Myanmar’s Ethnic Groups: Their Origins and Traditions

This post is about the ethnic people of Myanmar, their culture, and traditions. Find out the major enthic groups of Myanmar and their rustic lifestyel.

Myanmar (previously known as Burma) is a country full of rich and diverse cultures. It has only been open to international visitors since 2011, but in this relatively short period of time they have built up a strong tourism sector.

It is easy to reach Myanmar by plane from other parts of East Asia, taking just a few hours from central India. Likewise, it is quick and easy to obtain a visa – the Myanmar visa for Indian nationals can be applied for completely online.

Once you are all set for your trip, you can prepare for this captivating destination by learning about the history and customs of Myanmar’s ethnic groups.

The country has over 135 officially recognized ethnic groups, however, there are many more that are still unrecognized by the Burmese government. These are split into 8 major ethnic races: Burman, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Mon, Arakanese, Shan. This is done geographically, rather than language or customs.

Read more about the ethnic people of Myanmar that includes the major ethnic groups and their bucolic lifestyle and other cultural aspects.

Burman

The name of this ethnic group derives from Myanmar’s previous title, Burma, which was officially changed in 1989.

The Bamar are a Sino-Tibetan ethnicity that dominates around two-thirds of Myanmar’s population. Their roots go all the way back to the 7th century when they migrated from China. They are heavily intertwined with Burmese culture and identity, representing the broader traditions of the country as a whole.

Traditional Clothing

The Burman traditional dress features long sarongs (known as longyi for men and htamain for women), velvet sandals (called gadiba phanat), and a yellow powder (thanaka) which is used to protect their skin from the sun.

Burman Cuisine

The most prevalent dish of Bamar origin is called mohinga, which consists of rice noodles in a fish broth. It is widely eaten across Myanmar and is considered the national dish. No trip to Myanmar is complete without a big plate of mohinga!

Chin

The Chin is a large ethnic group, that came to Myanmar in the 9th century. There are numerous tribes of Chin origin, spreading past Myanmar’s borders and into India and Bangladesh.

Chin National Day

On February 20 each year, Chin National Day is celebrated. This marks the day that the Chin people were officially given human rights, through the abolition of the slavery system and chieftainship. If you are in the Chin state at this time of year, be sure to catch the Chin National Day celebrations.

The Chin Dress

There are many types of traditional dresses within the Chin community, with different designs and styles. They all celebrate bright colors – focusing on red, green, and black – with intricate embroidery and layered silver jewelry.

Kachin

The Kachin people inhabit the north of Kachin State in northern Myanmar and spread through to China and Northeastern India. The principal subgroup is called Jingpo, and the two names are often used interchangeably.

Mountain Ranges

The Kachin state is home to Myanmar’s highest mountain, Hkakabo Razi. The mountain is a staggering 5,889 meters (19,321 ft), also making it the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. If you like a challenge, take a trekking expedition up this incredible spectacle.

Karen

The Karin ethnic group can be found in the south and southeast of Myanmar, with most tribes located in the mountains between Myanmar and Thailand. Many in the Karen community have migrated to Thailand, with many settling on the border between Thailand and Myanmar.

Karen New Year

One of the most important celebrations for Karen people is the Karen New Year, which typically falls in December or January, depending on the Burmese calendar. The day is celebrated with traditional bamboo dances, singing, and speeches. It is a great holiday to experience if you are near the Karen community during your trip.  

Kayah / Karenni

The Kayah, also known as Karenni, ethnic groups are closely related to the Karen people. The Kayan community is made up of numerous subgroups, that can be found to the east of Myanmar and in parts of Thailand.

Brass Neck Rings

One of the most notable traditions of the Kayan people is the women’s use of brass rings around their necks. They start wearing the rings at 5 years old, and gradually add more as time goes on. Interestingly, this custom has become a symbol of controversy, and many women of Kayan origin have removed their brass neck rings in protest.

Arakanese / Rakhine

The Arakanese (also known as Rakhine) is closely connected to the Burman community. They are also one of the largest ethnic populations in Myanmar. This ethnic group can also be found in India, and throughout the time it has adopted many elements of Indian culture.

Ancient Origins

Dating all the way to 3,325 BC, with the ascent of the Arankanese kingdom, The Arakanese are one of the most ancient ethnic groups in Myanmar. If you are able to experience this community’s culture during your trip, you will get to know the oldest roots of Myanmar’s history.

Shan

After the Bamar, the Shan are the second-largest ethnic group in the country. They are predominantly found in the Shan State of Myanmar, however, they are also settled in Laos, India, and Thailand.

Traditional Textiles

A subgroup of the Shan, the H’Mong, is widely known for producing beautiful textiles. The impressive weaving techniques use bright colors and intricate designs with interwoven patterns, that are known throughout South East Asia. These textiles are always a favorite among visitors, and make a great present or souvenir.

Mon

Unlike the other major ethnic groups in Myanmar, the Mon is made up of only one group. The Mon are said to be the first people to arrive in South East Asia, so a lot of Burmese cultures are accredited to this ethnic group. 

Musical Traditions

The Mon culture celebrates music with various traditional instruments, such as the kyam (also known as the crocodile xylophone), the la gyan hsaing gong chime, and the saung harp. These musical instruments usually accompany traditional dances, which are fascinating to see when traveling through Myanmar.


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3 Comments

  1. Brij Bhushan

    i like your content very much you writting such a great content. This article was very helpfull, I really appreciate you for this good content, Helped me a lot. Thanks Again!

    Reply
  2. peter

    its an amazing blog for travel out of india.

    Reply

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