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135: Counting Races in Burma

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Though the Burmese junta is claiming that they are trail-blazers totally different from and exceedingly superior to former ruling parties of Burma, they still have to use the Kaba-aye Cave built by U Nu's government for religious purposes; follow Ne Win's order on Burmese language spellings of "one"; hold on to the "theory of human evolution originating from Pondaung" sold by Khin Nyunt; and still employ Saw Maung's official count of "135 races of Burma." Now let's see if there are really 135 ethnic groups in our country.

The SLORC-SPDC claims that there are twelve Kachin groups and persists in depicting clans or dialect differences as separate races. Besides, it also portrays Kachin as a name of a distinct race in addition to Jingpho. Although everyone knows that Kachin is a term encompassing a number of ethnic groups, the SPDC misrepresents it in his list intending to inflate the numbers. Guari, Khakhu and Duleng are not separate ethnic groups but clans of Jingpho ethnic group. Indeed, Khakhu and Duleng is one clan with two different names. Also, Trone and Dalaung are clans of Rawang. Therefore, twelve Kachin ethnic groups listed by the SPDC actually amount to six:

 

SPDC list

 

Actual list

1

Kachin

 

A General term covering Jingpo, Maru, Rawang, Lashi, Atsi and Lisu

2

Trone

 

A clan of Rawang

3

Dalaung

 

A clan of Rawang

4

Jingpho

1

Jingpho (including Guari, Khakhu, Duleng and other clans)

5

Guari

 

A clan of Jingpho

6

Khakhu

 

A clan of Jingpho

7

Duleng

 

A clan of Jingpho

8

Maru (Lawgore)

2

Maru or Lawgore

9

Rawang

3

Rawang or Nung (including Dalaung, Trone and other clans)

10

Lashi (Lachit)

4

Lashi or Lachit

11

Atsi

5

Atsi or Zaiwa

12

Lisu

6

Lisu or Yawyin

12

Total

6

Total

The SPDC list gives nine Kayah ethnic groups. Among them, Zayein, Kayan (Padaung), Gheko and Yinbaw are just sub-races of Kayan, and Kebar is a sub-race of Bwe Karen ethnic group. So, SPDC list of nine Kayah ethnic groups amount to just five groups in reality.

 

SPDC list

 

Actual list

1

Kayah

1

Kayah

2

Zayein

 

A clan of Kayan

3

Kayan (Padaung)

2

Kayan (including Padaung, Gheko, Yinbaw and Zayein)

4

Gheko

 

A clan of Kayan

5

Kebar

 

A clan of Bwe Karen

6

Bre (Kayaw)

3

Kayaw

7

Manu Manaw

4

Manu Manaw

8

Yin Talai

5

Yin Talai

9

Yin Baw

 

A clan of Kayan

9

Total

5

Total

The eleven Karen ethnic groups given out by the SPDC also show different name calls and clans as separate ethnic groups. It is ridiculous to find a Karen race separate from Sgaw, Pwo and Bwe Karens. Karen is a term embracing Sgaw, Pwo and Bwe. The military junta's desperate contrivance to exaggerate the race count also demonstrates the stupidity of those men in power, proving that they are governing the country in spite of not even knowing the true names of its indigenous ethnic groups. Indeed, there are only three Karen ethnic groups. Paku, Monnepwa and Ta-lay-pwa are Sgaw Karen clans while Kayinpyu and Palechi are Bwe Karen clans, and Monpwa is a Pwo Karen clan. Mon Karen is another name for Pwo Karen and not even a clan, far from being a separate ethnic group. Sarpyu is not a name of race but a term denoting Christian Karens. This fact highlights SPDC's ploy to cheat.

Kayah and Kayan ethnic groups originate from Bwe Karen and Pa-O ethnic group originates from Pwo Karen but these ethnic groups have now acquired separate identities. Kebar which is shown among the Kayah ethnic groups is actually a clan of Bwe Karen and not having separate identity from the Bwe yet.

 

SPDC list

 

Actual list

1

Karen

A general term encompassing Sgaw, Pwo and Bwe.

