Pa-O: an ethnic group in the Burmese Shan State

The People of Myanmar are made up of a medley of tribes that mostly belong to southern Mongoloid stock. The Pa-O, also known as ‘Taungthu’ and ‘Black Karen’ form an ethnic group, comprising approximately 600.000.

The Pa-O form the second largest ethnic group in Shan State, after the Shans themselves and are classified as part of the “Shan National Race” by the government, although they are believed to be of Tibeto-Burman stock, and are ethno linguistically related to the Karen. The Pa-O settled in the Thaton region of present-day Myanmar about 1000 B.C. Historically, the Pa-O wore colorful clothing, until King Anawratha defeated the Mon King Makuta, who had established his reign in Thaton. The Pa-O were enslaved, and forced to wear indigo-dyed clothing, to signify their status. However, there are regional variations of clothing among the Pa-O.

Many have adopted Bamar clothing, while men may wear Shan baung-mi (long baggy pants), the women wear longyis, long sleeveless shirts and cropped long-sleeved jackets, but with a brightly colored turban.

The majority of Pa-O are Buddhists, but a written language was created by Christian missionaries. The Pa-O predominantly engage in agriculture, where their main cash crop is the than-nat leaf from sebesten trees, used for rolling Myanmar’s traditional cigar, the cheroot (see publication on my blog dated March 4th 2011).


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