NORTHERN THAILAND'S TRIBAL HERITAGE: THE KAREN

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Karen Karen Karen

Karen

Karen

The Karen, or Kariang as known to the Khon Muang, are the largest highland group and live mostly in the mountainous area in the western provinces of Thailand, such as Mae Hong Son, Tak, and Kanchanaburi. There are only a few villages further east in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai because the bulk of the Karen tribes are still in Myanmar. They speak a Tibeto-Burman language and they came to Thailand mainly over the past 200 years. Actually, the whole group is divided into White, Black, and Red Karen, and it is the White Karen that has communities in Chiang Rai. In the last couple of years, there has appeared a sub-group called Padaung or “Long Neck” Karen who live as refugees in some villages of Chiang Rai province.

Karen settlements tend to be in forested areas of lower altitude at an average elevation of 500 meters. Like the Khmu tribe in Laos, they keep elephants. Near the valleys, the Karen practise wet rice agriculture and, where it is necessary, build terraced fields and do “shifting cultivation.” Rice and vegetables are their major crops. They raise pigs and chicken, as well as keep water buffaloes and cattle for work.

Karen kinship and marriage customs are different from all the other hill tribes because kinship is traced through the maternal line and residence after marriage is in the mother’s village. The Karen people are strictly monogamous and, in most cases, the family is the most important, basic, co-operative unit. They build their houses on stilts. Their religion is basically animism and they believe in a spirit world. Some follow the Christian religion, while others adopted Buddhism in close contact with the Khon Muang people. Their “New Year” celebration takes place in January/February.

The Legend : Chiang Rai Office
124/15 Moo 21 Kohloy Road, Amphur Muang, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand
Tel: +66 (0) 53 910 400
Fax: +66 (0) 53 719 650
Email: info@thelegend-chiangrai.com
The Legend : Bangkok Office
133/14 Ratchaprarop Road, Ket Rajthevee, Bangkok 10400 Thailand
Tel: +66 (0) 2 642 5497, +66 (0) 2 254 3069, +66 (0) 2 247 5373
Fax: +66 (0) 2 246 5679
Email : info@thelegend-chiangrai.com