2

Karenpyu

A clan of Bwe

3

Palechi

A clan of Bwe

4

Mon Karen (Sarpyu)

A different name of Pwo; Sarpyu denotes Christian

5

Sgaw

1

Sgaw (including Paku, Ta-lay-pwa, Monnepwa and other clans)

6

Ta-lay-pwa

 

A clan of Sgaw

7

Paku

 

A clan or different name of Sgaw

8

Bwe

2

Bwe (including Karenpyu, Palechi, Kebar and other clans)

9

Monnepwa

 

A clan of Sgaw

10

Monpwa

 

A clan of Pwo

11

Shu (Pwo)

3

Pwo (including Monpwa, Mon Karen and other clans)

11

Total

3

Total

The worst thing in the SPDC list is the display of 53 Chin ethnic groups. As usual, it includes a separate race with the name "Chin." Also included among the Chin ethnic groups are categorically non-Chin ethnic groups such as Naga, Meithei (Kathe) of Manipur and Lhinbu of Nepal that could not be identified as Chins. Chin ethnic groups acknowledged by Chin political parties and scholars today total eight. The SPDC list displays clans or dialects which are not separate races or tribes. These clans or dialects can be classified into following eight Chin ethnic groups:

 

SPDC list

 

Actual list

(1)

Chin

 

A general term embracing Zomi, Kuki, Laimi, Mara, Chomi, Khami, Shomi and Mizo

(10)

Khawno, Gunte, Gwete, Ngorn, Zizan, Saing Zan, Zo, Tiddim, Tay Zan, Dim

1

Zomi

(2)

Kaung Saing, Thado

2

Kuki

(15)

Kwelshin, Kwangli, Sengtang, Za-how, Zotung, Zo-pe, Zahnyet, Tapong, Taishon, Torr, Mi-er, Lyente, Lawhtu, Lai, Laizao

3

Laimi

(2)

Mara (Miram), Matu

4

Mara

(5)

Dai (Yindu), Magun, Mgan, Oo-Pu, Rongtu

5

Chomi

(7)

Khami, Awa Khami, Kaungso, Panun, Laymyo, Wakim, Anu

6

Khami (Mro)

(2)

Saline, Asho

7

Shomi

(3)

Ka-Lin-Kaw, Lushei, Haulngo

8

Mizo

(4)

Naga, Tanghkul, Malin, Anun

 

Naga

(1)

Meithei (Kathe)

 

Manipur

(1)

Lhinbu

 

Nepal

53

Total

8+3

Total

Kuki originated from Zomi and Mara from Laimi but they now exist as separate ethnic groups with their own identities. Have the SPDC not placed Kwe-myi and Mro among the Arakanese, the number of Chin ethnic groups could get 55. If other different name calls such as Chinbon, Chinbok, etc. were added, total number of SPDC Chin ethnic groups could climb up to almost 100. Naga could not be counted among the Chins but should be displayed separately. There are at least 64 Naga clans—probably more than Chins. However, it is assumed that, as the Nagas do not have a State like the Chins, the SPDC downplays the Naga count. Otherwise, the "ethnic race count" in Burma could shoot up to 300 or something.

The Burmese junta, ever obsessed with the occult number "9," puts the figure of Burman ethnic groups as exactly nine. It shows Yaw, (Dawei) Tavoyan and (Beik) Merguian as separate ethnic groups. But in reality, anthropologists and linguists classify those as different dialects and not as different races. Those people have not yet become significantly eager to exist as separate races with their own identities. Maybe, in some future, Tavoyans and Merguians could acquire separate identities. However, the SPDC puts other separate Burman ethnic groups like Danu, Taungyo and Intha among the Shan ethnic groups. It also lists Kadu and Ganan separately, and lists Phon, a cousin of Kachins living in Kachin and Shan States, and Salon or Moken, a non-Tibeto-Burman Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian among the Burmans. This shows the junta's poor sense of anthropology. Naga living in Sagaing Division is put among the Chins while Kadu-Ganan living in Kachin State is indexed among the Burmans.

 

SPDC list

 

Actual list

1

Burman

1

Burman

2

Dawei

2

Tavoyan

3

Beik

A dialect of Tavoyan

4

Yaw

A dialect of Burman

5

Yabein

3

Yabein

6

Kadu

4

Kadu-Ganan

7

Ganan

A clan of Kadu-Ganan

8

Salon

Moken (Malayo-Polynesian)

9

Phon

Phon (Northern Burmish)

9

Total

4+2

Total

The SPDC lists only one Mon ethnic group but categorized other Mon-Khmer ethnic groups like Wa, Palaung and Riang in Shan ethnic groups.

 

SPDC list

 

Actual list

1

Mon

1

Mon

1

Total

1

Total

Seven Arakanese ethnic groups are indexed in the SPDC list. But Kwe-Myi and Mro are actually Khami Chins residing in Arakan State, and have already been registered in SPDC's 53 Chin ethnic groups. Moreover, they are not two separate ethnic groups but different clans of a single Khami Chin ethnic group.

