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The History Of Thailand's Karen Hill Tribe People

Updated on March 13, 2012
Hill Tribe Arts And Crafts
Hill Tribe Arts And Crafts | Source
Hill Tribe Home In Northern Thailand
Hill Tribe Home In Northern Thailand | Source

Karen Tribal People

The Karen is one of the largest hill tribes in Southeast Asia, there are said to be approximately 400,000 Karen Hill tribe people living in the hills of Northern Thailand. They live off the land, making simple houses out of bamboo, and raising their own animals such as pigs and chickens. The Karen have been known to use elephants to help clear the land for farming, and have since established a reputation as elephant trainers or mahouts. There are several sub groups of Karen tribes, the most common being the "Dam" (Black). The language used by various sub groups is different, but since all are originating from Sino-Tibetan, they are able to communicate. The Karen are often confused with the Red Karen (long neck), famous for the neck rings worn by women to stretch the neck.

The Karen can trace their background to what is now present day Tibet, and China's Gobi Desert. It is said that during the 18th century the Karen began to move south, across the Salveen River from Burma (Myanmar) as far as Northern Thailand. Karen legend states that the ancestors crossed a "river of running sand", this is though to be a metaphor for the Gobi Desert. Since 1949, a group of Karen have been at war with the central government of Burma (Myanmar). Aside from this relatively small group of Karen known as the "Karen National Union", most Karen people are known as peace loving, quiet, gentle people. They have lived in harmony with other tribes in Thailand for centuries.

You can find Karen people in the northern provinces of Thailand, and in the country of Myanmar (Burma). Karen people make up approximately 7% of the population of Myanmar. Most of the Karen tribes in Myanmar are located in the southern part of the country near the Thai border. There are Karen villages in the mountains around the Thai cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai as well as the area known as "The Golden Triangle". Karen people do not recognize political borders, and often cross borders for family or economic reasons. This poses a problem for border patrol officers in the north of Thailand.

The Karen people have traditionally practiced ancestor worship, however today over 30% of the Karen in Thailand have been converted to Christianity by American missionaries. Much like the Native Americans, the village is overseen by a Chief or spiritual leader, who has great power and control of the local community. The Karen have strict rules regarding premarital sex and adultery, in the past the punishment for such crimes included death. The custom of arranged marriages has long been a part of Karen tradition, however it has become less common. Traditional dress includes a variety of colors, white for unmarried women and reds and blues for married women. Although most Southeast Asians treasure gold, the Karen people have no use for gold. The Karen people have long been wearing traditional silver jewelry that they make by hand using methods that have been passed down for centuries. Today hill tribe silver is regarded as the highest quality silver jewelry due to it's 99.9% purity and the custom hand made craftsmanship.

Making Traditional Hill Tribe Silver Jewelry


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      4 years ago

      things like, I'm not as smart as the other kids in my class. Have you used the Quotient ADHD System machine to help track your daehutgr's ADHD? I'm considering this as an option but would like to know more about it first. Thanks for your support.Linda

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      4 years ago

      Thanks for the great show today Karen about stress brsetus. That amazed me that 90% of doctors visits are because of stress! I really liked your tips I know when I feel stressed I have done some of the meditation techniques that you mentioned and they really do work! Looking forward to your next show.


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