MINORITIES IN CENTRAL MYANMAR: INTHA LEG ROWERS, RAKHINE, MON AND THE PALAUNG

INTHA

Most of the 100,000 or so inhabitants of the Lake Inle are Intha ("Sons of the Lake"). Considered a distinct ethic group, they live in "floating" villages on the perimeter of the lake, and in some cases the middle of the lake. Intha villages don't really float. The houses are supported on mud dug up from the bottom of the lake and teak pilings that can last hundreds of years. So that Intha children don't drown they are taught to swim before they can walk with water wings made of gourds.

Inle Lake is on the Shan Plateau about 900 meters above sea level. It is about 22 kilometers long and roughly 10 kilometers wide. In the local Intha language “in” means lake and “tha” means inhabitants. There are about 20 major villages of the Intha tribe who live on the water in lake islands and along the lakeshore. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

The people of Inle lake are called Chay Nant Hlau Tu. The Inthas have been described as simple, honest and friendly folks and a strong, rugged and diligent race gifted with a spirit of creativity. The nat (spirit) that guards the lake is named Daw Gyig (The Big Royal Guard). Offerings are made to her and great efforts are made to keep her happy and appeased. The offerings are often made by women who present the offerings in cups to protect the men from poisonous snakes and other dangers.

The Inthas live on the waters of the lake in houses built on stilts from the day they are born. The Intha are already veterans at swimming and boating at a young age. They balance themselves on one leg in their boats while dexterously using the other leg to work a single oar. This unique style of rowing can only be seen in this area. The leg rowing technique facilitates passage through the thick vegetation found in the shallower parts of the lake. This traditional method of propelling their boats has been handed down through the generations.

Akha, Lahu, Kachin, Wa, Shan, Karen, Naga See Separate Articles Under the Hill Tribes and Famous Ethnic Groups Category Hill Tribes and Ethnic Groups

Intha Leg Rowers and Fishing

Most Intha men are leg-rowing fisherman who use light, unstable boats that capsize easily to get around the lake. At the back of these shell-like boats are foot-wide platforms where the rowers stands on one foot.

Leg rowers row with the handle of oar placed in their armpit and the shaft of the wedged between their shin bone and foot. The boat is propelled forward with a backward swing of the leg against the oar, which is then pulled out the water with the foot and brought forward in a circular sweeping motion and then placed in the water again for another backward stroke. The skill is learned and mastered during childhood. Nowhere else in the world do people row a boast in this way.

Intha fishermen use nets inside conical bamboo "traps" which are just as unique as their rowing style. To catch fish in the shallow lake the fisherman thrust their traps in to the water with the pointy end up. When the open side of trap hits the bottom of the lake the fisherman releases the net which drops to the bottom, and hopefully entangles fish caught in the trap. The fisherman repeats this action in a different locations across the lake. Usually only one or two small fish---mostly carps, catfish and eels---are caught at a time.

Their boats are shallow shells that resemble surfboards. more than boats and they are light but very unstable. Most of us would capsize one of their boats immediately were we ever to set foot in one. The leg rowers perch themselves precariously on a corner of their tippy shell-like boats.

During regattas fifty-man crews standing in long rows battle one another on boats that are specially counter balanced to account for left and right footed rowers. The equivalent of a coxain keeps them in a cadence, and it is an awesome sight to see 100 synchronized legs sweeping in and out in a broad circle. The rowers usually represent their home village and crowds spur their teams forward with shouts of "Myan!, Myan!" which means "Faster!, Faster!" More than pride is at stake, large sums of money are also wagered.

Intha Crafts

The Intha people are hard-working. Cigar-rolling and weaving are the women's work. The weaving of the Lotus robe at Padaung Oo Pagoda is well-known in the country.

Tours of a cheroot factory are offered at Inle Lake. Tamarind and Star of Anice are the brands made there. One visitor wrote on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum: “It turns out cheroots have very little tobacco and are mainly a mixture of flavorings, bark and a little tobacco. Also all natural, even down to the glue made from sticky rice. They're surprisingly very nice”.

Intha women are known for their weaving skills. The silk sarongs they make are highly regarded. If a woman works from sunup to sundown she can produce two yards of material a day. Both Intha women and men perform the farming chores.

Inle Lake Agriculture

The Intha grow crops on "floating gardens" that really do float. Used to grow cabbage, cucumber, beans and other vegetables, these gardens are constructed between 200-foot-long strips of matted grass anchored in place by bamboo poles thrust into the lake bottom. Fertile muck is scooped up from the bottom of the lake, placed onto boats and applied to the matted grass which is then planted with crops.

With a constant source of moisture the "floating farms" are very productive. Some farmers make a living by slicing off sections of floating land and selling it to customers. The gardens are generally long and narrow so they can be easily serviced by boat. Gourds and grapes are sometime grown on stilted arbors.

