Like waves drifting along the land, the Karen Hills rise in fall in steady strides. Their presence creeps in from the north only to meet the Dawna Range of mountains which take hold of the land in their forested elevations. The battering of leaves by a tiger’s paws can be heard as it chases a fea’s muntjac through the brush.
Amongst all of the natural landscape and life residing in the Kayin State of Myanmar lives the speakers of Paku Karen.
The language is part of the Karen language grouping which are classified under the Sino-Tibetan language family. There are many different dialects which are based on the villages in the area. Kyauk Gyi and Shwe Kyin are spoken in east Bago Region, Taungoo District near Kayin State border; Mawchi is spoken in Kayah State; Bawgali is spoken in north Kayin State. Some Paku dialects are reportedly quite similar to S’gaw Karen, while others are more similar to Bwe and Geba. (Ethnologue, 18th ed., 2015)
Paku Karen and its many dialects are used in everyday life and are passed down from parents to children. It is also taught in schools. Overall, the language is in healthy use among its 5,300 speakers.
The people are practicing Theravāda Buddhists, which follows one of the earliest set of recorded texts from the Buddhist religion. They also practice Animism, a belief that all life is sacred and all non-human entities possess a spiritual essence. Animism is a grouping of many indigenous people’s beliefs which some have classified as a religion in its own right.
Uniquely, in the case of the speakers of Paku Karen, they believe that people are inhabited by thirty seven spirits and when one leaves the individual feels misfortune, sadness or sickness. When all spirits leave the person dies.
While the mountainous home of the Karen people has changed over the years with wars and the shifting of the people to new places, the people still remain resilient in their maintaining of their cultural practices and their language.
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