The Kayin, also known as the Karen, are a people of Myanmar who constitute about seven percent of the population.
|2019||6 Jan||Sun||Kayin New Year|
|26 Dec||Thu||Kayin New Year|
Note: Kayin New Year does not occur in 2018. However, this holiday takes place twice in 2019.
They number approximately seven million, making them the third largest of Myanmar’s many ethnic groups. They reside in Kayin State and have long claimed the right to form an independent nation. When Burma became independent of Britain in 1948, they refused to sign “the Panglong Agreement,” by which Burma became a single, unified nation. There war of resistance is one of the longest in the world, and many of them are now displaced in neighboring regions of Thailand.
Kayin New Year has been a public holiday in Myanmar since 2009, but it has been celebrated since 1938. The date of Kayin New Year varies because the Kayin use a lunar calendar. The New Year comes on the first day of Pyatho, the month that comes at the end of rice harvest time.
The Kayin base the timing of New Year’s Day on their calendar on the beginning of their historic migration from Mongolia to Myanmar over 2,700 years ago. While they have never had independent status, they have long desired it and have kept up their distinctive traditions through the centuries. Kayin New Year is a time during which the Kayin celebrate this unique cultural heritage and promote the preservation of their language, literature, and other traditions.
One tradition for Kayin New Year is consuming steamed, sticky rice to celebrate the new rice harvest. Another is wearing traditional clothing, consisting of woven tunics pulled over red “longyis”, and visiting friends and family throughout the local area. Yet another is holding dancing contests where Kayin dances and songs are performed. You will also see the flag of “Kawthoolei,” the dreamed-of independent Kayin state, prominently displayed.
Especially in the Kayin capital, Hpa An, there will be an abundance of Kayin New Year events. The Kayin flag will be raised at dawn in Hpa An, and dancing, rice eating, speeches, student award ceremonies, and exhibits on Kayin history will all follow. The celebrations of Kayin New Year in Hpa An sometimes continue for days on end. While Kayin New Year is an ethnic-specific holiday, it is also a public holiday and is celebrated all over Myanmar. Kayin Christians and Buddhists both observe the day, and many tourists take part in the celebrations as well.
There will be events, many of a similar nature, all over Kayin State for Kayin New Year. Some of the activities to look for include:
- In Hpa An, you will find the largest and most colorful display of Kayins wearing their traditional dress as they walk all over the city. You will want to have your camera ready and may want to ask some Kayin to pose for you so you can take some truly interesting and memorable photographs.
- In many parts of Kayin State, the “Kayin Don Dance” will be performed. “Don” means “to be in agreement,” and the dance involves a line of men and a line of women moving in unison to accompanying music. The music is played on traditional instruments like the g’wh, a small horn, and Kayin-style drums. The dance participants will sing lyrics that espouse Kayin values and take pride in Kayin culture.
- You should also look for the Kayin “Bamboo Dance.” This dance is very similar to the Bamboo Dance of the Chin people, also resident in Myanmar, but the Kayin version is much more well known and is popular all over the nation. A bamboo latticework is laid on the ground, and the dancers must make quick steps in and out of the bamboo sections. The timing and speed involved mean that it takes quite a bit of practice to become skilled at the Kayin Bamboo Dance. The Kayin use this dance for ceremonies on Christmas, at pagoda festivals, and at church events, besides for Kayin New Year events.