Intha women are known for their weaving skills. The silk sarongs they make are highly regarded. If a woman works from sunup to sundown she can produce two yards of material a day. Both Intha women and men perform the farming chores.

Tomatoes, melons, cucumbers and all kinds of vegetables are grown in "floating farms" of aquatic plants that are moored to the bottom of the lake. Eric Pasquier wrote: Covered with a layer of nutrient-rich grey-black soil, the parcels once in place, are seeded and tended like ordinary plots of farmland. Algae from the lake and other local resources are used as fertilizer...before long the threadbare strips of floating land sprout a luscious selection of tomatoes, pumpkins, green beans, peas, eggplant and flowers. Every year the Intha clear out the previous year’s crop to prepare them with fertile mud and seed for the next year’s harvest. It’s a job that requires five people working five days straight. If done correctly the floating island will be productive for approximately 10 years...When not moored to lake bed or in transit, the floating island invariably sink. [Source: Eric Pasquier, Travel3sixty, September 2010 **]

The floating farms are made up of 200-by-2 meter strips of floating land. For local farmers—that earn no more tan a few hundred dollars a year—the farms are worth a lot of money and involve a significant investment. Generally, every Intha family buys or produces one island per year, gradually increasing the size of their arable land, A portion of land is used to grow food for their own consumption, a parcel is reserved for the production of offerings from Buddha and another for offerings to the local monastery . The majority of the land is used to grow crops that are sold at the local ‘floating market or for export. A part of the land is also reserved for the grandiose feast of the Golden Bird, which takes place in November .” **

Inle Land Movers

To create the floating islands farmers tear away pieces of land from the lake’s banks, move the pieces of land to places in the middle of the lake and grow fruits, vegetables and flowers on them. The farmers do this at the end of the four-to-five month rainy season when the lake’s water levels are highest, making it easier to find pieces of land and then move them to locations in the lake. During the dry season the island movers spend their days fishing. [Source: Eric Pasquier, Travel3sixty, September 2010 **]

A family’s land holdings grow as the as the pieces of land are cut off, moved, attached, detached and reattached to one another in often complex configurations. Eric Pasquier wrote: “the technique is quite complex, requiring great skill and precision, The men stand in waist-deep slime and carve the floating island from the mainland, cutting through the hyacinth roots and other tentacle-like appendages attaching the buoyant earth to the shore. It is necessary to cut the roots just the right length, as excessively long roots will drag along the bottom of the lake, slowing the island’s progress during the move and roots cut too short will affect the island’s soil, making it infertile sooner. The islands must also be at least one meter thick if the soil is to accommodate a proper harvest. **

“With sweat running down their brows, the men lean against their long bamboo push poles with all their might in a synchronized effort to move the tons of water-logged earth. In general, a single island requires a crew of five men. The islands are too heavy to be pulled by motor boats...When these ‘gondoliers’ have to move several islands at once, they usually tie them together with grass or bamboo plaits, forming a long multi-island convoy wide enough to pass unhindered through the many obstacles along the way. **

“These large parcels of earth must be pushed, pulled and coaxed, often over great distances, by this very special breed of men. Their job consists exclusively of moving these strings of floating islands from one point to another while balancing on long strips of floating turf...Once the men reach their final destination, the islands are anchored to the bottom of the lake with bamboo supports. The lake bed is never more than seven meters below the surface.” **

The tradition is under threat. The centralized government in Yangon now overseas all transactions involving the floating islands of Myanmar. The ancient tradition of cutting away chunks of land from the shores is a serious menace to the region’s ecosystem, as many years are required for re-growth. The government authorizes transactions on an annualized basis, in an apparent attempt to preserve the natural habitat of the vast array of flora and fauna that thrives here. **

As a result the ranks of the ‘floating island movers’ of Inle Lake have been reduced to a mere contingent if 100, most of whom began working in the trade as early as 13 or 14 years old.

Mon

The Mon are an ethnic group that lives primarily in Myanmar but are also found in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. There are an old group that has been in Burma for over a thousand years and in Thailand at least 400 years and were largely independent and had a great empire until they were defeated by the Burmese in 1757. The Mon are also known as the Mun, Peguan, Talaing, Taleng,

The Mons are the principal Burma branch of the Mon-Khmer ethnic group and the remant of the first great civilization to dominate Southeast Asia. There are three million Mons scattered around southern Myanmar. While about a third of them still speak their ancestors’ dialect, the Mons refuse to be assimilated to the dominant Burmese ethnic group, the Bamar. There about 100,000 Mon in Thailand and smaller numbers in Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Mon speak an Austroasiatic language in Mon-Khmer group and practice Theravada Buddhism like the Burmese and Thais. In Myanmar, most also speak Burmese. For many Mon Burmese is their first language. Although they have their own state in Myanmar and have been active in the ethnic insurgency against the Myanmar government they have largely been assimilated there.

