20080306-KachinVillage in ww 2.jpg
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. There is no good figure on their numbers. Reliable censuses haven't been done there for decades. 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 tend to have fairer skin and broader features than the Burmese. The Kachins are also known as the Acha, Aji, Atsa, Chasham Dashan, Jinghpaw, Kang, Lachi, Lalang, Langshu, Langwo, Lashi, Maru, Shidong, Xiaoshan, Zaiwa. In China, the Kachin are known as the Jingpo. The Jingpo are the 33rd largest minority out of 55 in China. They numbered 147,828 in 2020 and made up 0.01 percent of the total population of China in 2020 according to the 2020 Chinese census. About half of Jingpo live in Longchuan County, Dai-Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Kachin Groups

By Chinese reckoning there e are four main Kachin subgroups: 1) the Jinghpaw (Jingo in China); 2) Zaiwa; 3) Lachi; and 4) Langwo, with the Jinghpaw and Zaiwa 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]

The main Kachin group is the Jinghpaw; whose language is the lingua franca and ritual language of the Kachin. F. K. Lehman wrote: In Jinghpaw, they are called “Jinghpaw Wunpaung Amyu Ni” (Jinghpaw and related peoples). The Singhpo are their kin in the Hukawng Valley and in northeasternmost India, closely associated with the Ahom rulers of that part of Assam from the thirteenth century. “Theinbaw” is the Burmese form. “Khang” is the Shan word for Kachin, whom the Chinese used to call “Dashan.” Other than Jinghpaw (Chinese spelling, Jingpo), the Kachin are comprised of Maru (own name, “Lawngwaw”), Atsi (Szi, Zaiwa — the majority Kachin population in Yunnan), Lashi, and speakers of the Rawang language of the Nung group, Achang (Burmese term, “Maingtha,” meaning “people of the {Shan} state of Möng Hsa”), and some in-resident communities of Lisu speakers (Yawyin, in Burmese). Lashi and Atsi-Maru (and smaller groups akin to Maru) are called “Maru Dangbau” (the Maru branch) in Jinghpaw. [Source: F. K. Lehman, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

Kachin are located primarily in the Kachin State of Myanmar (Burma) and parts of the northern Shan State, southwestern Yunnan in China, and northeasternmost India (Assam and Arunachal Pradesh), between 23° and 28° N and 96° and 99° E. The Maru Dangbau are found mainly along the Myanmar-China border in this range. It is a region of north-south ranges, dissected by narrow valleys. In the valleys there are also Shan (Dai, in Yunnan) and Burmans, and those Kachin who are more heavily influenced by Shan culture.

According to the Kachin National Organization there are six different Kachin sub-groups — each with a different colorful dress and dialect — in addtion to the Jinghpaw. They are the the Atsi, Lashi, Lisu, Maru, Nung, and Rawang. The Myanmar government recognizes 12 different Kachin-related c 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.

Kachin State in Myanmar

Kachin State in Myanmar

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. The huge Irrawaddy River flows south from Tibet through Kachin State and into Myanmar proper. The eastern reaches of the Himalayan and its foothills dominate the northern [art of Kachin state. There you can find, glacier-shrouded Hkakabo Razi (5,832 meters, 19,314 ft), Southeast Asia's highest mountain, near the border with Tibet.

In the far north of Kachin State there are peaks as high as 5,000 meters but Kachin settlements normally in areas between 1,200 and 1,900 meters. The two main towns — Myitkyina and Bhamo, originally a Burman and a Shan town respectively) — are situated along the Irrawaddy River at elevations of 300 to 400 meters. The highest northern peaks are snowcapped, and high elevations are subject to cold-season frosts. There are more than 50 days of frost a year at higher elevations. Rainfall occurs mainly in the monsoon season (between June and October) and is between 190 and 254 centimeters on average. Temperatures are substantially lower on the high eastern slopes over the China border and in the northern Shan State. The forest cover is mixed evergreen/deciduous broadleaf monsoon forest, with subtropical forest at lower elevations, including teak. [Source: F. K. Lehman, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

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]

Kachin History

The first solid records of the Jingpo-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 in China were largely under the control of Dai overlords in accordance with the Chinese tusi system. There are Chinese mentions of Kachin in Yunnan in 14th and 15th centuries as well as obscure references to them in 13th century chronicles of the Ahom Kingdom in Assam, India and chronicles of some Khamti Shan principalities from the Upper Chindwin near Tibet.

The Kachin migrated into Burma from China to the northwest and established highland settlements governed by independent chieftains. Their spread was connected with the spread of the Shan (and Ahom), Tai-speaking peoples of the region's valleys, with whom Kachin have had a symbiotic relation based on linguistic evidence.

