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Kachin Socio -Political and Economic Background

      Kachin people have their own social, political, and economic background.  In governing system they have their own one.  They have beautiful social relationship and own agriculture methods. Kachin are friendly and understanding to other .In this chapter I would like to discuss about their settlement pattern, governing system, economy and their clan and tribes. 


Settlement Pattern

      The Kachin have begun living in valley bottoms, but their villages were traditionally on ridge tops or the upper portions of slopes.  Because of constant warfare, villages were large and remote from each others, peace has brought a reduction in settlement population size and a dispersal of dwellings water supply often but not always decided locations and some settlement on elevations may be some distance from their water supply.

      ”Most villages were entered through a sacred grove marked by prayer posts with  representation of boons desired from the spirit (such as grain, weapons, and household gods), and by shrines to the spirits, especially the earth spirit.  Here the community sacrifices are held.  There are no public buildings the main structures are houses and granaries.”

      The house is rectangular, about 50 feet wide, somewhat longer (occasionally as much as 100 feet), and raised 3 or 4 feet off the ground on posts.  Posts and beams are of wood; flooring external walls, and internal partitions are of woven bamboo; and the roof usually of thatch, small animals are sheltered under the house front.

        Inside the house is divided lengthwise by a partial portion, the left side being subdivided into a succession of apartments each with a hearth, the right being left open as a strange, cooking, and entertaining area.  At the end of the large room is a space sacred to the household spirits and to any ancestral spirits not successfully seen off to the land of the dead.

      ”In front of the house are altars to spirits, and large posts, customarily X-shaped, to which cattle are bound for sacrifice.  There is little internal decoration of houses; the exterior in front may have crude carryings or horns and antlers.  Furnishings are limited: traditionally mats, containers, and blankets and nowadays stools and low tables.” 

      Kachin People are not setting in a particular place for along times in the ancient day. Because of their cultivation and farming system depended on the fertilization of the soil in a farm maximum 8 – 10 years. 

Governing System

      In Earlier period Kachin People lived under the rule of their chiefs. We used to call them “Duwas”.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.

      Historically, Kachin people were never under the ruling dynasty any King system till 1889.They were living their own land and their own “Duwa”.16 In 1889 British arrived Kachinland .After nine years on 1st, April, 1898 Kachin people were called to participate in Man Maw Military police, Battalian and the Kachin names were included in the historical book of English King.

       In 1904-05 Britsih occupied Mali and Nmai (Mali Hkrang Walawng) and the slaves of Kachin Duwas were released on February and March 1927.17Every Duwas had many slaves and those worked in their Duwas’ farms. But today we can not find the slavery system amongst the Kachin People.

      There was no central state or political authority encompassing all Kachins, political organization prior to the creation of a Kachin state in 1947. The people were divided into a number of groups each with its own territory under the control and leadership of a chief, “Duwa.”  Although the status of chief was hereditary in the male line and from father to youngest son, and although the chief was a member of one of the chiefly sibs the chief was not necessarily an autocrat.

       His power was usually exercised in concerted with a council of elders.  His actual powers seem to have depended largely upon the vigor of his own personality.  An energetic commoner could sometimes create for himself the role of front man for the chief, a role sufficiently formalized to have a name, “bawmung.”

      The chief has a responsibility for the people of his domain.  Their general well-being is related to his arranging for certain annual sacrifices on behalf of the community.  In pre-British days, when Kachin raids upon the plains were not uncommon, a chief might receive tribute from non-Kachin villages on the plains in return for “protection” he provided them. 

       Presumably he also had some responsibility towards his own villagers in helping to protect them forth outside raids.  Whether or not the chief has definite responsibilities towards the people of his domain, the commoners are usually not in doubt as to what their obligations are towards him. 

        They seek his permission to settle in his area, and he allots to them their house sites and fields.18 Similarly, the village is an important political unit, being composed of a chief, or headman, and his subject, who recognize the chief’s status, his ownership of the land, and his direct influence, in which his elders share, in many aspects of village life.

      The chief had no large source of customary income from the villagers.  He had the right to the thigh of all large sacrifices, hence the epithet, thigh-eating chief.  Most of his income probably came from exactions in the form of tolls and tribute on foreigners i.e. the Shan valley dwellers and Shan and Chinese merchants.  On the other hand, the office of chief involved certain liabilities: the worship of certain spirits entailing expensive sacrifices could be performed only by the chief.

