Anda di halaman 1dari 22

This article was downloaded by:[The University of Manchester] [The University of Manchester] On: 7 June 2007 Access Details:

[subscription number 773564015] Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

The Pacific Review


Ananda Rajah

Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713707111

A 'nation of intent' in Burma: Karen ethno-nationalism, nationalism and narrations of nation

To cite this Article: Rajah, Ananda , 'A 'nation of intent' in Burma: Karen ethno-nationalism, nationalism and narrations of nation', The Pacific Review, 15:4, 517 - 537 To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/0951274021000029413 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0951274021000029413

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdf This article maybe used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material. Taylor and Francis 2007

The Paci c Review, Vol. 15 No. 4 2002: 517537

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

A nation of intent in Burma: Karen ethno-nationalism, nationalism and narrations of nation1


Ananda Rajah

Abstract Fully-formed nationalisms do not emerge from nothing. Nor are they inextinguishable expressions of pre-modern forms of identity and political aspirations. The argument in this paper is that if they are fully formed, they have to emerge from ethno-nationalism; that is, out of ethnic identi cation-writ-large, where ethnic identi cation becomes mapped onto that larger thing called a nation. Ethnic identi cation, however, requires a transformation in modes of consciousness and atavistic ethno-histories before ethno-nationalism and then full-blooded nationalisms can come into being. The argument is made in relation to the Karen nationalist movement in Burma. Karen nationalism emerged out of ethno-nationalism that was fostered by Christian missionary interest and ethnological attempts to set out a Karen ethno-history. Missionary writings offered Christian-educated Karen, in colonial times, the basis for a narration of nation and for viewing themselves not merely as an ethnic group but a nation. This paper sets out the ceaseless unfolding of this narration of nation that began in the nineteenth century and now tragically occurs in refugee camps in Thailand because of drastically altered politico-military conditions in Burma since the late 1980s. These narrations can only be understood in terms of their discursive history and how this history has been shaped. These narrations are examined with a view to addressing some key theoretical issues

Ananda Rajah teaches in the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore. His research interests concern ethnicity, ethnic relations and the state, the ThailandBurma borderlands, state-building, development and modernity in Southeast Asia and the sociology and anthropology of religion. His articles on the Karen in northern Thailand, and the Karen insurgency and ethnic con ict in Burma have appeared in Mountain Research and Development , Mankind, Sojourn: Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science, Boundary and Security Bulletin and Geopolitics and International Boundaries. He is a joint compiler of The ASEAN Reader (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992). Address: Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore, Block AS1 #03-10, 11 Arts Link, Singapore 117570. E-mail: socar@nus.edu.sg The Paci c Review ISSN 09512748 print/ISSN 14701332 online 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/095127402100002941 3

518

The Paci c Review

contained in more recent studies of nationalism and nation-state-making as modern phenomena and how ethno-nationalism is transformed into nationalism. Keywords Ethno-nationalism; nationalism; ethno-history; Karen; Burma.

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality. (Renan 1990: 11)

Introduction
All nations-in-the-making and seemingly established nations require some basis for nation-ness, by which I mean the individual, subjective experience of a shared sense of identi cation with a community larger than one can in fact empirically experience but which is nevertheless felt to be authentic. It is commonly supposed that this takes the form of nationalism. But even nationalisms must be constructed. As Ernest Gellner (1983: 56) once observed: Nationalism is not what it seems, and above all not what it seems to itself. . . . The cultural shreds and patches used by nationalism are often arbitrary historical inventions. Any old shred would have served as well. But in no way does it follow that the principle of nationalism . . . is itself in the least contingent and accidental. Fully-formed nationalisms, in other words, do not emerge from nothing. Nor are they inextinguishable expressions of pre-modern ethnie as Anthony Smith (1986) argues. The argument in this paper is that if they are fully formed, they have to emerge from ethno-nationalism; that is, out of ethnic identi cation-writ-large, where ethnic identi cation becomes mapped onto that larger thing called a nation.2 Ethnic identi cation, however, requires a transformation in modes of consciousness and atavistic ethno-histories before ethno-nationalism and then full-blooded nationalisms can come into being. This contribution is concerned with this process among the Karen, an ethnic minority in Burma. It sets out the ceaseless unfolding of a narration of nation to use Homi Bhabas (1990) phrase that began in the nineteenth century and now tragically occurs in refugee camps in Thailand because of drastically altered politico-military conditions in Burma since the late 1980s. The reproduction of narrations of nation in these camps can only be understood in terms of their discursive history and how this history has been shaped. This paper draws on earlier work (Rajah 1990a,

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma

519

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

1993) for this purpose with a view to addressing some speci c issues contained in more recent studies of nationalism and nation-state-making. It may be located, therefore, in relation to OLearys classi cation of theories of nationalism (1998: 77), which reveals a gap in theorizing on movements for local autonomy as nations of intent as noted by Wee (2001: 9). The emergence and reproduction of Karen narrations of nation, Karen ethno-nationalism and nationalism in Burma since the nineteenth century have something to offer towards lling this lacuna. While I accept that such a theoretical de ciency exists, I nevertheless share the views of Gellner (1983, 1996), Anderson (1991), Connor (1994) and Benjamin (1988) that nationalism, nations and nation-states are modern phenomena. My position is that nations and their political entailments are the creation of elites who, in their subjective experience of ethnic identi cation-writ-large as authentic identity, utilize ethno-nationalism/nationalism as ideology to this end. This draws on Benjamins work in particular, because of the close attention it gives to the differences between primary and secondary nation-states and the speci c processes involved in the making of the latter.

