets that specialize in certain kinds of religious practices such as sending souls. The latter are often female shaman, who go into trances when they do their work.
The Irrawaddy River is important spiritually to the Kachin. Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic, “Deep in the hills of northeastern Myanmar a young woman in a bamboo hat walks along a riverbank toward a sacred place: the convergence of two rivers that gives birth to the Ayeyarwady (known to the outside world as the Irrawaddy), the lifeblood of the nation. This spot is revered by Burmese of all faiths. But it is woven into the very identity of the ethnic Kachin minority, whose ancestors settled in this area centuries ago. At her wedding the Kachin woman and her husband promised to emulate the union of the Mali and Nmai Rivers. Her family still comes to the confluence to make offerings on the first morning of each new year. "It's in our blood," she says. [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, August 2011]
Many Kachin are Christians. There is some tension between Catholic and Protestant groups. Kachin Christians were initially converted by British and American missionaries.
The Kachin believe that men have six souls and women have seven. Of these three are “real” and the others are “false.” If the real souls are absent a person dies. After death the real souls join the nat world. Dying a natural death at home is considered good while dying in an accident away from home ir regarded as bad, and likely caused by evil spirits.
The Kachin believe that some deaths are caused when spirits lure the soul away for the body and it can not be returned in time and the chord that binds the creator to an individual is eaten away by nats.
Funerals for a natural death at home involve burial and spirt sending. The spirit sending often necessitates the sacrifice of a buffalo and the placements of its skull at the grave. If spirits sending isn’t done, the Kachin believe, the spirit will roam and cause trouble.
After death the family altar is removed from the house. Burial takes place a week after death to make sure that separation of the deceased’s soul from the world is complete. A priest presides over this process, making offerings to the soul to assist it on its journey to the next world. During a final ceremony a priest rouses the soul from temporary limbo and sends it to the land of the dead. Afterwards a divination ritual is held to make sure the soul has departed. If it hasn’t it will be installed in the family altar which is returned to the house.
The basis of many Kachin rituals is making sacrifices to the nats. Each village has dumsas that are in charge of such rituals. Two communal rituals, the numshang offerings, are performed each year, in April and in October, by most Kachin villages. The rites are connected with a good planting season and a good harvest. There are ceremonies at other times that honor ancestors. Villages and individuals have their own nat observations.
In the Kachin region nat festivals known as manaus involve sacrificing large numbers of animals. Those in attendance wear their most beautiful and colorful costumes. In a large gathering 29 water buffalo may be sacrificed---one buffalo for each of the 28 nats honored and one for all the nats together. Before the sacrifice offerings of rice, eggs and wine placed in bamboo tubes are made. The buffalo is then ritually slaughtered, and its skull and horns are placed on a X-shaped pole. To the music of gongs and flutes the participants do a snake dance around the pole with the buffalo skull, as well as around nat poles which are reminiscent of totem poles. During the snake dance, which is led by chiefs wearing feathered head dresses, the dancers often go into trances.
The Kachin love to sing and dance and have a good time. They are friendly and generous. Munao is a massive festival held in the middle of the first lunar month, on an even-numbered day. Munao means “everybody dances.”
Manau: the Kachin Nat Festival
In the Kachin region "manaus" or nat festivals are big events. During these festivals the Kachin—many of them Christians— gather wearing their most beautiful and colorful costumes. In a large gathering 29 water buffalo may be sacrificed—one buffalo for each of the 28 nats honored and one for all the nats together. Before the sacrifice offerings of rice, eggs and wine and bamboo tubes are made. The buffalo are then ritually slaughtered, and their skulls and horns are placed on X-shaped poles. To the music of gongs and flutes the Kachin do snake dances around the poles with the buffalo skulls, as well as around nat poles which are reminiscent of totem poles. During the snake dance, which are led by chiefs wearing feathered head dresses, the dancers often go into trances.
