Monday, October 06, 2008

Burma’s ethnic minorities fight to save their culture

October 20th, 2007 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Asia Calling

The Burmese military government has been at war for 50 years with 17 ethnic rebel groups fighting for independence.

Burmans, of Tibetan ethnic origin, form 70 percent of the population, but there are other distinct ethnic groups including the Mon are demanding independence.

Their unique culture and way of life is disappearing under the repressive Burmese regime.

This week, academics came together in Bangkok to find away to keep alive Mon language and culture.

Asia Calling’s King Kong Janoi attended the conference find out more.

She sings about the invasion and massacre of the Mon at the hands of Burmese ruler U Aungzeya in 1757.

Mon people were persecuted, oppressed, and enslaved she cries.
Their possessions were looted and burned throughout Burma; and many were forced to flee towards Thailand.

Nai Sunthon is the Chairman of the Mon United League in Thailand.

“They lost their country. Our people, culture, literature is disappearing."

There are believed to be around eight million Mon people left.

However the majority use modern Burmese to do business.

25 year old Mi Hong Sar says her generation rarely uses their language.

“If you go to a big city like in Rangoon if you speak Mon they look down on you. In Burma you can see them they don’t want to speak in Mon so the people from Mon State when they come to visit in the city they have to speak in Burmese. Even they are not clear to speak in Burmese. It means that like may be a kind of discrimination to the people."

Amnesty International has accused the current Burmese military government of carrying out a reign of terror against ethnic minorities.

They claim the army subjects the Shan, Mon and Karen ethnic groups to forced labour, extortion and land confiscation.

Scholar Nai Maung says if young Mons want to be successful they have to leave their cultural heritage and language behind.

“In Rangoon, children who want to get high marks at school they don’t have time to learn the Mon language or culture. For example, I said that I would teach children during the summer holidays. I said that I would do it for free. But everyone said sorry our children have to study for normal school. It is a big problem."

After General Naw Win took power in 1962, Mon books, magazines and journals came under tight government control.

Nai Ghosita, a Mon Buddhist Monk adds that the government puts restrictions on language.

“At the time of General Naw Win government, the Mon leaders including monks and politicians demanded the government to allow students in Mon State and Mon dominated area to take school lessons in Mon language but it was turn down."

Due to the situation inside Burma, many Mon’s have fled across the boarder to Thailand.

Nai Ong, is the chairman of the Mon youth organization. He is trying to keep alive the Mon culture in exile.

“I am lobbying among Mon people who live in Thailand to speak Mon. As myself when I was young, I am very shy to speak Mon with father when we go to shopping. But now all are finish, I have known Mon history it was very grateful nation in the past so I am dare to speak Mon in everywhere.”

Nai Ghosita says if action is not taken now the Mon language and way of life will be lost for ever.

“All Mon people have to aware, they should not to be asleep because we should aware an example of the Phyu people. The Phyu is totally extinguished; they are no more history in the Burma now. The main reason for it, the Burmese they try to Burmanize the Phyu and now there is no more Phyu. So we have take the example of this very seriously and we have to be awoken and we have to be alert to persevere our great history of our race and to persevere our literature and culture.”

He is hoping that this week’s conference in Bangkok, where everyone is speaking Mon, will be one step in achieving this goal.

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