Mon, Bamars (Burman), Pao, Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, Shan and Kayin inhabit Mon state. In 1983 the population was about 1,637, 200 and in 1996 it was 2.4 million. Majority of the inhabitant are Mons and Bamars. Mon state borders Bago division in the south of Sittaung River mouth in Kayin State in the east, Thailand and Tanintharyi Division to the south and the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Mottama to the west. Much of the state is dominated by jungle and by high and steep hills that continue to the west as far as the eye can see. Moulmein, capital of the “Mon state,” says the French magazine Le Monde is “a concept created by the Burmese government in 1974 to perpetuate the illusion that Mon people have their own territory.” [Source: Myanmar Travel Information, Le Monde]

Mon History

The Mon were the first major group of immigrants to arrive in present-day Burma. They were originally from China and settled in what is now northern Burma around the third century B.C. The Mon where a highly cultured Buddhist people with a classical North Indian heritage who settled in Central Burma.

The Mon were heavily influenced by Indian Hindu culture and Asoka Buddhist kingdom in India.. They established the Dvaravati Kingdom (A.D. 6th to 11th century) and several centers in mainland Southeast Asia. The Dvaravatis controlled the Menam Valley area from the 6th or 7th century to the 11th century. They were ultimately defeated by the Thais who absorbed much of their culture.

Dr. Richard M. Cooler wrote in “The Art and Culture of Burma,” “The Mons are the earliest identifiable group to inhabit Burma and lived along the eastern coastal regions centered about the ancient city of Thaton. Although little is known about their origins or when they first settled in Burma, their language belongs to the Mon-Khmer family; similar Mon speaking groups settled in Thailand and Cambodia. Since the Mons occupied areas adjacent to the coast, it is not surprising that they were the first group in Burma to be influenced by Indian ideas. The Mons were the first to adopt the Indian religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Mon myths tell of two Mon brothers who visited India and received hair relics from the Buddha. The two brothers returned to Burma bearing their precious gifts that were encased in what has become the most revered Buddhist monument in Burma today, the Shwedagon, located at the center of the present capital, Rangoon. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies]

Pegu (50 miles from was established by the Mon in the 6th century, it was the capital of southern Myanmar in the 13th century, when the Mons ruled the region. In 1757, it was sacked and almost completely destroyed by the Burmese monarch, King Alaungpaya. See Myanmar History

Mon Culture and Life

The Mon have traditionally lived in villages in the lowlands and raised wet rice, sweet potatoes, pineapples and sugar cane and fished for consumption and money. Competition from Thai commercial vessels has caused Mon fishing to decline. The Mon are regarded as superb potters. Many still live in thatched roof houses without electricity. Many villages have a single ramshackle school with perhaps one teacher. Talaing Than are songs of the Mon minority.

Mon-inspired dishes include: 1) Thingyan htamin, fully boiled rice in candle-smelt water served with mango salad; 2) Htamane, a dessert made from glutinous rice, shredded coconuts and peanuts; 3) Banana pudding, a dessert made from banana boiled in coconut milk and sugar; 4) Wet mohinga, like mohinga but vermicelli is served while wet; 5) Durian jam, also known as Katut jam; 6) Nga baung thohk, mixed vegetables and prawn, wrapped in morinda leaves and then banana leaves outside; 7) Sa-nwin makin, a dessert cake made from semolina, sugar, butter, coconut. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Mon traditional house is built of sticks. The living room is a step lower than the main part of the house. Crocodile shaped three-stringed musical instruments are displayed. In the living room, the Mon hang their traditional clothes. The significant item of Mon traditional house is a hole for talking love about affairs . This is often used by the ladies of the house to rendevous in the forest with her boyfriend at at night. Sometimes Mon traditional dances are performed.

Mon Clothes

Mon men wear red checkered longyis, shirts without collars and traditional jackets. Mon women wrap their long hair around a comb and wear longyis and open-fronted blouses that button in the center. Mon longyi has red background, small red checks, bordered with horizontal stripes at the middle and looks something like in Kayin “longyi”. 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.

Burman, Kayin, Chin, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan women’s “longyis” are nearly the same, made by cotton. A black waistband is stitched along the waist end. This waistband is folded in front to form a wide pleat, and then tucked behind the waistband to one side. Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Chin, Kayah, and Shan women’s” eingyis” are nearly the same, comprised of a form-fitting waist length blouse. Burman, Rakhine and Mon women put the shawl on their shoulders. Bamar, Mon and Radhine women wear beautiful flowers in their hair.

