Vintage Karen Wedding Dress
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 refuge 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.