The nation-state, ethno-nationalism and nationalism reconsidered


The terms ethno-nationalism and nationalism are often used interchangeably. This interchangeability has been of little consequence in accounts and theories of nations, nationalism and nation-state-making. Given the theoretical de ciency noted by Wee (2001), a useful distinction could well be made between the two. Nationalism is an ideological phenomenon. While it is made up of cultural shreds and patches, it does not emerge fully formed. What then precedes nationalism? I suggest we may use ethno-nationalism to depict the antecedents of nationalism. Ethno-nationalism offers a basis for nation-ness, but it is primarily cultural. It is constituted of cultural shreds and patches and includes atavistic ethno-history. Such ethno-histories based on written records and orally transmitted narratives are also cultural constructs. They are not the same as histories imbued with the methodological re exivity that generally distinguishes modern, academic historical writing. Ethno-nationalism is ethnic identi cation-writ-large where the roots of ethnic identity lie in a presumption of common or shared descent (Keyes 1997: 153).3 The sociology of ethnicity and ethnic identi cation is now well understood. While ethnicity and ethnic identi cation rely on markers (language, religion, dress, and so on) it is ultimately the presumption of descent, as Keyes points out, that underlies such identi cation. This theoretical anthropological contribution undermines whatever utility an inherently essentialist concept like ethnie might have. Atavistic ethno-histories, I might add, are the corollary of the presumption of common or shared descent.

520

The Paci c Review

Ethno-nationalism in the sense set out above does not necessarily presuppose a political community. In colonial and post-colonial situations, it is only when the idea of the modern nation-state and its distinctive features i.e. political rights in relation to other similarly constituted groups, territoriality, borders, sovereignty (self-determination) and equality with other nation-states in the international order are anticipatorily assimilated to ethno-nationalism that ethno-nationalism becomes full-blooded nationalism. The cultural, social and political aspects of the transition from ethnonationalism to nationalism may be set out schematically as shown in Figure 1. Both ethno-nationalism and nationalism are creations of moderneducated elites. The emergence of ethno-nationalism and nationalism involves a transition from the pre-modern to the modern. Central to this is a change in modes of consciousness where elites are able to conceive of new forms of social groups and consociation in experientially nonempirical terms that transcend the empirically grounded, locale-speci c ways by which communities in pre-modern societies identify themselves.4 It is this to which Anderson (1991) was really referring when he used the term imagined communities. The process is non-reversible but neither is it complete. I am not aware of any post-colonial state where nationalist elites have sought to reconstitute pre-modern socio-political structures upon gaining independence. Even when they have used cultural elements (symbols, titles, regalia, and so on) drawn from pre-colonial times, ethno-histories or nationalist rhetoric that hark back to a mythical Golden Age, they have never implemented a social structural return to the past. If anything, they aspired to equality with colonizing states within the international order. This could only assume form, if not complete substance, by replicating the sociopolitical structures of colonial powers. Again, this too is contained in the extension of Andersons argument that the idea of the nation-state is a modular one; that is, it became transportable largely through colonialism. Anderson, however, does not tell us exactly how this modularity is possible. It is only possible because modern modes of consciousness are transferable. Such modes of consciousness are a pre-condition for ethno-nationalism to emerge. When ethno-nationalism becomes coupled with the idea of the nation-state and its distinctive features, then full-blown nationalism may be said to exist. With that, comes the movement towards the making of a nation-state in colonial situations and, in post-colonial conditions, movements towards separatism or local autonomy. What colonialism did was to bring new modes of consciousness to colonies making it possible for ethno-nationalism and nationalism to come into being. The reproduction of these modes of consciousness, in turn, made it possible for separatist and local autonomy movements to emerge in the post-colonial states of Southeast Asia the Karen separatist movement in Burma being a case in point, as argued here.

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma

521

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

Figure 1 Ethno-nationalism and nationalism

Karen nationalism and separatism


In 1949, one year after Burma was granted independence, an active, intransigent Karen separatist movement with a predominantly Christian leadership emerged. The political aspirations of the movement, led by the Karen National Union (KNU), are explicitly stated in its manifesto (Karen National Union, n.d.a), which lists: 1 2 3 4 The establishment of a Karen state with the right to self-determination. The establishment of national states for all the nationalities, with the right to self-determination. The establishment of a genuine Federal Union with all the states having equal rights and the right to self-determination. The Karen National Union will pursue the policy of National Democracy.

These aims are based on recognizably modern political ideas. They are a distillation of Karen nationalist thought, but what does this nationalism consist of? The same document states in a section entitled The Karen, A Nation, Their Nature and History: The Karens are much more than a national minority. We are a nation with a population of 7 million, having all the essential qualities of a nation. We have our own history, our own language, our own culture,

522

The Paci c Review our own land of settlement and our own economic system of life. By nature the Karen are simple, quiet, unassuming and peace loving people. . . . Historically, the Karens descend [sic ] from the same ancestors as the Mongolian people. The earliest Karens . . . settled in Htee-Hset Met Ywa (Land of Flowing Sands), a land bordering the source of the Yang-tse-Kiang River in the Gobi desert. From there, we migrated southwards and gradually entered the land now known as Burma about 739 BC. We were, according to most historians, the rst settlers in this new land. . . . Here we lived characteristically simple, uneventful and peaceful lives, until the advent of the Burman. (Karen National Union, n.d.b)

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

What we have here is a fully- edged nationalism asserting claims to territory, sovereignty and political rights founded on an ethno-nationalism containing assumptions of cultural commonality and uniqueness, essentialized attributes, and the rei cation of questionable history and ethnology. All of this is constructed in opposition to an oppressive Burman Other. Central to this is ethnic identi cation transmuted into the identi cation of a Karen nation. What is of interest here is the rei cation of questionable history, an ethno-history, for that is what enables ethnonationalism and, in consequence, nationalism.

