The Taunghsu so called by the Shan are well known all over Thailand and Cambodia, and as far as the Lower Mae Khong-about Kassac and the rapids of the thousand Islands. In the Shan Highland plateau, they are cultivators. When they travel abroad they are most commonly known as elephant and horse dealers.
The Taunghsu called themselves Pa-Oh which immediately suggests Pwo(Pwaoh). The Taunghsu form more than one half the population of the Myelat, and the state of Has-Htumg( His-saing) is so completely Taunghsu that the chief is of that race. Elsewhere they are found in majority, all over the eastern part of the southern Shan state, but they do not spread northwards where there are the black and striped Karen which compose 15% of the population of the Shan state. In Lower Burma they are found in Sittang and Salween river vallies.
There are two distinct groups-the lowland and highland Pa-oh with two dissimilar economic way of life which builds a social gap between the two in their national advancement. The lowland Pa-oh with the construction of railways and roads, find their movement easier and quicker. This elevate their standard of living. The progress made by the lowland Pa-oh is found to exceed far more than that of the highland Pa-oh. Living mostly among the Pwaoh and Sgaoh, the lowland Pa-oh enjoy a more secure and quiet village life than those in villages in proximity to the Burmese villages on the main roads and river banks. A few by force of environment of social pollution, allow themselves to be Burmanized. But the majority maintaining loyalty to their mother tongue and national identity, prevent themselves to be a vanishing race.
Though they are opportune for educational progress, most Pa-oh do not encourage their children continue for higher education, and take less interest in the participation of civil and military services. The few who enter the services bear themselves to be good characters and receive high esteem for their trust worthiness.
On the whole, the lowland Pa-oh are cultivators, and as land owners, they are thrifty and modest not to fall into debt. During the world depression of the thirties, it was found that a very few lands belonging to the Pa-oh farmers lost to the Indian money lenders-the Chettiyars.
The main occupation is growing the staple food paddy. After the harvest, they enter into the cold season cultivation where dew is the deciding factor for good cash crop. After storing paddy for their family yearly consumption in the barns, the surplus paddy is sold to the brokers who collected the paddy in the country and recultivation consists mainly of two crops-peanut and tobacco for cash, and vegetables are grown for home consumption, as a practice to be independent of their neighbors.
Money derived from their cultivation is spent frugally on family welfare but liberally on the enjoyment of festivals and still lavishly on “Merit making” . It has been observed that religious practices are still extravagant and even more elegant as modernization takes place in the country.
As “Law and Order” takes care of the public security, martial arts as a measure for self-defense”, is no more an important exercise. Among the lowland Pa-oh, who, inlarge number, are well-to-do farmers . Like others, they too suffer when the Burmese Socialist Economic Construction comes into force and totalitarian system is imposed on everyone in the country.
The highland Pa-oh to this day adhered to their national tradition and culture, which to such an extent, an indication of conservativism. But still the distribution of population is more in density as compared to that of the neighbouring Shan. As a matter of fact, the highland Pa-oh population is several times more than those in the lowland where there are many Pa-oh big villages (over five hundred houses). Whereas, in the highland, villages are of equal size and located within an equal distance from one of another. The Pa-oh population concentrated mainly in the two districts-Taunggyi and Loilem and area not over 8,000 square miles. The land is a rolling high plateau, interrupted with a few high mountain ranges, stretching from Kong Sang in the North towards the Karenni border in the South, and an expanse of fertile land roughly from Pawnlaung river in the west and Salween river in the reaching Thailand border.
Inlay Lake, noted for its floating villages, is situated in the middle of the land. People of In-lay, known as In-Tha, speak a Burmese dialect, but unlike the Burmans, they are industrious. Each village specialized in a particular trade, such as, gold or silver works, black smithy, weaving and other handicrafts. Besides the home industry, pieces of land constructed in the lake where cultivation of high yield crops are for commercial produce. Fish is abundant here.
Higher on the hill sides live the Yaung-Yo who speaks a different Burmese dialect to that of the In-Tha. They are less developed and live mainly on dry cultivation. Along side the Taung-yo are Pa-Laung who still live in long houses. On the whole, these are the few people who contributed to the growth of the land.
Since the Pa-oh are the majority, the national economy is virtually in their hands. Inveterate as they are, the Pa-oh live on the Mother Earth and take good care of it. In their rudiment ways, they conserve the soil by rotation of crops and periodically leave portions of the land for animal grazing, enabling the droppings to scatter in the fields. There are lands for rice, wheat, garlic. Peanut, potatoes, soy bean, all kinds of pulses, and plantations for sain-la (mulberry leaves for Burmese cheroots) tea, coffee and other fruit trees. Fruit trees flourish here so richly that any processing of canned industry would benefit the pa-oh growers. One foreign firm once constructed a canning factory in this area. It was, however, he nationalized and the plant was shifted to Mandalay where tin provision was manufactured for the military use.
A village life is an all day toil in the field and it is uniform everywhere. Morning starts with hustle bustle of womanfloks preparing to go to work. First, early in the morning, they cook and prepare food for the family while the men (heads of the families) chant their daily meditation before the family shrine. With mid-day lunch in the baskets which are slung across their shoulders they gather their hoes and hurry towards their respective fields. Weeding and harrowing are easily done by the hoe, and done the whole day long. There is a break at mid-day during which the workers partake their lunch and have some rest.
The elders, having chores to finish at home, leave late in the morning. First they let loose the cattle penned during the night. The cow dung and excretion of the animals are collected and heaped in the pit prepared for fermentation. This is one method where organic manure is prepared from the refuse of the domestic animals, the Pa-oh rear. The animals are domesticated not for milk or meat, but for the soil of the Mother Earth. These cattle are herded by hired persons who separate one herd from the other in the fields reserved for grazing. The number of heads of the cattle is usually between 90 to 100 and there are three or four herds belonging to a village. In the evening again the elders leave for home early as they have to round up the cattle for the night. The young, however, usually return from the fields at dust time less if they are seen returning while there is day light, neighbors would say they are lazy.
Night time is usually quiet but occasionally interrupted by a mute musical note denoting the name of the girl for courting. Serenade by the teenagers are common on the musical instrument used is the flute attached to the dried shell of gourd fruit. The art is to stimulate the romantic feeling of the girl for courting and only rustic way of life could appreciate it in feeling. The courting custom is made at night time. The man comes up to the house and occupy a place by the hearth which is a communal place where the house-hosts should sit near the fire, to keep themselves warn before going to bed. Nor understaindable he has no business with the elders who in all formality play host to him till it is time for them to retire to bed.
Sometimes, there is only a couple left to themselves, but very often a number of boys and girls sit around the fire place and talk right into the night. There is nothing as hands holding, hugging and kissing. Generally in every village, there is only one rooster for crowing and which gives times signal. By custom, when this rooster starts crowing the young people take their leave and go home. When the man and girl fall in love, the parents or the guardians take charge and made necessary arrangement for their marriage. Formal wedding ceremony is not an elaborate event. Normally, the bride and groom would make their vow in the presence of the elders who would tie of coil strings on their hands while wishing them well and good. The simple formality binds the couple man and wife. Divorce cases are rare and once a man is married, he has no further romantic life to go flirting, as the wife takes care of his comfort and need.
Flirting is generally permitted to take place in the open when working in the fields. The man has to learn to play the flute well if he wishes to be a good flirt. During midday rest, the young flirt would play a particular tune on his flute, calling the name of the girl he wants to flirt with. The girl in the next field across, on hearing the flute music (if played to her) would realize straight that someone is wanting to flirt with her. If she is in the mood, all she has to do is walk up and down in the field, indicating that she too wants to flirt. What follow is the boy continues to play his flute with the love songs. Sometimes they would leave their fields and meet halfway where they would flirt. But, it is a clean flirtation.
