Who are the Karen People of Burma

The Karens are generally thought to be one of the Mongolian tribes that traversed the central Asian plains, some moving further east into the vast lands of China, others turned south into South Western China and Burma and further down south into Northern Thailand.

They were simple and peaceful, and were thought to be the first Mongolian tribe that entered Burma - even before the Mon, Talaing and the Burman. As they migrated to what is called Burma today they were pushed further and further south by the later tribes until they got separated into different areas of Burma and Thailand, namely the Pegu Yoma, the Deltas, Tenasserim and later into the hills of Tenasserim and into the hills of Thailand.

After the British conquered Burma in the early 18th century, they found that the Karens made very good and loyal soldiers and were very disciplined. In time the bulk of the British army recruited from the different tribes were the Karen. It should be noted that for obvious reason, the Burman were not recruited into the British armies. When in the early 1930s, there were rebellion against the British rule, the British used the Karen Battalions to successfully crush the
up rising. Many later uprisings or riots were quelled by the Karen Battalions. Thus the Karen earned the hatred and distrust of the Burman It seemed that the Karen did not have any king but lived cordially within a communal villages led by a village chief. This by no means meant that the Karen were communists - in fact the Karen were totally anti Communist. When the Karen shared their possession or food with other members of the community, it was out of love their people and not communistic. Karen houses were open as there were no theft or robbery or murder. However, their villages were guarded and protected by bamboo groves or fences as protection against other tribes who bully them into sharing their possession. Many times they were
outright robbed by neighboring villagers of other tribes -mostly Burman tribe, and Burman kings who would take many men back to the north as slaves.

When the British evacuated Burma during WW2, the Burman took advantage of the situation by attacking hundreds of Karen villages, burning their churches - a large percentage of the Karens were Christians - their granaries and paddy fields, slaughtering women and children and plundering. The Karen had hardly any defense because the bulk of the Karen military evacuated with the British. Nevertheless, the karen retaliated and the communal riot had to be stopped by the invading Japanese army.

However, the Karen today are ready to acknowledge that the Burman is also a fellow human being and a fellow member of the nation and try to live in harmony with their Burman neighbor. Today, it is the politicians that will instigate any animosity between between the two peoples. The Karen are fighting today under the banner of KNU, the Karen National Union. But the Karen are not fighting for their survival alone, but for the entire country - including the Burman opposition party, the National League for Democracy under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, presently under house arrest.

Article written by Saw Spencer Zan

Sypnosis of the Modern Karen

During the days of British rule in Burma the British government used Karen soldiers to quell rebellion and contain mutiny by nationalistic elements among the Burmese. The British depended on the Karen for their loyalty and honesty and used Karen soldiers and police forces extensively on many occasions to keep law and order.

The Karens were thought to be one of the earliest settlers in Burma traveling down from the North, many authors believed, from Mongolia or the Gobi desert, and settled down in the Deltas of the Irrawaddy. Later migrants like the Burmese and the Talaings drove many Karens into the hills of the Pegu Yoma and many others migrated down south to the Tenasserim while others crossed into Thailand. After the British occupied lower Burma they recruited Karens into the British colonial army and later used these soldiers to help conquer upper Burma. This undoubtedly is one reason the Burmese in general do not trust the Karen.

During WW II, the Karen army serving in the Burma Rifles remained loyal and retreated with the British army to India. But karen population in large tracts, villages and towns and suffered loss of life and property at the hands of Burmese riffraff's recruited by the Japanese into a national army named the Burmese Independent Army (BIA) along their march into Burma. The BIA bombed churches in the Tavoy area while service was still in progress. Karen communities in other villages and towns were attacked by the BIA which committed indiscriminate killings of Karen civilians including women and children. Many prominent Karen civic and church leaders were brutally murdered. This started a general communal clash between the Burmese and the Karens all because the BIA started the killings and looting which was retaliated by Karens who lost their loved ones and properties. The BIA cited their reason for the killing to the loyalty of the Karens to the British. True, the Karen as a whole remained loyal to the British and many villages were raised to the ground by the Japanese because the Karens harbored British spies and agents during the occupation. But rebel against the Japanese they did not.

The Karen soldiers who retreated with the British now returned to Burma with the allies and fought shoulder to shoulder with other ethnic soldiers like the Kachins and the Chins to drive out the japanese Imperial Army. At this point those responsible for bringing the Japanese into Burma also revolted against the Japanese and joined forces with the allies.

The Karens were highly spoken of and praised for their bravery and loyalty and it was no wonder that after all that happened during the war, the Karens were looking forward to being rewarded with a state of their own because Burma was demanding independence from the British and the Karens certainly did not wish to be ruled by the Burmese. It must be noted at this point that although the Karens do not trust Burmese politicians, they have no animosity against the general Burmese population. Even those who have been victimized or have had abhorring experiences at the hands of the Burmese are forgiving.

The Karens felt the utmost unbelief and let down by the British when Burma was granted independence without any consideration for the future of the Karen people. The ensuing demonstration and political in fight by the Karens finally led to incidents and clashes led to the Karen insurrection. It is however odd that the Karen uprising started without the Karen firing the first shot. The first shot and many more shots thereafter were fired by the Burmese levies, a private army of the then Prime Minister U Nu, Is it not obvious therefore that the Karens were forced by the hand of the Burmese premier to defend themselves to be named rebels?

The Burmese people are not the enemies of the Karen people. Politicians and the military dictators are the enemies of the Karen people.