Conjectural history and amateur ethnology: the making of a Karen narration of nation
This Karen ethno-history this narration of nation can be traced to the conjectural histories and nave ethnological accounts of Karen tribes by Christian missionaries in Burma in the nineteenth century. Among the Karen in Burma and Thailand are to be found different creation myths or origin narratives. An indication of their variety may be seen in accounts offered by J. G. Scott (writing under the Burmese pen name of Shway Yoe) and A. R. MacMahon both British colonial administrators in Burma and David Marlowe, an anthropologist working in Thailand and writing in the 1970s. When Yuwa created the world he took three handfuls of earth and threw them round him. From one sprang the Burmans, from another the Karens, and from the third the Kalas, the foreigners. The Karen were very talkative and made more noise than all the others, and so the creator believed that there were too many of them, and he threw another handful to the Burmans, who thus gained such a supremacy that they soon overcame the Karens and have oppressed them ever since. (Shway Yoe 1963: 170)

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma

523

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

In ancient times there were seven brothers, whose parents divided a bamboo bucket into seven pieces and giving a piece to each of them told them that they would become the representatives of different peoples and clans, and after having been estranged from each other for a season, would eventually come together again, and living in peace and friendship, would bring with them their portions of the bucket and restore the latter to its original shape. (MacMahon 1876) At the beginning there were two people. The grandparents did not tell me who they were or where they came from, only that there were two people who were the father and mother. One day, in the mud of their paddy eld they found 101 crabs and ate them. Then it followed that rst woman gave birth to 101 children. Each of these children had his own language. They were the Karen, the Lua, the Northern Thai, the Shan, the Burmese, and so on. That is how it was in the beginning. Now I have always heard it said by my parents and in the words of the grandparents that all people everywhere were from the same parents. They are all children of the same parents. (Marlowe 1979: 169) The last narrative shares thematic similarities with a Chin and northern Thai narrative (Lehman 1963: 32; Davis 1984: 290).5 None of these narratives has contributed towards the making of a Karen ethno-history. These examples illustrate three general points: rst, the same ethnolinguistic group can have a variety of origin narratives; second, some narratives of this kind may be shared by different ethno-linguistic groups; and, third, not all origin narratives result in ethno-histories. The central question is this: of various narratives, how did a particular set of narratives come to constitute a Karen ethno-history on the basis of which Karen ethno-nationalism could be constructed? What Karen ethno-history indicates is that when ethno-histories emerge they do so contingently, but they nevertheless require an historical template. American Baptist missionaries provided this template. When they rst arrived in Burma, they were unsuccessful in converting ethnic Burmans (who were more-or-less Buddhist) because the Burmese court showed little tolerance for their activities (Knowles 1829: 1423, 16177). They thus turned their attention to non-Burman populations. Of these, the plains- and hill-dwelling Karen proved the most fertile ground for their evangelical mission. The missionaries were as much interested in understanding Karen culture, language and customs as they were in converting the Karen, undoubtedly a necessary adjunct to their evangelical mission. The work of the missionary Francis Mason was instrumental in eventually generating Karen narrations of nation. Mason was interested in Karen origin narratives and, quite remarkably, recorded narratives bearing

524

The Paci c Review

uncanny resemblances to the story of the Creation in the Old Testament. E. B. Cross reproduced an account by Mason (also a Baptist missionary) in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (1853/54: 3001): God is complete and good, and through endless generations will never die. The earth is the footstool of God, and heaven his seat. He sees all things, and we are not hid from his sight. He is not far from us, but in our midst. Cross notes the existence of other narratives of the Creation and their almost exact resemblance to the Scripture history of it, and offers translations by Mason: He created man, and of what did he form him? He created man at rst from the earth and nished the work of creation. He created woman, and of what did he form her? He took a rib from the man and created the woman. He created spirit or life. How did he create spirit? Father God said: I love these my son and daughter. I will bestow my life upon them. He took a particle of his life, and breathed it into their nostrils, and they came to life and were men. Thus God created man. God made food and drink, ice, re and water, cattle, elephants and birds. (Cross 1853/54) The parallels are remarkable. One wonders how much of this was provided by Mason and how much existed in the Karen narrative. It is certain, however, that Masons efforts led to concerted attempts by other missionaries to compile Karen narratives with a view to establishing additional concordances with biblical lore. Of these, Cross (1853/54: 3024) found the following noteworthy because of the resemblance to the biblical account of the fall of man: Ywah in the beginning commanded But Naukplau came to destroy Ywah at the rst commanded, Naukplau maliciously deceived unto death. The woman E-u and the man Thay-nai The malicious end enviously looked upon them. Both the woman E-u and the man Thay-nai The dragon regarded with hatred. The great dragon deceived the woman E-u, And what was it he said to her? The great dragon took the yellow fruit of the tree,

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma And gave it to Ywahs holy daughter. The great dragon took the white fruit of the tree, And gave it to Ywahs son and daughter to eat. They kept not every word of Ywah, Naukplau deceived them. They died. They kept not each one the word of Ywah, Then he deceived and beguiled them unto death. They transgressed the words of Ywah, Ywah turned his back and forsook them. And after they had broken the commandments of Ywah, Ywah turned his back upon them and left.