The peasant life is not drudgery but equally enjoyed by the Pa-oh. Tenant is not known, and instead “aid and loan” labor system is a traditional communal practice to solve labor problem, when and where extra laborer is needed to finish the work in time. Loan of labor is paid back with an equal amount of labor loaned. Communal labor as to public works such as roads and bridges is undertaken as a responsibility and needs no urge.
With a voluntary sense of duty, the villages are kept clean. Water for public utility and sanitation are provided for in every village. Village monastery is understood to be the symbol of Buddhist establishment where religious festival takes place and commences from. As parents are head of a family, monks in large measure, take great care to maintain the morality of the villagers. Drunkenness and rowdiness are not encouraged in the village. Killing of animals, wild or domestic, as a part of Buddhist teaching, is prohibited in the village vicinity. Should there be any bad character in a village, one in a thousand and incorrigible, the elders and the monks banish the said man for life.
Leading a simple life, the dress the Pa-oh prefer, is made plain from black colouued material, preferable of high quality. Man wears a pair of pants, girdled at the waist, over a shirt on top of which is worn a jacket. The woman wears a garment, a sort aof camisole, under a smock-frock and over it is a cardigan of velvet or serge, and black of dark blue are favorite colures. To keep herself warn and to prevent insect bites, legging are used. Both man and woman war turbans of bold color with prominent patterns in variety, done up in fashion particularly not in the same style as that of the Shan. The head dress of a woman is elaborate, and the turban is fashion to symbolize the head of a flying dragon ( the matriarchal symbolic). The hair is done up in a chignon and a large hair pin denotes the status of wealth the wearer has.
All Pa-oh are cultivators, and such as they are, there is no distinction in class behavior among them. All possess the means of production and each is independent in the economic life. Not one is hampered by any social discrimination. Among the people a classless society is prevailed, and as Buddhists, the concept of being rich or poor depends on the amount of merits one contributes in life.
“Merit making” is the pivot of the Pa-oh economic life. They are not extravagant in taste and enjoy religious festivals. They make pilgrimage to distant religious centers to worship and give donation- the practice which is meant “merit making”. After they would return home and resume the daily toil- to work and save up for another “merit making”.
Significantly, monastery is the mainstream of Pa-oh culture and traditional custom. Monastery plays the largest part in the molding of cohesiveness and national spirit without which national units would not have been possible. It, however, is not only established to conduct religious ceremony but to promote and guide the people in moral armament and social security.
There are many monks who follow the steps of their predecessors and continue to do research in the know ledge of herbal, and from it they teach the native herbalists and their medication. Normally, the medicine is extracted from the herb (root, stem and leave) and prepared as a powdered condiment. In some cases, boiled herb water is used as fomentation and ablution in cases of pain and burn. The condensation of hard-boiled herb-water is used as medicine in chronic diseases. Though the preparation is not perfect form medication, it has produced good result where no modem medical aid could reach people in remote places.
When and where modem health programmed covers and an area, the general public health in that certain area, has improved remarkably. However, it is yet early to dispense with the herbalists and their medication. It is deplorable that the infant mortality rate is high and the span of life is very short. The death rate of middle age is very high because the demand of hard labor of them is acute.
The knowledge and incentive of martial arts come from the monastery which is the centre of every festival. There, in the monastery, are sets of drums and gongs, big and small. A variety to suit any occasion called for. The beating of drums and gongs, the band is played by villagers. The band is practiced and played and to complete the exercise, one of two persons would roll up their trousers and step out to perform the arts as taught to them in their early age. It is the monks who induce the art to the youngsters with the fundamental of self-defense.
Historically, the reputation of the Pa-oh swordsmanship had been played down. There were many instances where Pa-oh swordsmen were engaged in battles. Ba Yin Naung, the warrior, mobilized a contingent of Pa-oh swordsmen in the attack and occupation of Ava and Alaung Paya with his Pa-oh cavalry in the invasion of Siam.
From the monastery, young Pa-oh are induced with the desire that self-defence is an essential art for manhood. As they grow older and in their teens, they undergo a series of training under capable masters. The training is done in the jungle. First, the lesson of freehand art is taught, then with stick or staff; when this art is mastered, sword fencing is taught last and for gradation. On graduation, each student is to fight his way through the gates where swordsmen are planted to cut him down. The art itself is a combination of Karate and judo, but locally is known as “lai dong and Lai swa”.
The characteristic traits of the Pa-oh people are: loyalty, honesty, and their love of a peaceful life. Their taste is simples though their hospitality (like all members of the Karen race) is proverbial. As cultivators, they are industrious and learn the hard way to conserve the land they till so that they would be self-sufficient and may not be in want to feed themselves. They understand the value of independence from their toil.
On the whole, the simple life they persue helps them to be humble and gracious. The learn to suffer silently whatever hard ship mated out to them. But when human self-restraint comes under stress and strain, it snaps to let loose uncontrollable temper. The Pa-oh are not the exception. The turn of history is like the writing on the wall; for, the destiny of a people is defined by its own men of principle who, in time of crucial period, stand up for the right to lead their own people.
An Emerging Nation and against Feudalism
Feudalism in the Shan Highland Plateau was a typical and hereditary ruling class emerged rather than nominally based on autonomous manors. Classical European pattern of feudalism did not evolve here. Under the British colonial administration and recognition, the authority of the feudal lords went unchallenged. How much severe the people were downtrodden socially, politically and economically, they dare not complain.
By the time Taunggyi was occupied, the national aspiration, National Spirit, patriotism, loyalty and self-confidence were restored as national values. Hitherto worse was the case of the Pa-oh people. Under the alien feudal authority, as it is the way of the world when there was no leader to stand up for the principle the Pa-oh continued to exist as the oppressed and the only law over them was the law of the strong. They were not treated as a people to be fostered and nurtured for progress, but ruled over as a class only for exploitation by the ruling class for their own betterment.
Public functions and festivals were numerous and organized to conduct public gambling from which the henchmen collected taxes and fees to enrich their masters and themselves. Opium cultivation was promoted as a source of tax. Every family was allowed to distil rice wine which could be sold openly. Gambling, drunkenness and opium smoking were vices which were the roots of robbery and theft. Crimes occurred frequently and become uncontrolled. There was no law and order as it would under a democratic society where there were very few minions.
Under the corrupt and bad system, the people lost all appreciation of social and moral values. Aimless and bewildered, yet they still hoped for a better future, while they submitted themselves to the will of the repressive environment. It was appalling to perceive how humble the Pa-oh were demeaned to behave. In public eating shops, they were not allowed to eat on the tables but to use the ground floor. What humiliation and degrading treatment they suffered in those days under feudalism.
In post World War II, a disaster almost as bad as a calamity prevailed in the form of disease, lack of food, scarcity of currency, for the Japanese currency was invalid, dacoity and hooliganism were rampant. It was not only the Pa-oh but also the other races as well. Greediness and self-centerness made men lose their morals. The feudal lords were no exception. Instead of eradication the vices which damaged the social life of the people they ruled, they selfishly exploited on them. And the good people suffered the worst. Thus the bad situation was doubly increased under feudalism, and there was no social security for them.
For every disease there is a cure. To cure it is to attack and destroy the cause. During these darkest days, there were still men of principle, nationalists and patriotic monks. A few in number may they be but, were dedicated and determined to save the people from the living hell. An open attack on the feudal system, verbal or any other means was not advisable. It was premature and would hasten the fast deteriorated situation to get out of had, from worse to worst. But the good mass was already in the mood to be organized. They needed leaders to follow. They wanted reform.
For reform, the prime movers were (1) Sayadaw U Thu Riya, the most influential Abbot among the Burmese monks, ( 2) Sayadaw U Htut Nandah, the noted scholar who recoined the Pa-oh written language, (3) Sayadaw U Gandamah, the Pa-oh written language, (3) Sayadaw U Gandamah, the great national organizer and the torchbearer for the liberation from feudalism.