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. During this period, Kachin chiefs fought with Shan rivals and collected tributes from itinerant Tibetan pack traders going to Burma and Siam that wintered in Kachin territory, where they gathered forest products for sale.

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. Most Kachin territory was under the Frontier Administration, but the Triangle, north from Myitkyina, between the two branches of the Irrawaddy, was largely unadministered until just before the Japanese invasion of 1942.

The Kachins were regarded as fierce warriors and they never acknowledged the dominance of Burma's various empires until the arrival of the British. Initially the Kachins fought the British, but then joined Britain's Imperial Army. Kachins distinguished themsleves in British forced and hundreds served, some in Europe, during the First World War. The Kachin Levies were a British special force created in World War II in Burma. The Levies were made up of members of the Kachin people under the command of British officers. They fought the Japanese in the jungle of north Burma.

Kachin in World War II

During World War II the Kachin earned high marks as fighters fighting in their native forests against the Japanese . They were skillful ambushers and had a cruel streak. They cut off the ears of the Japanese they killed as trophies. This left the Japanese terrified that they could not ascend to heaven because their bodies were not intact. Kachin territory was largely unoccupied by the Japanese.

Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services was an American force that operated in the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II. It formed under the Office of the Coordinator of Information weeks before it evolved into the OSS, which later became the C.I.A. Detachment 101 was activated for action behind enemy lines in Burma in April 1942. Its tasked included gathering intelligence, harassing the Japanese through guerrilla actions, identifying targets for the Army Air Force to bomb, and rescuing downed Allied airmen. Because Detachment 101 was never larger than a few hundred Americans, it relied on support from various tribal groups in Burma, mainly the Kachin.[Source: Wikipedia]

The best known resistance force was known as the Kachin Rangers and was under the command of Carl F. Eifler, though often the term Kachin Rangers has been used to describe all Kachin Forces raised during the war by the Americans in Northern Burma. Starting in 1943, small groups or individuals were parachuted behind Japanese lines to remote Kachin villages, followed by a parachute supply drop. The Americans then began to create independent guerrilla groups of the Kachin people, calling in weapons and equipment drops. In December 1943, American general Joseph Stilwell ordered Detachment 101 to increase its strength to 3,000 guerillas. They were recruited from within Burma, many of them "fierce Kachins".

Once established, the groups undertook a variety of unconventional missions. They ambushed Japanese patrols, rescued downed American pilots, and cleared small landing strips in the jungle. They also screened the advances of larger Allied forces, including Merrill's Marauders. By any measure .Detachment 101 scored impressive results. According to official statistics, with a loss of only 22 Americans, it killed 5,428 Japanese and rescued 574 Allied personnel." 101's efforts opened the way for Stilwell's Chinese forces, Wingate's Raiders, Merrill's Marauders, and the great counter-attack against the Japanese Imperial life-line."

At the end of the war, each Kachin Ranger received the CMA (Citation for Military Assistance) Award. In January 1956, Detachment 101 was awarded a Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation by President Dwight Eisenhower, who wrote: "The courage and fighting spirit displayed by its officers and men in offensive action against overwhelming enemy strength reflect the highest tradition of the armed forces of the United States."

Kachin After Burma's Independence in 1948

Burma regained its independence in 1948. The semi-autonomous Kachin State was created. The Jingpo Autonomous Region was created in 1953 in southwestern Yunnan Province. A Kachin chief, Sama Duwa Sinwa Nawang, was the president-elect of Burma when the Burmese government was toppled in a socialist military coup in 1962. The Kachin were a key component of the multi-ethnic insurgency against the government. During the period of struggle some Burmese Kachin fled to the Jingpo Autonomous Region in China and Kachin enclaves in Thailand.

E. Mirante wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”:“Some rebellion, aimed at establishing an independent Kachin nation, occurred soon after Burmese independence, but it was after the military takeover of Burma's government in 1962 that large-scale Kachin insurgency occurred. One of Burma's biggest anti-government armies was recruited from the hill people and financed by trade in locally-mined jade and gold. A peace deal between the government and the Kachin was finally struck in the 1990s. The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a peace agreement with the Myanmar government 1994. A much smaller militia called the Kachin Defense Army (KIA) also has a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government. Even so the group refused to give up its arms and retains some bases in the jungles in the valley. [Source: E. Mirante, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

