Shan people in Mae Hong Son

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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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hier das Reposting seines Artikels :

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
Son.

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
separately.

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
societies.

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.

Refugees

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
refugees.


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.

References

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
1910).

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.

Regards

Torben
 
Thema:

Shan people in Mae Hong Son

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