The word Kachins or Kachin1 is derived from Ga hkyeng or Red Soil, which was written as Kakhyengs (in plural form) by earlier authors, including Dr Kincaid in 1837; simplified by American and British Officers in the Colonial days.
Though many workers attempted to define it derived from different languages, such as Chinese Ye Jein for wild man, Shan-C'ou for hill-tribes; and applied several theories, including the one of Hertz and others, it does not give us a better sense or evidence. Earlier Kachins called themselves Jinghpaw; meaning: the Kachin people as well as human being. In modern era, the term Kachin or Kachins refers to all six clans2 as a whole.
Ga Hkyeng Duwa was the name of a Kachin chief, who lived in Red soil area of Mogaung, western territory of Kachinland in early 18th century. He was one of the most powerful Chiefs, who fought common enemies from Hukong Valley to entire Mogaung and Phakant areas; he lived there for almost a century. Dingsi Duwa, a descendant of Ga Hkyeng Duwa, was also a powerful chief that no one was able to intrude his territory. His heritages are still kept with the Kachin people. He had more than one thousand slaves.
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE OF THE KACHIN PEOPLE
Complexion: Kachins, for instance Răwang, upper Lisü, living in temperate regions have fair complexion and most of them have yellowish brown to fair skin. They have black eyes, rarely slanting; black with soft and silky hair. You can find a few curly ones too. Kachins have their own noses as the ones with the other Asians have! About 5% of Kachin males have thick beard and mustache; rest of them have light ones. Though it's difficult to distinguish them from other Asians, in average, Kachin people have oval shape of jaw.
Height: Earlier records show that Kachin males have a physical height ranging from 5.4 - 6.2 feet and about 5.2 - 5.8 feet amongst females. There is no proper record or statistical survey. It is estimated that the 19th century Kachin people had a lower height between 4.8 - 5.5 feet (except Lăchyang Raw, a Jinghpaw female, mentioned in Wunpawng Lăbau Ginshi - a Brief Kachin History, written by H. Naw Awn; had about a height of 6.2 feet) and 5.0 - 5.6 feet amongst males and females, respectively.
Out of several reasons why the physical height of the Kachin people decreased during that century, married to a closed relative is the main cause. Chinese dwarfs might also had intergraded with some Kachins during that time as it's mentioned in Já Tawng Nawng Ningjin (a Classic Jinghpaw Scripture) in an anecdote rhythm: Wanghkyè Tekkătē, Myawk nat shărē (Chinese dwarf dares to fire a big cannon). Today, Kachin males have a height ranging from 5.2 to 6.4 feet and females have 5.0 to 5.8.
SOCIOLOGY OF KACHIN PEOPLE
Contact and Interaction: Kachin people are friendly, understanding but determined, God fearing, and their social custom and traditions are very polite and formal. They have unbreakable chain of relationship amongst Five Ruling Families3. Kachins respect older ones. Most of them have Joint Families. You can also find Nucleus Families in Modern Era.
When two Kachin strangers meet together, they first introduce themselves by asking one's Ruling Family name (Five progenitors4) whether he or she is Lăhpai, Lăhtaw, Măran, Mărip or Nhkum. This is an important social contact with the people.
Kachin people say Kăja nga ai i? (How are you?) while one gives a handshake to another, usually between opposite sex. Cuddling or hugging is not a very common greet from female to male and vice versa. Traditionally, Kachin females sit in such a way that they fold both the legs towards left or right, no space between the floor and the legs; one leg put on the other one, hands on either of their knees while talking to an older or respected person, is a formal way.
Females usually do not interfere while Măsha kăba ni (big persons or gentlemen, refers to older males) talking. This does not mean that the female gender is inferior in the Kachin society. Kachin males sit like anything they want but two legs across in a straight position is a polite or formal way of sitting. Kachin males and some few females have sense of humour and they often poke one's belly.