      ”The other formal political status in Kachin society was that of elder.  He was an older man and in some cases the head of his sib in the community.   The elders, who, with the chief, formed a council, customarily determined the sites of swidden fields for the coming season seldom to have acted contrary to the consensus of the council.”

      The village is an important unit of both social and political structure.  In social matters such as mutual assistance in rice cultivation, house-raising “bees,” religious festivals, time of sickness and death, and protection against enemies, the presence of other villagers, some of whom may be closely related as Mayu/Dama, fulfills an important function in Kachin society.

       Marriage is preferred with a mother’s brother’s daughter or with a daughter of any man of the Eco mother’s sib. Marriage is strictly restricted from own prilineal sib. The mother’s sib is called “Mayu” and the father’s sib as “Dama”. There is an institutionalized circular exchange among five sibs. The bride price is paid by the bridegroom’s father and his local sib mate .

       Hero-marriage may be acceptable in Modern society but polyandry or polyandry 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.

Economic Life of Kachin People

      Farming is the way of life for all Kachin, including the chief, there is no full-time occupation, specialization.  Based upon the forming of field crops, with hunting gathering, animal husbandly and specialization in manufactures all relatively less important than agriculture Trode, weathers in form produce of the products of other economic activity, plays a minor role.  Agriculture thus is the primary occupation in the Kachin area.

      ”In common with most hilly areas in southeast Asia, the Slah-burn technique, often termed the “swialden method”, has been the usual means of rice cultivation on the steep slopes of the Kachin Hills.  This method require nearly a fully year to product one crop of paddy.”

      It begins with the cutting of trees and bushes on the selected hillside from January, and ends in November or December when the harvested grain is carried home.  During the intervening months, period of hard labor and comparative to emerge at the beginning of the rains in June, there is the constant responsibility of guarding the fields against birds and animals until the crop is harvested.

      The women do most of the work connected with swailden cultivation, extent for a few of the heavier tasks that are done by the men, such as cutting down the larger trees, fencing the plot with the larger branches, and building the temporary bamboo house. 

       Along with the rice crop, the Kachin also plant vegetables suitable for rainy season growth, such as maize, beans, mustard, and pumpkins.  Hunting was also the need of the Kachin people.  The Kachin is at home in the jungle, well-versed in hunting ways.  Hunting is common during the cold season and is done with troops, snores, deadfalls, pellet bows, and guns.  In fishing they used bamboo wires in the larger creeks and streams and sometimes a poisonous plant is used to stupefy the fish in quiet pools.

      All average Kachin is a poor businessman.  Although the Kachin are not businessmen, they have been deeply involved in the opium trade.  This has come about primarily through their being able to raise the opium poppy in distant corners of the Kachin hills, and produce the crude opium for which that part of Southeast Asia has become well-known.  In opposing the opium trade, the early missionaries and Kachin leaders have struggled to find another cash crop t hat would serve as a suitable substitute, but until today it is unsuccessful  and still more growing, trading, planting and using among the Kachin.

      Multi-nation companies making money out of developing markets of Burma with no regard for human rights or how the Burmese Junta uses the foreign capital .The Burmese Junta and Chinese merchants are collaborated working Jude (precious green stone) Company and Gold mining as well as logging ( wood producing).The profits go directly to the Junta. Their productivity is not benefit for Kachin People.

      The Kachin economy is heavily dependent upon the use of bamboo.  This especially used for posts and house flooring.  A few of the multitudinous uses of bamboo include as; house construction, including joists, flooring, woven mat walls, rafters, thatch, and the bamboo splints or cords used to lie these together; tubes in which to carry water from the stream and store it in the house; fencing around the house or garden; clappers used to score birds away from ripening paddy field, parts of the woven baskets in which the women carry heave loads; fire making equipment; pipes for smoking opium; cup for the communion service, flutes, fish traps and wires; pontoons bridges, carrying poles and so many area.

      Every business is illegal .Small among of business are often crushed down by military police in Burma. But Larger among of investments are freed to cross by main road openly. In such cases most of Kachin people are not familiar to trades, they are necessary to be improved. Kachin economic totally depend on natural resources. When we compare to other countries, the economic situation of the Kachin people is even though in their dreams absence .Their incomes or salary are not enough for entire families.  