 

SPDC list

 

Actual list

1

Arakan

1

Arakan

2

Kamein

2

Kamein

3

Kwe-myi

 

Khami Chin ethnic group

4

Daingnet

3

Daingnet

5

Maramagyi

4

Maramagyi

6

Mro

A clan of Khami Chin ethnic group

7

Thet

5

Thet

7

Total

5

Total

Thirty-three Shan ethnic groups presented in the SPDC list not only include Shans but also other Burman, Tibeto-Burman and Mon-Khmer ethnic groups. Of the Shan ethnic groups, Shan Gyi and Tai-Lon are different names of the same ethnic group. Shan Gale and Tai-Lay are also the same. Although Khamti Shan and Tai Lem are indexed, other Shan ethnic groups such as Tai-Nua (Shan Tayok), Tai-Li, Tai-Lian (Shan Ni) and Dayeh are left out. It needs to be ascertained whether these Tai (Shan) ethnic groups would take one identity with different clans or dialects, or separate identities rather than different dialects or clans.

Of the other ethnic groups, En, Son, Wa and Tai Loi are the same. (Perhaps Tai Loi could be indexed as a separate Mon-Khmer ethnic group.) Kwi and Lahu are also the same and Pyin and Akha too are not different from each other. Pale and Palaung add up to one single ethnic group. As well, Man Zi, Yao and Eik-swair are different names of the same ethnic group. Because of territorial contiguousness, a Chinese tribe is listed as one of Burma's ethnic group with the name Kokang, and Yun (Laos), Khamu (Laos), Shan Gale or Tai-Lay (Thai) and Tai-Lem (Yunnan) are listed as ethnic groups of Burma. Similarly, at the Chin State, Meithei or Kathe (Manipur) and Lhinbu (Nepal) are regarded as Burma's ethnic groups but some groups from neighboring countries residing inside Burma such as Tai-Li (Yunnan), Pa-shoo or Malay, Tibet, Gurkha (Nepal) and Chittagonian (Rohingya) are not shown as Burma's ethnic groups.

 

SPDC list

 

Actual list

(3)

Shan, Shan Gyi, Tai-Long

1

Tai-Lon (Tai-Yai)

(1)

Hkun

2

Tai-Hkun

(1)

Maw Shan

3

Tai-Mao

(1)

Tai-Lem

4

Tai-Lem (Yunnan)

(1)

Khamti Shan

5

Tai-Khamti

(2)

Shan Gale, Tai-Lay

6

Tai-Noi (Thai)

(1)

Yun (Laos)

7

Tai-Yun (Laos)

(2)

Palaung, Pale

8

Palaung

(3)

Wa, En, Son

9

Wa

(1)

Tai Loi

10

Tai Loi

(1)

Danu

11

Danu

(1)

Taungyo

12

Taungyo

(1)

Danau

13

Danau

(2)

Lahu, Kwi

14

Lahu

(2)

Kaw, Pyin

15

Akha

(1)

Khamu

16

Khamu (Laos)

(3)

Man Zi, Yao, Eik-swair

17

Miao or Hmong

(1)

Kokang

18

Kokang (Chinese)

(1)

Intha

19

Intha

(1)

Pa-O

20

Pa-O

(2)

Yin Kya, Yin Net

21

Riang

(1)

Maingtha

22

Maingtha (Achang)

33

Total

22

Total

In summary, 135 ethnic groups put up by the SPDC have 76 ethnic groups that are repeatedly counted or fabricated and only 59 ethnic groups actually exist. However, this does not imply Burma has exactly 59 ethnic groups. There are some ethnic groups left out of SPDC list such as Taman, Tai-Lian, etc. And among those 59 ethnic groups some are nearly extinct or existing only in few hundreds, for example Yabein, Danau and Khamu. Besides, there might be some who wish or do not wish to acquire a separate racial identity. If, for instance, some Tai (Shan) ethnic groups choose a common identity, the above list could get even shorter.

Whatever the case, the number of Burma's ethnic groups do not come to 70 or more. Nevertheless, the SPDC would just impose military dictatorship on various excuses even if the number hits less than ten. The SPDC list is merely an evidence of its lack of credibility and incompetence in counting the ethnic groups of the country it is governing.

Ref:    i) Ethnologue    ii) Encyclopedia Brittanica    iii) Encyclopedia Encarta    iv) Encyclopedia Burmanica

Editor’s Note        This article appeared in www.shanland.org in 2005. However, it went amiss during the relocation to a newly developed website. Fortunately, the author, Gamanii, still has the manuscript. SHAN takes this opportunity to express our sincere thanks to the author.

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