The Hill Tribes of Myanmar
The hill tribes generally live in the remote, forested mountain regions that lie along all of Myanmar's borders, while the Myen live in the fertile plains of the Irrawaddy River. Most of the tribal groups belong to the Tibeto-Burman family, and originally immigrated from southern China.
Myanmar has a long history of wars, governmental changes, and coups. Today, the Burmese military forcibly maintains control over the ethnic groups who wish to have equal importance in government and trade. The military offers special services to the minority groups, signing peace treaties and promising cease-fire; however, at the slightest hint of rebellion, the government attacks violently. In May of 1994, over 17 battles occurred in Shan State alone.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The principal occupation of the Myanmar Hill Tribes is rice cultivation. Some plant rice on mountain terraces, which is the ideal; while others practice "shifting cultivation," moving from one plot to another. Some of the other important crops grown include maize, cotton, tobacco, and opium poppies. The amount of tobacco supplied cannot meet the demands made by the many smokers of this region. Estimations say that as much as 50% of the world's illegal opium is produced in Shan State, which is part of the infamous "Golden Triangle."
More land is now being cultivated for fruit which is a cash crop. There also provides access to valuable iron deposits in the "Triangle." The northern tribes gather rubber and amber from the valleys for trade. People also grow vegetables in gardens just outside the towns and larger villages to sell in the market.
Since many of the smaller communities are not self-sufficient, they must maintain contact with the people of the valleys and plains for survival. The Burmese have set up troops along main trade routes, preventing the smaller, more dependent ethnic groups from entering into trade with the Shan.
For many generations, the tribal families have maintained permanent rights to their respective territories by paying taxes to the government. Some ethnic groups resent this collection of taxes as they see the saohpa (hereditary rulers) sitting in their luxurious residences getting rich. Therefore, they have supported an "anti-feudalist" protest to demand that all their taxes be returned to them. For the commoners, the government is one of five traditional enemies along with fire, famine, flood, and plague.
Most of the Hill Tribes' villages are located on hilltops, high mountain ridges, or slopes where they are protected from the mountain winds. They are typically situated near streams or springs. Extended families live together in large houses that are raised on posts about three or four feet above the ground. Some are up to 100 feet in length and contain numerous families. Today, there are signs that many of the villages are breaking down into smaller communities. The basic family unit is exogamous, which means that they only marry within their own groups. However, inter-tribal marriages do exist. The tribes are patrilineal in nature. This means that the line of descent is traced through the males.
What Are Their Beliefs?
What Are Their Needs?
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