 The Clans and the Tribes

      To the Kachins, the extended family or household Htinggaw, and the clan or major lineage Amyu are of the highest importance in determining one’s relationships.  In using the term amyu, which refers to anyone of the exogamous divisions among the Kachins which traces its descent from one of the five main sons of Wahkyet Wa. 

       In each clan, descent is consistently traced the clan has been sub-divided into two or more sub-clans.  Primarily among the commoners of each clan or sub-clan there have developed numerous Lakung and Lakying, the best translated as “branches” and “twigs.”   This represents further division or segregation within a clan, for which we shall use the terms lineage and sub-lineage.  There is no consistent pattern for the number of Lakung and Lakying to be found in any one clan.

      Herman G. Tegnenfeldt said;

“Although the Jinghpaws there are five major clans such as the “Marip,” Lahtaw, Lahpai, Nhkum, and Maran, there are also other clans that trace in our ancestry to other sons of Wahkyet Wa, rather than to the first five. It must also be painted out that each clan includes both chief and commoners.  Thus a chief of one clan may have commoner of all clans living in the villages under his control.”

      Belonging to a certain clan is of the greatest importance in understanding relationships involves definite responsibilities and privileges and it is very powerful factor in Kachin social relationships.  In addition to the clan, the tribe is another unit of Kachin social structure. 

       The term tribe is used with the simple connotation of a people who usually occupy the same general territory, commonly speak the same language, and follow the same way of life. Applying this definition to the Kachin groups, one can define the Jinghpaw, Maru, Lashi, Atsi, and Lisu as tribes.

        When two Kachin strangers meet together, they first introduce themselves by asking one’s ruling name whether he or she is lahpai, lahtaw, Maran, Marip or Nhkum. This is an important social contact with the Kachin people.

      There are some differences among these groups, such as languages, distinctive dress. Some variation on other aspects of culture such as dress, also a commonality of tradition and a sense of belonging to one another among the tribes and sub-divisions which justify their all being termed Kachin.

       There are mainly two types of costume dresses; viz., Hkahku Hkring (Upper or Upstream costume) and Sinli Hkring (lower Costume) amongst the Jinghpaw. Almost all the Kachin people’s Labus (sarong or shirt) are similar with a very slight differences; except colors, where Rawang 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 colors; viz., black, white, red and small yellow lines in between the blocks. Nhtu (sword or machete) and N hpye (bag usually cotton), palawng (shirt or blouses), Bawban or Bawnghkraw (tartan), Labu or Dangbai are worn by Kachin males.

       Culture also very from one group to another.  At the same time, however, it should be stated that intertribal marriage is common.  Among the other tribes there is a clan system similar to that of the Jinghpaw. robably the chief reason for any seeming discrepancy between our considering these groups to be tribes, and at the same time recognizing that inter-tribe marriages by no means uncommon, lies in the traditions of their origins. 


         According to Hting Bai Naw Awn, a retired army captain and a Jinghpaw chief’s son from the Hka Hku area, has recorded this tradition, Wahkyet Wa was one of the eight brothers who became the progenitors of as many different tribes.

“La N-Gam first brother and progenitor of Rawang and Nung,

La N-Naw second brother and progenitor of Lisus,

La N-La third brother and progenitor of Maru,

La N-Tu fourth brother and progenitor of Lashi,

La N-Tang fifth (Wahkyet Wa) Jinghpaw,

La N-Yaw sixth brother and progenitor of Atsi,

La N-Hka seventh brother and progenitor of Naga and Chin,  La Shawi eight

brother and progenitor of Akha, Wa and Lahu.”

      Therefore, the Kachin have their own clans with five ruling families such as Lahtaw, Lahpai, Nhkum, Maran and Marip. 



Cultural and Religious Background

      Culture and religion are important for every racial group.  Kachin people have their own cultural and religious background.  They have festivals, sacrificial system and the belief in Supreme Being.  Before they converted to Christianity, all Kachin people were Natural-worshippers but now most of the Kachin people are Christians.   


The Concept of a Supreme Being and the Spirit Worship

      Kachin animism involves offering gifts and sacrifices to many spirits.  However, back of these various spirits, there is a great spirit, about whom much unknown, but who is recorded as different from the other spirits. They believed in the creator God, the God of omnipotent, Omniscience and Omnipresence. They called upon this God at the time of need. They called this God, “Hpan Wa Ningsang Chye Wa Ningchyang” (Creator and Omniscience God).