The Kachin females, when contact themselves or with the other females, they fondle either on the shoulder or on back or a hug; rarely give a handshake. Kachin males usually give a handshake when they meet one another or to the females. These days, Kachin people contact and interact like other people in that of a Christian society.
Society and Culture: Earlier Kachin people lived under the rule of their own chiefs, Duwas. Nowadays, almost all the Kachins are Christian and live in that society accordingly. They celebrate Mănau Festivals such as Pădang Mănau (Mănau of Victory), Sut Mănau (Mănau of Wealth), Kumran Mănau (Mănau of Exodus), and so on.
Kachin people are good dancers and they have wide variety of dances. A festival, Nlung Nnan (Harvest Festival) is a beautiful one and people usually celebrate with full of funs, happiness, contentment, and thanksgiving as every Kachin is fed this time. The festival, sometimes, left you with nostalgia of wearing leaves shed beneath watery clouds beyond the dusk during autumn.
Dress: Kachin women are skill in dress making. Most of their Lăbus (sing. Lăbu) are weaved with particular patterns usually diamond5 shape inside musical sharp (#) or sometimes twin sharps; about 45 degree angle of an English alphabet F6 with a vertical tail long, stretching backwards at the same angle with its mirror image placed face-to-face and alternately along the lines of main strip or join the tails of the F shaped fashions; a pictures of flying bird - looks like a quick sketch of a flying bird at the dusk in paintings - with white threads; coiling designs like a young shoot of fern; are some typical patterns and the symbol of female dresses, weaved by them and worn in special occasions.
Our Kachin female dresses have more complex patterns than that of the males; they are red, having the colour value FF,00,00; black lines, which can only be seen when closely examined. Yoshida Toshihiro (1997) has a good photograph of such patterns on page 129 in his book. There are mainly two types of costume dresses; viz., Hkáhkü Hking (Upper or Upstream Costume) and Sinli Hking (Lower Costume) amongst the Jinghpaw.
Almost all the Kachin people's Lăbus (sarong or skirts) are similar with a very slight differences; except colours, where Răwang dress has patterns weaved or painted in a white base; rest of the Kachins in a red and black base-garments: other things remain the same. Lisu dress is of two types and both of the costumes have blocks of colours; viz., Black, White, Red and small yellow lines in between the blocks. Nhtu (sword or machete) and Nhpyē (bag, usually cotton), Pălawng (shirt or blouse), bawban or Bunghkáw (tartan), Lăbu or Dangpai are worn by the Kachin males.
Bawban or Bunghkaw is made of silk, extracted usually from Bombax morae and mixed with a fine cotton threads; having the colour value 64,00,64; rectangularly crossed over the colour value 4F,00,4F; measuring about 0.5 ft in width, about 5 to 5.5 ft in length and tassels at the either or both the ends; a twin-shining lines in golden colour are inserted between the main body of Bungkáw or Bawhkáw and the tassels at the both end.
Pălawng or Coat worn by Kachin males are usually made of pure cotton, having its crossed buttons; button-holes are lopes and the round buttons made of cotton are inserted into them while wearing. The colour of the Pălawng is either black, value: 00,00,00 or gray, value between 66,66,66 to 80,80,80; rarely any other colour. The coat has no collar, and a white shirt with collar is worn inside the coat.
Lăbu or Dangpai: for Kachin males is made of cotton, rarely silk; having the same size of rectangular strips, overlapping at the right angle in a tri- or tetra- or sometimes penta-colour fashions. The colour values are 00,00,48; 00,42,00; 00,00,00, and 64,00,64 is a smaller line or of the same size. There are more embroidered or designed articles worn by the Kachins. This is just a very brief description to give you a few ideals.
Sex Ratio: I can not conclude the reasons why and factors that affect our sex ratio; Kachin people have 60% females and 40% males. This may be governed by genetic and some environmental factors. Sometimes, more female ratio causes racial fueds when one gets married to people other than the Kachins themselves. It sounds a bit narrow but the fact that Kachins are very rigid in their races when they are concerned with Burman. This may be due to influences of politics or heritage that is carried from progenitors.
