Shwedagon Pagoda de Yangoon

A Southeast Asian ethnicity

The Karen are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia of around 5 to 6 million people, also known as: Kayin, Kariang or Kawthoolese

Originally from Burma (Myanmar), they live mainly in the Kayin state in the southwest of the country.

There are four main groups of Karens, each with their own language: the Sgaw, the Paw, the Kayah and the Pa'O.

frontière Thaïlande-Birmanie

They are sometimes confused with the padaung tribe, also called "Long-Neck" where women wear many rings around their necks. But the Padaung are only a sub-group of the Red Karen (or Kareni) of Kayah state in Myanmar.

The Karens are also very numerous in Thailand, near the border, where they fled persecution and fighting with the junta.

drapeau de l'union karen
Karen union flag

The Insurgents

The history of the Karens is long and rich, and we are not going to develop everything here, but certain events are important. In 1947, they could not participate in the creation of the Burmese state with Aung San (father of Aung San Su Ki). So they created the KNU: Karen National Union .

Since 1949, they have been under the domination of the ruling junta and have been fighting to assert their rights. The KNU provides educational, medical, social support, etc., to the Karens of Myanmar, as well as to the refugees, in particular in Thailand. The KNU has two armies: the KNLA and the KNU's army .


The Karens are for the most part Buddhists (theraveda), but animism is still very present. Almost all practice ancestor worship; the offerings are never lacking in the houses to the spirits; the soul of animals, plants, rivers, mountains, etc., are respected and celebrated.

For the Karens, like the Hmong tribe, we have many souls. Unhappiness or disease occurs when some souls depart, and when all souls leave the body, it is death.

About a quarter of the Karen population is Christian , but animism also integrates with this belief to form a new religion imbued with mysticism.

champs de culture agricole village karen du nord de la Thaïlande

The Karens are remarkable farmers and foresters.

maison traditionnelle karen village nord thaïlande

The traditional houses are built on stilts, entirely in wood, bamboo, rattan, leaves.

maison moderne village karen nord de la thaïlande

Nowadays they are gradually giving way to cement, sheet metal and plastic.

femme de la tribu karen tisserande

The Karens are very recognizable by their traditional clothes: a kind of loose tunic for the top and a loincloth sewn in a tube for the bottom. The white dress is reserved for girls before their marriage.

The women make this garment themselves on their looms. Every woman has one and weaving is a very important activity in the community. This maintains social ties and cultural identity.

The Karens are renowned craftsmen, they work with rattan, bamboo, weaving, but also, in a village in northern Thailand, they are recognized and excellent in the traditional art of ethnic silver jewelry. of the golden triangle. Discover the manufacturing steps of these jewels unique in the world:

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