There are different Kachin groups with own colorful dress and dialects but, according to the Kachin National Organization, they share the tradition of the Manau Festival and the dances of the festival. “The men look warrior-like with their swords held in front and the women in their colorful and varied national costumes are captivating. Of the variety of Kachin dances, the Manau dance is performed at Manau festivals, which originated as part of the ‘Nat’ or spirit worship of the past. [Source: Kachin National Organization |||]
There are ten kinds of Manau festivals held in commemoration of some special event such as a successful harvest. But only five of these festivals are considered to be of great significance. These five principal Manau festivals are;(1) Sut Manau (2) Rawt Malan or Padang Manau (3) Ju Manau (4) Kum Ran Manau and (5) Sha Dip Hpawt Manau festivals. The Rawt Malan or Padang Manau Festival. This festival is held to ensure victory in battle. In ancient times, it was like a battle cry issued forth to recruit warriors to march on enemies. Then there is the Ju Manau, which is a festival to pray for health, protection from harm, for offspring to carry on family traditions and other religious occasions. The Kum Ran Manau is traditionally held to bless a family member who has decided to leave the fold and set up his own household and work his own land. The Sha Dip Hpawt Manau is held to exorcise any evil spirits that may be present in a new plot of land that is to be cultivated. |||
The Sut Ren Manau or Sut Manau is the most important of the festivals. It is a grand festival to celebrate outstanding charitable and philanthropic acts by the "Duwagyi" or "Great Chieftains". Today the State together with wealthily Kachin people sponsor the Sut Manau in honour of the endeavours made by the Kachin national races for the progress and development of the Kachin State. It is also said to be a festival to welcome new kinsmen and friends. |||
The venue of the festival is also specially arranged and decorated. Twelve poles are fixed in the very center of the enclosure set aside for the celebrations. six of these poles are placed upright, with two other pairs, each arranged in the form of a cross. The remaining two are then placed parallel to the ground with one much higher than the other. However, depending on the purpose of the occasion, the Manau poles are arranged in a varying patterns. The configurations on the Manau poles are stylized designs that depict the trail of ants, birds, butterflies in flight, bulls with horns locked, waves, and seeds that have sprouted and proliferated. The basic designs however are diamond shapes and curved lines. The top and bottom of the poles are panted with pictures of the sun, moon and earth. The topmost side of the pole is cut, shaped and painted over in the form of bird’s beak. |||
The leaders of the Manau Festival wear long robes with headdresses of hornbill or peacock feathers. The headdresses are also adorned with tusks of wild boar. The Kachin Manau festival is inaugurated by the highest-ranking chief or official present after which follows the beat of the drums and the echo of the gongs to invite all those far and near to join in the festivities. |||
Kachin Manau Dances and Music
The principal musical instrument is the booming drum, which can be heard within a radius of 4 or 5 miles. It is a long two-faced drum made of calf or water buffalo leather. It is called the Long Drum or Great Drum. Then there are the large gongs and a flute called a "Dum Bar" on which is fixed a horn of the buffalo. The Manau dance does not feature the one-sided. "Ozi" drum or cymbals as in another Kachin traditional dance, the "Htawng Ka". [Source: Kachin National Organization |||]
The ‘Manau dance’ is performed by two groups with two persons leading each group. Behind the leaders come the members of various clans, the Maru (Lachieik), Lashi, Azi, Zaiwa, Rawang, Lisu and Jinghpaw in full ceremonial national dress. All those following behind have to watch the leaders and follow their dance step and change steps and rhythm when they do. When the dance begins the Manau leaders and their respective group members face the guests in the pavilion and perform a dance or obeisance. Then they turn towards the Manau poles and bow and dance in homage. The two groups first dance in rows, gradually forming crescents and finally forming one large circle that goes round and round the Manau poles, but later as the drum beat and rhythm of the music change the large circle converges to the center, and all bow from head and waist and then step backwards to form a wide circle again. When all the dance steps have been completed, the guests and anyone who wishes to are invited to join in the dance. Sometimes, the leaders form the patterns painted on the Manau poles with special dance steps. |||