Mon National Liberation Army: Myanmar’s Least-Known Rebel Group

The Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) is the armed wing of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and has operated under a ceasefire with the Tatmadaw since 1995. It is confined to several non-contiguous areas within Mon state and northern Tenasserim (Taninthayi) division. Senior MNLA officers have declined to give information on troop strength but the group is one of Myanmar's smaller armed ethnic minority groups. It is believed to have about 1,000 troops based in the hills of southeast Myanmar. The red flag of the NMSP has a blue star and a golden sacred goose – the Mon mythical bird.

Reporting from Palaung, a Myanmar village close to the Thai border, Bruno Philip wrote in Le Monde, “A thin man is trying to charge up a group of camouflage-wearing, self-declared freedom fighters. The man, named Nay Han Hta, wears glasses with the look of a primary school teacher. Like all the other men in these regions, his mouth is red-stained from chewing betel leaves. The guerilla group he’s leading is not well-known, even if it was one of the first groups in the country to rebel against the regime — more than 60 years ago. The conflict started, among other things, because the Mon rebels refused to respect the constitution set up by the military dictatorship – which “self-dissolved” in the spring of 2011. [Source: Bruno Philip, Le Monde, January 20, 2013 <>]

“In a bamboo hut, about 50 soldiers are sitting on a row of benches, wearing their square caps. Some of them display intimidating ritual tattoos on their forearms. Nay Han Hta, the rebel group’s “Secretary general,”starts a long, grandiloquent speech listing the rebel group’s grievances, including the refusal by the Burmese government to create a Burmese federation granting ethnic minorities more autonomy. He reminds his men about what happened during military dictatorship and how the democratic uprising was crushed in 1988. What the Mon people want, he explains, is quite simple: “Complete autonomy in a Burmese federation.” <>

“Every time a soldier leaves for the bathroom, he salutes the chief, who is standing between his deputies. They are the “minister” of foreign affairs and the “5th brigade general,” whose military “jurisdiction” comprises the Palaung village and its 300 houses and 3,000 inhabitants. We are in a “liberated zone,” and it is clear that order and discipline rule. Outside, a sign reads: “Be ready to die for your country.” “We Mon people have our own identity. We are not Chinese, we are not Burmese, we are Mon!” says the chief. “In the Burmese schools, our brothers are forced to learn Burmese, and are not allowed to learn Mon. Because we are not Burmese – in the ethnic sense – we are cast aside,” he says. <>

“The separatist movement was born in 1948, when Burma became independent from the British Empire. Like every political group representing the ethnic minorities that comprise 30 percent of Burma’s population, it suffered from internal splits and power struggles, leading to violent and deadly spats among factions. In 1995, the NMSP signed a first ceasefire with the Burmese government. It was broken later but it still allows the group to control the zones bordering Thailand, which are de facto independent. <>

“The NMSP isn’t rich, its revenues come from taxes on the Thai-Burmese border trade, but the control they have on these territories shows some kind of administrative independence. Today, Pladonphite is Nay Han Hta’s destination. The village was built along a river, which has risen with the monsoon rain. It has a make-do clinic and a school. The heavy rain is resonating on the school’s corrugated iron roof. It’s recess time. The teachers – six for 46 students – don’t really believe in the perspective of long-term peace. “The Burmese do not respect who we are,” says Aye Chan, the 28-year-old principal. “War is still a possibility,” she worries. For this young woman, one of the grievances that the Burmese government should address is to allow Mon to be an official language -- which is far from happening. <>

“You know,” says Nay Han Hta, “our struggle has been lengthy. I spent most of my life in the jungle. I know how difficult it is for Burmese people of this generation to change their attitude towards ethnic minorities.” He adds: “Especially for members of the military. Let’s not forget that behind this pseudo-democratic government, the generals are still pulling the strings.” Every measure announced by the government – the liberation of political prisoners, the partial repeal of censorship, the democratic reforms that have been changing the country this past year and a half – don’t seem to affect the Mon people, entrenched in their inaccessible jungle. And given the government, for whom “autonomy” means “secession,” the Mons’ thirst for freedom will not be quenched any time soon. <>

Mon National Liberation Army and Child Soldiers

Human Rights Watch reported: Senior MNLA officers told Human Rights Watch that since 1971 the MNLA has had written rules restricting the age of soldiers to between 18 and 60. They stated that the MNLA and NMSP still receive some children because they have been orphaned or sent to join by their parents, but insisted that these boys are sent to schools or employed in their offices and cannot become NMSP members until they reach 18. They noted that since the ceasefire the MNLA has seen no need to expand so it has not accepted child volunteers. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 **]

