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Karen (Kayin)

Websites/Multiple Documents

Title: Working Group: "Socio-economics of Forest Use in the Tropics and Subtropics"
Description/subject: Various documents in German and/or English on the Karen and other groups in Thailand and Burma, including "Change and identity in Pwo Karen communities in Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, a 'Global Heritage' in Western Thailand".
Author/creator: Reiner Buergin
Language: Deutsch, German, English
Source/publisher: Institute for Ethnology, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Individual Documents

Title: Remaining Karen - A Study of Cultural Reproduction and the Maintenance of Identity
Date of publication: 2008
Description/subject: Abstract: "There are an estimated 242,000 Karen in Thailand making them the largest ethnic minority in the country second only to the Chinese. In Burma, they number approximately 2.2 million. The Karen, of whom the Sgaw and Pwo represent the two largest groups based on dialectal differences, speak a number of related languages which are now recognised as belonging to the Sino-Tibetan group of languages. Since the early part of the last century, the Karen have been the subject of a number of studies by missionaries and British colonial administrators in Burma and, more recently, by anthropologists in Thailand. Two major areas of interest in the long history of Karen studies have been the nature of Karen religious systems which appear to draw on various traditions, and the nature of Karen identity which appears remarkably resistant to change. While Karen religious traditions and customs were a dominant concern in earlier studies, the question of Karen ethnic identity (or identities) has been the focus of interest in contemporary studies, matched perhaps only by an interest in Karen subsistence or economic systems. Though the more recent anthropological studies of the Karen have retained an interest in Karen religious systems, related in most part to the study of Karen ethnicity, it is remarkable that there has not been a detailed contemporary account of the indigenous, non-Buddhist, non-Christian religion of the Karen. This study is concerned with both issues — the nature of indigenous Karen religion and the maintenance of identity in a small Karen community which is firmly located, as much by necessity as by choice, in a predominantly Northern Thai socio-economic milieu in the highlands of Northern Thailand. It is also concerned with sociological explanation as well as anthropological description, in the case of the Karen, namely the part played by an indigenous religion (which draws little from Buddhism or Christianity, both of which have had considerable influence on Karen elsewhere) in the maintenance of identity. At one level, therefore, this study may be regarded as an attempt to fill a gap in the contemporary ethnography of the Karen, that is, to provide an account of an indigenous Karen religious system as a system in its own right but taken broadly to show how it encompasses different facets of life in one Karen community. At another level, this study addresses a larger sociological issue in the study of the Karen: how a cultural identity may be constituted (and reconstituted as an on-going process) and the implications that this may have for an understanding of Karen ethnicity the principles of which, though perhaps sufficiently established as a matter of conventional sociological wisdom, have not been adequately demonstrated in relation to hard ethnographic fact. The major argument in this thesis, stated in its most general terms, is that religion and ritual sustain and reproduce what is best regarded as a cultural ix ideology which provides a cultural identity, and from which an ethnic identity may be constructed according to the particular circumstances and details of the contexts of intergroup relations. In the case of the Sgaw Karen of Palokhi, in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, who are the subject of this study, it is argued that this cultural ideology consists of the structured relations between what is best described as a “procreative model” of society and social processes, an integral part of which is a system of social classification based on the difference between male and female, cultural definitions of the relations between the two and the relationship between men and land, and a “model” of agricultural processes. The cultural ideology of the Palokhi Karen is “reproduced” in and through their religious system and ritual life, which is dominated by men who play a crucial role, and it is this which provides them with their distinctive cultural identity."
Author/creator: Ananda Rajah
Language: English
Source/publisher: ANU (Monographs in Anthropology Series)
Format/size: pdf (4MB) - 340 pages
Date of entry/update: 28 February 2009


Title: "Making a Name for Themselves: Karen Identity and the Politicization of Ethnicity in Burma"
Date of publication: 2002
Description/subject: The history of Karen nationalism has been interpreted in terms of inter-ethnic conflict and conceptualizations of ethnicity have influenced understanding of Karen political identity. While 'Karen' incorporated various linguistic, sociocultural, religious and political sub-groups, the Karen National Union (KNU) elite promoted a singular pan-Karen identity in order to minimize such diversity. As a result, factionalism emerged between different Karen groups, obstructing the KNU's political vision and leaving many Karens dissatisfied with KNU attempts to represent their various interests. The fall of Manerplaw in 1995 was thus the result of intra-ethnic conflict as much as conflict between Karens and non-Karens.
Author/creator: Jessica Harriden
Language: English
Source/publisher: Journal of Burma Studies Vol. 7 (2002)
Format/size: pdf (2.67MB)
Alternate URLs: http://www.niu.edu/burma/publications/jbs/vol7/index.shtml
Date of entry/update: 08 July 2010