They together with other enthusiastic reformists among the monks and laymen, contrived a movement. First they formed a pilot movement as an initial programmed for moral-rearmament, seemingly not to be a hostile action against the feudal ruling class. They formed several cells of monks who conducted special religious services for the public. They preached to the gatherings and delivered messages of the immorality. As more attendants were won over, the movement was expanded. It was soon found out that the mass were all ears to hear the message on moral-rearmament. When the public response gained strength and in momentum, several monk associations were formed. These monk associations took up the challenge against vices and preached about the evils derived from the abuse of these vices. The pilot movement on moral-rearmament, the active challenge against vices and the consequences awakened the public who by this time regained their self-confidence. They aspired for reform, to take better care of their lives, their villages, communities, religion and country. The public response was then significantly positive.
By the end of 1946, a direct challenge and attach was launched- a movement for the eradication of all vices. The movement publicly called for the immediate eradication of the followings;-
1. Opium and all intoxication
3. The ruling class taking lesser wives, and
4. Poaching and butchering in the vicinity of the monasteries and village
The active attack on immorality practiced by the ruling class, though verbal, was violent and damaging in the public. The denunciation made, revealed the ugliest image of them. Many repented and reformed. By the end of 1947, “Pa-oh Long Bu” – Pa-oh Solidarity was established. From this “Pa-oh Long Bu” besides the Pa-oh, all the other races became politically awakened.
During this period, the three existing organizations were:- the Asia Youth Organization, the Shan State Independence Organization and the “Pa-oh Long Bu” ( Pa-oh Solidarity). With the support of the mass, they joined rank and launched intensive attack on the feual system and fought for democracy.
Very soon retaliation took place. The lackeys with the support of the levies and police intensified their suppression on the mass. Then the conflict between the mass and the feudal lords come to a crucial state. By the end of 1948, for village security, Sayadaw U Gandamah, organized militiamen with arms they seized from the Sawbwas feudalist levies. This action encouraged the other local leaders to follow suit. Soon the Naung Ka villagers organized themselves as militia men and conducted a movement against the feudal ruling class. Thus among the Pa-oh, they said, “The revolution started first at Kyautk-ta-lone and second at Naung Ka”.
Under the Colonial Rule
The Burmans were the favoured majority and helped the British to exploit on the country. Though the British police surveillance for law and order checked the racial hostility at bay, the policy of the British “divide and rule” bred distrust and hatred between the privileged and the non-privileged, or the majority and minority, the latter who had the obsession that they were still being subjected to the dominance of the Burmese superiority especially in the fields of social uplifting and in the public services.
The introduction of western education hastened the advancement and progress of the Burmese people in prosperity, many to become elite in the public services. In the early years, when there were only Christian schools, many Burmese parents sent their children to be educated from which they obtained good position in the civil administrative offices. The Karen Anglo-Vernacular schools could not encourage Pa-oh parents to send their children for better education. For, they feared and suspected that the Christian missionary were to destroy Buddhism.
Before and after World War I, Burmans were encouraged to study law, civil services, political science and such akin subjects, primarily to train civil servants. With profound social changes, Rangoon University, established at the end of World War I, became the centre of the Student Body for political activity. The Burmans began to organize themselves politically. First, Young Man Buddhist Association was formed to forment nationalism among the students, the majority of which studied in Christian schools, where morality and discipline were maintained. Later on, the Grand Council of Buddhist Association was formed to represent the entire Burmese community. Political agitation took in its stride, perpetrated a student strike in 1921. The strike was sparked by the Burmese students in the Cushing Baptist High School on the allegation that Christian teaching did not flatter Buddhism. The Student body took up the issue and launched a country wide student strike for constitutional change and home rule. Pa-oh students, studying in Karen schools which did not take part in the strike, perceived how the strike was manipulated for political intrigue. In retrospection, they reiterated stories retold about their ancient achievement. Then, they were confirmed in their belief that education was the pillar for growth and nationalism was the driving force. This prompted the Pa-oh to identify their political aspiration with the Karen National Association ( KNA).
In the thirties, before the World War II the Saya San Peasant Rebellion was staged in support for Home Rule. But the Karen National Association (KNA) fought for communal representation in the assembly with the advocation of the separation of Burma from India. With Pa-oh national leaders taking active part in the political struggle, The Karen National Association (KNA) had the united support from all Karen communities; and the Burmese ire was nonetheless irritated.
In 1942, there was a certain change-the upheaval of Pa-oh sentiment from sluggishness. It was motivated from the fact that the ever docile Karen ( in the Delta) stood up gallantly against the Burmese brutal attacks. The political awakening was on hand, at the threshold when Dr. Ba Maw as the Prime Minister, to form an interim government chose Pa-oH Hla Pe to serve under him as the Minister for Forestry and Agriculture. To the best of his ability, Pa-oh Hla Pe partly utilized his good offices as a staging ground for future leadership. When the Burma campaign was about to end, many Pa-oh guerrillas and freedom fighters in Shan Highland Plateau organized themselves under local leaders. When official contact was made with col. Tulloch, a commander under Col. Peacock, commander of Force 136, the Pa-oh irregulars, in conjunction with “Operation Character”, seiged and occupied Hsi Saing, Banyin, and Loiput. Here they constructed road blocks to the retreating Japanese army from Shan Highland Plateau to Toungoo. At the end of the war many were cited in certificates of merits for valuable services rendered for war effort and a few were awarded with the double barrel guns during the Durbar held in LoiKar. But Pa-oh Hla Pe was suspected as being the prime mover of Pa-oh resistance and was taken to Thanbyu-Zayat for questioning. After suffering brutal outrages at the hands of the Kampetai, he was at last released.
The war ended and therein urshered a new breed of Burmese nationalists who had training under the Japanese political pre-eminence. They formed the Anti-Fascist Peoples Freedom League( A.F.P.F.L) representing the majority opinion of the Burmans, preponderously to dominate the will of the indigenous races.
The K.N.A changed its sign board to the Karen National Union ( KNU) a move to encompass all the diversed Karen communities with the self-expression the Karens did not trust the bad intentions of the Burmese nationalists. Once the British left, they would be vulnerable to brutal treatments at the hands of the hostile Burmese elements. The Pa-oh people with an instinct of self-preservation joined the K.N.U. Pa-oh Hla Pe was elected as the vice-President of the K.N.U. In all appearance the Karen race was united, but soon the enemy won over the renegades who separately formed the Karen Youth Organization ( K.Y.O) . Many Pa-oh leaders in the Highland Plateau Joined. U Kyaw Sein became the Vice-President of the K.O.O. But the Karen mass did not forget their bitter experience during the Japanese occupation.
The Burmese nationalists wanted independence in one year and that they did not want Burma to be dismembered. The stipulation of the British White Paper for Burma was that Burma proper would attain independence in three years’ time on the signing of the agreement and that the Frontier Areas would still remain under the British care. They threatened country wide rebellion. London summoned Aung San who met with Attlee. On assurance from Aung San that the A.F.P.F.L would form a democratic government with suitable autonomous privileges to the frontier peoples, Attlee conceded on the verbals statement. Aung San-Attlee agreement was concluded. Aung San came back and started to woo the frontier leaders. He made promises, gave assurance; and when that failed, he used coercion and intimidation.