Three health workers from NMSP areas told Human Rights Watch that the MNLA normally accepts recruits and conducts military training twice a year, and that schoolteachers and medics also attend this training. The interviewees had all attended this training within the last four years: one stated that in her session there were 200 trainees including 30 women, all of whom went to the health department, while another reported that of 200 trainees in his session, 170 had been recruited as soldiers. Trainees wear uniforms and use dummy wooden "guns." It remains unclear whether children working with non-military departments are allowed to take part in this military training. The medics, however, insisted that children are not allowed to become soldiers. **

Though insisting that the MNLA has no child soldiers, one of the senior MNLA officers interviewed admitted that "if you were to visit an MNLA base you would probably see children in MNLA uniforms." He claimed that boys do this out of pride, but are not soldiers. He offered various explanations for children sighted in uniform on bases or manning MNLA checkpoints, including that boys borrow their fathers' uniforms, that it is easy to buy a military uniform in the market, and that some orphans being cared for by the NMSP are given military uniforms because no other clothing is available. **

It would be unusual for boys'-sized military uniforms to be more easily available than basic civilian clothing, particularly in light of the statements of several other armed groups that they were in fact short of uniforms and could only provide civilian clothing to their soldiers.[268] Moreover, if a child is wearing a uniform, manning a checkpoint or performing other military roles, and in some cases bearing arms, he can reasonably be considered a soldier by opposing forces and subject to attack. The concern therefore remains that the MNLA may be allowing children to take on military roles even if not formally registering them as soldiers; if so, this is a problem that needs to be addressed. **

Myanmar Inks Peace Pact with Mon Rebels

In February 2012, AFP reported: “Myanmar has signed a preliminary peace agreement with separatists in southeast Mon State, official media reported, the latest in a series of deals with ethnic minority guerrillas. A delegation led by Railways Minister Aung Min and representative of the New Mon State Party agreed to observe a ceasefire, begin political dialogue and work together on education and healthcare, the New Light of Myanmar said. The authorities also pledged to free "comrades" of the party who are in prison, while both sides agreed to avoid forced labour, it added. [Source: AFP, February 26, 2012]

Nay Han Hta, the MNLA’s “Secretary general,” said the truce clinched with the government in 2012 means nothing. “We are not happy with the political dialog engaged with the government,” he said. man. If the Burmese don’t compromise, “we will have to reconsider the ceasefire.” [Source: Bruno Philip, Le Monde, January 20, 2013]

Rakhine

Rakhines reside primarily on the western Rakhine coast and closely related to the Bamars (Burmans), Myanmar’s main ethnic group, though their form of Burmese language varies from the language of the Irrawaddy Valley, notably through the retention of the 'R' sound which in Burmese proper has been replaced by the 'Y sound'. Rakhine are predominately Buddhists. Their total population is over 2 million. Sittway is the most populous place in Rakhine State.

Rakhine State lies in northern Myanmar in a region of Burma traditionally known as Arakan. Rakhines and Bamars live in the delta region and on Yambyai and Man Aung islands. Chin inhabit the northern mountain ranges. Myo, Thet, Khami, Daignet, Maramargyi and Khaman live in the mountains which are to the west and north of the Sittwe Plain. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

The Rakhine are comprises of seven major subgroups: 1) the Rakhine; 2) Kamein; 3) Kwe Myi; 4) Daingnet; 5) Maramagyi; 6) Mro; and 7) Thet.

Rakhine houses are three meters of the ground and have many rooms. The Living room is at the first entrance of the house. On the left of living room there is a shrine room, then the parent's room and rooms for unmarried sons and daughters. Passing them, you will get to the kitchen and dining room. In the courtyard there is a well and a special bathroom. You can sometimes see Rakhine traditional dance.

Rakhine Clothes

Rakhine men wear delicately woven longyis, shirts without collars and traditional jackets. They also wear ready-made turbans with the wing-cloth standing to the left. Rakhine women wear their hair in a variety of styles. They wear front-opening blouses buttoned either in the center or on the side. Their longyis are woven in beautiful designs usually consisting of horizontal stripes. A shawl is wrapped across the body passing over the left shoulder. Rakine longyi patterns fracture a thick, high- relief weave in light, reflective grays and blues.

Burman, Kayin, Chin, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan women’s “longyis” are nearly the same, made by cotton. A black waistband is stitched along the waist end. This waistband is folded in front to form a wide pleat, and then tucked behind the waistband to one side. 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.

Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Chin, Kayah, and Shan women’s” eingyis” are nearly the same, comprised of a form-fitting waist length blouse. Kayah women tie this traditional shawl on their “eingyi”. It is embroiled of male and female royal birds of them called “Keinayee & Keinayah”. Burman, Rakhine and Mon women put the shawl on their shoulders. Kayah, Kayin, Shan , Kachin, Chin women tie a lovely band on their head Bamar, Mon and Radhine women wear beautiful flowers in their hair.