Title: Karen: Ideologie, Interessen und Kultur. Eine Analyse der Feldforschungsberichte und Theoriebildung.
Date of publication: 1992
Description/subject: keywords: Karen, ideology, field research, history, scientific theory (? in German: Wissenschaftstheorie), theory forming, cultural debates, ethnology-cultural/social anthropology, literature. "In dieser Arbeit wird die englisch-, deutsch- und französischsprachige Literatur über die Karen des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts ausgewertet und im Hinblick auf Theoriebildung und vorherrschende Ideologien analysiert. Untersucht werden dabei verschiedene Karen-Gesellschaften Burmas und Thailands. Die Auswertung der Literatur unter ethnologischen und soziologischen Gesichtspunkten liefert einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte und Theoriebildung über die Karen..."
Author/creator: Reiner Buergin
Language: Deutsch, German
Format/size: PDF (835K)
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: Two Indigenous Karen Religious Denominations
Date of publication: 1981
Description/subject: "This paper is a short presentation of two Pwo Karen sects as they may be found in contemporary Western Central Thailand. It will discuss the organization, origin, and cultural content of the two denominations in order to show how their politico-religious concepts and ritual architecture are related to their historical position in a larger system comprising the Buddhist monarchial civilizations of Burma and Thailand. It is my supposition that the religious paraphernalia of present day sects materialized in a certain historical context as symbols of royalty and autonomy, and in the larger social context functioned to identify these Pwo Karen collectively as a sovereign part of a larger civilized world. These symbols of self-defined participation in the world, and at times even claims to superiority, had been moulded according to a model set by the monarchism of the 18th century Mon Buddhist kingdom in Lower Burma. It included a messianic Buddhist framework, which precipitated millenarian expectations of the rise of a world conqueror and subsequent future Buddha, the Buddha Ariya Mettaya, who would install a new and ideal society for the elect. Viewing the history of the Buddhist valley civilizations, be they Burmese, Mon or Thai, we may see that this messianic aspect of Theravada Buddhism has been the catalyst for both social discontent and personal political ambitions within the Buddhist societies of Southeast Asia.2 The term 'Karen' covers a category of people in Burma and Thailand who speak related languages. Karen-speaking people are spread over a large area, and their habitations are found in the hills and forests as well as the lowland. Everywhere Karen groups live interspersed among various other ethnic groups, hill as well as valley peoples..."
Author/creator: Kirsten Ewers Andersen
Language: English
Source/publisher: Soertryk FOLK Reprint Vol. 23 1981 K0BENHAVN
Format/size: pdf (247K)
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: Deference for the Elders and Control over the Younger among the Karen in Thailand
Date of publication: 1980
Description/subject: "This paper examines the foundation of the deference paid the Elders in a Karen forest society in Thailand. It is argued that deference and social control are two sides of the same coin, both resting on the fact that the socially most valuable knowledge in Karen society is an attribute of old age. To analyze the foundation of this knowledge, which endows the Elders with social authority and control, it is useful to distinguish between various types of knowledge, such as knowledge of production-technique and ecology, knowledge of social history, and knowledge of ritual and magic. It is further emphasized that the foundation of the Elders' authority, in contrast to many other societies, is neither control of the means of production nor control of such prestige goods, which in unilineal societies may enter the affinal exchange circulation as bridewealth. Their control derives from their knowledge of social history, from their religious knowledge of cosmology, ritual, and ethics, and from their possession of magical know-how..."
Author/creator: Kirsten Ewers Andersen
Language: English
Source/publisher: Særtryk FOLK Reprint Vol. 21-22 1979/80 - KØBENHAVN
Format/size: pdf (336K)
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: ELEMENTS OF PWO KAREN BUDDHISM
Date of publication: 1978
Description/subject: "...the frequent dichotomization of Burman and Thai "hill-tribes" as animists opposed to the valley population as Buddhists, the Buddhism of the "hill-tribes" being only a thin veneer on animistic beliefs, does not hold. It is rather a question of an inclusive hierarchization of religious activities and value orientations, where the basis for an exclusive dichotomization becomes unclear and elusive, when one investigates the concerned activities more closely. The levels of activities are interlocked and a future value orientation may be directed towards an increased emphasis on "pure" monk- and more Buddhist elements, as the Karens become subsumed under the Thai cash-crop economy and the concommittant cultural contacts. The role of the boungkhos as maintainers of nature's order will disappear when it becomes evident that economic survival under a new economy immediately seems to depend more on insights into the market-mechanisms than on maintenance of the up till now balanced eco-system."
Author/creator: Kirsten Ewers Andersen
Language: English
Source/publisher: The Scandinavian Institute of Asian Studies
Format/size: html (35K)
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003