A Kachin ‘N’Htu’ or sword is an important feature or the Manau Dance and is held upright by the ancer. In Kachin culture the sword or knife is the most unique and indispensable tool of life. W ith this knife, land is cleared for cultivation, trees felled for timber to build house and vows are exchanged with the Kachin ‘n htu’ as witness in betrothal ceremonies much as a Bible is used in Christian ceremonies. |||
It was also with this sword that Kachin nationalists revolted against colonial rule. So it is no wonder that the Kachin sword features so prominently in the most important of the Kachin Manau festivals. The Manau dance consists of at least 7 to 9 dance movements and the dance itself last form a minimum of one to three hours to a maximum of four to eight days. Any one, irrespective of race, religion or status, is welcome to participate in this traditional dance festival. It is a very pleasant enjoyable way to get to know at first hand the culture and traditions so dear to the heart of the Kachin peoples. With this dance can also be strengthened the foundations of friendship and national unity. |||
Kachin Marriage and Family
Marriage ceremony The Kachin marry outside their clan or village. The most preferable match for a man to marry his mother’s brother’s daughter, or a match that brings two lineages together in an alliance. In many cases if such a match is not made fines have to be paid to the mother’s brother. Traditionally, after a marriage occurs the wife returns to live with her family until the first child is born.
Young people are quite free to flirt and date. Premarital sex is common. Many villages have a “public house” were adolescents can go and have sex. Young people have traditionally gathered here for singing, recitation of love poetry and lovemaking. Couples involved in trysts were not required to get married but a girl’s family could get fined if the girl got pregnant.
Marriages however are more serious and usually arranged. The groom’s family is required to pay a bride price, usually in the form of buffalo, cattle, horses, gongs and/or palajing (a kind of silk or nylon scarf). The amount is determined by the number of relatives the bride has. In return, the bride’s family gives a gift to the son, often a spear, knife or sword, and preferably a gun worth half the value of the bride price. Bride price negotiations can be complex and often involves go-between. Sometimes the bride price is paid out over several years. If the groom’s family can not come up with the full amount, the groom may spend several years doing bride service.
Types of Kachin Marriages
The are four ways a Kachin man takes a wife: 1) wife stealing, a popular method involving the staged theft of the bride and consent by both families to the marriage; 2) wife engaging, in which couple enter an arranged marriage when they are young and get married when they are older; 3) wife snatching, in which a man abducts a girl who refuses his love and marries her; and 4) wife seizing, in which a man has relations with another man’s wife or fiancé and marries her.
Polygyny is rare but occurs. Some chiefs have multiple wives. Sometimes the brother of a deceased man takes the dead man’s wife as his own. Divorce is uncommon but when it does occur the bride usually has to pay back the bride price.
Most couples live with the groom’s family but it is not that uncommon for couples to move in with the bride’s parents. The youngest son is expected to live with the parents and take care of them in old age. In return he inherit the family’s property. Sons and daughters are treated equally. Kachin parents never beat their children. Children are encouraged to attend Chinese school but most drop out by the time they attend middle school.
Society is organized along patrilineal lines with each family belonging to a clan, which have a hierarchal rank, and they in turn are broken into lineages, which also have a rank based on closeness to the common ancestor. People have traditionally been divided into two classes---commoners and aristocrats---often based on the clan in which one is born or marries into.
Chiefs were often hereditary. They traditionally oversaw some ceremonies, were responsible for reciting genealogical myths and took tribute of the hind quarters of killed animals but had little say in how land was used and other matters. In China, the chief system was largely terminated by the Communists. In Myanmar, it is still alive in some places but has been rejected in favor of a more egalitarian system in others.
Men tend to do heavy work such as plowing, slashing and burning, hunting and watering the paddy fields. Women do weaving weeding, harvesting, carrying and processing crops, gathering wild fruits and vegetables, and household chores. Both men and women cook and sell stuff in the markets.
Disputes are usually settled with the help of chiefs and village elders. For those involving adultery or other sex scandals, the perpetrators were often required to “face wash” by sacrificing cattle. In matters such as theft or failure to pay a debt it was quite acceptable for the victim to steal cattle from the perpetrator.