Rakhine Cuisine

The ngapi of Rakhine State contains no or little salt, and uses marine fish. It is used as a soup base for the Rakhine 'national' cuisine (mont di). It is also used widely in cooking vegetables, fish and even meat. Galangal: alpinia conchgera (ba de: go) is an essential spice in the broth in mohinga of the Rakhine nationals. The spice is aromatic, tonic and carminative. Rakhine mohingar is famous for its distinct blend of flavors that includes a very liberal mix of hot pepper. Rakhine Mohingar is popularly known by the name "Hot palate. hot tongue concoction" (Aap- lYap). [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

Rakhine-inspired dishes include: a Mont di, an extremely popular and economical fast food dish where rice vermicelli are either eaten with some condiments and soup prepared from nga-pi, or as a salad with powdered fish and some condiments; 2) Kya zan thohk, glass vermicelli salad with boiled prawn julien and mashed curried duck eggs and potatoes; 3) Ngapi daung, an extremely spicy condiment made from pounded ngapi and green chili; 4) Khayun thee nga chauk chet - aubergine cooked lightly with a small amount of oil, with dried fish and chilli; 5) Nga-pyaw-thi-bohn, bananas stewed in milk and coconut, and garnished with black sesame. Eaten either as a dish during meals, or as a dessert; 6) Saw-hlaing mont, a baked sweet, made from millet, raisins, coconut and butter; and 7)Sut-hnan - millet cooked in sweet milk with raisins. [Source: Wikipedia]

Rakhine Mone-Ti: Rakhine nationals on the Bay of Bengal coast have a special way of making mohinga, the national dish. It is cooked differently, served differently, tastes different and is consumed differently. It is so different is worthy of its different name—Rakhine mone-ti. It may be enjoyed as a mixed salad accompanied by a soup or as noodles in clear fish soup. Ingredients: Thin rice noodles 1. 6 kg; Pike Conger Fish 400 gm (nga-shwe); oil 320 gm; Turmeric a dash ginger 2. 5 cm; garlic sliced 320 gm; onion sliced 320 gm; greater galangal 80 gm (pade-gaw); shrimp paste 3 tsp; pepper 1/2 tsp; chili powder 2 tbs; tamarind 80 gm; salt to taste; coriander leaves 160 g; Water to make 15 cups. =

How to cook: Boil fish until tender together with ginger and salt in water to just cover the fish. Debone the fish and slightly squeeze out the water when mashing it with the turmeric. and roast on slow fire in one tablespoon of oil until the fish becomes grainy. This is the fish garnish. Strain the liquid in which the fish has been boiled, add shrimp paste and boil for 40 minutes. Cool and let the solids settle. Take only the clear liquid. Place the roughly ground galangal together with 160 grams of crushed garlic in a muslin bag in the liquid. add the pepper and boil 30' filling up with water to get 15 cups of liquid. This is the clear soup to serve ten persons. Fry the remaining 160 grams of sliced garlic in oil and remove the garlic into a dish adding 4 tablespoons of the cooked oil. This is the garlic garnish. Fry the onion in the remaining oil until golden. Strain into another dish. This is the onion garnish. Make paste of chili powder in 2 tablespoons of water and cook in the frying oil until the water evaporates. This is the chili sauce. Dissolve the tamarind in warm water to form a thick sauce. How to serve: take the noodles and add roasted fish, tamarind sauce, chili sauce, fried garlic in oil, fried onions and coriander leaves and mix thoroughly. Serve soup in a separate bowl. Alternately put all the above ingredients in a bowl and pour the soup into the bowl. This is served as Rakhine mone-ti. =

Palaungs

The Palaungs are an ethnic group that resides mostly in the Shan States in east central Myanmar, with the majority of them living in narrow valleys or along the slopes and ridges of 2000-meter-high mountains around Kalaw in Taungpeng State near the border with Thailand.

The Palaungs are also known as the Dang, Humai, Kunloi, La-eng, Palong, Ra-ang, Rumai, and Ta-ang. It is believed that there are around 200,000 of them although no accurate census data on them exists. They are sometimes linked with the Wa although both the Wa and the Palaung deny they have any relation.

Palaungs speak an Austroasiatic language in the Mon-Khmer group and have traditionally practiced animism and Buddhism . They probably preceded the Shan and Kachin in east central and northeast Burma and established themselves in the Taungpeng area, where they traded mostly with the Shan. A lot of Palaung (Taahn) are found in the northern part of Shan State, especially at Namsam Town, and also in Pindaya. Yatsauk and Maingkaing Townships. There are many in the Kalaw area in Shan State.

The Palaung are of Mon-Khmer stock. Their relationship with the Shan was so strong that the Paluang used the Shan language in commerce and even wrote down their myths with the Shan written language. Some consider them a subgroup of the Shan. They mainly live in the mountains and are mostly Buddhist.

