Asian Geographic - - On Assignment - AD­DRESS­ING OTH­ERS

As the sec­ond big­gest eth­nic group in Myan­mar, af­ter the Burmese, the Shan group makes up 9 per­cent of Myan­mar’s pop­u­la­tion. The Shan peo­ple pre­fer to call them­selves Tai, be­cause of their eth­nic, cul­tural and lin­guis­tic re­la­tion to the Tai peo­ple in the neigh­bour­ing re­gion of Thai­land, Laos and Yun­nan Prov­ince, China. The Shan princes or sawb­was were recog­nised by the Bri­tish in the 19th cen­tury in the process of an­nex­a­tion, but signed an agree­ment to re­nounce all hered­ity rights with Gen­eral Ne Win’s gov­ern­ment. How­ever, some Shan groups have been en­gag­ing in years of mil­i­tary strug­gle to re­gain in­de­pen­dent con­trol of their area in Myan­mar, which con­tin­ues to­day.

The Shan are dis­persed in moun­tain val­leys in South China, Eastern Myan­mar and North­ern Thai­land. Gen­er­ally, the Shan group speaks Thai, but the di­alects dif­fer among the dif­fer­ent Tai groups. Tai Lu and Myan­mar-used Tai Khun is sim­i­lar to North­ern Thai, while Tai Long re­sem­bles Burmese; Tai Mao is a sharper ver­sion of Tai Long. All th­ese Tai di­alects have their own in­di­vid­ual scripts. Since th­ese scripts were mainly used in re­li­gious texts and court chron­i­cles, the Shan peo­ple, mostly men, learnt to read and write when they were or­dained as novices or monks.


‘Intha’ means ‘chil­dren of the lake’. The Intha peo­ple live on sur­round­ing Lake Inle in the Shan State. They are ex­cel­lent swim­mers and fish­er­men, who are known to row their boats with one leg wrapped around the other small tribes, the Intha tribe has their own Burmese di­alect, which re­sem­bles the lan­guage spo­ken by the Burmese, Dawei, Danu and Rakhine.


‘Wa’ means ‘peo­ple of the cave’, re­fer­ring to the place of ori­gin of th­ese tough north­east­ern hill dwellers in the Shan State. There are an es­ti­mated 950,000 na­tive Wa speak­ers in north­ern Myan­mar and in parts of China and Thai­land. The three re­gional vari­a­tions are Pa­rauk, Vo and Awa. The Wa lan­guage was first writ­ten us­ing a ver­sion of the Latin al­pha­bet by a Chris­tian mis­sion­ary, Wil­liam Mar­cus Young. This older ver­sion of the Wa lan­guage is still be­ing used to some ex­tent, al­though the newly re­vised Wa adap­ta­tion is now be­ing ap­plied in of­fi­cial publi­ca­tions.


The Eng tribe is one of the nu­mer­ous hill tribes in Myan­mar who live in a vil­lage called Nant Lin Taung in the eastern Shan State. Di­vided be­tween Bud­dhism and an­i­mism, the Eng peo­ple of­ten pre­pare sac­ri­fi­cial of­fer­ings and drink toasts of tra­di­tional wines dur­ing fes­ti­vals. The Eng peo­ple are most fear­ful of wa­ter spirits, hence their vil­lages are built far from rivers and lakes. They are known as the ‘Black Teeth Tribe’ due to their love for chewing be­tel leaf com­bined with to­bacco and areca nut.


The Palaung peo­ple re­side chiefly in the north­ern Shan State, with a hand­ful in Yun­nan Prov­ince, China. Un­like most hill tribes, the Palaung peo­ple are very wel­com­ing to­wards vis­i­tors who wish to gain spe­cial in­sights into their cul­ture. The Palaung di­alect, or De’ang in Chi­nese, is fur­ther split into Pale, Ru­mai and Shwe, Pin­point­ing the num­bers who speak th­ese three sub-di­alects is chal­leng­ing.


This eth­nic group is found in Laos, Viet­nam, China and Myan­mar. In­ter­est­ingly, the na­tional dress fol­lows the tribe’s dis­tinct colours: Lahu Na (Black Lahu), Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu), Lahu Hpu ( White Lahu), Lahu Shi ( Yel­low Lahu) and the Lahu Shehleh. The Lahu lan­guage is called Lahu Shi, a no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent di­alect from other eth­nic groups; how­ever, an­other no­table fact is that the writ­ten Lahu lan­guage uses the Latin al­pha­bet.


Pre­dom­i­nantly Bud­dhists, many of the PA-O peo­ple now live around the western Shan State. They grow and pro­duce the thanapet leaf from cor­dia trees, used for rolling the che­root, Myan­mar’s tra­di­tional cigar. PA-O vil­lages are noted for the beauty of the wooden monas­ter­ies they build.the PA-O di­alect is clas­si­fied into North­ern PA-O and South­ern PA-O, which can be un­der­stood by the speak­ing par­ties.


Among the poor­est tribes in Myan­mar, the Akhas are said to be di­vided into seven clans, rep­re­sent­ing seven broth­ers. They live iso­lated from civil­i­sa­tion on the rugged moun­tains, east of the Thanl­win River. Mini fig­urines of peo­ple and an­i­mals, known as lucky charms, are erected at the vil­lage en­trance. The Akha lan­guage is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from Thai, Chi­nese and other Asian lan­guages – ev­ery word ends with a vowel. An of­fi­cial writ­ing sys­tem was in­au­gu­rated in the 1950s, when Paul Lewis, a mis­sion­ary, de­vel­oped the Akha writ­ing sys­tem us­ing the Ro­man al­pha­bet. ag

Akha is com­pletely dif­fer­ent from Thai, Chi­nese and other Asian lan­guages – ev­ery word ends with a vowel

Us­ing the proper term of ad­dress is im­por­tant in Myan­mar. Ad­dress males and fe­males be­low the age of 40 years old with ‘ maung’ or ‘ ma’ pre­fixed to their name, re­spec­tively. Af­ter age 40, use ‘ u’ (pro­nounced ‘oo’) and ‘ daw’ for males and fe­males re­spec­tively.

This ti­tle is also used when ad­dress­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials or some­body of high so­cial sta­tus.

Left page A Burmese fish­er­man in a bam­boo boat on Inle Lake, catch­ing fish with his hand­made net be­low A Palaung woman in Hsi­paw (left); a PA-O girl poses for a photo at a lo­cal mar­ket in Samkar vil­lage in Shan State (right)

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