525

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

Ywah (Yuwa in Scotts account) may be described as a cosmogonic deity. Cross glosses Naukplau as an evil being and devil, but Naukplau, a male form, and Mkaulee, a female form, occur in some other narratives and they may also be viewed as cosmogonic deities (Keyes 1977: 52). The resemblance is striking. However, this was the last instance of a concordance between Karen origin narratives and Old Testament lore. Further attempts to seek out such concordances went unrewarded. As Cross (1853/54: 304) candidly noted, the traces of Scriptural history in the Karen traditions of later events, so far as have been discovered, are exceedingly feeble and obscure. Nevertheless, a body of work existed suf cient to fuel the production of conjectural histories. The rst of such speculations was Masons interpretation that the Karen must have been descendants of one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. This interpretation took into account the (spurious) morphemic similarity between the term Ywa for the cosmogonic deity and the Old Hebrew term for God, Yahweh.6 The implicit assumption can only be that ethno-linguistic groups (nations) carry memories of ancient lore and may retain core religious terms despite linguistic and cultural change. Mason subsequently abandoned this view because Karen narratives collected later did not lend themselves to the establishment of further parallels with the Old Testament. Mason was, however, still interested in what Karen narratives might reveal of the origin and history of the Karen. One narrative the story of Taw Me Pa (Boars Tusk Father) had particular signi cance for Mason. His interpretation of it has been profoundly in uential in the production of a Karen ethno-history and ethno-nationalism. As summarized elsewhere: The narrative recounts the travels of Taw Me Pa (Father of the Boars Tusk), the mythical patriarch, who kills a wild boar. The boar, however, is a magical one and does not actually die. It escapes but leaves one of its tusks behind. Taw-me-pa nds it, uses it to make a comb, and as he combs his hair with it, he becomes young again.

526

The Paci c Review His family does the same, with the same results. His children bear a great many offspring, and they in turn have many children. As they all use the comb, their numbers are not reduced by death and the land they occupy becomes over-populated. The old-young patriarch therefore decides that he should set out in search of new land to settle. As he travels further a eld, he loses his children or descendants after he crosses a sandy river or river of sand. The descendants are left behind because of some misadventure. The narrative ends with a declaration that when the descendants are freed from sin, the patriarch will return and lead his descendants across the river to the pleasant land which he has found beyond. (Rajah 1993: 2501)

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

This is based on an account by Andrew Gilmore (1911) who used a translation by J. B. Vinton (both of whom were missionaries). Gilmore (1911: 81) makes the point that: Dr Mason interpreted it to mean a river of running sand, i.e. a river consisting of sand. He came to the conclusion that the desert of Gobi was meant by this, and interpreted the legend to mean that the Karens had crossed this desert during the migration into Burma. Subsequent writers have followed Dr Mason here. The signi cance of Masons interpretation cannot be underestimated. Whereas his earlier speculation that the Karen were one of the ten lost tribes of Israel situated them within the Jewish diaspora making a unique Karen identity problematic, his revised opinion offered educated Karen a distinctive collective identity and migratory history of their own. Saw Aung Hla, a Karen nationalist writer, later elaborated upon this interpretation (c. 1931).

Karen ethno-nationalism and nationalism


The efforts of Mason and his fellow missionaries had a profound impact on the Karen. As Renard (1980: 41) observes, This focus on their origins, their kin and history served to foster Karen national consciousness. However, the quasi-ethnological pursuits of the missionaries were not, in themselves, suf cient to generate such a consciousness. Their other activities were also important. This included the creation of a literate tradition through the introduction of a writing system based on Sgaw Karen and the Burmese script devised by the Reverend Jonathan Wade in 1832 (Jones 1961: v), the establishment of schools, hostels and printing presses. No less important was the provision of a supra-local network of connections and organizations through Karen churches (Keyes 1977: 56).

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma

527

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

These developments brought educated Christian Karen out of the premodern world and into the modern. They wrought a transformation in modes of consciousness so that educated Karen were not merely able to envision a shared or common descent for all Karennic-speaking peoples, but also how to organize the Karen trans-locally. The church-based supralocal organizations were a model for the constitution of social groups and new forms of consociation. In 1881, sixty-eight years after the arrival of Adoniram Judson and his wife Ann Hasseltine Judson, the rst American Baptist missionaries to Burma, the Karen National Association (KNA) was established in Toungoo. As Renard (1980: 412) records: Dominated by Christian Sgaws, the KNA appealed to all Karens to unite for their development and for their defense against Burman brigands. Members of the KNA sought to make the Karens a progressive, advanced people. By the end of the nineteenth century, some Karens in Burma were already studying abroad, taking well-placed jobs in the bureaucracy of British Burma, and coming to dominate indigenous portions of the armed services in Burma. Many of these individuals had risen from illiterate backwoods . . . moved to the major cities of Burma, and become doctors, lawyers and army of cers. As prominent Karens they wanted a past comparable to their status. Thus, Karen national consciousness developed in the late 1880s, encouraged by the missionaries in uence to accept uncritically their traditional tales. The KNA was not a political association. Membership was open to all Karen without regard to religion and its aims were to promote Karen identity, leadership, education and writing and to bring about the social and economic advancement of the Karen peoples (Smith 1991: 45, emphasis added; see, also, Smeaton 1887: 201, 2216). The establishment of the KNA (which later came to be the explicitly political Karen National Union with a military arm, the Karen National Liberation Army or KNLA) was a self-conscious assertion of a culturally-based nation-ness. It was the rst manifestation of a pan-Karennic-speaking nation of intent, one that transcended dialectal, religious and locale-speci c differences with entirely modern, secular, civic aims. The KNA, in short, represented the institutionalization of Karen ethno-nationalism. When ethnic Burman anti-British rebellions broke out in Lower Burma in 1886, Karen-armed levies raised by the British played an important part in helping to suppress them. In a telling statement about their role, J. B. Vinton wrote: I never saw the Karen so anxious for a ght . This is just welding the Karens into a nation, not an aggregate of clans. The heathen Karens

528

The Paci c Review to a man are brigading themselves under the Christians. The whole thing is good for the Karen. This will put virility into our Christianity. . . . From a loose aggregation of clans we shall weld them into a nation yet. (Cited in Smith 1991: 45)

