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Myanmar National Races
The Kachin

The Kachin reside in the northernmost region of Myanmar bordering India and Tibet. The area contains some of the highest mountains in South East Asia including the snow-capped Mt. Kakaborazi, which is the Myanmar’s tallest peak. It is believed the Kachins were among the last of the Tibeto-Burman peoples to migrate into the country. Kachin celebrate a number of fetes and festivals. But the Manao Festival is the biggest and the most important annual celebration in which all Kachin enthusiastically participate. The highlight of the Manao Festival is dancing around a bonfire in front of the multi-colour painted poles and strings of small colourful flags.


There are more than a dozen ethnic groups living in Kayah State numbering over just 150,000. The Kayahs comprised the largest ethnic group in the region. Although spirit worship is still practiced, most Kayahs converted to Christianity in the last century. The most important annual festival is the Kutobo or Flag Mast Festival, held sometime between March and May.

The Kayin

The Kayins were most probably among the earliest inhabitants to descend from China down the Ayeyawaddy, Sittaung and Than Lwin Rivers into Myanmar. But over the centuries, they retreated into the mountains of the south-east and the forests of Ayeyawaddy Delta. The Kayins constitute the biggest ethnic population in Myanmar after the Bamars and the Shans. Myanmar is home to around 4 million Kayins, half of whom live in the Delta region and the rest in the Myanmar-Thai borderlands. Most are Buddhists, and quite a number of them are Christians. Some in the eastern mountains regions are still animists.


The Chins are the Tibeto-Burma people inhabiting the great mountain chain running up western Myanmar into Mizoram in north-east India. In the past the difficult terrain meant there was little communication between villages. The Chins had to rely on their lowland neighbours for food and supplies in times of emergency. Modern development and the establishment of infrastructure have made their life easier. More than forty sub-groups, many distinguished by their unique facial tattoos and costumes, have been identified among the 1.5 million Chins in Myanmar.


The Mon, a distinctive branch of the Mon-Khmer peoples, were probably the earliest of modern day inhabitants to settle in the plains of Myanmar. They are believed to have founded the world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, originally a Mon settlement. Traditional Mon language and culture now survives mostly in rural areas and the south-east borderlands.
The famous Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, an extraordinary golden rock perched precariously on a mountain outcrop is in Mon State.


The upper and central plains of Myanmar are the traditional home of the Bamar. They are a Tibeto-Burman people who migrated from the north and China-India borderland long before they established their greatest capital at Bagan on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River between 1044 and 1287 AD. Later, capitals were built at Inwa, Amarapura, Sagging, Mandalay and Taungoo.
Today, Bamas form the largest ethnic group in the country with 30 million people (about 60%) of the total population in Myanmar.
The rich cultures of the Bamars are staunch Buddhists and reflect the influences of Indian civilizations. These include Pali script (derived from Sanskrit), cosmology, philosophy and statecraft, art, medicine and architecture.


The Rakhines are the majority ethnic group in Rakhine State, and have long been influenced by their proximity to India and have formed trading links with the sub-continent. They claim a long history of independence and ruled their own kingdom at Mrauk-U until 1784 AD. The Rakhines speak a dialect of Bamar that many scholars believe is the earliest form of the language, and they are very similar to Bamars in culture and dress. Other minority groups include the Thet, Khami, Daignet and Maramagyi, who live in the hills.


The Shans are the second largest ethnic group in Myanmar after the Bamar. They live mainly in Shan State, which is the biggest state in Myanmar with a population over 4 million, and is a melting pot of over 35 races and tribes. Most Shans are valley-dwellers. They wee among the first migrants into the area and are thought to have come from Yunnan, south-west China, where related Tai peoples still live.


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