There are two—three if Christian versions are included—lineages of publication on Karen history see Table 1. The monk U Obatha published another Kayin Chronicle in , claiming it as his own original work. Based on this, Ashin Thuweizadara published an extracted version in , and Mahn Tun Yin another in the s. Both these seminal texts are written in Burmese for Burmese readers. There may have been many editions of this work, including the one by Saw Paw shown in Table 1. We may summarize that three versions of Karen history have been published in Burma and that all the first editions appeared between and , virtually the last decade of British rule.
Little scholarly reference or analysis has been made of these publications. Therefore one should question why all the first versions of these three lineages were published within such a short period of time, what historiographies they represented, and what conditions and motives made these publications possible. One looks to the Buddhistic elements of the various cult movements that sprang up in the area stretching from the Yunsalin River valley to the Paan plain in southeastern Burma.
The other turns to the Karen Buddhism based in the Paan area, which had a close relationship with the Buddhist orthodoxy centered in Ava and Mandalay, the royal capitals of the Burmese- speaking world, and their vicinities. The earliest Baptist missionaries, such as Judson, Boardman, Wade, and Mason, encountered a number of religious movements during the course of their missionary work.
Judson reported in his letter to the headquarters in America that the Karen in the Yunsalin valley had begged the missionaries for Christian preaching. These millenarian Buddhisitic aspects among the Karen were transformed and inherited by cults such as Leke formed at Hnitkya village in Paan in , Telakon founded at almost the same time in Gyaing , Phu Paik San , and others.
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The other stream of Karen Buddhism can be grasped in its relationship with the orthodox Buddhism of the Burmese world. It is a common notion that the heart of Karen Buddhism is situated in the Paan area, and the origin of this ethnically defined Karen Buddhism is often ascribed to Phu Ta Maik, a legendary Pwo Karen monk of the eighteenth century said to have created the Pwo Karen monastic script.
Hpoun Myint studied Pwo Karen parabaiks folded palm leaf manuscripts in the late s and collected 75 parabaiks dating from Of these, 52 are categorized as translations of Buddhist scriptures and commentaries, and 25 as astrology, tales, and history; 36 were translated from the Mon language, 21 from Burmese, and 4 from Pali sources. Although Phu Ta Maik legends are related in the language of Pwo Karen nationalism, actual Buddhist writings in the Pwo script barely convey Karen nationalistic aspirations.
This could lead us to suppose that the Pwo Karen script was in fact created to connect Pwo Karen speakers of the day with the more universal sphere of Buddhism, the texts of which were written and expressed in the Burmese language. This is particularly true for U Pyinnya, who lived in the city of Thaton, one of the entrances to the Paan plain, and who made frequent visits there.
The backgrounds of the two Buddhist Karen histories should first be examined. What was the relationship of the authors to Karen Buddhism? What kind of bibliographies and styles did they refer to in writing the history of their people? U Pyinnya Little is known about U Pyinnya except that he was a Buddhist, probably born in the s, 9 lived in Thaton and that he was relatively famous as a writer when he wrote Kayin Chronicle.
It has always been common practice in Burma for minority people to adopt Burmese names and U Pyinnya seems to have belonged to one of the linguistic subgroups of the Karen—the Pwo, Sgaw, Pao, or others. He was not, however, a monk when the book was published. The Pao people have a custom of keeping monkhood names even after they return to secular life. Therefore, U Pyinnya might have been a Pao. The city of Thaton is located southeast of Yangon and was once a royal capital of the Mon kingdom. It is said that the region was the most prosperous Theravada land until the invasion by King Anawyatha of the Pagan dynasty in Mon Buddhism also occupies an important place in the history of Burmese Buddhism, one that precedes the Burman influence.
Thaton is a city of Pao people, who can be found in the southern Shan States in the north, and in the Thaton area in the south. Most of the population about , in the census are Buddhist and have close relationships with the Mon, Pwo, and Sgaw Karen of the land. Based on linguistic similarity, the Pao have been grouped with the Sgaw and Pwo in social statistics.
This episode shows that around the Thaton area in those days, the Pao were seen as a people so close to the Kayin that there was nothing strange about Kayin history being written in the Pao language. U Saw Biographical information on U Saw is similarly limited. On the cover of his book, it is stated that he was a Pali translator in the translation section of the Secretariat. However, his name is not in any of the volumes of the Civil List of Burma Government of Burma , etc.
His dates of birth and death are unknown, but his middle-aged appearance in the photograph on the first page—if taken at the time of publication—gives us a hint that he may have been born between the late s and early s.
U Saw referred to the same major bibliographies as U Pyinnya, that is, the chronicles and pagoda histories in the Burman, Mon, and Shan scripts; scriptures; birth tales of Buddha; proverbs; and folklore. This shows that, as a native officer in the huge government organization of colonial Burma, he was exposed to a variety of data collected and brought to Burma by the British rulers. This begs the question why U Saw did not make use of this reference as well.