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Kachin and Aung San

The KIO continues to hold considerable territory, although it has observed a ceasefire with government forces. It was was allowed to participate in constitutional conventions held by Myanmar's military government. KIO participation in the conventions was seen as a political compromise by many former supporters in Kachin State and overseas exiles. The KIO issued statements supporting the Myanmar government's policies and engaged in commercial joint ventures in logging and gold mining, which gave the KIO the image of having abandoned its original revolutionary goals. A few small Kachin underground or exile political and environmental groups have emerged in recent years as potential alternatives to the KIO. *\

In recent decades, human rights violations by Myanmar's military have been widespread and have included massacres, village burnings, rape, torture, and forced labor. Tens of thousands of Kachins have been uprooted. While these abuses were reduced after the KIO 1994 ceasefire ended open warfare, they do continue in many parts of Kachin State, and refugees still flee to other countries. *\

Kachin Language

The Kachin speak tonal Sino-Tibetan languages and have had their own written language. There are seven main dialects, and with many regional variations. 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. The main Kachin group is the Jinghpaw; whose language is the lingua franca and ritual language of the Kachin. The Burmese language is widely spoken and Kachin languages such as Jainphaw , Rawan and Lisu are also spoken in Kachin State in Myanmar.

All the Kachin languages are in the Tibeto-Burman Family of languages. Jinghpaw and its dialects are an autonomous branch of the Tibeto-Burman family. Among these are Sinli, in the south, which is the Standard Jinghpaw of the schools in Bhamo and Myitkyina; Mungun in Assam; Gauri (Hkauri) in the east; and Hkaku in the north and west (known as the Red-Earth country). The languages of the Maru Dangbau are in the Burmese-Lolo Branch, which are closer to Burmese. Nung fits less firmly into the Tibeto-Burman. Lisu is a Loloish language in the Lolo-Burmese Branch. [Source: F. K. Lehman, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

A written version of Kachin using the Roman alphabet (without F, Q, V, and X) was devised by American missionary Olaf Hansen in 1895. The writing system is hard to use because of the lack of accents showing the different tones of voice that alter the meanings of words in Kachin. The primary greeting in Kachin's Jinghpaw dialect is "Kaja ai I?" meaning "Are you well?" Another common greeting expression is "Shatsa sa ni?" ("Have you eaten?"). To excuse oneself one says , "Naw wa sa na" ("I am going"). The reply is "Angwi sha wa u" (go back slowly). [Source: E. Mirante, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Kachin Religion and Christianity

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Kachin and Aung San Suu Kyi
About two-thirds of the Kachins, maybe more, are Christians, mostly Baptists and Catholics. The rest are Buddhists or Animists, who worship nature spirits. Spirits called nats are omnipresent in Kachin life and even Christian or Buddhist Kachins treat them with respect and go out their way not to antagonize them. There are good nats and bad ones. Among the good ones are Hpan wa ningsan chye wa ning san, a include a merciful spirit also known as Karai Kasang, who is also the god worshipped by Christians and recognized ny Buddhists. This Nat accepts only live offerings that the worshippers set free, such as birds.

Missionaries from the United States and Europe introduced the Kachins to Christianity, mainly to valley people, during the British colonial period. days. Kachin evangelists then took the torch and spread the new religion through the hills. By 1990 most, if not all, Kachin communities were predominately Christian. There is some tension between Catholic and Protestant group among Kachin Christians. In recent years there has been some government-sponsored Buddhist-missionary activity among Kachins in Myanmar.

Christianity was molded to take into account Kachin traditional beliefs and has been adopted without altering things like the Kachin traditions such clan system. Physical churches are rare outside of cities and large towns, thus church services are usually held on Sundays and holidays in village meeting halls or homes. Kachin Christians sometimes have difficulties organizing large events as approval is needed from military government, which is suspicious of Christian meetings and large gatherings in general. [Source: E. Mirante, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

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 Irrawaddy.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]

Traditional Kachin Religion

Kachin believe nats (spirits) 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 as well as good nats of the earth and heaven, and household Nats. A series of bad Nats bring harm to women in labor, hunters and fishermen and cause accidents or other misfortune. Because they can bring good fortune or troubles they must be constantly thanked and appeased. Illnesses were believed to be caused by nat bites. 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.

