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May 22 2010 7 22 /05 /May /2010 09:55



The Kachin – Historical Background

      There are many racial groups in Myanmar. It is one of the South East Asia Countries. Kachin people are one among them who were a nomadic community. It is important to mention about their origin, migration, name, the location of the Kachin state, traditions and languages.

       Most of the Kachins live in their own land .They had a separate country before the British Rule but then it became a part of Myanmar after their regime. Total area of the Kachin land measures about 33,903 square miles, located between 23’ -3 to 28’ -29 N latitude and 96’-99 E longitudes. Kachin land is adjoining with Peoples Republic of China in the East, Democratic Republic of India in the west, Tibet in the north and Myanmar in the South. About 50% of the total area of the Kachin land is hills and mountains up to the height of 5881 meters above the sea level. Kachin land is rich in natural resources .Jade (precious green stone) and teak-timbers are the best in quality, and production of gold per unit area is the highest, in the world.


Location of the Kachin state

      (  Seasons and Climate  )

      The land is covered with undisturbed –natural forests. The rarest natural species like Black Orchids, White Pheasants, and golden fishes in the confluence of Mali and Nmai rivers are observed. There are mainly three seasons in the Kachin land viz., Yinam ta, sometimes also written as lanam ta (rainy season) starts from middle of May to middle of October; N’lum ta (Summer Season) is from middle of February to middle of May, and N’Shung ta (winter Season) starts from middle of October and ends in February.

       Daily Temperature ranges from 4’-36’ C with 60-95% relative Humility. Hill cities, like Putao, have a very low temperature ranging from -4 to 18 C with low humidity. The uppermost part of Kachinland, including the most beautiful Plateau-city (Putao) falls in temperature zone. Annual rainfall ranges from 80 to 200 inches. More rainfall has been observed in mountainous parts of the land.


An Etymological explanation – The Kachin

      The word Kachins or Kachin is derived from Ga Hkyeng or red soil, which was written as Kakhyeng by earlier authors, including Dr Kincaid in 1837; simplified by the American and the British Officers in the Colonial period. Though many workers attempted to define it from different languages, such as Chinese Ye Jein for wild man, Shan- C’ou for hill-tribes and there were several theories, including the one of Hertz and others, it does not give us a better sense or evidence .Earlier Kachins called themselves as Jinghpaw.

       In modern era, the term Kachin or Kachins refers to all six clans as Jinghpaw, Maru, Lashi, Rawng, Zaiwa and Lisu. Ga hkyeng Duwa was the name of a Kachin chief who lived in Red soil the area of Mougaung, the western territory of Kachinland in early 18th century.

       He was one of the most powerful chiefs who fought again the common enemies from Hukong valley to entire Mogaung and Phakant area. 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 intrude his territory. His heritages are still kept with the Kachin people .He had more than one thousand slaves.

        Earlier spelling of the term Kachin varied greatly (Ka Cheen, Ka-Khyen, Kakhyen), but by the middle of 1880s, Kachin was being used generally, and this spelling has continued to the present.  Dr. Ola Hanson and H. F. Hertz thought that the name Kachin came from a combination of Shan and Chinese terms for “wild men.”  On the other hand, out of his earlier but more limited contacts with the Kachins, Josiah N. Cushing wrote in 1880, “the name Ka-khyen is an appellation of purely Burmese origin” (Baptist Missionary Magazine 1880: 296).

        The Myanmar found the Kachins sweet to deal with.  Ma Khin Mya, herself a Myanmar, has proposed a theory which would find the origin in a combination of the Burmese words for “dance” and “desire,” reflecting a Myanmar view that the Kachins are a happy people who like to dance.  The history of Myanmar Kachin’s attitudes and relations, however, hardly supports such theory.

         Lahpai Zau Tu, a centenarian Kachin pastor and chief, believes than the name arose when the foreigner asked the Kachin chief of the Ga Hkyeng area near Magaung their name, and through a misunderstanding applied a corruption of this term to all Kachins it is not possible to verify any theory completely. 

         Whatever the true explanation, there is no doubt that the Kachin people considered Kachin as a foreign term which was applied to them with a derogatory meaning.  Only in very recent years they have been willing to accept the term and use it when speaking in Burmese or English.6  However they refer to themselves as Jinghpaw in their own tongue.   


Traditional Account

      The knowledge of Kachin’s origin dependents on their own traditions, since neither Myanmar nor Chinese records provides much help.  The earliest Western reference to Kachin is primarily from the English in Assam, begins from the first half of the nineteenth century.  At that time the Kachins were already established their present location.  With the exception of those who have migrated to the northern part of the Shan state.

      The Kachin’s accounts of their origin and movements, as well as other aspects of their folklore are contained in the oral tradition which a professional storyteller recites of special festival. There are local variations at that time in the details of this very involved tradition is not surprising.  Rather, the general agreements on major points and in most minor matter are remarkable.

