With ethnically diversity, Myanmar (Burma) has 135 distinct ethnic groups acknowledged by the government, in which there are 8 officially national races, namely Bamar, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin (Karen), Mon, Rakhaing and Shan.
Myanmar (Burma) country has at least 108 different ethnolinguistic groups, comprising primarily Tibeto-Burman, Tai–Kadai, Hmong–Mien, and Austroasiatic (Mon–Khmer). A single tribe can be identified via their traditional attire, which reflects their characters. For instance, red is a favorite color the Kayak, so it’s common in their costumes.
Most Burmese ethnic races keep on residing in some secluded areas, mountainous sections and international border regions, prominently the Shan, Kayah and Kayin in the east, the Kachin to the north, and the Chin and Rakhaing in the west. Consequently, many states in Myanmar were named based on the name of the race mainly populated in it.
* Cycle life:
Burmese families tend to be large. It is easy to find a family of three to four generations living together under a roof, in a two- or three-room house or even just a thatched hut in rural areas.
About three-quarters of the population has income mainly from cultivation, so much of local life circles around villages and the countryside.
The birth of a child is a great occasion. Though boys are cosseted more, girls are still equally welcomed, as children are hoped to look after parents later.
Death is a big deal as well. To miss a funeral is an unimaginably ashamed act. If a dispute goes too far, the peak of anger will be to scream: “Oh yeah? Don’t come to my funeral when I die!”
* Common characters:
Everywhere, people are known for helping each other when in need, and call each other “brother” and “sister” affectionately.
Almost the population are devotees of Theravada Buddhism. The Burmese are really general for merit-making and charity, especially supports for stupas, temples, monasteries and monks. According to the report of The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), Myanmar was top in sixth World Giving Index 2014, which measures three kinds of generosity: giving money, time and helping a stranger. The numbers for Myanmar were 55%, 50% and 92% in turn.
* Eight main Burmese people:
1. Bamar people – nominated people in Myanmar (Burma)
Also known as Burmese or Burman, the Bamar accounts for a majority of the population (68%). Originally they emigrated from the Himalaya, then dominated much of present-Myanmar from Bagan (Pagan) prior the 11th century.
++Read more about Myanmar (Burma) culture and history to understand the main feature of the country.
While being strongly devout Buddhists, they have maintained an enduring attachment to older animist beliefs in “nat” (spirits). “Shinbyu” (or novitiation ceremony, as a child becomes a novice monk), is a major event in Bamar culture, which happen at least once in life of Bamar children, especially boys.
Bamar style had the greatest affection on Myanmar’s custom and art. Bamar tongue is used for instruction in schools throughout the country, so most non-Bamar speak Burmese as a second language.
2. Chin people
The Chin reside in the mountainous region (mostly match to Chin state) that borders India and Bangladesh to the west. Chin state is restricted to travelers, but can be visited with government permission.
Chin people call themselves Zo-mi or Lai-mi (both terms mean “mountain people”). They share a culture, language and food with the Zo, who occupy the adjoining state of Mizoram in India.
Traditionally the Chin practice shifting cultivation (a technique that land is cleared for planting by fire and then left to regenerate after several years), and hunting.
++ Suggested tour: Visiting Chin people in Myanmar – unique and awesome Myanmar adventure tour.
Animal sacrifice plays an important role in their animistic ceremonies. In fact, Chin state has the largest proportion of animists among states in Myanmar. However, 80% to 90% of the Chin believes in Christian. This thing pricinpally results from efforts of American missionaries during the British colonial era.
Chin women are famous for facial tattoos (a complicated spider web covering face). Chin culture is quite odd with bizarre traditional dances and even playing flute by nose.
Same to Chin, the Kachin is part of the Tibeto-Burman racial group, and majorly inhabit in Kachin state. They are divided into 6 ethnic sub-groups: Jingpaw, Lawngwaw, Lashi, Zaiwa, Rawang and Lisu; in which Jingpaw are the most numerous.
Most popular places of interest to take a tour to Kachin state are Putao adventure, Bhamo, and Myitkyina. This is the far north of Myanmar, under the shade of Hymalaya and share border with China.
Traditionally the Kachin are animists, but afterwards they were highly targeted by Christian missionaries during colonial times. Today, about 36% of the population are Christian, majorly Baptist and Catholic.
So-known as Red Karen or Karenni, the Kayah are settled in the mountainous isolation of Kayah state – an area closed to travelers. Situated in eastern Myanmar, it is bounded on the north by Shan State, on the east by Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, and on the south and west by Kayin State.
