Living at the Edge of Thai Society: The Karen in the Highlands of Northern Thailand

Living at the Edge of Thai Society: The Karen in the Highlands of Northern Thailand

Living at the Edge of Thai Society: The Karen in the Highlands of Northern Thailand

Living at the Edge of Thai Society: The Karen in the Highlands of Northern Thailand

Synopsis

This book is the first major ethnographic and anthropological study of the Karen for over a decade and looks at such key issues as history, ethnic identity, religious change, the impact of government intervention and gender relations.

Excerpt

The Karen are the largest of the ethnic minority groups living in the mountain range of eastern Burma and northwestern Thailand. in Burma there are between four and six million Karen, while in Thailand there are over 400,000 Karen, most of whom are divided into two subgroups, the Skaw, who call themselves Pgaganyaw, and the Pwo, who call themselves Plong. This book is about the Thai Karen, in particular the large majority who live in the northwestern highlands, in small villages at elevations ranging from 600 m to above 1,000 m above sea level (Figure P.1).

The Karen are probably the most widely-studied of the ethnic minority groups who live in the northern highlands of Thailand. Yet, since the edited volume by Charles Keyes, Ethnic Adaptation and Identity: the Karen on the Thai Frontier with Burma, published in 1979, there has been no book focused exclusively on the Karen. This book answers the need for a volume that brings together the various facets of Karen society - ethnic identity, inter-ethnic relations, social practices and customs, economic life, and religious beliefs - so as to clarify their inter-relationships. in so doing, the book also shows how transformations in one of these components affects the others, and the proactive efforts of the Karen to adapt to a Thai society where they are confronted with changes, in mobility, education, religion, and restrictions to land use, which affect all facets of 'Karenness'.

The contributors to this volume all bring different levels of experience in terms of the time they have spent doing research in Thailand. Alongside those who have been involved in research among the Karen for several decades, there are others who present new work from their recent PhD research. However, no matter where their starting point, each chapter in this book is the result of original, unpublished research carried out in the last few years in northern Thailand, and was specially written for this book.

The book starts with an introductory chapter by Ronald Renard, and is subsequently divided into three overlapping parts. Renard takes an historical perspective and presents a fascinating overview of the literature on the Karen in Thailand and Burma since the eighteenth century. Although

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