To Attlee, Aung San did not say anything about 50-50 for the Karen and the Burman as he did it to Lord Mount Batten in Kandy meeting. The political fate of the Karen race was at stake and they were worried. The K.N.U sent a delegation to London to put up their case but was told to talk it over with their counter parts. However, London sent Rees Williams to chair the Frontier Areas Enquiry Committee. During the first hearing at Rangoon, Witnesses from the K.N.U, to the question asked, “ Why do you not want independence with Burmans?” , gave similar answers that the karens do not trust the Burmans. But on the second hearing in May Myo, a couple of Karens from Papun hills stated that they wanted independence along with the Burmans. There were two sets of testimony and the legal practice and procedure called for a new hearing where the authenticity of the testimonies given by the witnesses could be ascertained. But it was observed that the British Labour government wanted a hasty exit. So next came Major Bottomley ( Now Lord Bottomley) to coordinated the Panglong Treaty. Mr. H.N.C Stevenson was then the director of Frontier Administration and knew the evils and woes of Burmese politics. On many occasions he warned the frontier leaders not to commit themselves in any political agreement with the Burmans. He was frustrated when his warming fell on dead ears. When his protest to the Governor strongly against the PangLong Tready failed, he put up his resignation and forfeited his life pension. On the first day negotiation for Panglong Treaty nearly all the frontier leaders were reluctant to endorse the treaty, But the next morning saw every one bent to the will of Aung San. And so Major Bottomley concluded the treaty to the expressed wish of Aung San.
The Thaton district, predominantly Karen was to become a testing ground. The Socialist Kyaw Nyein ( A.F.P.F.L) launched a land Reform Programmed by which the lands belonging to the Karen, Pa-oh and Mon were to be distributed to the landless Burmans. This infuriated the land owners, who, if not guided, would take action by themselves, which would be disastrous. In March 1947, Pa-oh Hla Pe organized a mass rally for the demonstration against the Land Reform programmed. Nearly all the man folks from Pa-oh villages turned out to show unity and strength. A multitude of not less than 10,000 assembled at a Pa-oh monastery from where a procession of a peace loving people took place, to demand justice. When the demonstrators passed by the Socialist office, the unruly Burmans from the office started flaying obscene expression and made fun of the Pa-oh farmers. Though the demonstration was meant to be peaceful, things went out of hand when some of the marchers broke out from the procession and attacked the miscreants from the office. The office was ransacked and pulled down. However, the procession reached the District Commissioner’s Office where they handed in their petition to the District Commissioner. They demanded that:-
1. They be called and known as Pa-oh ( and not as Taungthu)
2. The Land Reform Programmed be cancelled , and
3. Two battalions of Pa-oh soldiers be formed in the Burma Army.
Sometimes later, the Government Gazetteer issued one publication to the effect that, such people known “Taungthu” , herein after shall be known as Pa-oh.
No answer was made to the other two demands. However, the socialist activity came to an end soon the incidence was forgotten.
When Aung San formed his Burma Defense Army he failed to foresee the tragedy that his rank and file would subsequently segregate themselves into distinct groups according to the political ideology absorbed by them in the course of their career. With the prospect of independence in view, the army officers had struggled along with the politicians who, after independence, wielded more power and ostentatiously profited more by it. The army officers were disgruntled and since Aung San was dead they had no allegiance to honour but to themselves. They were prone and vulnerable to chances of personal power and glory, acquisition of rights and privileges and ventilation of grievances. Than Tun launched a personal offensive against the constitution and able to wedge a division between the socielists and the People Voluntary Organization who fought for power inside the ranks of A.F.P.F.L. Than Tun by this time had infiltrated into the Army and won over officers to his side. Three months after the independence, Burma was torn country wide with internal strife as Than Tun led his Communist Party of Burma in active rebellion.
The power struggle within the A.F.P.F.L caused the dissension which followed among the indigenous parties and factions. In the country side, armed decocting bands roamed and looted the unprotected villagers, while the rebelling communists demanded personal services from the mass. There was no security and to protect their lives and property, the K.N.U began to form defense units and named it the Karen national Defense Organization ( K.N.D.O). The K.N.U believed that unless the Karen race was adequately armed they would be easily opened to abuse, insult and brutal attacks. Soon nearly all villages were protected b small detachments K.N.D.O. Many Pa-oh leaders came out to the call; notably, Boh Tah Kara of Pyu Township, Boh Pyu of Tantabin Township, Boh Ye Htut of Thaton and others who organized their K.N.D.O to protect Pa-oh villages.
U Nu was the first Prime Minister, versatile in political intrigue. In his handling of the Karen case, he used flattery with honeyed words. He often sibly welcomed the K.N.U assurance that the Karen would not use force in the quest for a Karen state. But when his Police Auxiliary Force- the Sitwuntaing which he built up secretly, was in preparedness, he proffered a challenge to the Karen in a firm tone that they would have to fight for it if they wanted a Karen state. U Nu had thrown down his gauntlet. The decision was made and U Nu was determined to destroy the Karen race.
In a country where are diverse races with different culture, custom and manner, ethnical traditional and background, nationalism can not be itemized for the integration of assimilation of the indigenous races into one homogenous unit. It is definitely chauvinism. When the Burmese nationalism breeds racial antagonism, the law of reciprocation crops up. The Karen who are the second largest race next to the Burmese, stood up to honour their national dignity and to prove that nationalism is not ill-gotten in the battle field of life and death.
U Nu said the first shot was not fired in Insein. It was correct and he knew it because he had set his Sitwuntaing to massacre Karen villagers at Wet-Net-Chaung a week earlier than the attack made on Insien. And so the war between the majority Burma and the minority Karen race started on January 31, 1949. Soon the Mon National Defense Organization joined in the fight.
It was not a rebellion. It was the the K.N.D.O and M.N.D.O who took military action to protect their races for national survival against the genocidal attacks of the numerous Burmese armed forces not only the Sitwuntaings and the Burma Army – the Burma Communist party, the people voluntary Organization and the Army deserters who actually were in active rebellion against the government, now joined rank and attacked the K.N.D.O. and the M.N.D.O. from all sides. It was the characteristics of a total war of extermination. It was indeed a racial war between the majority Burman and the minorities.
In Thongoo and Thaton districts the Pa-Oh mobilized their K.N.D.O. units and took active part in the occupation of Toungoo, Nyaunglaybin and Daik-U, The K.N.D.O. moved north and occupied Taunggyi, the provincial capital of Shan State in September 1949, Boh Chan Zone, a commander of U.M.P. unit took part in the occupation and he mobilized Pa-oh armed force in the Southern Highland Plateau. From Toungoo, Pa-oh Hla Pe came up to Taunggyi where he organized his people into a political body. It was the first political-military movement ever to materialize under a national leadership.
Commander Naung Seng, presently commanding the First Kachin Rifles, formerly of the Burma Army had joined the K.N.D.O. On the first instant, he made several attempts to induce the Shan Chiefs to join them. The chiefs in the expectation that the Panglong Treaty was binding and the Burmas would honour it in time did not want to play any part which would engender quarrel with the Burmans. Commander Naung Seng and his Kachin troops marched to Kachin Sub-state. His intention was to set up bastion where the liberation of Kachin people could be staged. The prospect of arousing the Kaching people from the backwardness and to get organized politically and militarily as a measure of preparedness to meet any urgency, was ruined when the Kachin mass leaders asked him not to interrupt the prevailing peace and security the mass was having in that period. Naung Seng was frustrated. He and his troops bolted across the frontier to write a new page of history. The two races, Shan and Kachin were innocent and ignorant. But their leaders failed to see thing in the right perspective for the future, in the course of time when more evils and woes would be carved out for them, more intense in severity.
The Pa-Oh in Burma
The Pa-O is called Taungthu by the Burmese, and Taungsu or Tongsu by the Shan. The term Taunghu has a double meaning in Burmese. It can mean “southern people,” when referring to those Pa-O living in the Thaton area of Lower Burma, as well as “hill people.” The Pa-O interprets the latter as “peasant,” a demeaning term. They refer to themselves as Pa-O.
The Pa-O are regarded as one of four main subgroups of the Karen. The other
three subgroups are the Sgaw, Pwo, and Karenni. The Pa-O are most closely related linguistically to the Pwo. C.M. Enriquez identifies ten tribal divisions
within the Pa-O: five in the Thaton area and five in southern Shan State.