Marriage: One thing I often use to address to public and publish on web sites and some magazines is that Kachin people marry to Mother's Brother's Daughter to a son; this is what we called: first cousin in English. This can causes genetic problems though I have not observed any Kachin having such diseases or disorders, we have to change it. Due to education, Kachin people today marry to different people amongst themselves and some even married to Americans, British, Australians, Japanese and so on. Hetero-marriage may be acceptable in modern society but polyandry or polygamy is condemned in our Kachin society.
There was a dowry system in Kachin society, in which male parents or relatives have to offer dowry to female. Quality and quantity depends on the demand from the female side. Now, the system exists just as a tradition.
Family: In a family, both the parents are very much respected by their offspring. There is no gender and sex dominance in a family these days. Earlier days, female gender was not given much important in Kachin society. Kachin people believe that the younger ones have responsibility to respect older ones in the society.
Food and Habits: Rice is a stable food for Kachin people. They prepare typical soup that is had along with rice and curry. Kachin people used to spend time in hunting, and in collecting natural vegetables.
Sticky rice mixed with dried pieces of fish or chicken packed in fig leaves are sometimes served in special occasions. Kachins living in lower parts of the land prefer noodles. Hpăräng Si-htu (a typical vegetable-mix), containing Asiatic pennywort Păläng Láp or Hpăräng Láp, tree-tomato (Solanum kachinensis var. aeresculentum7 or common tomato and fermented soybean, is a very popular Si-htu and traditionally served in countryside of Kachinland.
Older Kachins in ancient time chewed tobacco (Nicotiana species) grown and processed by them. Tsá-pi8 or Mălum Tsá (rice-beer) is very much respected in the society and considered as a second milk from mother, which they called: Chyănũn Chyú. It is also served to wanted guests at home - this one sounds a bit systematic! Tsá-pá (rice-state-beer) is mostly preferred by women, usually sweeter than the one that is preferred by males. They produce some sort of spirit called Lauhkü, evaporated from rice-state-beer, which contains a high percentage of alcohol. Intoxication is considered to be wild in Kachin society.
Leadership Ability: From the ancient time, though there were not many written records about the leaders of the Kachins, the oral history revealed that the Duwas were conscious about their people, guided them, protected and helped them.
Duwas were great leaders amongst the Kachin people. There were also some few outstanding leaders during World War - I and - II including Brigadier Louise Lăzum Tang Gyi, Lt. Col. Ah Gu Di, Major Lá Sang Gam, Major Jinghpaw Gam and so forth, and after Burma's Independence but then they were said to be very unfortunate and could not perform as they had abilities. Many Kachins joined World War - I, and - II as British and American veterans. You can still find a few such persons in the United States.
PSYCHOLOGY OF KACHIN PEOPLE
Psyche and Beliefs: Kachin people are revengeful but not cruel, and he ought not to be called treacherous. He is of fidelity and has sense of humour. Kachin people never gave a correct information to strangers regarding their business and whereabouts. Kachins are remarkably honest and pure in heart.
There is a little stealing amongst themselves or from other people. They believe serving guest at their homes or help the poor is their duty. Our Kachin people are open, and are empathy when some one gets into troubles or so. Most of the Kachin people do not get mad easily but long feud often lead to the end of social relationship; once that happens, Kachins rarely care of other people that's why I would say Kachins are tough people.
Ancient Kachins were animists and they sacrificed livestock to their Nats such as Jan Nat (Spirit of Sun), Mu Nat (Celestial Spirit), Tsu Nat (Ancestral Spirit) etc. But then these are the things of the past when Christian mission came to Kachin territories in 1877.
Intelligent: It must be a blessing from heaven and above though most of the Kachin ancestors lived in jungles, the present offspring are quite intelligent in fact. Young Kachin people are able to adopt and integrate any environment or courses thought in school or college. When we talk about Intelligence, I would like to mention a little bit about Intelligent Quotient (IQ).
