Online Encyclopedia

KAREN

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V15, Page 678 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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KAREN, one of the chief hill races of Burma. The Karens inhabit the central Pegu Yoma range, forming the watershed between the Sittang and Irrawaddy rivers, the Paunglaung range between the Sittang and the Salween, and the eastern slopes of the Arakan Yoma mountains to the west of the Irrawaddy delta. They are supposed to be the descendants of Chinese tribes driven southwards by the pressure of the Shan races, before they were again made to retire into the hills by the expansion of the Mon power. Their own traditions ascribe their original home to the west of the sandy desert of Gobi stretching between China and Tibet. According to the census of 1901 they numbered in all 727,235 persons within British India, divided into the Sgaw, 86i434, the Pwo, 174,070, and the Bghai, 4036, while 457,355 are returned as " unspecified." The Sgaw and Pwo are collectively known as the " White Karens," and chiefly inhabit British territory. They take their name from the colour of their clothes. The Bghai, or " Red Karens," who are supposed by some to be an entirely distinct race, chiefly inhabit the independent hill state of Karen=ni (q.v.). The Karen is of a squarer build than the Burman, his skin is fairer, and he has more of the Mongolian obliquity of the eyes. In character also the people differ from the Burmese. They are singularly devoid of humour, they are stolid and cautious, and lack altogether the light gaiety and fascination of the Burmese. They are noted for truthfulness and chastity, but are dirty and addicted to drink. The White Karens furnish perhaps the most notable instance of conversion to Christianity of any native race in the British empire. Prepared by prophecies current among them, and by curious traditions of a biblical flavour, in addition to their antagonism to the dominant Burmese, they embraced with fervour the new creed brought to them by the missionaries, so that out of the 147,525 Christians in Burma according to the census of 1901 upwards of a hundred thousand were Karens. The Red Karens differ considerably from the White Karens. They are the wildest and most lawless of the so-called Karen tribes. Every male belonging to the clan used to have the rising sun tattooed in bright vermilion on his back. The men are small and wizened, but athletic, and have broad reddish-brown faces. Their dress consists of a short pair of breeches, usually of a reddish colour, with black and white stripes'interwoven perpendicularly or like a tartan, and a handkerchief is tied round the head. The Karen language is tonal, and belongs to the Siamese-Chinese branch of the Indo-Chinese family. See D. M. Smeaton, The Loyal Karens of Burma (1887) ; J. Nisbet, Burma under British Rule (1901) ; M. and B. Ferrars, Burma (1900) ; and O'Connor Scott, The Silken East (1904). (J. G. Sc.) KAREN-NI, the country of the Red Karens, a collection of small states, formerly independent, but now feudatory to Burma. It is situated approximately between 18° 50' and 19° 55'.N. and between 970 10' and 97° 50' E. The tract is bounded on the N. by the Shan states of MSng Pai, Hsatung and Mawkmai; on the E. by Siam; on the S. by the Papun district of Lower Burma; and on the W. a stretch of mountainous country, inhabited by the Bre and various other small tribes, formerly in a state of independence, divides it from the districts of Toungoo and Yamethin. It is divided in a general way into eastern and western Karen-ni; the former consisting of one state; Gantarawadi, with an approximate area of 2500 sq. m.; the latter of the four small states of Kyebogyi, area about 350 sq. m.; Bawlake, 200 sq. m.; Nammekon, 50 sq. m.; and Naungpale, about 3o sq. m. The small states of western Karen-ni were formerly all subject to Bawlake, but the subordination has now ceased. Karen-ni consists of two widely differing tracts of country, which roughly mark now, and formerly actually did mark, the division into east and west. Gantarawadi has, however, encroached westwards beyond the boundaries which nature would assign to it. The first of these two divisions is the southern portion of the valley of the Hpilu, or Balu stream, an open, fairly level plain, well watered and in some parts swampy. The second division is a series of chains of hills, intersected by deep valleys, through which run the two main rivers, the Salween and the Pawn, and their feeder streams. Many of