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

Vinton had evidently come to see that the Karen were not yet a nation. The elite Christian-educated Karen of the KNA clearly shared this view for they had begun to see the Karennic-speaking peoples, despite their internal differences, as a nation-in-the-making whose identity needed to be promoted.7 Yet, as the name of the organization (Karen National Association) indicates, they obviously held the view that the congeries of Karennic-speaking peoples were in some sense a nation but one that had to be realized. The KNA and its aspirations exemplify that curious bivalent orientation common to all forms of ethno-nationalism and nationalism atavistically looking backward to the past and forward to the future where the nation seemingly is never quite in the present. The transition from Karen ethno-nationalism to a fully- edged nationalism did not occur overnight. It began with British plans for administrative reforms in the late nineteenth century that led KNA leaders to think in terms of collective political interests. This gathered momentum in the face of Burman nationalism, which emerged out of the Young Mens Buddhist Association. It was only in 1920 that we see clear evidence of Karen ethno-nationalism articulated in a form that linked ethnic identity with political rights. In a criticism of the Craddock Reforms of that year, Sidney Loo Nee, a lawyer and spokesperson for the KNA, argued that being the second largest indigenous race in Burma, the identity and interests of the Karen should be protected by separate electorates (Smith 1991: 51). In 1928, Dr San C. Po, regarded as the father of the Karen nation, issued the rst call for an independent Karen state (Smith 1991: 4451).8 Electorates are locale-speci c. Sidney Loo Nees proposal, however, recognized locales where the Karen were a majority in relation to rights to political representation. It was a demand for a modern form of political administration. San C. Pos call, on the other hand, was not concerned with political representation within the colonial state. It was a critical, political leap forward from ethno-nationalism into full-blown nationalism, for he explicitly made the link between Karen nation-ness and territoriality and sovereignty.

The reproduction of Karen narrations of nation


As Karen ethno-nationalism was being transformed into Karen nationalism, the rst and only comprehensive Karen history was published. Its appearance was, undoubtedly, part of this transformation. It was written in Sgaw Karen and published in Rangoon. This was Saw Aung Las Kanyau ata Si Tai Si (History of the Karen, c. 1931). 9 This de nitive ethno-history

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma

529

was the apotheosis of narrative development based on missionary attempts to interpret Karen origin narratives. As Renard (1980: 42) notes: Sau Au La s collection of Karen myths and stories which he then organized more or less chronologically, creates considerable problems, however. First, there is so little material in Tai, Mon, and Burman histories to verify these Karen stories. Second, rather than evaluating them, Sau Au La apparently accepted almost all the stories he heard uncritically. So desirous was Sau Au La of describing a glorious Karen past that, perhaps without intending to be misleading, he wrote an enhanced history of the Karens with little proof to support his claims. It could well be called the master narrative of the Karen nation. The book is extraordinarily rare. Very few copies (if any) exist in the hands of members of the KNU along the ThailandBurma borderlands. Not having seen an original edition or whole copy, I can only surmise that parts of it have been copied by hand, typed, cyclostyled or photocopied and circulated among members of the KNU.10 The KNU manifesto, referred to earlier, draws on Saw Aung Hlas work. When the KNU and its military arm, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), were in control of substantial areas of Karen State in Burma and along the ThailandBurma border, versions of his ethno-history were taught in primary and secondary schools established by the KNU. This ensured the reproduction of Karen ethno-history, ethno-nationalism and nationalism as part of the KNUs educational policies. The use of deliberately created national symbols a national coat-of-arms based on bronze frog drums, Karen dress, a national ag, a national anthem and Liberation Day parades played no little part in this process. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, two publications were available from the KNU. They were written in English with the purpose of publicizing the Karen cause to an external readership. The rst, entitled Karens and Communism, and Karens Fight for Peace (Saw Moo Troo and Mika Rolley, n.d.), contains an account of what being Karen means: According to the tribal traditions of the Karens their earliest known patriarch is Poo Htot-meh-pah, boars tusk father. Hence in answer to the question Who is a Karen? one of the answers should be (1) one who can claim his ancestry to Poo Htot-meh-pah and (2) one who possesses, maintains and cultivates the legacies bequeathed to him by the said forebear and his predecessors. (Saw Moo Troo and Mika Rolley, n.d.: 1)11 The publication lists what a Karen heritage consists of: the knowledge that there is a God, the Divine Being; high moral and ethical standards;

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

530

The Paci c Review

honesty; simple, quiet and peaceful living; hospitality; language; national costumes; and aptitude for music. Karen inhabitation of Burma, prior to all other groups, is described as follows: From central Mongolia our forefathers moved down south to Tibet and afterwards further down along both sides of the Irrawaady [sic ], Sittang and Salween rivers settling down scatteringly everywhere [sic ] between these rivers and thickly in the Irrawaddy Delta. After them came the Talaings [i.e., Mon] and the Burmese respectively in bigger waves. Then they lived together or side by side with the subsequent settlers many of them became Buddhists [sic ]. (Saw Moo Troo and Mika Rolley, n.d.: 2) The second publication, The Karen Revolution in Burma (Lonsdale, n.d.), is primarily concerned to set out the reasons for the Karen struggle.12 A section called the The origin of the Karens states: According to tradition the home-country of the Karens was the land called by them Htee-Hseh-Meh-Ywa, Water pushes sand ows. It means that it was a land that Sand Moves or Flows as a river The River of Sand. Perhaps it might be the Gobi desert, which is directly towards the north. That region is Mongolia. Thus it seems that the Karens came from Mongolia, and they were a tribe of the Mongolian race. It was as such that the Karens were described by a great many historians as an off-shoot of the main race, the Mongolian race. (Lonsdale, n.d.: 22) Lonsdale (n.d.: 23) then presents a chronology of migration from Mongolia: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Migration of the Karens from Mongolia 2617 BC. Arrival of the Karens in East Turkestan 2013 BC. Migration of the Karens from East Turkestan 1866 BC. Arrival of the Karens in Tibet in 1864 BC. Migration of the Karens from Tibet 1388 BC (the Karens settled down in Tibet for 476 years). Arrival of the Karens in Yunnan in China 1385 BC. Migration of the rst group from Yunnan to S.E. Asia 1128 BC. Migration of the second group of the Karens from Yunnan to S.E. Asia 741 BC. The last arrival of the second group to enter S.E. Asia 759 BC.

