Myanmar. Kachin, the forgotten people

Kachin people are one among many racial groups in Myanmar (Burma), South East Asia, and were a nomadic community. They had a separate country before British rule but then it became a part of Myanmar after their regime.

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It is located in the northern part of Myanmar adjoining the Peoples Republic of China in the East, Democratic Republic of India in the West, Tibet in the north and Myanmar in the south. About 50% of the total area of the Kachin land is hills and mountains up to a height of 5881 meters above sea level. Kachin land is rich in natural resources: jade and teak-timbers are the best in quality, and the production of gold per unit is the highest in the world. Within Kachin there are six linguistic sub-groups (Jinghpaw, Lawngwaw, Lashi, Zaiwa, Rawang and Lisu), each with a particular dress.

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They consider themselves to be of one ethnicity because they all share the same last names and the same dancing festival traditions. All Kachins still belong to clans; n Kachin culture one can be related by blood, marriage, family name, language group or clans, and so Kachins also consider most other Kachins to be brothers and sisters, or at least cousins.
Kachin people live mainly in northern Myanmar, as well as in parts of China and India. The Kachin in Myanmar are estimated to number about one million. The first missionaries came to Kachin land in 1860s and at that time the majority of the Kachins were animists. Some worship various gods as well as the spirits of their ancestors. Kachin animists believe that spirits reside everywhere and that these spirits bring good and bad luck. They also believe that all living creatures have souls and rituals are carried out for protection in almost all daily activities, from planting of crops to warfare.

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At present about 15% of Kachins are either animists or Buddhists and the other 85% are Christians (Baptist, Catholic and other denominations), the biggest number being Baptist and the second largest being Catholic. Dr. Ola Hanson, the American Baptist missionary (1890), created the Kachin alphabet from the Roman one and thus the first Kachin literature evolved.
It is generally thought that the Kachin gradually moved south from their ancestral land in the Tibetan plateau through Yunnan in southern China to arrive in the northern region of what would eventually become Burma (Myanmar) sometime during the 15th_16th centuries. Women traditionally dress in black jackets with silver decorations and also wear skirts fashioned with bright colours while the men wear black wide pants and cover their heads with turbans: youths with white turbans and the adults with black turbans.

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The Kachin people organized themselves into clans and chiefdoms and were never ruled by an external power until the British colonized them. It is important to note that they were not considered the same colony as the Burmese and were administered separately by the British. Earlier Kachin called themselves ‘Jinghpaw’. Earlier spelling of the term ‘Kachin’ varied greatly, but by the middle of 1880s, ‘Kachin’ was being used generally and this spelling has continued to the present. Kachin people considered Kachin a foreign term which was applied to them with a derogatory meaning. Only in recent years have they been willing to accept the term and use it when speaking in Burmese or English, however, they refer to themselves as ‘Jinghpaw’ in their own tongue. (J.K.)


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