Aye Myint, who confines her study to southern Shan State, also lists ten Pa-O subgroups. Maung Khun Noay (Inle) lists fifteen subgroups in southern Shan, karenni (Kayah), and Karen (Kayin) states. However, there may be as many as twenty-four Pa-O subgroups. The Pa-O from the Thaton area in lower Burma refer to their people on the Shan plateau as highland Pa-O, while those in southern Shan State refer to those in the Thaton area of Lower Burma as lowland Pa-O. For the most part, the highland Pa-O has maintained their distinct language, traditional dress, and culture. They are recognizable by their black or dark blue traditional dress and colorful turbans. However, among the subgroups there are variations in language and dress. It is commonly accepted that the lowland Pa-O have largely become Burmanized. Along with their neighbors the Mon and the Karen, they have largely adopted Burmese language, dress, and customs. However, over fifty years ago C.C. Lowis noted that the Taungthus are “almost the only Lower Burma Karens who have preserved their tribal homogeneity (sic). According to Pa-O legend, they migrated south into Burma from the high plateau of central Asia. In lower Burma they established the city of Thaton, east of present day Rangoon. There they prospered, developing a kingdom and a sophisticated culture. Even though the Pa-O shared Thaton with the Mon, the Pa-O claim Thaton as their capital and regard the kings of Thaton as their own. Although virtually all historians agree that Thaton was a Mon Kingdom, the Pa-O cite a work by a Pa-O abbot that states that the first 158 kings of Thaton were Pa-O and the last seventeen were offspring of Pa-O/ Mon intermarriage. Enriquez lends support to their claim when he reports, “There were once Thaungthu Kings at Thaton, of whom Thit Tabang Mingi is still spoken of. To add to the confusion, G.E. Harvey cites from the Glass Palace Chronicle, “From Thirharaja to Manuha there were eight and forty kings in Thaton.” Arthur P. Phayre notes that the Mon chronicles contain “a list of fifty-nine kings, for the most part fabulous, who are said to have reigned there. It is not uncommon for different groups of people to live in close proximity and still maintain their own language and traditions, and recognize a common leader. It is likely that the Pa-O living in Thaton, along with the Mon, accepted Manuha as their own king. Phayre adds that as “all records were destroyed or carried away (by the conquering Burmese in A.D.
1057), no account remains of the early history” of Thaton. Along with the lack of written documents, G. Coedes adds that “there are no archaeological remains of any importance” at the site to settle the dispute. Virtually nothing of the early history of Thaton survives except legend.
The Pa-O and the Mon were among the earliest converts to Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia. J. George Scott wrote seventy years ago that the Taungthu are “nominally Buddhist” but they are in fact “animists. His observation probably was incorrect then, and certainly is today. Lowis more accurately described the Pa-O belief system as “Buddhism, tempered with animism. Most Pa-O are devout Buddhists. However, Buddhism was superimposed on animism over a thousand years ago and still has not entirely replaced it. Enriquez notes that “the Taungthus are Buddhists. They retain the Nat (animist) superstition.” In contrast to Western religions, Buddhism tolerates traditional animist beliefs as long as they do “not interfere with the keeping of the precepts and the more public observances fo Buddhism. Animism remains an underlying belief, particularly in rural areas where animist shrines are frequently found on the edges of many villages.
Of the Karen subgroups the Pa-O are the only ones to develop a written language. Scott states that “the Taungthu certainly have a written character, but those who are able to read it are even fewer than the specimens of the literature. So far none of these have been obtained in the Shan States. William Dunn Hackett, writing fifty year later, and who lived among the Pa-O south of Taunggyi for five years, actually saw “in two or three of the oldest (monasteries) in and near Has Htung town . . . hand-written manuscripts. . . quite evidently of fairly ancient times.” He adds that “two factors led me to believe they were hundreds of years old; one was the yellow and archaic form which was almost unintelligible to monks, and completely so to the laymen. The abbot . . . told us that some of these writings had been brought with them when they moved from Thaton to Has Htung (present day His Hseng).” The Hackett stated in the early 1950s that the Pa-O language “has been written for years or more, perhaps.” The Pa-O written script was most likely developed when their civilization flourished, before the destruction of Thaton in A.D. 1057. If that is the case, then archaic Pa-O script is most likely to be more than one thousand years old. Thaton was at the time accessible from the sea and had considerable commercial, cultural, and religious contact with southern India and Ceylon. The Pa-O and Mon scripts were originally adapted from Indian script introduced by traders and Buddhist monks. Present-day written Pa-O is similar to the circular script of written Burmese; however, unique accent marks make it distinctive. Spoken Pa-O is very different from Burmese and the other over one hundred ethnic minority languages of Burma. Pa-O has more vowels than dose Burmese, and has six possible tones for syllables, while Burmese has only three. The other Karen subgroups either adapted Burmese or Roman script.
The story continues: In A.D. 1057 the Burmese king, Anawrahta, from Pagan, in his desire to acquire copies of Buddhist sacred texts (the Pitakas)
That the king of Thaton had refused him, led a large army southward. After
a long siege Anawrahta conquered the kingdom, sacked the walled city, and captured the Pa-O king, Manuha. Manuha, together with most of the royal court, many monks, scholars, artisans, as well as the Buddhist scriptures, was taken back to Pagan.
Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma was compiled in 1829 by a royal committee of scholars based upon earlier records. It recorded what at the time was believed to be the historical truth. The Glass Palace Chronicle
was so named because it was written at Ava in the Palace of Glass, whose walls were decorated with pieces of mirror and colored glass. It was translated into English in 1923. We learn from the Glass Palace Chronicle.
So the (Burmese) king made ready a store of gifts and presents and sent a wise minister t Thaton to ask for them (the Pitakas) in seemly words. But the heart of the Thaton king was rancorous and evilly disposed, and he answered ill. There at Anawrahtanimsaw ( Anawrahta) waxed exceedingly wroth, and he gathered all his mighty men of valour and marched by land and water. By water he sent eight hundred thousand boats and four score million fighting men . . . His land force, it is said, contained eight hundred thousand elephants, eight million horses, and eighteen million fighting men.
They constituted a formidable procession when viewed from the top of the late rite-faced walls that surrounded Thaton.
Again from the Glass Palace Chronicle.
He ( Anawrahta) brought away the sacred relics which were kept in a jeweled casker and worshipped by a line of kings in Thaton; and he placed thethirty sets of the Pitakas on the king’s thirty-two white elephants and brought them away. Moreover, he sent off in turn the mighty men of valour and all the host of elephants and horses. Thereafter he sent away separately, without mixing, such men as were skilled in carving, turning, and painting; masons, moulders of plaster and flower-patterns; blacksmiths, silversmiths, braziers, founders of gongs and cymbals, filigree flower-workers; doctors and trainers of elephants and horses; makers of shields, round and embossed, of divers kinds of shields, of shield both oblong and convex; forgers of cannon, muskets, and bows; men skilled in frying, parching, baking and frizzling; yakin hairdressers, and men cunning in perfumes, odours, flowers
and juices of flowers. Moreover, to the noble Order acquainted with the books of the Pitakas he made fair appeal and brought them away. He also took the king Manuha and his family and returned to (Pagan).
As a result of the forced removal of these scholars and skilled artisans to Pagan, Buddhism, as well as the art and culture of Pagan flourished. Regarding the “forgers of cannon, muskets, and bows,” Harvey points out that “the first extensive use of fire-arms that can be accepted without question is at Martaban (fifty kilometers south of Thaton) in 1541 when the Portuguese were present,” nearly five hundred years after the conquering of Thaton. (Harvey didn’t comment on those skilled in “frizzling.”)