Kachin shaman

F. K. Lehman wrote: One class in Kachin religion includes the major deities, named and common to all Kachin, remote ancestors of commoner and aristocrat alike. These Sky Nat (mu nat) are ultimately children of the androgynous Creator (Woishun-Chyanun), whose “reincarnation” is Shadip, the chief of the earth nats (ga nat), the highest class of spirit. The youngest sky nat (senior by ultimogeniture) is the Madai Nat, who can be approached only by chiefs, whose ultimate ancestor was his eldest brother and dama, Ningawn-wa, who forged the earth. A direct daughter of Madai Nat was the wife of the first Kachin aristocrat. Below all these in rank are the masha nat , the ancestor nats of lineages; that of the uma, or youngest son line of thigh-eating chiefs, has special importance. [Source: F. K. Lehman, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

There is also a vague sort of “High God,” Karai Kasang, who has no myths (except that he seems to have something to do with the fate of the souls of the dead) and who Leach thinks is a projection of the Christian God of the missionaries; this spirit's name makes no sense in the Kachin language. Below all these are minor spirits such as household guardians and the spirits of immediate ancestors, witch spirits (hpyi ) who possess those accused of unconscious hereditary witchcraft, and the maraw , unpersonified “fates” to be placated; they can upset the best laid plans and the boons granted by higher deities. Beyond these are the uniformly hostile ghosts and spirits.

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 and mediums 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. Shaman often inexplicably chosen for their , while divination is a learned skill. Both serve as private practitioners. Of these positions mentioned above only the mediums can be women. Dumsas and sacrificers are generally paid ith a portion of the sacrifice.

Kachin Funerals and Views About Death

Traditionally, the Kachin have 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 is regarded as bad, and likely caused by evil spirits. Kachins are buried a week after death and, traditionally, special ceremonies were performed to make sure that the spirit of the dead person went away and stayed away from the living. Funeral music is sometimes played on slightly broken instruments. Christians hold a prayer service and often mark graves with a cross.

E. Mirante wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: One cause of death is said to be that the cord that the Creator holds, thus sustaining the soul, is eventually gnawed away by spirits. Spirits can also entice the soul from the body, and death ensues if the soul cannot be found and enticed back home. Ultimately myth has it that death came to Kachin mankind because human beings originally had to attend ceremonies of the sky-spirit people, and, as dama, had to contribute costly gifts. This cost so much that Sut Wa Madu, the ancestor who founded the sut manau (Feast of Merit, a major ritual connection between the two worlds), decided to hold a mock funeral, thus enticing the sky people to attend and bring gifts. The female sun spirit (Jan nat , one of the Sky Nats) felt that this compromised the asymmetrical relations between mayu and dama , and she decreed that if there were to be human funerals, then men would have to suffer death — not so much as a punishment as in order to restore the net balance of the relationship with a quitclaim payment of men's souls. [Source: E. Mirante, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Kachin church

This tale expresses the ultimate paradox of an asymmetrical alliance relation; for the net circulation of the system is impossible to maintain asymmetrically when there are fewer than three parties to the relationship. On the one hand, with payments going all one way, the system lacks completeness, or closure. On the other hand, payments in an asymmetrical relation cannot go both ways. Burial is a week after death; this interval is used to try to ensure the separation of the spirit of the deceased from the world of the living, a task aided by a priest, who makes offerings to the ghost and asks it to go away. The final obsequies may be postponed for as much as a year on account of the expense. Then the priest recalls the soul from its temporary limbo and tells it the route to the land of the dead. If thereafter divination shows that the spirit has not gone, it will be installed in the household altar, which had been temporarily removed from the house at the time of the death and is now reinstalled.

Kachin Ceremonies and Festivals

In traditional Kachin society, ceremonies, rituals and holiday were held to concur with the planting of rice and other events in the agricultural cycle. Before planting the fields, offerings have traditionally been made to the spirits of the earth and was followed by a period of rest. Harvest ceremonies were also held. Christian Kachins celebrate Christmas and Easter with with music, community feasts, and church services in cities, towns, and villages. [Source: E. Mirante, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

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. 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.”

Nat festivals known as manaus involve sacrificing large numbers of animals. 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 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.

Manau: Kachin Nat Festivals

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Duwa leading a Manau procession
"Manaus" are big events. Combining religion, visual arts, dance, and music, they are usually sponsored by a duwa, a member of the traditional aristocracy and all people living in the area are expected to show up. It is a big deal and can take up to a year to prepare (and a year to recover from it, say the Kachins). A Manau is presided over by high-ranking priests who make offerings for the good of the community. The priests wear elaborate robes of brightly-colored embroidered silk and woven rattan headdresses topped with tall peacock and pheasant feathers. Offerings, prayers, music, and dance take place in an open ground. The area is decorated with pennants and streamers, and Manau poles are set up where the priests preside. The poles, 10 ft tall or higher, are painted in bright colors with abstract patterns of triangles, diamonds, and spirals. [Source: F. K. Lehman, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University; E. Mirante, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

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. |||

Image Sources: Kachin Myitkyina website, Nolls Chiina website, Beifan Joho maps

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.

Last updated September 2022

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