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

This chronology lists Saw Aung Hlas work in the bibliography. The authors of both publications state that they do not represent the KNU, but the publications are unequivocally sympathetic to the KNUs cause.

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma

531

When I interviewed General Saw Bo Mya (then President of the KNU and Commander-in-Chief of the KNLA) in 1981, he said: The Karen migrated down to China from Mongolia and down into Burma. The Karen are peace-loving people and for that reason they suffer. Thieving and robbing is not in the Karen line. The Burmese migrated after the Karen. The Burmese are more aggressive than the Karen and exploit all peoples. They came and encroached on Karen land and the Karen say there is so much land so the Karen moved away. Because we are peace-loving people we gave way. . . . Later on the Burmese not only took away what the Karen owned but persecuted them. What contemporary Karen nationalist ethno-history asserts, evident in these reiterations of Saw Aung Hlas work, is that the Karen preceded the Burmans into Burma and that they therefore have a prior claim to land. This migratory ethno-history, in other words, makes it possible to claim that the Karen are more indigenous than the Burmans.13 In nationalist usages, Karen ethno-history is intimately linked to indigenism as ideology (Wee 2001: 1718).

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

Karen narrations of nation in refugee camps in Thailand


The quasi-hegemony over the reproduction of Karen ethno-history, ethnonationalism and nationalism exercised by the KNU was, however, shattered with the collapse of Manerplaw, the KNUs headquarters, in 1992. This was the culmination of the Burmese armed forces sustained offensives against the Karen, beginning in 1989 one year after a massive prodemocracy uprising in the cities and towns of Burma. The uprising was brutally suppressed. Soon after, the Communist Party of Burma imploded primarily because of mutinies within its ranks by ethnic Kokang and Wa elements. This led to a series of cease res between the military regime and several ethnic insurgent movements. These cease res allowed the regime to devote greater manpower and resources to an effort to crush the KNU and KNLA, which had refused a cease re.14 The fall of Manerplaw was brought about through collusion between the Burmese military and disaffected Buddhist Karen elements of the KNLA who led the Burmese troops through the mine elds that surrounded Manerplaw.15 The defectors have since designated themselves the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and now function as surrogates of the Burmese military. Their emergence shows that even in nation-states-in-the-making, fault-lines can exist. The loss of Manerplaw led the KNU and KNLA to adopt a fully- edged guerrilla warfare strategy whereas previously they had employed a strategy of guerrilla and conventional warfare. This doctrinal shift meant the

532

The Paci c Review

concession of a considerable amount of territory. The Burmese militarys counter-insurgency operations involved an intensi ed re-application of a long-standing, ruthless strategy called the Four Cuts ( pya ley pya). It is so-named because it aims to cut off food, funds, intelligence and recruits to the insurgents. This includes forced relocations of entire communities into strategic villages, con scation of food that is then re-issued as rations, destruction of crops, taxes and a shoot-on-sight policy after curfew hours. Civilian villagers have also been press-ganged into carrying military supplies and made to walk in front of Burmese troops acting as human mine detectors.16 Manerplaws destruction and the counter-insurgency operations had a number of consequences. First, the KNLAs command and control structure was decentralized, a direct consequence of its decision to pursue fully- edged guerrilla warfare. Second, it resulted in an in ux of Karen refugees into Thailand where they now number approximately 120,000, accommodated in twenty-six refugee camps along the ThailandBurma border. Third, KNU members, who previously held positions in the civil administration of the Kawthoolei government, were dispersed throughout many of these camps. They play key roles in the running of the arti ciallyconstituted forms of refugee social organization because of their education, administrative experience and ability to deal with Thai of cials and the Thai military which seek to sequester them and regulate their movements and Thai non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) that seek to provide humanitarian relief. The majority of refugees lack education. They come from largely subsistence-agricultural communities in Karen State in Burma, and many of them are not even ethno-nationalists, let alone nationalists. These developments have had profound consequences for the reproduction of Karen narrations of nation and, thus, Karen ethno-nationalism and nationalism. Their re-telling has been signi cantly in uenced by the conditions in which they are reproduced; no longer in the Karen quasination-state of Kawthoolei, which manifested an almost palpable local autonomy, but the severely circumscribed conditions of life in refugee camps. The reproduction of Karen ethno-history and the engendering of Karen ethno-nationalism and nationalism vary from camp to camp. In the camps where KNU members possess the shreds and patches of Saw Aung Hlas master narrative, Karen ethno-history continues to be taught to children in schools set up by KNU members. The details of this ethno-history, however, vary depending on the derivative texts in the possession of school teachers. Where these texts are unavailable, Karen ethno-history may not be taught at all. But, in one notable instance, it is being taught based on memory. Thra Victor is a teacher in Mae Ramat camp, which houses approximately 4,700 refugees. He plans to write a three-volume work on the pre-

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma

533

colonial history of the Karen. When asked how he intends to go about this without access to a library and references, he pointed to his head and said it was all contained therein. He said: The rst Karen historian is Saw Aung Hla. According to him, in 2234 BC, the Karen moved from Babylon to Mongolia and arrived in Mongolia in 2197 BC. They left Mongolia for East Turkistan in 2017 BC and arrived in 2013 BC. They moved again in 1866 BC and arrived in Tibet in 1864 BC. They moved again in 1388 BC and arrived in Yunnan in 1385 BC. Then one group of Karen left Yunnan in 1128 BC and arrived in Burma in 1125 BC . The second group of Karen left Yunnan in 741 BC and arrived in Burma in 739 BC. The Mon historian Pyi Daw Tha Oo Tun Yie wrote that Mons left Tibet for Burma in 692 BC. And in Burma, they saw and attacked the native people whom they called Kari. Kari is Karen, so even the Mon historian wrote that the Karen came in earlier than them. We are the rst group to come to Burma. The Burman historians wrote that the Karen came into Burma only in AD 20. But this is too late. (Ng 1999/2000: 23)

