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Shan people in Mae Hong Son

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    Shan people in Mae Hong Son

    Hin und wieder finde ich von dem Dänen Torben Larsen interessante Artikel, die jedoch leider im Laufe der Zeit durch andere Themen untergehen.
    Einige seiner Artikel habe ich unter einem Parkforum regepostet.

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    Shan people in Mae Hong Son

    The. Shan. call themselves tai yàay , which translates as "big Tai" as
    opposed to the. "little. Tai". (tai. nàuy. ),. the. Thai and Lao. This
    distinction probably refers to a. period. when. the. Shan. established
    states. in. upper Burma (muang ) before the Thai and Lao.. I shall use
    the word Shan for. convenience. sake. since. it. is. the one which has
    previously been used by scholars and historians.. Shan. and. tai. yàay
    refer to the same geographical and cultural areas. The province of Mae
    Hong. Son in Thailand´s northwest is thickly forested and mountainous.
    It borders Burma on two sides and can be reached either eight hour bus
    ride over windy, bumpy. roads. which. are. often strewn with rocks and
    debree in the rainy season, or a spectacular. 30. minute. flight. from
    Chiang. Mai.. This. province. has. some of the most beautiful natural
    scenery in Thailand and an. incredible. mosaic of ethnic groups. It is
    also the only province in which the Shan,, a Tai-speaking people, make
    up the majority of the inhabitants.

    Migration History

    The original homeland of the Tai-speaking peoples including the. Shan,
    Lao. and. Thai,. was. somewhere. in. southern. China.. From there they
    gradually migrated along rivers. into. Southeast Asia at the beginning
    of this millenium. Shan settled down in northern Burma in the. fertile
    upper. valleys. of. the. Salaween,. Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers. The
    Mongol invasion of 1238 and the. destruction of the Burmese kingdom of
    Pagan "opened the floodgates" as it. were,. creating. a. power. vaccum
    which the Shan scrambled to fill. Thus began a conflict which is still
    continuing. today. between. the Shan, who defend their independence in
    the hills and expand. southwards. when Burmese central control lapses,
    and the Burmese who aim to extend their. political. power. over. other
    ethnic groups. The Shan States have always been a loose confederation,
    uniting. only. occasionally. in. the face of military attack, and have
    often been forced to accept. either. Burmese or Chinese suzerainity or
    both. It is uncertain when the Shan arrived in Mae Hong. Son. (perhaps
    200. years. ago) but the route is known: from the southern Shan States
    and along the Pai River,. a. tributary. of. the Salaween, to Pai. Carl
    Bock in his travels through northern Thailand records. that. the. Shan
    settlers. and. raiders. were eventually halted and driven back in 1869
    from the borders with Chiang. Mai. province. Presently, there are many
    Shan villages near Chiang Mai and Muang Fang as well as. in. Mae. Hong

    Ethnic Mosaic

    Mae. Hong. Son can be divided into ethno-ecological niches (cf. Walker
    1992) in which a particular. group cultivates a particular region. The
    Shan (ca. 45% of the population) are wet. rice. cultivators. and. have
    constructed. elaborate. irrigation systems in the valleys and terraces
    in the surrounding hills. Houses are built on stilts and in the centre
    of a Shan village is a. rectangular Buddhist temple complex. The Karen
    (ca. 40%) first arrived in the province at about the same time as. the
    Shan. but. came. from. the. west. Originally, the Karen practiced crop
    rotation, relied on forest. products,. built. houses on hill sides and
    domesticated the elephant, but today some. have. resettled. near. Shan
    villages and have started paddy cultivation. Most Karens are Christian
    but. there. are. also practicing animists and converts to Buddhism. In
    the village of Pa Pu where. I. conducted fieldwork there were 144 Shan
    households and 26 Karen households as well as a temple and. a. church.
    Both. groups. work. together. but religious and social events are held

    In this century, various hill. tribes. (Hmong,. Lisu and Lahu) and Haw
    Chinese from Yunnan (former Kuomingtang. soliders). have. arrived. and
    occupied. the. uppermost ecological niche. These groups build villages
    on mountain ridges and. practice. slash. and burn agriculture, growing
    dry rice, corn and poppy. More recently refugees fleeing from. Burma´s
    ethnic. conflicts have entered Mae Hong Son which now has many refugee
    camps and a large population of illegal residents.

