Karen New Year in Myanmar
They may live in countries on the other side of world, their families may have been torn apart, they may be living in refugee camps in Thailand, but when it comes to their New Year's Day, the ethnic Karen people join together as one in wishing each other a Happy New Year.
Thousands of Karen gathered on Wednesday in Insein Township in Rangoon to celebrate the start of the 2,750th year on the Karen calendar.
Sources in Rangoon said an estimated 10,000 Karen people in Insein dressed in traditional dress to celebrate the event with traditional dances and ceremonies. They raised the Karen national flag at 6 a.m on Wednesday.
Speakers at the ceremony called for the unity of the Karen people, said one attendee.
One of the major ethnic groups of Burma, the Karen have been indigenous to the land for more than two millennia. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of Karen people still live in fear in their homeland, some hiding in the jungle while others are forced to flee to third countries. Decades of repression by the Burmese regime has resulted in more than 150,000 Karen living in refugee camps in Thailand. Some 60,000 Karen refugees have been resettled to Western countries.
Karen refugees in Thailand also celebrated their New Year on Jan. 5. Thousands of Karen in Mae La refugee camp gathered and held a festival, said a refugee at the camp. Mae La is the largest of nine refugee camps in Thailand with more than 40,000 Burmese refugees, most of whom are ethnic Karen.
Several Karen people told The Irrawaddy that they were praying for peace in Karen State where armed conflict has been a way of life for villagers for more than six decades.
Naw Barso Ghay, a Karen girl in India, said, “I wish for all the people in Karen State to have peaceful lives. I wish for there to be no more war, no more homelessness and no more families torn apart.”
Saw Gregory, a Karen university student who is studying in Thailand, said, “I miss Karen New Year in Rangoon. I hope to see all Karen people unified and celebrating Karen New Year together in Burma, one day.”
Straddling the mountains that separate Thailand and Burma, the people of Karen State have been victims of human rights abuses by Burmese government forces since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948. The Rangoon government’s broken promise of ethnic autonomy and true federalism resulted in a civil war that has continued to this day.
Founded in 1947, the Karen National Union has led the fight for freedom and self-determination.
In a statement to commemorate the 2,750th Karen New Year, KNU Chairman Saw Tamla Baw said it is necessary for every Karen, wherever they live in the world, to uphold the Karen people’s cultural heritage and language, and hand it down to posterity.
“I would like to urge all Karen nationals to work in a spirit of unity and in cooperation in this year of 2750 until the Karen people gain the right to live in freedom as a nationality, while resisting the enemy endangering our Karen people,” said Tamla Baw.
Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the KNU, said, “I believe there will be a day when all Karen people gather freely together to celebrate our New Year under the Karen flag.
“Every single Karen person is responsible for this. We have to maintain the struggle for the liberation of the Karen people,” she said.