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

Conclusion
So, in some of these camps, Karen ethno-nationalism is being recreated anew with the further reproduction of Karen ethno-history. But the articulation of Karen nationalism is, however, weak because many realize that they may never return to their homelands in a nation-state that was once in-the-making. For many older uneducated Karen, the sense of Karen nation-ness is ambiguous. Their yearnings are not for a nation-state yet-tobe, but a return to their villages and local communities, to live their way of life as they knew it, free from predation by the Burmese armed forces. However, the fact of living in the same refugee camps with Karen from other unfamiliar and indeed hitherto unknown locales in Karen State has meant that they can now descry the idea that Karen-ness may well extend beyond the locale-speci c communities which provided them with their primary identi cations. Associated with this is a sense of common suffering and dispossession of their lands on which they were dependent for their livelihoods, caused by a generalized Burman Other. Out of this and the ceaseless narration of nation in refugee camps will come, yet again, Karen ethno-nationalism and nationalism, as well as refugee-warrior s.

Notes
1 A preliminary draft of this paper was rst presented at the Panel on Political faultlines in Southeast Asia: pre-modernist atavisms in post-colonial nationstates (2225 March 2001, Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian

534

The Paci c Review


Studies, Chicago). This version was presented at the Symposium on Political faultlines in Southeast Asia: movements for ethnic autonomy in nation-state structures (1516 October 2001, Southeast Asia Research Centre, City University of Hong Kong). See Rajah (1990b) for a discussion of how such mapping came about in the case of Laos. Keyes has consistently made this theoretical argument, now well supported by empirical data. See Keyes (1976, 1979, 1981, 1995, 2001). This formulation owes much to the work of Geoffrey Benjamin on the deep sociology of religion (1987), nation-state and its mysti cations (1988), and indigeny and exogeny (2000). See Rajah (1993) for a discussion of these narratives across ethno-linguistic groups. See also Keyes (1977: 52). The identi cation of Ywa with Yahweh was rst made by the Reverend Jonathan Wade in 1832 (Renard 1980: 90). The leadership of the KNA consisted largely of teachers and lawyers, many of whom had studied in Britain, Western Europe and America (Smith 1991: 50). The history of the emergence of Karen nationalism is a long and complex one and is excellently covered by Smith who points out, with great insight, that Burman and Karen nationalisms were transformations of cultural movements into national movements. The work was reprinted in Bangkok, c. 1970 (Renard 1980: 253). Karen nationalist writers translate Kanyau ata Si Tai Si as The Karen History, whereas Renard renders it as History of the Karen. The difference is not a matter of scrupulousness in translation, or free as against literal translation. Ata (/a?/ /ta/) functions as the equivalent of the possessive case in English, which makes Renards rendition more faithful. The translation by Karen writers (whose English is by no means elementary) employs the de nite article the. It asserts that Saw Aung Hlas history is a de nitive history. Saw Aung La was a journalist and had some education in English (Renard 1980: 41). In rendering his name in this paper, I use the conventional but not phonetically rigorous way of transcribing Burmese terms into English. It is not uncommon for ethnic Karen, especially in Rangoon, to bear Burmese names. Renards transcription of the name relies on the Calmon system (a system devised by the Roman Catholic missionary of that name), which is based on Sgaw Karen. Renards transcription is, in fact, a faithful rendition of how the journalist-historians name would be pronounced in Sgaw Karen. Sgaw Karen lacks nal consonants (other than a glottal stop). The nal ng in Aung would have been elided by Renards informant in translating and transcribing the name of the author. I have no doubt that this practice existed amongst nationalist Karen in Burma and in the KNU. In 1981, when I visited the KNUs headquarters, I was shown a hand-copied version of San C. Pos Burma and the Karens by his daughter, Thra M Rose Po, who was, at that time, Principal of the Karen Teachers Training School, Kawthoolei. Kawthoolei is the name that nationalist Karen have given to the nation-state they aspire to. Thra M Rose Po had copied the entire work on lined foolscap paper before she left Rangoon to join the KNU in the late 1970s. She explained that copies of the book (long out of print) were unobtainable in Rangoon and very few copies existed in public and university libraries. As she did not want to steal (as she put it) a library copy, she hand-copied one in immaculate copperplate (marking the pagination of the original) in the expectation that the hand-copied version would be useful to the KNU.

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

2 3 4 5 6 7 8

10

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma

535

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

11 Htot-meh-pah is the Taw Me Pa referred to earlier. The authors, however, have pre xed the term with Poo (grandfather). Although they have translated the compounded term as boars tusk father, the term properly translated would be Grandfather of Boars Tusk Father. They thus recognized that even Boars Tusk Father would have had ancestors. Pre xing Poo to the term was clearly an attempt at pushing back Karen ethno-history. 12 Despite the name, the author is either an Anglo-Burman or a Karen. While well written, the syntax does not suggest a native-speaker of English. 13 It is hardly coincidental that the new website of the Karen National Union should have the address http://www.tawmeipa.org/. The KNUs web page was hosted by the Karen Solidarity Organization at its website (http://www. karen.org/), but in March 2001 the KNU proceeded to set up its own website. Given that karen.org had already been registered, a new address would have to be all-encompassing in a way that would represent symbolically the Karen nation. Tawmeipa would seem to be the only meaningful alternative to Karen for this purpose given Karen ethno-history. 14 See Rajah (2001) for a fuller account and analysis of these developments. 15 Their disaffection was largely over alleged discrimination against Buddhist Karen in the KNLA who were regularly passed over in promotions and continuously assigned to the battlefront without respite. 16 See the website of the Karen Human Rights Group for detailed accounts of the abuses in icted on civilian, non-combatant Karen populations in Burma (http://www.khrg.org).