    Changing Shan Ethnic Identity

    The Shan of Mae Hong Son. are. a tiny colony of Shan culture separated
    by a political. boundary. from. their. cultural. heartland,. the. Shan
    States.. Previously, the fact that the province was isolated and had a
    poor. infrastruture. helped. to. preserve. Shan. culture.. As part of
    Thailand´s rapid economic expansion. and. modernization of the 1970´s,
    many officials, teachers and skilled workers from central Thailand and
    Chiang Mai came to. Mae. Hong. Son.. Thai. is. the. language. of. all
    government. officials. and. is. the. only. language. taught in village
    schools.. Through. TV,. access. to. higher. education. and. improved
    infrastructure, the Shan are no. longer. isolated. but. being. rapidly
    integrated. into. the. Thai. nation. state.. The. two. most prominent
    differences between Shan and Thai culture are language and ritual.

    The Shan language is. related. to. Thai. and. Lao. but is not mutually
    intelligible. Thai is taught in schools and the majority. of. teachers
    come. from. outside. the. province, especially from Chiang Mai. TV and
    radio is only in Thai, and only a handful of elderly men and monks are
    able to read Shan as it was. formally written in a Burmese script. Yet
    Shan is the language spoken in villages and homes even if. one. parent
    comes. from. another. ethnic group. Practically all villagers in Pa Pu
    are fluent in Shan. and. Thai. while. some. speak. northern Thai and a
    little Karen as well. Southeast Asia has always had. a. population. of
    multilingual. people.. The general rule is the smaller the group in a
    particular area, the more languages it needs. Thus in Mae Hong Son the
    Thai rarely learn another language, the. Shan know their own and Thai,
    and the Karen learn Thai and Shan as well as their own.

    Although the Shan are Therawada Buddhists like the Thai, their rituals
    and holy texts have been greatly influenced by Burmese Buddhism.. Many
    rituals are unique to Mae Hong Son and. have. become. popular. tourist
    attractions. such as the three-day long ordination feastival, poi sang
    long held in April and processions of elaborate pagoda like structures
    called jong pala in October.. Two. northern Thai rituals are now also
    practiced in villages, the rocket festival held before. the. onset. of
    the. rains. and. the. basii, calling the "life essence" of individuals
    about to undergo a rite de passage ritual. The culture and language of
    Mae Hong. Son. is. changing. into. a. "hybrid". culture,. one which is
    predominately Shan but influenced from other regions in. Thailand. and
    different. from the Shan cultures of Burma and China. One cannot speak
    of a single Shan culture but. rather. a cultural core, a set of common
    values, religious beliefs and language, and variation within. specific

    Economic Change

    For the Shan of Mae Hong Son the last twenty years have been a time of
    rapid. economic change and increase in the standard of living. But the
    region´s induction into the. world. economy occured when Anglo-Burmese
    lumber companies acquired concessions from the Thai government to. cut
    down. tracts. of teak forest in the1890´s.. The logs were floated down
    the Salaween River to the. port. of. Moulmein and from there to Europe
    and Japan where they fetched very high prices. Today. there. are. very
    few. large teak trees left and only a modest local furniture industry.
    There has been a. government. ban. on. large-scale logging in Thailand
    since 1989.

    More than half the population is still. engaged. in. the. agricultural
    sector, producing rice, soya and garlic. Yet Mae Hong Son imports food
    from. northern. Thailand. due. to. a. shortage of land and the lack of
    interest in farming as a livelihood.. More and more men and women seek
    employment. in. towns,. learning. skills,. working. for. government
    departments and in the tourist industry.. Mae Hong Son is. becoming. a
    very popular tourist destination, and there is presently a boom in the
    construction. industry. with new hotels, shops and resorts being built
    in and around the town. Many. villagers. from Pa Pu have benefitted by
    obtaining. employment. in. construction. companies,. the. road. works´
    department and in hotels as maids, watchmen, receptionists and guides.
    Due to. tourism. the. infrastructure. in. the. province. has. improved
    rapidly: there is a new airport, better roads, a new hospital and more
    schools.. With. possibilities. of. earning. more. money, villagers are
    abandoning farming:. acquiring. an. education. for. oneself. or one´s
    children is now the best security for the future, the. first. step. to
    acquiring the much-sought-after job in a government office.