       As early as 1882, Neufbille recorded a piece of Kachin mythology which contained a clear reference to great obviously Karai Kasang, who is described as the creator of human being.  In addition to his common name, Karai Kasang, he is also known as Hpan Wa Ningsang (the glorious one who creates), and Chye Wa Ning Chyang (the one who knows).  Although these names appear very helpful, there are enough variations in the differing accounts about this being to make it difficult to be consistent in describing him and his activities.

      ”Karai was commonly combined with “Kasang” which is a sign of supernatural power above all nats (spirits) whose shape of form exceeds man’s ability to comprehend.  “Karai Kasang” is the term which Hanson used for God in his translation of the scriptures.  “Nga rai” was a stable of being where is completely at the mercy of the malevolent spirits.  The prefix Nga has a negative meaning.  Hanson adopted this term for Hell.

      Kachin animism is basically a fear of Nats, or spirits, coupled with the practice of giving them gifts, either to appease them or toward of evil. They sacrificed livestock to their Nats such as Jan Nat (Spirit of Sun), Mu Nat (Celestial Spirit), Tsu Nat (Ancestral Spirit) etc.

       There are innumerable spirits, which may be classified according to more than one system.  Thus there are the primitive Nats who existed at the time of creation or shortly thereafter, and the ancestral Nats, some of them may be recent ancestors.  Probably it is more meaningful from a Kachin point of view to classify the Nats as those who are at least potentially benevolent, and those who do nothing but work evil against men.

      ”There are also ancestral Nat for each Kachin family, the altars for which are usually situated within the house.  The three evil spirits, most well-known among the Kachin are “Jahtung” which give the bad luck in fishing and hunting, “Sawm,” which causes trouble and death for women in the time childbirth; and “Lasa” which make responsible for accidental death.  Evil spirits of another category are the 39 fates.”

      In spirits worship, the most important and respected of all is the saga-teller “Jaiwa,” who was the high priests of animism.  The less important are the more numerous regular  priests (dumsa).  These officiate at funerals when the spirit must be sent off.   Properly, in times of sickness when gifts are presented to the offended Nat, and also at the set times of sacrifice is to be preformed.  Two other types of practitioners are the diviner (Ningawt), who determine the will of the spirits, and the medium or prophet (Myihtoi).  A medium commonly enters a trance and speaks on behalf of the spirits.

        Occasionally a Myihtoi would be a female.The animist concept of the role of the Dumsa in contacting the supernatural world on behalf of the individual could  be a tendency for the new Kachin Christian to view the pastor as a “Christian Dumsa,” and be satisfied with merely letting the pastor act on his behalf before God, rather than sensing his own responsibility. 

      In view of Kachin belief in the great importance of the spirits in determining man’s experience, that the divination, the will of the Nats, is given high priority in Kachin culture. One can understand the serious conflicts arise when anyone in the village became a Christian and do not consider bound such Animistic practices.  


Festivals and Sacrifices

      Annual festivals observed by Kachin animists are related to the agricultural year. Important feasts are observed on such occasions as the burning of the slashed highland fields, the completion of the highland paddy hut for the chief, the reaping, by communal labor, of the chief’s paddy field, and so on. The single most important festival, however, is held just before the sowing of the paddy, commonly in late April or early.  May, at the time, the blessing of the earth Nat is sought, with the chief, along with the priests, taking an important part in the ritual.

      The Kachin people use to celebrate festivals in any occasions, and the most ceremonious festival of the Kachin people is Manau (manao) festival.  Manau is a large gathering intended to celebrate good harvests, to drive out evil spirits and to pray for happiness and successfulness in cultivation and healthy crops to harvest.  Manau means “group singing and dancing” in the Kachin language. Manau poi or shapawng yawng manau poi is the national festival of the Kachins.

       The manau poi is one of the most significant dances in the world. Thousand and thousands or Million people can dance together in the same dancing style, this Manau poi stand for the high value of Kachin culture. It stands for the key of unity and nationalism. Through this culture, though the Kachin belief in different religions and live in different and blood relation of Kachin.

      The Manau festival is a great feast for the Kachins, in which everybody can participate in joyous dance around the newly erected multi-coloured painted totem posts, called Manau shadung, traditionally eleven or eight wooden poles and each about twenty meters high, are erected at the center of the state.