D.G.E. Hall states that the entire population of Thaton was taken north to Pagan, which, if true, would make the Pa-O migration north to southern Shan State, after the fall of Thaton, difficult to explain. A simpler explanation is put forth by Scott: in addition to King Manuha and the royal court, “ the wealthier people were . . . carried off, and those who were left migrated from the ruins of the Taungthu capital to the Shan States. Michael Aung-Thwin is more specific, stating that Aniruddha (Amawrahta) brought back to Pagan “the bulk of the Mon population, including large numbers of the artisan class. No scholar writing in English about the sack of Thaton mentions that the Pa-O were a minority and though unworthy of mention in the chronicles or that being traditionally agriculturalists and living primarily outside the walled city of Thaton, most of the Pa-O escaped forced relocation. Enriquez states that “after the fall of the (Pa-O dynasty, the people appear to have been widely dispersed, and their numbers were no doubt reduced. As Robert Halliday, a Mon scholar, notes that “Thaton, which had been a center of civilization and learning for more than sixteen centuries, became a waste . . ..
While the length of time Thaton was a center of civilization and learning is open to question, there is little doubt of its destruction. An example of the vagaries in the recording of historical events is Scott’s observation: “Nothing is said of Pegu (onehundred kilometers northwest of Thaton and on the main traditional invasion route used by the Burmese on their way to Siam and Tenasserim), which even then materially, if not spiritually, was a much stronger place (than Thaton), but no doubt be (Anawrahta) took it in his stride. The destruction of both of these cities and the occupation of the region provided revenue and access to the sea. The Pa-O had little reason to stay on and considerable incentive to migrate out of the area. Due to periodic Mon rebellions, the area continued to be ravaged by the Burmese from the north. The Burmese king Bayinnaung conquered Pegu in 1551. Two hundred years later (1757) King Alaungpaya ascked Pegu again, as well as Martaban and Tavoy south of Thaton. Much of the land “relapsed into the jungle. And to add insult to injury, “Burmese armies on the way to Siam (to attack Ayutthaya) would lighten the tedium of the march by devastating the Pegu country. It was not a place to linger in unless one had extremely strong family ties.
The legend focuses upon the Pa-O’s migration from Thaton to Hsa Htung. Scott relates that “those who were left (after Thaton was destroyed) migrated from the ruins of the Taungthu capital to the Shan States and there founded a new state, to which they gave the same name. this is the modern Hsa Htung (Hsi Hseng); others settled in the Myelat. Since no records of this migration exist, the details of the population movement are open to question. It is unlikely there was a one-time major shift in population over a distance of nearly five hundred kilometers. It is more likely that over time there was a migration of a considerable number of Pa-O northward, possibly in waves following the periodic Burmese destruction of the Pegu-Thaton area, with each succeeding generation moving further north in stages. Today there are considerable numbers of Pa-O in the upper Sittang River valley, the main route of travel north from Thaton. Large numbers of Pa-O are found east o fThaton along the Thaton – Pa-an- Kawkareik- Mae Sot road, the ancient invasion/ trade route to Thailand, lending credence to the suggestion that Pa-O ancestors may have migrated east rather than north. Those Pa-O arriving on the Shan plateau settled in the area west of Inle Lake. Scott, who spent many years in the area around the turn of the nineteenth century, notes the Pa-O made up “nearly half of the population of the Myelat. The middle country between Burma and the southern Shan States, the Myelat, was made up of “foreigners.” Scott reports few Shans in that territory, and that the Shan language was not only not spoken, but also rarely understood. The Pa-O shared the myelat with other minority groups, primarily the Danu and Taungyo, as well as the area around Inle Lake with the Intha. East of Inle Lake the Shan became more numerous. Three states west of Inle Lake and two to the east had Pa-O majorities as well as Pa-O chiefs. W.S. Desai, writing thirty years later, confirms that five Shan states were ruled by Pa-O chiefs. In addition to being the majority population in five of the southern Shan States, the Pa-O were significant minorities in several others. They continued their migration into the mountains east of the Lake and settled in Hsa Htung and Ho Pong states as well as the area to the south of Inle Lake and in northern Karenni State. The actual ( versus the legendary) early history of the Pa-O is open to debate. However, it is likely that they migrated south out of the highlands of central Asia to the Shan plateau. They may have settled there for a time before being forced out by the Shan who themselves were later migrants from southern China. The Pa-O then settled in lower Burma and developed a rather sophisticated culture and a distinct language, even while living in close association with the Mon, with whom they seem to have gotten on rather well. Theodore Stern, commenting on the relationship between ethnic groups in the area, notes that the Mon were in close contact with the Thaungthu. Scott writes that the people of Thaton in Lower Burma report coming from a place of that name in the hills, and that the Taungthu of Hsa Tung say they come from Lower Burma. Stern speculates that they may have been driven south and “later may have recolonized their original home or reinforced the remnant that remained there. If there was a remnant population left in the southern Shan States when the Pa-O moved south to the Thaton area, it is possible that informal contact was maintained over the years between the two locations. Hackett, writing fifty years later and referring to Scott’s work, states that the “Pa-O of Shan States say that they came from Thaton. Those who live around Thaton say that they came from Hsa Htong. Hackett then restates Scott’s theory that two migrations took place, the first when the Shan drove them southward and took their land, and the second when they were driven northward after Thaton was conquered by the Burmese.
When the Pa-O migrated north and settled in the southern Shan States, the Shan already occupied most of the fertile valleys. To avoid conflict with the established Shans, the Pa-O settled on the unoccupied hills to cultivate the less desirable land. This was common practice for non-Shan ethnic groups who arrived in an area after Shan occupation. Even though living on the hills made agriculture more difficult, sometimes there were advantages. The Pa-O was able to avoid malaria that debilitated many Shan who lived in the valleys near flooded rice paddies where the anopheles mosquito thrived. As a result, the Pa-O were more “robust.” The number of their villages increased, while Shan villages actually decreased in number. As a result the Pa-O began to replace the Shan in the area. In addition to living in the hills the Pa-O also settled in unoccupied valleys. Scott notes that the Pa-O “houses are for the most part large and well built and the villages well kept and clean”and that the “women and men alike are very industrious in their garden cultivation. In 1885 the Burmese withdrew their garrisons from the Shan states to oppose the British advance on Mandalay. In the absence of a stabilizing force, internecine fighting broke out among the Shan hereditary princes (chaofas or saophas in Shan, sawbwas in Burmese) plunging the entire hill country into war. However, “from its rather out-of-the-way position, partly, too, from the peaceful and industrious character of the Taungthu race, by which the State is mainly peopled, Has Htung . . . suffered little from the intestinal struggles of the other Shan States.
Prior to the British administration the Pa-O in the southern Shan States were victims of Karenni slave-hunting raids. As Archibald Ross Colquhoun states “The Karen-nees (Red Karen) . . . are renowned for their kidnapping propensities. Scott also describes the Karenni as “highly organized slave-traders, making raids into the Shan States to the north to carry off men, women, and children, whom they sold over the border in Siam. Initially they “raided the neighboring Shan States in pursuit of slaves. They gradually became bolder and at length overran the whole of the Myelat, burning villages and carrying off women and children. The Karenni raided to the east, west, and northwest of the state of Has Htung, which was regarded as the real headquarters of the Taungthu race in the Shan States. However, the “Taungthus have seemingly been well able to protect themselves from (Karenni) raids which were so much dreaded by the Shans of . . . other States bordering on the Red Karen country. It is unlikely that the Pa-O in the other southern Shan states were so fortunate. The British, after taking over the Shan State in late 1880s. worked to put an end to these slave-hunting raids with the establishment of a military fort in 1887 on the east side of Inle Lake south of Yanghwe. From Fort Stedman, patrols were sent out to end the on-going warfare between the Shan sawbwas, as well as the karenni slave raids.