Article by Spencer Zan

Saw Ba Thein Sein's Memorial

On June 14, 2009, Drucie Batin and family held a memorial service for Drucie's father, Saw Ba Thin Sein, in Denver Colorado. Saw Ba Thin Sein was the chairman of the Karen National Union. Born in 1927, Saw Ba Thin Sein joined the Karen Revolution in 1949. He served the KNU in various positions since 1963 when he was appointed Education Minister. In 1984 he became the General Secretary ans was elected Chairman at the KNU Congress of 2000. Saw Ba Thin Sein served as Chairman until his death in May of 2008. Saw Ba Thin Sein was honored by many organizations and people for his strong leadership and dedication to the Karen and all Burmese people in their struggle for freedom and equality.

The memorial service included Karen music and dance as well as a large banquet after the service. During the service, three Certificate of Appreciation were awarded to individuals that have helped Karen refugees in the Denver area. The three recipients were:

Inge Sargent
Inge was born in Austria. She was in the first group of Austrian college students to be selected for a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Denver, Colorado. While in Denver, Inge met Sao Kya Seng, then a student from Burma at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO. They married in 1953 and, upon their arrival in Rangoon, Inge discovered that her husband was not only a mining engineer, but also a ruling Shan prince. She then lived as a Shan princess (the Mahadevi of Hsipaw) till her hurband's assassination by the current military regime in 1962. After two years of house-arrest in Burma, Inge was allowed to leave for her native Austria.

She was able to smuggle her two daughters out with her. Inge then lived in Vienna for two years before returning to Colorado, getting BA and MA degrees and becoming a school teacher. She taught in Boulder Valley Schools, married Howard Sargent, wrote a book and, together with her second husband, founded Burma Lifeline in 1996 to help refugees from Burma survive in Thailand. An international feature film, based on Inge's book "Twilight over Burma" is in the works. The military government of Burma has never acknowledged that they killed Inge's first husband in 1962.

Carl "Jack" Johnson
Jack comes from a long line of American fighting men dating back to Daniel Boone, who is Jack’s great grandfather many times removed. Jack himself served 23 years in the military, retiring as a Captain in 1982 as Commander of Detachment 10, 25 Weather Squadron, Bergstrom AFB, TX. While stationed in Nakhon Phanom Thailand in 1972 and 1973, Jack became familiar with the Thai culture and people. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force, he surrendered his life to Christ and met missionaries from Thailand who were visiting his church. This meeting "piqued" his interest to return to Thailand. In 2003, he and his wife Evelyn made the trip, and during the excursion he became acquainted with the Karen hilltribe.

Ever since, Jack has made mission trips back to the Mae Sariang, becoming involved with Karen people in Burma, the Thai refugee camps, and here in the Denver area. He generally takes a medical team who treat illnesses at many Thai Karen villages, and help spread the Gospel. He also has worked with members of the Karen National Union in Thailand, and in IDP camps on the Burma side of the border. Jack is the founder and president of the Colorado Burma Roundtable Network (CBRTN.ORG). The purpose of this organization is to carry on the work informally begun in Thailand and Burma, and to assist the refugees from those regions who resettle here in the Denver area.Jack has been married to the former Evelyn Marie Bruner for the past 44 years. They have been blessed with 4 Children and 10 grandchildren. They reside in Elizabeth, Colorado.

Maria Sanchez RN, PhD
Maria is director of Realizing our Community, a Colorado Trust grant whose mission is to create an environment that promotes and sustains a diverse and vibrant community. Maria has worked for many years with diverse populations in the Greeley community, including Karen, in the health care and insurance industries.

P'Doh Ba Thin was a great man, leader and friend to me. His sincerity, calmness, wisdom and steadfastness blessed us all. He once came to visit me when I was in Umphang hospital- sick with Malaria and Typhus at the same time. He went out of his way to visit me as I lay in bed and prayed a beautiful and powerful prayer for me. I will never forget that and he taught me more about the power of prayer and how even when we seem unable to help someone we can pray. I love him and miss him and am grateful for all he did for the Karen and other people of Burma...including Galawa. We the Free Burma Rangers would not have been able to work without his support. We look forward to seing him in Heaven and until that day will miss him but will always be thanking God for his life. God bless you, David Eubank (Free Burma Rangers)

Saw Ba Thin Sein, was a man whom I never knew existed for the majority of my life. It was not until a little more than a year ago that I discovered such a man existed. Through his extended family, I not only learned for the first time the injustices that were occurring in Burma, but I also learned there was a man with incredible determination to bring justice and freedom to his fellow Karen people. In my opinion, a great man is one who dedicates his life to the well being of others. Saw Ba Thin Sein is one of many few men that can truly be remembered in this way, nothing less than a great man. Today, we do not mourn his death, but celebrate. Not only his life, but his relentless efforts for a people and a cause he believed in. In 2003, he stated that, “For the Karen people to develop freely, they must have educational, health, economic and cultural freedoms, and the full rights of self-determination and democracy.” Those who stand here today have fought hard and have been fortunate enough to have those privileges where they stand. I am not, and will never be worthy to speak on behalf of this great man. But if I had to guess what his message would be today based on what I have learned of him, I would say that he would want all the Karen to embrace all opportunity that they are fortunate enough to bestow upon. Embrace, and never take for granted. Flourish your cultural freedoms, and educate not only yourself, but your neighbors as well. I am a neighbor that has been educated after years of not knowing about the Karen. Now that I know, I try to educate others. One by one each and every Karen can grant the wishes of the late Saw Ba Thin Sein by uniting for their rightful cause. Although he is no longer
with us, his words speak as loud and strong today as the day they were spoken, and with the unity of the Karen, and the education of the free world, justice and freedom will result for the Karen, and Saw Ba Thin Sein’s inspirational words will continue to live on with us, and our ongoing generations, forever. By Jordan Michaud

Additional information, including more photos, can be found on our FKPB page on Facebook. If you are a member of Facebook, feel
free to become a fan of the page so you can keep up to date on the activities of Friends of the Karen People of Burma, Inc.

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