       They celebrate Manau Festivals such as Padang Manau (Manau of Victory), Sut Manau (Manau of wealth), Kumran Manau (Manau of Exodus), and so on.Kachin People  are good dancers and they have wide variety dances. A festival “Nlung N nan” (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 basic designs, however, are diamond shapes and curved lines. The top and bottom of the poles are painted with pictures of the sun, moon and earth. The topmost side of the pole is cut, shaped and painted over in the form of bird’s beak.  The patterns painted on the poles portray scenes from their history, pictures of colorful small blocks, and symbols of the route of their ancestors traveled when migrating to their current homeland, Manau festival activities are conducted around the eleven Manau poles.

      The dance is led by two men, called “nau shawng” (leader), who wear the feather-decorated headdress, called “gup duru”, and dragon embroidered long robe, called “yanghpaw lawng”.   All, those who came to the festival, dance in magnitude.   The tempo of the dance is followed according to the rhythm of the beating of drum and gongs.The Manau festival stands as a sign of the Kachin society, culture and costume.  


Life after Death

      Before the Kachin people become the Christian they believed that death is the result of protracted absence of the soul, resulting in the severing of the cord of life.  At death, every individual becomes a spirit (tsu), a sort of half-Nat bound for the ancestral region.  This journey will take place if the spirit is sent off properly.   Otherwise, there is the possibility that the spirit may become a malevolent Nat, and return to trouble the family or village.

      The dead is buried.  Generally the village or the clan has its own common graveyard.   The cutting knives, bows and quivers a man used while he was alive are buried with him. For a woman, her burial objects are her wearing tools, hemp-woven bags and cooking utensils. Generally the mourned on the burial ground was piled one year after the burial, and respects to dead were paid three years after the burial, and offerings ended.

      The Kachins believe that there is a soul in man.  They know that the soul can’t die though human body is dead.  They have had the particular soul kingdom, called “tsuza,” for each own clan in different places.  The animist priest sent his/her soul to that place after he/she is dead.  They believe that all of their forefathers’, souls are lived in that particular soul kingdom. And they believe that all Souls will meet in that place again after death.   


Kachin’s Society and their Culture

      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 their ruling families. Kachin respect older ones. 

Contact and Interaction

      When two Kachin strangers meet together, they first introduce themselves by asking one’s ruling Family name (Five progenitors) whether he or she is Lahpai, Lahtaw, Maran, Marip, or Nhkum. This is an important way of social contact with the people. Kachin People say Kaja 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 female sit in such a way that they put on the other 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 Masha Kaba 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 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.

      Humbleness and innocence leads most of Kachin females and some a few males to shyness and little confidence, especially those 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.

      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 females’ gender was not given much an 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 and lave with rice and curry. Kachin 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. Kachin living in lower parts of the land prefer noodles. Hparang Si-Htu (A typical vegetable –mix), containing Asiatic “Palang Lap or Hparang lap” tree –tomato (Solonum kachinnesis var.aersculentum) or common tomato and fermented soybeans is a very popular  “Si-Htu” and traditionally served in countryside of Kachinland.

      An older Kachins in ancient time chewed tobacco (Nicotine species) grown and proceeded by them.  “Tsa –Pi” or “Malum  Tsa”(rice beer)n is very much respected in the society and considered as  a second milk from mother .which they called : “Chyanun Chyu”. It is also served to wanted guests at home. This one sounds a bit systematic!  “Tsa-Pa” (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 “LauHku” evaporated from rice – state-beer, which contains a high percentage of alcohol, Intoxication as considered to be wild in Kachin society.

      Nowadays, almost all Kachins are Christian and lived in that society. Their culture and living style is very simple an exemplary. In the next chapter will going to discuss about the Myanmar’s Historical




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Internet materials: 

www. Kachinpost.com

www. Kachinland.com

www. Kachinnet.com 

Journals and magazines: 

The Jinghpaw Times

Kachin  National  News  Beacon.(Wunpawng Shi shaman)

Pyilan Lunghtawn Journal

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Hey – great blog, just looking around some blogs, seems a really nice platform you are using. I’m currently using WordPress for a few of my blogs but looking to change one of them over to a platform similar to yours as a trial run. Anything in particular you would recommend about it?

Zau hkun 03/28/2017 10:03

Thanks! For visit


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