Kachin Villages and Homes
Kachin in China tend to live in small villages with around 20 households in areas where they can practice terraced rice farming and use ridge tops as walking paths. Jingo houses are raised about 1 meter off the ground and have thatch roofs, wood frames and floors and walls made from mats composed of split bamboo. A house usually has five rooms, each with a fireplace at the center. As a rule the up slope room is reserved for spirits. It is empty except for a bamboo alter along the side wall. The center room usually serves as a kitchen. Some families have sheds for water buffalo.
Kachin in Myanmar tend to live in villages with less than 100 households and have a sacred grove marked by pots, intended to attract good fortune from the gods, and shrines, where community sacrifices are held. In the old days, large villages were often stockaded for protection. Villages with a strong hereditary chief had longhouses, up to 30 meters long and 10 meters wide, where the chief lived with his large extended family
The Kachin traditional house is constructed like that of a village elder. Construction materials are wood, bamboo and thatch. The left side of the house is used like the back of any kinds of houses. The kitchen, wooden mortar and pestle. firewood and household goods are kept there. Traditional utensils are depicted on the pillars of the house in the form of paintings. At the back of the house there is a ground where the traditional Manaw can be held. If the house has a Manaw pillar—which is sort of like a totem pole—the owner of the house is the elder who can hold Manaw Festival which is the traditional Kachin Festival. The Moekyoe Nat room or compartment for spirits is found only in the house of national race elders. The living room, shrine for Nats, front room, kitchen and room for virgins are seen separately.
Describing the inside of a Kachin house, Steven Martin wrote in Time magazine, “Their house was a modest structure of concrete and wood but the sitting room was decorated with an impressive collection of posters. Among them was a concert shot of the Scorpions and, next to that, a classic of Bruce Lee that I hadn't seen since my youth: the scene from Enter the Dragon in which Bruce is sporting two dramatic claw marks across his chest, his mouth wide open mid-caterwaul. High up on the opposite wall was a shelflike shrine supporting the images of Jesus, Mary and the Buddha. Though I have spent the better part of two decades in Southeast Asia, this was the first time I had seen Christ and the Buddha share the same household altar. I was admiring the shrine when Myo Aung entered the room. “My father was Burman and my mother was Kachin. Burmans are always Buddhist but many Kachin are Christians.” I complimented him on the shrine, and we set out to meet one of his friends. [Source: Steven Martin, Time magazine, 2002]
Each house has a granary. Chores such as weaving and pounding rice are done under an overhanging front gable. Under the house is an area for animals. The up slope rooms are used for sleeping while the downslope ones are left open for cooking, storage and entertainment.
At the end of the living area is a space for household and ancestor spirits. At the front of the house are alters and X-shaped posts on which cattle are bound when they are sacrificed. The skulls and horns of water buffalo are hung on the walls of bamboo houses for exorcism purposes and as reminder of buffalos which have worked for their families.
Houses of important people have a hornlike-ornament at the front of the roof peak. Chief’s homes have the head of a sacrifices buffalo displayed with harvest boards and posts that signify claims of authority and linkage to the spiritual world.
Many Kachin eat rice with vegetable stew three times a day, sometimes meat or fish. They generally don’t eat the meat of goats, sheep, monkeys, horses, dogs and cat. The Kachin chew betel nut and tobacco and sometimes smoke opium. Rice is used to make beer and a distilled liquor. Many insects have found a place in the diets of the Kachins as well as in the diets of the Burmese, Karens, Chins, Shans, Talaings and others.
Kachin literature includes folk tales, legends and ballads. Many of them are a kind or oral history about chiefs passed down from generation to generation. Love songs are popular among young people.