References
Anderson, Benedict (1991) Imagined Communities: Re ections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revd edn, London: Verso. Benjamin, Geoffrey (1987) Notes on the deep sociology of religion, Working Paper No. 85, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore. (1988) The unseen presence: a theory of the nation-state and its mysti cations, Working Paper No. 91, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore. (2000) Indigeny and exogeny: the fundamental social dimension? Working Paper, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Bhabha, Homi K. (ed.) (1990) Nation and Narration, London: Routledge. Brown, David (1994) The State and Ethnic Politics in Southeast Asia, London: Routledge. Connor, Walker (1994) Ethnonationalism: The Quest for Understanding, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Cross, E. B. (1853/54) On the Karens, Journal of the American Oriental Society 4: 291316. Davis, Richard B. (1984) Muang Metaphysics: A Study of Northern Thai Myth and Ritual, Bangkok: Pandora. Gellner, Ernest (1983) Nations and Nationalism, Oxford: Blackwell. (1996) The nation: real or imagined? Do nations have navels? Nations and Nationalism 2(3): 36670. Gilmore, Andrew (1911) Karen folklore, Journal of the Burma Research Society 1: 7582. Jones, Robert B. (1961) Karen Linguistic Studies: Description, Comparison and Texts, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Karen National Union (n.d.a) Aims, policy and programme of the KNU, on-line at http://www.karen.org/knu/knuaim.htm

536

The Paci c Review

(n.d.b) History of the Karens and KNU, on-line at http://www.karen.org/ knu/KNU_His.htm Keyes, Charles F. (1976) Towards a new formulation of the concept of ethnic group, Ethnicity 3: 20213. (1977) The Golden Peninsula, New York: Macmillan. (1979) Introduction, in Charles F. Keyes (ed.) Ethnic Adaptation and Identity: The Karen on the Thai Frontier with Burma, Philadelphia, PA: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, pp. 123. (1981) The dialectics of ethnic change, in Charles F. Keyes (ed.) Ethnic Change , Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, pp. 430. (1995) Who are the Tai? Re ections on the invention of local, ethnic and national identities, in Lola Romanucci-Ross and George A. De Vos (eds) Ethnic Identity: Creation, Con ict and Accommodation, 3rd edn, Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press, pp. 13660. (1997) Ethnic groups, ethnicity, in Thomas J. Bar eld (ed.) The Blackwell Dictionary of Anthropology, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 1524. (2001) Cultural differences, the nation-state, and rethinking ethnicity theory: lessons from Vietnam, The David Skomp Distinguished Lecture in Anthropology, Indiana University, 19 April. Knowles, James D. (1829) Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson late Missionary to Burmah Including a History of the American Baptist Mission in the Burman Empire, Boston, MA: Lincoln & Edmands. Lehman, Frederick K. (1963) The Structure of Chin Society, Illinois Studies in Anthropology No. 3, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. Lonsdale, Michael (n.d.) The Karen Revolution in Burma, Singapore: Sam Art. MacMahon, Alexander R. (1876) The Karens of the Golden Chersonese, London: Harrison. Marlowe, David H. (1979) In the mosaic: the cognitive and structural aspects of KarenOther relationships, in Charles F. Keyes (ed.) Ethnic Adaptation and Identity: The Karen on the Thai Frontier with Burma, Philadelphia, PA: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, pp. 165214. Ng Lai Sze, Angie (1999/2000) Wait, hope and ght: the Karen refugees, unpublished Honours thesis, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore. OLeary, Brendan (1998) Ernest Gellners diagnoses of nationalism: a critical review, or, what is living and what is dead in Ernest Gellners philosophy of nationalism, in John A. Hall (ed.) The State of the Nation: Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 4088. Rajah, Ananda (1990a) Ethnicity, nationalism and the nation-state: the Karen in Burma and Thailand, in Gehan Wijeyewardene (ed.) Ethnic Groups Across National Boundaries in Mainland Southeast Asia, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 10233. (1990b) Orientalism, commensurability, and the construction of identity: a comment on the notion of Lao identity, Sojourn: Social Issues in Southeast Asia 5(2): 30833. (1993) Transformations of Karen myths of origin and relations of power, in Gehan Wijeyewardene and E. C. Chapman (eds) Patterns and Illusions: Thai History and Thought, 2nd edn, Canberra: The Richard Davis Fund and the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Paci c Studies, The Australian National University, pp. 23776. (2001) Burma: protracted con ict, governance and non-traditional security issues, IDSS Working Papers on Non-Traditional Security Issues in Southeast Asia, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore.

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

A. Rajah: A nation of intent in Burma

537

Downloaded By: [The University of Manchester] At: 02:05 7 June 2007

Renan, Ernest (1990) What is a nation?, trans. and annotated by Martin Thom, in Homi K. Bhabha (ed.) Nation and Narration, London: Routledge, pp. 822. Renard, Ronald D. (1980) Kariang: history of Karen-Tai relations from the beginnings to 1923, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Hawaii. San C. Po (1928) Burma and the Karens, London: Elliot Stock. Saw Aung Hla (c. 1931) Kanyau ata Si Tai Si [The Karen History ], Rangoon: n.p. Saw Moo Troo and Mika Rolley (n.d.) Karens and Communism, and Karens Fight for Peace, n.p. Shway Yoe (1963) The Burman: His Life and Notions, New York: Norton. Smeaton, Donald M. (1887) The Loyal Karens of Burma, London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co. Smith, Anthony (1986) The Ethnic Origins of Nations, Oxford: Blackwell. Smith, Martin (1991) Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, London and New Jersey: Zed Books. Wee, Vivienne (2001) Political faultlines in Southeast Asia: movements for ethnic autonomy as nations of intent, Southeast Asia Research Centre Working Papers Series No. 16, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.