Treks from Kalaw visit Paluang villages. It can require a two to four hour trek through jungle and hills to reach a typical Palaung village. At first a steep track leads down into a narrow valley where the Palaung cultivate cheroot, tea, damsons and mangoes on the hillsides. The track crosses the valley floor and then climbs very steeply again to the Palaung village of Pinnabin. which sits on top of a hill. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

Palaung Religion

The Palaung regard Theravada Buddhists and their traditional belief in spirits to be complementary rather contradictory. There are two kinds of spirits: kar-bu---those found in people and animals, which tend to survive death for about a week---and kar-nam---those which are found in plants and inanimate objects. There are also garden deities for individuals, houses, villages, gardens, etc. and some Burmese ogres.

Traditional religious practitioners include: the hsa-ra, a combination medical specialist and diviner, who is often also a tattooer; the bre, a witch or wizard that is able to take possession of the body and take the form of a tiger; and the ta pleng, a shaman-like figure that acts as an intermediary between people and spirits. Charms and massages are employed to cure illnesses The advise of diviners is sought before choosing a house location and naming a child.

The Palaung believe a person has two souls: the kar-bu and a the vin-yin, and the mind can become immortal. After death the kar-bu wanders for seven days looking for a new body to inhabit through reincarnation. Violent deaths, accidents and childbirth deaths are considered the sources of malevolent spirits. In these cases the dead are buried as quickly as possible in an isolated place.

Regular funerals are conducted with Buddhist rites. The body is washed and buried in a coffin under an unmarked grave no later than a day after death. For a week offerings are made to an image of Buddha. On the seventh day a particularly large offering is made to as a send off for the spirit.

Palaung Marriage and Family

Marriages tend to be monogamous. Polygyny is practiced but rare. Marriages between young men and their mother’s brother’s daughter have traditionally been preferred. A man can not marry his father’s sister’s daughter.

Palaung houses traditionally have had a place where girls could welcome male visitors, who arrived late in the night after the parents went to sleep. Sex appears to be uncommon. In some cases the couple talked through a crack in the floor boards of the house.

Marriages tend not to be arranged. In some cases couples get engaged without informing their parents or asking for their permission. In one Palaung area, elopement is the main form of marriage. In other places marriages occurred even when parents disapproved of the match. A marriage is sanctified with a blessing of elders. There is a transfer of money from the groom’s family to the bride’s family but this is generally perceived as helping towards the wedding costs rather a bride price.

After a couple gets married they tend to live with the groom’s parents. Children are usually taken care exclusively by the mother. When a child is born the mother and child sleep for 30 days beside a fire while the mother observes dietary taboos. The socialization process for children includes teaching courteousness, Buddhist morality, knowledge of sprits, and leaning song, poetry and myths. Children undergo a coming of age ceremony when they are teenagers. Boys are expected to spend some time being a monk as is the case with Burmese.

Palaung Society

Palaung society is centered around households and villages rather than clans and lineages. There are aristocrats and commoners. Most villages have a chief, who settle disputes and take care of other matters. In the old days there was some organization along the lines of Shan chiefdoms and principalities and some contentious matters were worked out using trials by ordeal.

Men tend to do heavy work such as plowing, slashing and burning, transplanting tea, building houses, packing and loading tea laves, cutting timber and watering the paddy fields. Women do weaving, weeding, tea picking, carrying water, processing crops, collecting fruits and vegetables, and doing household chores. Both men and women cut and carry firewood, fish, cook, thresh and winnow grain and make baskets and mats.

Palaung Villages and Homes

Palaung villages typically have two to 50 households and are often located on hilltops or ridges between hills. In the center of the village is a market area, a rest house for visitors, a monastery, spirit shrines and a small Buddhist temple. In the old days many villages were surrounded by stockades with a gate that was closed at night and inscribed or painted with Buddhist scriptures intended to ward off evil spirits.

Palaungs living traditional village life live in the long houses unique to their tribe. Six Palaung families live together without separation in this 30-meter-or-so long house, in which all daily activities take place — weaving. cooking and child caring. Tiny chambers are set up for some degree of privacy. In the old days longhouses were built that held up to eight families. Today, Paluang long houses are very rare, and most Palaung live in single-family houses.

Traditional Palaung houses found today are built above the ground on wooden posts and has a roof that nearly touches the ground as is thatched with grass. Walls, floor and internal partitions are generally made from bamboo. Those who can afford it use wood. Below the house is a fenced area where animals are kept and some domestic chores such as rice pounding are done. Most houses hold one or two nuclear families. Most houses have a verandas at each end of the house that serve as an entrance and a place for doing kitchen tasks. Most room have no furniture.