      Therefore through their oral tradition, the Kachins trace their ancestry back to Ning Gawn Wa, who was involved in the creation of the earth.  He later took a wife, an alligator, and their great-grandson, Wahkyet Wa, became the progenitor of the Jinghpaws.  Among Wahkyet Wa’s numerous sons (traditions as to the number of his wives vary from three to thirty), the five eldest sons of his first wife (traditions vary from seven to nine sons by his wife) became the founders of the five major Jinghpaw clans. 

The five major clans are as follows:

First son, La N-Gam “Marip Wa Gumja”

Golden Father of Marip clan

Second son, La N-Naw “Lahtaw Wa Naw Lawn”

Aggressive Father of Lahtaw clan

Third son, La N-La “Lahpai Wa La Tsan”

Far-spreading Father of Lahpai clan

Fourth son, La N-Tu “Tsit Wa Tu Hkum”

Aggressive Father of N’hkum clan

Fifth son, La N-Tang “Maran Wa ning Shawng”

The first of the Maran clan.”

          Thus, The Kachins have their own clans with five ruling familes such as Lahtaw, Lahpai, Nhkum, Maran and Marip. 



      Kachins originated from Central Asia (Ka-ang  Shingra ) and they mirgrated from Central Asia to South East Asia  Via Persia: Tashkent and Sarmakand   (Southern  Russian ): Mongolia: Huhethot, Kan Su, Tsing Hai Districts Yalo Tsangpo of Republic of China. Then they were back to the Tsing Hai District (China) and landed to the place called: Chengtu (China). Finally they migrated to the present occupied land called: The Kachinland. After migrating to their land, some of them strayed away to India (Singphos), China (Jingpos or Jinghpos, most of them in China speak Zaiwa) and most the Kachins migrated to the northern Burma: Kachin land. It is only about 2662 years old that the Kachins live in the present land. They were explored\s and were moving along the riverbanks where they could find fertile land.

      There is no scientifically strong evidence about the origin of the Kachin people because there are no stone inscriptions left behind by their ancestors and they had no written script until Dr. Ola Hanson came along.  However, the tradition states that their cradle was Tibetan Plateou and ancestral home was the “major Shingra Bum,” or “Naturally Flat Mountain,” “which lies for to the north. 

      The exact location is unknown, but a number of authors suggest eastern Tibet or further to the northeast.  Four great rivers are mentioned in these ancient traditions.  The Mali Hka (Irrawaddy), The N-Mai Hka (east fork of the Irrawaddy), the N-Shawn Hka, and the Hpunggawn Hka (most likely the Brahmaputra).  It was from this area that the Kachins began to migrate to the south.

       Today the Kachins are found all along the Yunnan border from Ledo to Kengtung near the Burma – Thailand border. After this great migration, some Kachins settled at their present occupied land called the Kachin land.  The Kachins can be seeen not only in Myanmar but also in China as well as in India.  Kachin land is adjoining with China in the east, India in the west, Tibet in the north and Myanmar in the south. 

        It was a separate country before the British occupied the whole country, later it became a part of Myanmar.  That is why the Kachins became one of the races of Myanmar.  “Kachin migration needs to be viewed in the context of movements of other peoples through this mountainous area where Tibet, Yunan, Burma, and India meet a region known to the airman of World War II as ‘the hump.’  Even though there is little corroborative archeological evidence, similarities in culture and language, especially in the traditions of the peoples involved, do support the theory that, previous to the Kachins, a number of other groups had passed through this area on their way south.”

      From generations to generations the Kachin people migrated from one place to another and the higher place to the lower part.  As a result of these movements, there is an increasing measure of integration of the Kachin tribes. Especially on the plains, they are living in close proximity to one another inter-marriage is accelerating the process, as young people are now brought into contact in a way unknown a generation age.  Among Kachin although the educated families are located in the plain cities and the majority of the uneducated Kachin people remain on the hill side villages.  And also of them are in abroad.  

Languages among the Kachins

       The Kachins had no written language when the early missionaries arrival among them.  The Kachins themselves had made no effort to create a script, in spite of the fact that they had lived for centuries in very close contact with people of great literary accomplishments such as Chinese, Myanmar and Indians.  Each of these people had developed a complete script peculiar to themselves and this variety of scripts may have caused them to shy away from trying to find a suitable script for this own particular language.  They did, however, find their own way of sending messages to one another, even though they were not able to convey their desire or feeling in written words.

      The Kachins are Jinghpaw, Maru (lawngwaw), Lashi(lachit), Zaiwa(Azi), Rawang, Lisu and five other sub-groups. These six major groups including five other different sub-groups are together known as Kachins. They have same traditions, customs, dialects and practices.12 In 1890, Dr. Ola Hanson, one of the American Baptist Missionaries, was sent to Myanmar for literary work.

