Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Karen are a group of Sino-Tibetan speaking peoples primarily living in eastern Burma (Myanmar) and western Thailand. The various Karen languages are largely unintelligible, with the Pwo and Pa-O forming one category of related languages, while the Sgaw and several others constituting a second group. Traditional subsistence depended on rice farming, consisting of both swidden and paddy fields. Post-colonial Karen society has been affected by decades of violent war between the Burmese national army and the Karen Nationalist Union.


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


Asia --Southeast Asia




OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


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 AP07 Karen collection consists of documents, all of them in English, covering a variety of cultural, geographical and historical information from 1820s to 2008.

The basic sources to consult are two works by H. I. Marshall, a missionary who lived with the Karen in 1910-1918. The first work focuses on Karen’s relations with the Burmese and the British including their acculturation and conversion (Marshall 1945: no. 10). The second is largely devoted to mythology and organized ceremonials and includes a good number of photographs (Marshall 1922: no. 19).

A good number of the documents in the collection discuss change and continuity in Karen culture and society especially since the independence of Burma in 1948. Themes covered in these works include dynamics of ethnic identity (Keyes 1979: no. 34; Kunstadter 1979: 35), post-colonial politics and relations with other ethnic groups (Marlowe 1979: 36), religion and community life (Rajan 2008: no. 32) and social structure and culture change (Hamilton 1976: no. 33). While most of the documents discuss the Karen in general, some concentrate on specific communities both in Burma and northern Thailand.

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Au Xhere (also spelled –Sgaw Karen expression for feeding ancestral spirits– Use CULT OF THE DEAD ( 769) with PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES ( 782)

Bgha –ancestral spirit– Use CULT OF THE DEAD ( 769) with ANIMISM ( 774)

Dang khaw –village headman– Use COMMUNITY HEADS ( 622)

Dau’pywae –Sgaw Keren term for siblings– Use KINSHIP TERMINOLOGY ( 601) with FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS ( 593)

Dopuweh –matrilineal group– Use RULE OF DESCENT ( 611) with KIN RELATIONSHIPS ( 602)

Hko peu –traditional Karen headdress or turban– Use PARAPHERNALIA ( 293)

Karen longhouse Use DWELLINGS ( 342) with EXTENDED FAMILIES ( 596)

K’la –spirit possessed by humans, animals, and some inanimate objects– Use ANIMISM ( 774) with GENERAL CHARACTER OF RELIGION ( 771)

K’thi thra –medicine men– Use SHAMANS AND PSYCHOTHERAPISTS ( 756)

Oxe chuko –Sgaw Karen term for lineage rites– Use LINEAGES ( 613) with PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES ( 782)

Swidden rice cultivation Use CEREAL AGRICULTURE ( 243) with ANNUAL CYCLE ( 221)

Thi Kho Chae Kang Kho Chae –“Lord of Land and Water” or “Spirit of the Area”– Use ANIMISM ( 774) with GENERAL CHARACTER OF RELIGION ( 771)

T’le –post set up at funerals over the receptacle holding the bones– Use BURIAL PRACTICES AND FUNERALS ( 764)

Ta aw bgha –feast to the household demons– Use PRAYERS AND SACRIFICES ( 782) with ANIMISM ( 774)

Ta wi tan a –evil spirits– Use ANIMISM ( 774) with THEORY OF DISEASE ( 753)

Tha –soul– Use CULT OF THE DEAD ( 769) with ESCHATOLOGY ( 775)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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