Palaung Life

Palaung women wear a blue jacket with a red collar and crinoline-like skirt, sometimes decorated with embroidery. Some men have had their entire body tattooed except for their head. Palaung costumes feature bright and saturated colors, with married women wearing cane rings around their waists to indicate marital status.

The festival calendar includes Buddhist holidays and spirt festivals. Circle dancing is performed at some events.

Palaung like music. They have courting songs, tea-picking songs, wedding songs and dirges. Songs have traditionally been sung without the accompaniment of any instruments. Groups with drums and gongs perform at ceremonies.

Palaung Agriculture and Economics

The Palaung are primarily subsistence farmers and tea cultivators. They are not known as being craftsmen but they do engage in trading and women make cloth garments and shoulder bags that they sometimes sell for money. For the most part the Palaung earn enough money from tea to buy or trade for most of the things they want or need. Most goods are bought from peddlers or in markets. Slash and burn agricultural land is not owned and is cultivated by whoever clears it. Disputes over land are settled by headmen. Irrigated wet rice land and tea farms are usually privately owned and inheritable.

The Palaung that live near lowlands practice some wetland rice agriculture while those that live hill regions practice slash and burn agriculture and grow dry rice for food and tea and tobacco as a cash crops. They also grow a large variety of fruits and vegetable in agricultural fields and household gardens for consumption and sale Food crops include root vegetables, melons, pumpkins, gourds, cucumber, beans, sesame, maize, tomatoes, eggplants, mustard, onions, peas, jackfruit, bananas and mangoes. Some dry cheroots in specially designed oven.

The Palaung are mostly vegetarians. They don’t hunt but do some fishing and catch eels. The animals they raise, particularly horses, are kept for work or trade. Tea is a popular drink as well as cash crop. Many villages have tea gardens and buildings used for processing tea. Tea was first cultivated around 1910. Some of the Palaung tea operations are so big they hire outside workers. Two forms of tea are produced: dried leave tea for drinking and pickled or fermented tea which is eaten in Myanmar.

Palaung Pickled Tea

The chief crop of cultivation among the Palaung is tea. The tea shrub is indigenous to areas where they live and grows wild all over the hills while tea cultivation is closely associated with Tawngpang. Tea is abundant in places like Mong Long, Mong Mit, Mong Khe, Panglong and in the Petkang areas of Keng Tung State. Tea likes a high latitude, shade and dampness. Tawngpang is the most suitable place with such conditions. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

The tea is made in two forms: 1) Neng Yam, or wet or pickled tea; and 2) dry tea. One needs skills and experience for picking, drying and curing of tea leaves. The leaves are steamed in a wooden strainer with a perforated bamboo bottom, which is placed over a large cauldron of boiling water. It is steamed for a few minutes just to moisten and soften the leaves so that they can be easily and quickly rolled with the fingers on matswhile another lot is being steamed. These steamed and rolled leaves are spread out on the screen resulting in dry tea. The picking seasons for the tea are: May to June, July to August, September to October and November, each of which has its name. The first picking is always the best and it is called Shwepyi (Golden Land). =

The making of the pickled variety is more complicated. The steamed leaves are heaped together in a pulp mass and thrown into basket and left until the next day. The baskets are then put into pits in the ground and covered with heavy weights placed on top of each. Inspection is often made to see how fermentation is progressing and sometimes there is re-steaming . Palaungs are the only tea growers who produce the "pickled tea, " which some of them call "salad tea." Palaung tea plantations are on steep hill-sides. It takes three years to get a crop, and after ten years or more the plants weaken and the output is poor. =

Much of the dry tea goes to different parts of Myanmar and some to Yunnan across the border in China. Pickled tea is transported down to Mandalay and Yangon for general distribution. Myanmar people like pickled tea more than anyone else and it has become a delicacy for them and is eaten mixed with a little oil, salt, garlic and topped off with sesame seeds. =

Abuses Against the Palaung

Myanmar’s government army has committed numerous rights abuses against the Palaung, many of them targeting women, during its offensive in northern Shan State in 2013, according to a new report. The report, focusing on ethnic Palaung areas and released by the Palaung Women’s Organization and Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization, accuses the army of raping female villagers and forcing young girls and other civilians at gunpoint to guide and porter for Burmese troops. It also says that villagers have been killed by landmines while tied up. [Source: The Irrawaddy, May 17, 2013]

One Burmese living in Japan, Mai Kyaw Oo, 46, Mai Kyaw Oo, from Shan State in eastern Myanmar, was a soldier of Palaung tribe. He fled to Japan in 1999, fearing for his physical safety. In 2003, he Oo established the Japan Council for Ethnic Minorities Burma, an organization comprising 11 Myanmar ethnic minorities, and continued to call for the democratization of his country.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia, edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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