Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Kachin are a collection of groups, all speaking Tibeto-Burman languages, who developed more commonality as they lived under the Jinghpaw political system and associated religious ideology in northern Burma (Myanmar). The Kachin live primarily in the mountainous Kachin State of Myanmar, and parts of the northern Shan State, southwestern Yunnan in China, and the northeastern India (Assam and Arunachal Pradesh). Traditionally, all Kachins were farmers, cultivating rice, together with some other cereals, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. The traditional political system varied from a highly stratified system with strictly ranked aristocratic lineages in some regions to a more egalitarian and democratic system ruled by an elected chief and a council of elders in others.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --Southeast Asia





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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number. In addition to this culture summary, the AP06 Kachin collection consists of documents, all of them in English, covering a variety of cultural, geographical and historical information from 1880s to 2007.

The basic source to consult is E. R Leach’s Political Systems of Highland Burma (Leach 1954: no. 26). In addition to providing a model of the political structure of the Kachin and neighboring Shan, this book also contains a wide variety of information on other topic such as ecology, kinship, class, property, and religion. Leach’s account is further supplemented by R. Huke’s in-depth study of one village with particular emphasis on geography, settlement patterns, housing, subsistence and agriculture, and the economy (Huke 1954: no. 28).

Five of the documents in the collection discuss change and continuity in Kachin society since the advent of colonialism in 1880s and especially after Burma’s independence in 1948. In examining these issues, these works also offer an alternative to Leach's "oscillation" model of social change for Kachin society. Themes covered in these works include concept of wealth and property ownership (Ho 2007: no. 36), cultural meanings and models of political organization (Sadan 2007: no. 37), and problems and biases in earlier ethnographic accounts of Kachin society (La Raw 1967: no. 33; 2007: no. 35).

While most of the documents in the collection concentrate on the Jinghpaw (also called Chingpaw, Singho) Kachin of northern Burma, Wang discusses aspects of social change among the Jingpo Kachin living in Yunnan, China (Wang 1997: no. 32).

Overview by

Teferi Adem

darat ni –Kachin term for lineage of commoners– Use LINEAGES ( 613) with STATUS ROLE AND PRESTIGE ( 554)

dumsa –priests who officiate at sacrificial rites– Use PRIESTHOOD ( 793) and PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES ( 782)

du ni –Kachin term for lineage of aristocrats– Use LINEAGES ( 613) with STATUS ROLE AND PRESTIGE ( 554)

duwa –Kachin title for a chief who inherited this position as an aristocrat– Use STATUS ROLE AND PRESTIGE ( 554) with INHERITANCE ( 428)

ga nat –earth spirit– Use SPIRITS AND GODS ( 776) and ANIMISM ( 774)

Gumchying Gumtsa –Kachin ritual chiefs who derive authority from control access to the spirits– Use STATUS ROLE AND PRESTIGE ( 554) with REVELATION AND DIVINATION ( 787) or SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES ( 778)

gumsa –a highly stratified political system with strictly ranked aristocratic lineages– Use CONSTITUTION ( 642) with STATUS ROLE AND PRESTIGE ( 554) or CLASSES ( 565)

gumlao –a more egalitarian and democratic political system ruled by an elected chief and a council of elders– Use CONSTITUTION ( 642) with COMMUNITY STRUCTURE ( 621) and COUNCILS ( 623)

hkau wang magma –a form of marriage which prohibits marrying into a lineage from which a wife has been taken until the fourth generation– Use REGULATION OF MARRIAGE ( 582) with KINSHIP REGULATION OF SEX ( 835)

hkri –Kachin kinship term for sister's children– Use KINSHIP TERMINOLOGY ( 601)

hpyi –witch spirits believed to possess those accused of unconscious hereditary witchcraft– Use SORCERY ( 754) and/or ANIMISM ( 774)

jaiwa –ritual specialists who preserve and recite genealogies and associated myths at organized public ceremonies– Use SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES ( 778) with PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES ( 782) and ORGANIZED CEREMONIAL ( 796)

nam –Kachin kinship term for “wife's younger sibling”– Use KINSHIP TERMINOLOGY ( 601)

magma –title for a man, signifying honor but not the kind associated with aristocrats– Use STATUS ROLE AND PRESTIGE ( 554)

masha nat –the ancestor spirits of lineages– Use CULT OF THE DEAD ( 769) with ANIMISM ( 774)

nats –spirits– Use ANIMISM ( 774) and/or SPIRITS AND GODS ( 776)

moi –Kachin kinship term for aunts by consanguinity– Use KINSHIP TERMINOLOGY ( 601)

mu nat –sky spirit– Use ANIMISM ( 774) and/or SPIRITS AND GODS ( 776)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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