The Pa-O are traditionally farmers, but a few are local merchants or traders of cattle and horses. In paddy fields they grow rice, vegetables, garlic, onions, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, beans, mustard, tomatoes, as well as strawberries. On the hillsides, they cultivate tea, coffee, fruit, seasame, and hillside rice, the Pa-O are also known for producing thanatpet(cordial) leaves that are used for the outside wrapper of Burmese cheroots. Most of the trees grow on Pa-O occupied hillsides surrounding the Shan settled valleys, and as a result, the Pa-O tend to dominate thanatpet production, an important cash crop. Although little known outside of Burma, the Pa-O have not gone completely unnoted. In the nineteenth century Cr. D. Richardson, who was sent north from British (lower) Burma to open a trade route to the Shan State, reported a “considerable town, Thataung,(Has Htung/ His Hseng) inhabited by people from the old town of Thataung (Thaton) . . . and broungt here by Norata Meng Tsoe, king of Pagan, ( in A.D. 1018). Colquhoun regards Dr. Richardson as correct with regard to the people and places, but incorrect about their means of travel and date of arrival. A.R. McMahon, the Deputy Commissioner of British Burma, describes the inhabitants of a Taungthu village that he and his party came across in the hills near Toungoo in 1869. The people called themselves “Pa-au,” were “industrious and interesting, but . . . little known” and wore “dark blue or black garments, the women having the usual frock worn by the Karens, supplemented by a head dress of the same material and colour, with a border of deep red, which has a good effect. He also states that the Pa-O were “scattered in small communities” in Central and Lower Burma, as well as the Shan States and Cambodia. Colquhoun reports, somewhat inaccurately, that the main body of the “Tong-thoos” live in Thaton, an ancient town in the Martaban district, situated in the hills to the north, “In A.D.1007, many of them were removed to the Shan States west of the Salween by A-naw-ra-hta in Pagan at that time. The descendants of the latter are still found as a distinct people in Northern Karen-nee, and on the Shan Plateau to the north of it, but little is known of them.
Scott, working in the Shan States as a political officer before he became superintendent of the southern Shan States, relates that in 1887 the chaofa of Yaunghwe, located just south of Taunggyi, said he would “buy a Taungthu woman and give her to us for dispatch to England as a curiosity. He suspects that her curiosity value would have been modest as Pa-O women were no more exotic in their dress than many of the other ethnic minority in the area. Scott, the compiler of the five volume Garreteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States., devotes several pages to the Pa-O” However, he appears to repeat McMahon’s inaccurate assertion, together with his own elaboration, that in addition to living in Lower Burma and the Shan States, the Pa-O were well known through out Siam and Cambodia. In a later work, Scott also states that Taungthu villages are found all over the more western Shan states, but they do not spread northward, and there are none east of the Salween except in Siamese territory.” Later in the same book he asserts that there are “a great many” Taungthus in the northern Shan State of Hsi Paw. In his earlier work he had noted that there were only three villages of Pa-O, consisting of over eighty households. Scott regarded this settlement to be in all likelihood the most northerly one whose inhabitants are said to have come form Lai Hka some hundred and twenty years ago and so intermixed with the Shans that most of them had forgotten their original language. Fifty years later Norman Lewis observed Pa-O in the Lashio bazaar wearing their their dark blue “indigo” dress.
Enriquez, in his Races of Burma, describes his version of Thaton and the Pa-O’s migration north to His Hseng. The Ferrars in their book, Burma, note that the Pa-O of Lower Burma “have maintained themselves distinct from the (Mom).” And that they “are expert craftsmen in all the arts of the Peninsula. They are strict Buddhists and build magnificent (monasteries) in the prevailing wood style. Around the turn of the twentieth century. V.C. Scott O’ Connor observed “comely Taungthu girls” working at silk weaving looms in Mandalay.
In the 1970s, Western scholars studying hill tribes in northern Thailand, noted the existence of the Pa-O, but considered them only as one of the smaller Karen subgroups. Their role as minor players in the anti-government insurgent movement of the 1970s and 1980s was later reported. Pa-O leaders, such as U Hla Pe and Aung Khum Hti, also were mentioned, as was Tha Kaley, a Karen, who led the pro- Communist faction of the Pa-O. It is likely that the next person to write about an individual Pa-O was Jonathan Falla, who describes his experiences with the Karen rebels in the late 1980s in his book, True love and Bartholomew: Rebels on the Burmese border. Although
Falla writes at length about Bartholomew, he mentions only in passing that he is a Pa-O from the Thaton area of Lower Burma.
In Richard K. Diran’s book of photographs entitled The Vanishing Tribes of Burma, the Pa-O is portrayed as one of the country’s many ethnic minority groups. The latest book to mention the Pa-O isAndrew Marshall’s, The Trouser People- In the Shadow of the Empire. Following in the footsteps of Sir George Scott, Marshall wanders through the Shan States and beyond, which includes visiting the “Land of the Pa-O.”
Suvarna Bhumi- Pa-Oh Kingdom
As we saw in the previous Chapter, “Tsai Htomg” became a city-state which in the course of time became the capital of Suvarna Bhumi, the Pa-oh kingdom. “Tsai Htomg” in the Pa-oh language means “picking of gold” which came from the silt washed down by the Salween, Bilin and Sittang rivers and deposited in their estraries. It is fitting therefore, that Lt. Col. A.R McMahon should have designated the area as “The Golden Chersonese”.
When in later years the Bhamah min Anawratha captured “Tsai Htomg”, he erased the name and renamed it “Thaton” in order to bury its historical importance. While the Pa-oh kings ruled in the east, the Pwaoh kings had set up seven principalities at the estuaries of the Irrawaddy river, where (as we saw earlier) they were the original settles.
Suvarna Bhumi was to become important historically on account of a rare event which occurred co-incidentally at the time of the birth of Thuriya Sanda. The brith took place at exactly the same time when the sun and the moon were both shining on the king who was to rule “Tsia Htomg” was name “Hkun Mu-lah”. It means the appointment of the sun and the moon on the horizon. The brith took place on the full moon day of Dein-thi-lah, the lunar month of Pa-oh which corresponds to March.
According to the chronicles of the kings of Burma, Suvarna Bhumi was founded by the king father of Thuriya Sanda and said to be two years after the end of Inzana Raza era, to correspond to 680 B.C. Inzanz Raza was the descendent, 28th in line, of the Second Maha Thamada Raza in the Brahman history and said to be the forefather of Gautama Siddhahta (568-480 B.C.)
The most important event which occurred during the reign of Thuriya Sanda was the personal contact made with Gautama Buddha. In the year after Gautama Siddhahta attained Enlightenment and Perfection, though intense meditation, he paid visit to Suvarna Bhumi. Thuriya Sanda was over a hundred year old at that time during his visit. Three visits he made altogether, and during each visit, he expounded his principles of life and the philosophy of Buddhism to the animist Pa-oh. But at the end of his visit, before with him not to leave him and his people. But Gautama told him that his mission was to sread Buddhism to all mankind and he could not stay with them forever.
Instead, he plucked a lock out of his hair at the end of each visit and entrusted them to Thuriya Sanda, telling the king to keep the locks and consecrate them as symbols of Buddha. Thus Thuriya Sanda and the Pa-oh people were converted as the first Buddhists in the land. They followed and practiced the first Buddhists of Gautama Buddha. For the Pa-oh, it was the beginning of a new era of culture and behavior which preconditioned them to become ardent and humble followers of Buddha. As a true disciple of Buddha, Thuriya Sanda built a sedi called Shwe Za Yan where he enshrined one lock of hair. The second lock was sent to Siam where it was enshrined at a Sedi in Nakkon Patton. The remaining lock was entrusted to the eldest of Thuriya’s twin sons, who had already renounced the throne and devoted themselves to meditation. When Thuriya Sanda died, his brother succeeded him and continued to rule the Pa-oh kingdom in there was dying, he entrusted the lock of hair to his younger brother. But the brother decided that he too was getting old and would soon die. So he searched for a place where he would enshrine the third lock. He chose a cave under a huge rock and on top of the rock, he built a sedi which today i known as the famous Kyaik-Hti-Yo paya (in Pa-oh Phara-dung-lone) in Thaton district.