    More. wealth also means more donations to temples and more extravagant
    festivals, an intregal part of. Shan ethnic identity. Much of Buddhist
    ideology centres around the notion. of. obtaining. merit. (tham. bun).
    Villagers. acquire. small. amounts merit on a daily basis by providing
    food, but also hold large. festivals. where large amounts of money are
    donated to monasteries for adornment of temples or the construction of
    new ones.. The latter earns the donors a. large. amount. of. spiritual
    merit. for a better incarnation and social status since such festivals
    are a public. display. of. wealth.. New. temples. and monasteries are
    appearing everywhere as competition between rich donors. has. resulted
    in inflation.


    Another important factor is the recent influx of Burmese Shan refugees
    from. the. Shan. States.. There. has. always. been. a trickle of Shan
    migrating south due the. similarities. in. culture, a porus border and
    various upheavals in Burma, but the. civil. war. between. the. Burmese
    government forces and the self-styled Shan nationalist/drug lord, Khun
    Sa, and various other factions fighting for an independent Shan State,
    has. turned. the trickle into a flood.. One refugee commented that the
    police were busy. all. day. taking. photos. and registering newcomers.
    Estimates are hard to come by since the vast majority are illegal, but
    in the vicinity of the village of Pa Pu alone, I estimate about. 30-35
    families. This influx has had noticeable effects on the economy and on
    Shan ethnic identity.

    The. refugees,. both. legal. and. illegal are poor, illiterate farmers
    without possessions, skills or money. Their arrival has created a pool
    of. cheap. labour. and. effected. the. system. of. social. inequality.
    Previously in Pa Pu there were. about. a dozen families who owned most
    of the land; the other families were share croppers or labourers.. The
    refugees. now. do. alot. of the farming since majority of the landless
    villagers. earn. their. living. in. town. as. labourers,. mechanics,
    carpenters and hotel maids.. Many children of landowners. have. become
    government. clerks,. businessmen and teachers.. This is a "convenient"
    arrangement which pleases everyone. at. a. time of economic expansion:
    village officials never seem. to. inform. the. authorities. about. the
    presence of illegal squatters.

    Boys. and. men. flee. more than women since many recounted that it was
    either a choice between joining the. Burmese army or becoming a porter
    for Khun Sa.. Many come to. Thailand. illegally. and. then. enter. the
    monkhood.. I. would. estimate that 80% of the monks and novices in Mae
    Hong Son (but not the. abbots). are. refugees.. They have replaced the
    dwindling numbers of local boys, who are still ordained. according. to
    tradition. but. rarely. stay more than a few weeks, preferring secular
    education and opportunities to earn money outside the monkhood.. Thus,
    the. increased. amounts. of. donations. is. indirectly. supporting the

    The notion of an independent Shan State is only. an. issue. in. Burma.
    There. . is. little. discussion. concerning. anything. resembling
    "pan-Shanism" or a reuniting of all. Shan peoples in Mae Hong Son. The
    Shan here are. quite. content. to. be. bilingual. and. citizens. of. a
    prosperous Thailand.


    Hall, D.G.E. A History of South-East Asia . Macmillan. London, 1991.

    Hallett,. Holt S. A Thousand Miles on an Elephant in the Shan States .
    White Lotus. Bangkok 1988 (original 1890).

    Milne, Lesile.. Shans at. Home. .. Paragon.. New York, 1970 (original

    Tannenbaum, Nicola. "Galactic Polities, the Asiatic Mode of Production
    and Peasant-States:. Southeast. Asian. Pre-Modern. Politics". in. The
    Australian Journal of Anthropology . 1993:4-1.

    Walker,. Anthony. R. (ed.) The Highland Heritage:. Collected Essays on
    Upland Thailand . Double-Six Press. Singapore, 1992.




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