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The Karen People

December 16, 2015 The Karen People


For over 45 years, the author has had various connections to the Karen people. Therefore, it was great to make the acquaintance of Khun Chen who is one of the few Karen mahouts in the Golden Triangle as the mahouts are usually of Khymern (Cambodian) origin.  As you can see below, Khun Chen is wearing the traditional shirt of his hill tribe.  
 
The Karen people are a group of individual Sino-Tibetan language speaking ethnic groups, many of whom do not share a common language or culture.  Approximately 5 million reside in the Karen State of southern and southeastern Myanmar.  Roughly another million have migrated east to the hills on the Thai side of the Myanmar border fleeing the suppression and fighting in Myanmar. Many of these people live in refugee camps suffering from overcrowding, disease and periodic attacks by the Myanmar army.  
 
In early 1947, the Karen National Union was formed at a Karen Congress attended by all the Baptist and Buddhist organizations calling for an independent Karen state, Kawthoolei.  Since that time, the Karen National Defense Organization/Karen National Liberation Army has been at war with the federal government. 
 
The majority of Karens are Theravada Buddhists who also practice animism, while 35% are Christian.  The American Baptist Foreign Mission Society introduced Christianity to the Karen people in 1828.  Karen animism is defined by a belief in "klar" (soul), 37 spirits that make up every individual.  The belief is misfortune and sickness are caused by "klar" that wander away, and death occurs when all 37 "klar" leave the body.  Special attention is paid to keeping all of the "klar" happy and at home.      
 
Typical Karen clothing is characterized by the shirt that Khun Chen is wearing above and the dresses worn by the young Karen ladies shown below.  As you can see, the necklines are identical.  Perhaps the Karen people were the first to design a clothing line of uni-sex apparel.
 

One of the fun outings of The Elephant Story is to go to Karen markets in Thailand to purchase their vintage clothing to make pillows and apply to other apparel.  As they seldom wash their clothing, the first step is a good wash and rinse.  Maybe a good clothes washing is bad for the "klar', though you would think that the reverse might cause the "klar" to find a more fragrant home elsewhere.

 

Vintage Karen
Wedding Dress
$280.00
Pillow of Vintage
Karen Wedding Dress
$175.00
Pillow of Vintage
Karen Wedding Dress
$175.00
Pillow of Vintage
Karen Wedding Dress
$200.00