The Pa-oh people continued to live in harmony with many principalities of the Pwaoh and Sgaoh protecting Suvarna Bhumi from external incursion. In the near west, Sgaoh kingdom was established later to be known as Ussa by the Indian, and in modern time Pegu, while Pwaoh-way better known as There-Kitara flourished at the month of Ce-wah river, the Irrawaddy. Today it is known as Prome. All these Karen principalities were located at the estuaries in lower Burma.
After king Thuriya Sanda, there followed many less important kings until the reign of Dhama Pala. It was this period when king Asoka (274-136 B.C.) from India revived Buddhism and expanded it across Asia. Asoka played down the Hindu caste system and tried to end the expensive sacrificial rites. During his rule, Buddhism revived and produced refined architecture- Stupa, Shrine and sculpture. Buddhism made a tremendous impact on the Pa-oh people of Suvarna Bhumi and with it the Indus civilization expanded to the east. Animism brought down from China dissipated soon as Buddhism took root among the Pa-oh. Trade relationship improved with foreign states as king Dhama Pala established cultural mission with India and Ceylon in the west and neighboring states in the east. From the contact with India and Ceylon, the Pa-oh learned to Ceylon became frequent, for this was considered to be religious atonement for sin. Pilgrims from China passed through Suvarna Bhumi, and from these pilgrims and traders, Suvarna Bhumi became to be known as Piao land in Chinese history during the T’ang dynasty. (618-907 A.D). During this period, in China, written language was standardized; so were the laws, weight and measures, water clocks and sundials were perfected and paper invented.
Thus the two civilizations from India and China, enhanced the Pa-oh culture leading into a new era. Suvarna Bhumi become the centre where Indian and Chinese merchants exchanged their merchandise. King Dhama Pala had one son, Dhama Kawtha, who was a genius. He was sent to Ceylon to study Buddhism under the chief abbot. There he was fortunate to be selected to attend the third Buddhist Synod in B.C. 261, which was compiling the Buddhist scriptures, the Tripitaka, the 30 volumes of Buddha teachings. The script used was Sanskrit and the brilliant Dhama Kawtha was found to be clever and could master both the written and spoken language. At the tripitaka was compiled, Dhama Kawtha was the only novoice who could re-write from memory what had been composed the previous day. When the tripitaka was completed, he asked for and was given the privilege of taking back a complete set of the work to Suvarna Bhumi. There he built a temple and commenced to translate the entire work from the Sanskrit to the Pa-oh written language, generally known as “Pyu letter a script the Karen describe as being “half round like an egg”.
Shang Dhama Kawtha took great pains into the translation of the Tripitaka into “Pyu letter” and it was then taught to the novices in the monasteries. This Renaissance brought foreign relationship on equal footing and trade with India expanded. Suvarna Bhumi flourished into a city kingdom of splendor. The city had birck walls and the houses were built of hardwood called kyet mauk. From India, sculptors, architects masons and painters were hired to teach the arts to the Pa-oh, and so they helped themselves to become self-sufficient and independent.
The parallel kingdoms of the Sgaoh and Pwaoh-Ussa and There-Kitara on the other hand decayed. Then a new society emerged as a result of trading Indias from Talingana and Orissa. The new society increased in number and intermarried the locals as they came prosperous and in affluence. Gradually they built their institution and settlements along the coastal tracts then known as Ramanyadesa. The two main principalities were Prome and Pegu, later to develop as the Talaing kingdom . Since the Talaing control a much large area in the west, the Pa-Oh were sensible enough to rely that peaceful co-existence was essential. So there began inter- Communication in both trade and religious activity. The Shwezayan in Suvarna Bhumi and Shwe Maw Daw in for festival, celebrated yearly and where the two people, Talaing and Pa-Oh came into Social contact with one another.
During the region of the last Pa-Oh king. Suvarna Ghumi reached the zenith of important. However, the people became greedy and lost much of their religious Puritanism becoming quasi-Buddhists and dabbling in the quick”. These magic practices and alchemy were introduced by merchants from Egypt and Persia. Monastic life corrupt and drinking liquor and gambling became a common vice.
The sad state of affairs was brought about as the bad example set by the last Pa-Oh king, Manuha. Against the advice of his counselors, he took to wife a Pwguean Princess of bad repute and under her influence engaged the whole country.
There was dissension throughout the land, vice and lust thrived, the people forgot their religion, and morality collapsed, one only man, Shang Arhan, tired to warn the king, The monks and the people of the impending danger, unless they mend their ways. His warning fell on deaf ears and Shang Arahan, in despair and frustration, journeyed to Pagan. His intention was to instill the correct teachings of Gautama Buddha to people who were the victioms of the Ari Doctrine. In Pagan, Shang Arahan tired to keep his mission a secret. But the long training in Buddhist rites and the practice under rigid discipline gave him away. He was noticed in early morning, walking barefoot and carrying his alms bowl down the street. The strange sight of a monk, in yellow robe, head shaven, collecting alms, soon attracted attention. The news soon reached Anawrahtah, the king of new Pagan, who summoned him to the throne. There he told the king about the philosophy of Buddhism and monastic rites. When Anawarahtah heard from Shang Arahan about the Tripitake and how the monks and the Pa-Oh people had advantage of their written language-Pyu Script, he became envious and anxious to obtain for himself such an important treasure.
The Burmese king had by this name designated his people as “Bamah” He had no official relation with Suvarna Bhumi and lower Burma where Theravada Buddhism was well established. Whereas, in Pagan, the people were poor and loosely organized and in the grip of the from the religious illusion of the Ari priesthood who for years had humiliated hiw Bamah people. He had no sccared books to set up a school of thought: as it was done in Suvarna Bhumi which was then a refined and religious centre. He therefore sent an envooy to Suvarna Bhumi with a request to the king of Suvarna Bhumi, Manuha, that how would share to text of the Tripitika. Manyha underr the bad influence of his queen made a fata ddecision and insulted. The envoy with a slanderous outbrust. He told the envoy that the “Bamah” were ignorant people who would be unable to read the Pitaka. The arroogance of Maanuha, lacking a decorum befitting a king inflamed the savage rage of Anawrahtah who immediately faised a formidable army to destroy Suvarna Bhumi.
In 1057 A.D. Subarna Bhumi was laid waste, every artifice, stupa and idols was destroyed. Total Devastation took placce with hleft not trace of the ancient Pa-Oh culture. The proud but foolish Manuha was given no second chance. The whole kingdom was looted; the people robbed of their gold and silver. The king and queen, their place retainees, together with scholars, script writers, sculptors, painter, masons and musicians were rounded up and treates as a slaves. They were marched to Pagan, being towed by a rope which passed through the palms of their hands, holes having pierced through them. The monks, with all the complete text of the Tripitaka, in Sanskirt and Pyu letter were forced marched to Pagan wherre they were instructed to start a new era of Buddhist civilization among the “Burmah”. Altogetherr 30,000 Pa-Oh was taken as slaves to construct the splendor of Pagan.
In Pagan, Anawrahtah announced to his people that captives came from the south. In Burmese, their languages is “Taung Thu-Taung_Thu” and from onwards the Pa-Oh people were referred to as Taungthu. Further insult was added to injury when, during the British occupation, the word ” TaungThu” was said mean” Peasent” . So the once cultured and refined Pa-Oh was classified simply as lowly “Peasent”.Note:
- Burma by Sir K.G. Ccott, PP 21-22
- History of Burma by Harvey, pp 6 and 7
- The Administration of Burma by Daw Mya sein, p.3. Oxford University Press 1973.
- See appendix I
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