Microsoft Chairman Mr Bill Gate has 160 IQ value, whereas pop singer Ms Madonna has 146. A Kachin boy, I know, has 154 IQ; which was tested in a Psychology Centre some five years ago at his age of 23 that is far beyond above average. He has completed Master of Science (MSc), scoring 8.24 of 10 scale without much efforts.
There are many young Kachins, who are much more intelligent than the boy. No technicians, so far, has conducted such test or research in Kachinland. It is estimated that present Kachin people may have IQ value between 92 - 172; I haven't seen any Kachin people having IQ value below 25 (idiot) after 1982.
I would say that Kachin people are cognitive in genetics by nature and avoid to marry the persons having IQ value below 90, and if any Kachin does so will be caste out from the society. A British girl in Genius Book of World Record (1992) shows 280 out of 300 human IQ - the most intelligent creature so far.
Personality and Traits: Humbleness and innocence leads most of Kachin females and some a few males to shyness and little confidence, especially those who are living in or coming out from remote areas. This also depends on social and other environmental factors, and remains as the issue of all man.
Kachin males are energetic, courage, brave, responsive, optimistic, and cognitive; whereas Kachin females are beautiful, intelligent, respectful, faithful, and capable to integrate any sort of situation - they rarely find wild in the society.
Span of Life: Oral history tells us that the earlier Kachins had much longer span of life than what we have today. This may, again, not only the issue of our Kachins but also concern of all people in the world. This is due to chemical exchange in our environment.
My maternal Jikè (very great-grand-father) lived for 175 years, according to him; he died in Jingma Yang in 1979. There were a few more Kachins, who lived more than 115 years on earth; but not very encouraging due to the lack of records, the claim sounds funny. Life-span of today's Kachins ranges between 80 - 102 years.
Whenever we come across this topic, we often realize to restore our identity, culture, customs, heritages that is already lost besides freedom. The present generation is very much promising for the future offspring. Today, Kachin people become hundred per cent Christians; some of them are doctors, engineers, scientists, business persons, and a few of them are millionaires. Our offspring means our future; our duty is extremely important to design them in a mould of futurity to get a desirable shapes. No doubt, the coming generation will do far better than what we do now.
1Use for the sake of convenience - not an appropriate term; anthropologically, the structure is much higher or complex than clan.
2Recently, there was a controversy amongst Kachin leaders in political and religious institutions about the term Kachins and Kachin. They concluded that the term Kachin is to use for Jinghpaw and Kachins for all six clans, Azi, Jinghpaw, Lăshi, Lisu, Maru, and Răwang, as a whole. I do dot agree to it; the reason is simple and logic. If the Kachin is a singular then the Kachins must be a plural form for Jinghpaw; if the term Kachin is to refer as the Jinghpaw, they obviously have taken an advantage over remaining ones, and this would increase further controversy. My opinion is very clear that the term Jinghpaw should remain Jinghpaw as such and the Kachins or Kachin should use to refer as Wunpawng.
3Ruling Family in Kachin is different from English family or surname what we understand. The Kachin Families here means Five Precursors of all Kachin descendants. All the people belong to Five Ruling Families and one sub-family: Hkasu-Hkasha are not called as Tribes. There are no Kachin Tribes. They themselves recognize only families and linguistic division (Hanson, 1913). Kachin classification is yet to be completed due to complexity in Five Ruling Families. Kachin Historians and Anthropologists are giving due effort to establish an accurate classification and origin of the Kachin people. In this we also need to work on DNA test in near future.
4Progenitor (pl. progenitors) is a genetic term refers to parents of offspring.
5My Mother, when I was about 4-5 years, told me that is Wahkum Tum, a seed of pumpkin botanically, Cucurbita moschata L.; and
6"F" for a bird; flying in. It has no relationship to English "F" for flying.
7This name was given by George Zunwa; the scientific or botanical name is yet to be submitted to the International Board for Botany, Italy.
8pi is a verb or suffix; meaning: aqueous extracted with a slight pressure applied against the wall of a small container by using paddle.
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