This is because the Karen in the west, where U Saw came from, had fewer written resources containing historical memories than the eastern Karen. If U Saw could not draw upon such unique sources as U Pyinnya, why did he not make use of the abundant materials of the Christian Karen, which were within easy reach of a civil servant like himself?
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In addition, there was also a large amount of Baptist materials dealing with the Karen. He could have sieved through the Christian touches and added Buddhist flavors to those materials, just as Saw Aung Hla did. Why did he, as well as U Pyinnya, neglect Christian sources and use only Buddhist writings? Modes of Historiography There are two major modes of historical narratives in early twentieth-century Burma. The other is Yazawin yazawin , a mode of historical narrative with the king as its sovereign being.
Both U Pyinnya and U Saw were familiar with these two types of historical narratives and made use of Buddhist scriptures, their commentaries, and various chronicles in Burmese and Mon. Min s are definitely the sovereign being in the authorized version of Yazawin Yazawin were therefore historical accounts recognizing the achievements of kings and dynasties and legitimizing their rules.
This leads us to question the meaning of history writing. When they published the two Karen Yazawin , kingship had already been extinguished with the conquest of the Kongbaung Dynasty by the British.
Why did U Pyinnya and U Saw embrace the style of the royal narrative after the extinction of the dynasties? What did they intend to convey in composing a dynastical history of the Karen, who have ordinarily been considered a people without such a dynastic past? Moreover, why did they employ the Burmese language, not Karen, for their own history? The texts by U Pyinnya and U Saw, as well as Saw Aung Hla, are full of stories never told to readers outside Burma; scholars have therefore not taken them seriously for instance, Than Tun , It is generally considered that the history of the Karen people before the nineteenth century is fragmented because they lacked written sources of their own and the Burmese-speaking dynasty in upper Burma did not make much mention of the Karen.
It is therefore very easy to dismiss these texts as spurious. If you ask any old Karen informant about the history of his people, you will surely be offered one of these three texts.
These Karen history books contain some sort of ethnic aspiration shared by the people who claim to be Karen, which the authors channeled in their books. Such images can be interpreted as the desires of the authors generated from negotiations in the society in which they lived. What is more, the authors were motivated enough to publicize their desires, and the first editions of the three books were all published between and , which is, in a sense, a very short period of time.
What were the social conditions that enabled and encouraged the authors to venture into the demanding labors of publication? I will attempt to outline the contents of the two Buddhist versions of Karen history, which were hitherto unknown to the world outside Burma. They are embarrassingly detailed, subtle, and almost meaningless to outsiders, but readers should by the end be able to discern the indispensable elements of ethnicity, religion, and kingship lying behind these versions of Karen history.
U Pyinnya states that the Kayin people are divided into three subgroups, each prefixed with the name of other major peoples of Burma—the Shan, Mon, and Burman—and even claims that each Kayin originated from the people in question, and that in the beginning all the people of Burma had a single ancestry called the Byama Brahman lumyo The most elaborate one is that it derived from Karannaka, an old name for Thuwannabumi, the ancient capital of the legendary Mon kingdom. Those who lived in the plain of Karannaka became Mon, and those who dwelt in the forest became Kayin. Thaton has existed since the beginning of the world and was called Karannaka until 50 years before the birth of Buddha.
The Zweya dynasty has its origin in the guardian town established by Teithatheika, king of the Mon after he drove out the rival state of Yodaya 17 in the east. A seven-month-long banquet was held at the military base set at the entrance of the only pass between the Mon kingdom and Yodaya. At the end of this feast, the king appointed a Kayin as general of the guard.
Zweya Myo became independent together with six of the subordinated myo s, 18 Myawaddy, Mekalaung, Kyaik, Taungbaw, Paung, and Doungmwe, after the death of King Teithatheika. Subsequently each of the six myo s also obtained independence. Mekalaung and Doungmwe, the most easterly located, were later annexed by Yodaya. The author gives detailed descriptions of the origin and the rulers myosa of the other four myo s and Zweya, including 2 rulers in Myawaddy, 9 in Paung, 11 in Kyaik and 28 in Zweya.
In this forest there lived a hunter called Laswe, who presented game from the woods to the Mon king Teithatheika when he successfully defended the kingdom from the invasion of Yodaya. Lists of the rulers of each myo are attached.
Events related in the Myanmar Kayin section evidently correspond with Hanthawaddy history, including the famous story of Kwe Kayin, which U Pyinnya claims to have been Myanmar Kayin. When the Guardian General of the Hanthawaddy was assassinated, there emerged a minlaung among the Kwe Kayin.
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He was accepted by the people and succeeded the throne. This information is apparently drawn from the references U Pyinnya made use of. The author presents his vision of history from the creation of the world, the rise and fall of the people in India, which is the homeland of all lumyo s in Burma, to migration to Burmese soil. Moreover, he does not focus solely on Kuyin history but tends to dwell on pre-history before the migration to Burma.
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