Kachin men in traditional clothes wear shirts, traditional jackets, sarong-like longyis or slacks. They also wear turbans or headdresses with tassels, hanging loose on one end on the right of their head. They keep a sword and a shoulder bag as an ornament. Kachin women adorn themselves with hand-woven clothes with flowery and checkered designs. A number of silver coins and studs are attached to their blouses. Women use belt looms to produce cloth with floral-geometric designs. Kachin men mainly wear Shan-style and Western clothes. At festivals many young Kachin males wear white turbans while older men favor black turbans.
Kachin longyi have checks and stripes of black, green and deep purple. Many have a “manaw” stripes on a red or black background are made of wool. The Kachin longyi is quite short. Some Kachin groups tie it and wear many loose cane belts. At their legs, they tie two pieces of cloth. Women wear long dresses called “thin-dai” that decorated with beautiful stitching. Kachin “eingyi “has only black color and it is very interested and very beautiful because it is decorated by many pieces of silver. Kayin
Kayah, Kayin, Shan , Kachin, Chin women tie a lovely band on their head. Bamar, Kachin, Mon, Shan, Kayah and Rakhine men wear a traditional jacket called a “teik -pon” over their “eingyi”. It is white, grey, black or terracotta in color.
In Myanmar, the Kachin wear a traditional costume consisting of a black shirt, edged with a red panel tied around the waist with a blue sash. Sometimes black, long-sleeve jackets are worn over white and black blouses with numerous strings of small red, blue and yellow beads covering the chest.
Many Kachin wear tall black hats with circular silver earrings and gaiters that reach from the knee to the ankle. In some places, women wear bright red skirts with a yellow border, fastened around the hips with a cane belt. Over a black jacket is a huge collar made of silver disks, which cover the shoulders, chest and upper part of the back. Ball-like silver ornaments and silver fringe hang from the collar. This worn with matching gaiters and sandals.
The Lashi wear a similar costume but in blue and white with blue turbans and red bead necklaces. Jinghpaw women are famous for wearing dozens of silver-globule medallions arranged across the front of and shoulders of their blouses.
Traditionally, Kachin have been subsistence farmers and have had no other jobs or specialized skills other than making earthenware and weaving mats, baskets and house walls from bamboo, cane and grass. Pottery, tools and metal objects are obtained from the Shan or Chinese.
Cattle, buffalo, pigs dogs and chickens have traditionally been raised for sacrifices but not for selling or eating. Pigs are fed mash in the evening and left to scavenge in the day. Some hunting is done with pellets, bows and guns. Fishing has traditionally been done with traps and poison
The Kachin get most products they need from state stores or markets. In most cases they trade or use money earned from the agricultural product they grow. They also collect some forest products such as mushrooms, fruits and herbal medicines. They are not known as being traders or peddlers but they do earn money from cross border trade and smuggling between China and Myanmar.
Kachin involvement in the opium trade is a matter of some dispute. Opium poppies were cultivated in Kachin areas but it was believed to have been done mostly by non-Kachin groups. It is assumed that chiefs earn money from opium carried across their territory.
The Kachin practice both terraced and slash and burn agriculture. Wet rice is grown in the terraces and dry rice and other crops are grown and slopes that have been slashed and burned. Water buffalo are used as plow animals for wet rice. Slash and burn farmers traditionally used heavy-handled hoes to break the soil, sticks to make holes for planting and knives and sickles for harvesting.
The Kachin have traditionally prepared their fields in March, planted before the summer monsoons and harvested in October. Grain is threshed under the hooves of buffalo and stored in granaries. In the old days when slash and burn agriculture was mainly practiced the forest and farm lands were collectively owned. In China, farmers now largely operate under a contract system with the state owning the land and farmers cultivating it in return for paying taxes or turning over part of their harvest to the state. In Myanmar, chiefs decide who cultivates the slash-and-burn agricultural land. Irrigated land is often privately owned and can be inherited.
The Kachin raise a large variety of crops including maize, buckwheat, sesame, millet, tobacco, soybeans, beans, cucumbers, wax gourds, and various kinds of pumpkins. Vegetables and fruits are grown in household gardens. Opium used to be grown for money but now grow cotton and sugar cane are their primary cash cropa.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014