the latter are dried up in the hot season and only flow freely during the rains. The whole country being hilly, the most conspicuous ridge is that lying between the Pawn and the Salween, which has an average altitude of 5000 ft. It is crossed by several tracks, passable for pack-animals, the most in use being the road between Sawlon, the capital of Gantarawadi and Man Mail. The principal peak east of the Salween is on the Loi Lan ridge, 7109 ft. above mean sea-level. Parts of this ridge form the boundary between eastern Karen-ni and Mawkmai on the west and Siam on the east. It falls away rapidly to the south, and at Pang Salang is' crossed at a height of 2200 ft. by the road from Hsataw to Mehawnghsawn. West of the Balu valley the continuation of the eastern rim of the Myelat plateau rises in Loi Nangpa to about 5000 ft. The Nam Pawnis a large river, with an average breadth of ioo yds., but is unnavigable owing tp its rocky bed. Even timber cannot be floated down it without the assistance of elephants. The Salween throughout Karen-ni is navigated by large native craft. Its tributary, the Me Pai, on the eastern bank, is navigable as far as Mehawnghsawn in Siamese territory. The Balu stream flows out of the Inle lake, and is navigable from that point to close on Lawpita, where it sinks into the ground in a marsh or succession of funnel holes. Its breadth averages 5o yds., and its depth is 15 ft. in some places. The chief tribes are the Red Karens (24,043), Bres (3500), and Padaungs (1867). Total revenue, Rs. 37,000. An agent of the British government, with a guard of military police, is posted at the village of Loikaw. Little of the history of the Red Karens is known; but it appears to be generally admitted that Bawlake was originally the chief state of the whole country, east and west, but eastern Karen-ni under Papaw-gyi early became the most powerful. Slaving raids far into the Shan states brought on invasions from Burma, which, however, were not very successful. Eastern Karen-ni was-never reduced until Sawlapaw, having defied the British government, was overcome and deposed by General . Collett in the beginning of 1889. Sawlawi was then appointed myoza, and received a sanad, or patent of, appointment, on the same terms as the chiefs of the Shan states. The independence of the Western Karen-ni states had been guaranteed by the British government in a treaty with King Mindon in' 1875. They were, however, formally recognized' as feudatories in 1892 and were presented with sands on the 23rd of January of that year. Gantarawadi pays a regular tribute of Rs. 5000 yearly, whereas these chieflets pay an 'annual kadaw, or nuzzur, of about Rs. loo. They are forbidden to carry out a sentence of death passed on a criminal without the sanction of the superintendent of the southern Shan states, but otherwise retain nearly all their customary law. Tin, or what is called tin, is worked in Bawlake. It appears, however, to be very impure. It is worked intermittently by White Karens on the upper waters of the Hkemapyu stream. Rubies, spinels and other stones are found in the upper Tu valley and in the west of Nammekon state, but they are of inferior quality. The trade in teak is the chief or only source of wealth in Karen-ni. The largest and most important forests are those on the left bank of the Salween. Others lie on both banks of the Nam Pawn, and in western Karen-ni on the Nam Tu. The yearly out-turn is estimated at over 20,000 logs, and forest officers have estimated that an annual out-turn of 9000 logs might be kept up without injury to the forests. Some quantity of cutch is exported, as also stick-lac, which the Red Karens graft so as to foster the production. Other valuable forest produce exists, but is not exported. Rice, areca-nuts, and betel-vine leaf are the chief agricultural products. The Red Karen women weave their own and their husbands' clothing. A characteristic manufacture is the pa-si or Karen metal drum, which is made at Ngwedaung. These drums are from 21 to 3 ft. across the boss, with sides of about the same depth. The sound is out of proportion to the metal used, and is inferior to that of the Shan and Burmese gongs. It is thought that the population of Karen-ni is steadily decreasing. The birth-rate of the people is considered to exceed the death-rate by very little, ' and the Red Karen habit of life is most unwholesome. Numbers have enlisted in the Burma police, but there are various opinions as to their value. (J. G. Sc.)
End of Article: KAREN
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