In tradition, they follow animism. Nevertheless, when colonial period came, they were targeted for convention to Christianity by Baptist and Catholic missionaries.
The top place of Kayah State are Loikaw – an untouched place for trekking and homestay. Loikaw is accessed by the flows from Inle lake via the famous Kalaw. You can refer the typical program Trekking from Kalaw to Loikaw here.
The name “Red Karen” refers to the flavored color (red) in Kayah customary dress. Nowadays, they constitute a very small percentage of the Myanmar’s population, maybe no more than 1%.
Kayin (Karen) people
This ethnic tribe features very linguistic diversity, with a dozen related but not mutually intelligible dialects.
Originally animists, now Buddhism is the Kayin’s popular religion, along with about 20% of them are Christians, and a negligible proportion believes in Islam.
A remarkable sub-group of the Kayin is Padaung tribe, whose women are really well-known for long necks and brass neck rings they wear. They principally live in Loikaw and Tachileik.
The Kayin are independent-minded people. They live mostly at Kayin State to the south east of Myanmar, share bored with Thailand. Presently Hpa-an is the sole place in Kayin state where travelers can reach and expose Kayin race.
Suggested tour program: Hpa-An Caving and Mawlamyine Exploration to discover untouched natural beauty of Myanmar and meet Kayin people. The tour starts and ends in Yangon.
The Mon, so-called as Tailing by Occident historians, were one of the earliest residents of Myanmar, who used to rule what is now Thailand. As occurred with the Cham in Vietnam and the Phuan in Laos, the Mon were gradually conquered by sided kingdoms and their influence declined until they were practically unknown outside Myanmar’s borders.
Mon people lives in Mon State, Bago region and Irrawady river delta to the south of Myanmar. Those places are mostly reached from Yangon by some hours drive by bus. Those places are very popular for travelers because of its unique culture and easy access.
Today the Mon only make up 2% of the population of Myanmar, but Mon art and culture have impacted on that of the Myanmar pretty thoroughly.
Mon people on Thingyan festival
The Rakhaing (also spelled Rakhine and formerly called Arakanese) are primarily adherents of Buddhism. They claim to be among the first followers of Buddha in Southeast Asia. Their last ancient capital was based in Mrauk U in Rakhaing state, which borders Bangladesh. Now Sittwe is their capital and also the most popluar places for traveling.
Typical tour program: Myanmar Archaeology: Mrauk U & Sittwe. HIT Myanmar strongly recommends the checking of the safety condition with our consultants before going to this area.
The Rakhaing language is akin to Bamar but, owning to their geographical location, they have also absorbed a fair amount of culture from the Indian subcontinent. In view of most Bamar, the Rakhaing are a Creole race – a combination of Bamar and Indian.
Local culture exhibits a strongly Indian flavor particularly when it comes to food and music. The Rakhaing are skilled weavers and known in Myanmar for eye-catching and intricately patterned longyi.
Rakhaing state has a minority population of Muslim Rakhaing, as well as Rohingya, another Muslim people not recognized as Myanmar’s citizens by the government.
Rakhaing girls on Thingyan festival (Photo source: Wikipedia)
As the biggest ethnic tribe in Myanmar behind Bamar, the Shan, most of whom are Buddhists, call themselves Tai. This name is significant, as Shan are connected ethnically, culturally and linguistically to Tai people in adjacent Thailand, Laos and China’s Yunnan province. In past times the Shan were dominated by local lords or chieftains called “sao pha”.
The most popular places for travel industry are Lashio, Kengtung and Taunggyi – that is very famous for Balloon festival in November.
Refer typical programs to this area: Insight Myanmar with Ballooning festival to discover the whole country with the highlights of lightening festival in Taunggyi in November annually.
Shan culture is especially famous in Myanmar cuisine with outstanding national dishes such as Shan-style noodles and Shan-style rice.
Other ethnic minorities
Myanmar’s constitution has established the “self-administered zones” for the Wa, Naga, Danu, Pa-O, Palaung and Kokang.
The country also has a considerable population of Chinese (2.5%), Indians (1.25%), Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. Recently, massive flux of Chinese people migrate into northern Myanmar, apparently in Mandalay and surely in frontier towns, for example Mong La, where the “yuan” is the ingredient currency.
Let’s take a Myanmar in-depth tour to explore almost unique and interesting features of culture and history of this amazing country.
Children in Pyin Oo Lwin