        It is technically accurate to speak of the Kachin languages, even though the phrase has sometimes been used to refer to the Jinghpaw tongue.  All these Kachin tribes speak at least four distinct languages, Jinghpaw, Maru, Rawang and Atsi.  Hanson anticipated that the Jinghpaw which he reduced to writing would indeed become the common language in due course, and this could properly be referred to as the “Kachin language.”   Today, however, sixty years after he penned that hope, substantial number of Rawangs, Marus, and Lashis, to say nothing of the more newly-arrived Lisus, either know nothing of Jinghpaw.

      Jinghpaw, which Hanson used as the medium for his translation of the Bible and Hymn, is by for the most widely known of the Kachin languages.  Maru, Rawang, and their various dialects appear to have a common source with Jinghpaw, but nevertheless are mutually unintelligible.  Atsi and Lashi are commonly regarded as daughter language of the Maru, the Atsi evidently having borrowed more heavily from the Jinghpaw.

      Rawang is considerably different from any of the above; it in turn has numerous dialects, some of which are in large measure mutually unintelligible.  Since 1950, considerable work in Rawang has been done by Robert Morse, a missionary of churches of Christ, aided by his brother. The Lisus, too, had no written language until the advent of the missionary.

       It group was another group without script. But the effort of missionaries contributed for them a script. It was Froser, assisted by Ba Thaw who worked out a Lisus script, using Romanized letters, some inverted or reversed, which has proven a very effective communication tool for these people.




Anderson, Countney . To the Golden Shore . Grand Rapids,Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House,1972. 

Badcock,D.I . Adoniram Judson. London :Oliphants Limited,1957. Bailey, Faith Coxe. Adonoram Judson Missionary to Burma. Chicago:  Moody Press,1955. Batten, J.R. Golden Foot. (the story of Judson of Burma). London :  Lutherworth press,1960. Crider, Donald M. “The work among the Kachin” in Burma Baptist  Chronicle Book I edited by Maung Shwe Wa (Rangoon: Rangoon  University Press for the Burma Baptist Convention,1963), 368-382. Dickason,David G. Dickason, “ Burma ” Academic American Encyclopedia.  Danburg: Grolier Incorporated,1982.  Di, Maran Brang . A Brief Modern History of Kachin. ThaiLand: Zin-me,2003. Di, Maran Brang, Prat Ningnan A Htik Labau Kadun. New Delhi,n.b,1996. George, K.M. Development Of Christian through the Centuries; Tradition  and Discovery.Triruvalla:Christava Sahitya Samithi,2005. Gilhodes ,Chales. The Kachins:Religion and Customs. Kalakatta:the  Catholic Orphan Pres:1992. Hansan,Ola .“The Origin of Kachin” in Burma Research Journal. Rangon: n.b, 1912. 

Ja Dan Li, Bawmwang . Kachin Times USA Vol I. Jacksonville: Kachin  Development Foundation, 2005. 

Leach, E.R .  Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study Of Kachin  Social Structure. London: n.b.,1954. 

Lebar, Hickey and Musgrave. The Kachin State of Burma.  n.p.,1964,(www.kachinland.com). 

Lebor, Frank M. ed., Ethnic Groups of Mainland South East Asian.New  York:New Haven,1964.

Kane, J.Herbert. Understranding Christian Mission . Michigan: Baker Book  House,1986. 

Li, Pungga Ja. What Kachins Believe and Practice,Vol.I. Ruili:Sinpraw Bum  Media Group,2000. 

Mun, Lahpai Zau.  Kachin Way of Living Book I . Momuk: H.G.P ,1999. Naw, Dashi and  Sumlut Gam, Wunpawng Htunghkring Buka.  Myitkyina:May Press,2001. Naw, S.Sin Wa. Baptist History and Kachin Baptist Convention  communication Rangoon:KBC,2000. Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Mission. n.p:Penguin,n.y. Sakhong, Lian .Religious and Politics among the Chin People In Myanmar (1896-1949)”(Ph.D Dessertation,Upsala University,2000.Sword ,Gustaf A. and Ruth M.Armstrong  “The Kachin of Burma” in   Pyilan  Lunghtawn  Journal. September,2004. Tegenfeldt, Herman G. A century of Growth: The Kachin Baptist Church of  Burma.South Pasadena: William Carey Library,1974. 

Trager, Helen G.  Burma Through Alien Eyes (Missionary View of the  Burma in the 19th Century).Bombay:Asia Publishing House,1966. Vedder, Henry C.  A Short History of Baptist Mission. Philadelphia:The  Judson Press,1927. Waters, John. Storming the Golden Kingdom. Bombay: Gospel Literature  Service,1992. Wawm, Duwa La. Jidwi Tsun Dan Na .Myit kyina:Hanson memorial  Press,1999. 

Wa, Lasi Bawk. ,Jinghpaw Wunpawng Sha Ni The Dai Ni  Na Sut  Masa.  Myitkyina :Millemium,2000. 

Wa, Maung Shew. Burma Baptist Chronicle, Book I & Book II. Rangoon  University Press for the Burma Baptist Convention,1963. Zaw, U Tint. Education In Burma in Presentation Papre for International  Burmese Students and Youth Conference:18-20 December,Uk,2004. 

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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