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Friday, 1 March 2013

History of the Karen National New Year

History of the Karen National New Year

The Karen National New Year celebrations are held during the pleasant month of Pyathoe (on the Roman calendar ? Dec/Jan). People mark the occasion by sounding the Karen horn and drum, to maintain the tradition of the Karen New Year, until the end of time.

Officially, the Karen New Year began in 1938. Celebrations were first held in 1939. It was on the first of January 1938, (which that year corresponded with the first of Pyathoe), that Karen national leaders demands to the British administration for the Karen New Year were finally recognized, and declared an official holiday. That date was also formally acknowledged as
being the year 2677 on the Karen calendar.

In fact, the movement for a distinct Karen national day was begun by Saya San Baw, in 1935. As member of parliament for Tharyawati District, he argued that a Karen National Day should be introduced. However, the British colonial administration suggested that a Karen New Year day would be a better alternative. In 1937, the Karen parliamentary representatives again
presented the case for a Karen National Da, again unsuccessfully.

The Karen National Association (KNA) realized that they instead had to work towards the Karen New Year day. On 2 August 1937, Saw Johnson Deepominn, member of parliament for Taungoo District, presented the case to the lower house. However the Karen representatives in the chamber were split in their support across the two sides of parliament ? U Pu's governing faction, and the opposition lead by Dr. Ba Maw. As the demands were coming from a member
of U Pu's side (Johnson Deepominn was an assistant minister), those supporting Ba Maw opposed the legislation. It failed to be ratified.

Soon after, Dr. Ba Maw's group formed a coalition, allowing it to seize power. The proposal seemed to be left with no chance of getting past the lower house. Members of the upper house, lead by Saya San Baw, Sir San C. Po and Saya Mahn Shwe Ba, discussed the matter together. They lobbied for, and gained the support of, some among the new Karen ministers. The demand was retabled, and passed.

Ba Maw's cabinet ratified the proposal, and presented it to the Governor General for approval. In late 1937, the Governor General signed the legislation. The first day of Pyathoe, 1938 (Karen Year 2677), was declared the first Karen New Year.

Initially, the Karen leaders had been divided over the best day for the New Year to fall on. Three alternatives were put forward.

1. The same day as the Roman calendar.
2. The date when (the missionary) Dr. Judson first arrived in Burma.
3. The first day of Pyathoe.

The options were discussed and the matter resolved. The first alternative has global significance, and it was felt that a distinctive date for the Karen New Year would be more appropriate. As for the second alternative, Dr. Judson was a Christian missionary, so this date would be suitable for Christians, but not Karens of other religions. The first day of Pyathoe was

Additionally the month of Pyathoe is special for Karen cultural solidarity, given the following reasons:

1. Although Karens have different names for Pyathoe (Sgaw Karens call it Th'lay and for Pwo Karens, Htike Kauk Po) the first of each of these months falls on exactly the same date.

2. The rice harvest is completed in the period leading to Pyathoe, and according to Karen traditional religious practice, there must be a celebration for consumption of the new crop. It is also the time to divine the date for commencement of the next crop. Typically, this is also when
new houses are constructed, and the completion of these must be celebrated.

3. The first of Pyathoe is not a distinct festival for any religious group, so it is a day that is acceptable to all Karen people.

For these reasons, on the first of Pyathoe annually, we celebrate the Karen New Year.

Produced by
Eastern Pwo Karen Culture and Literature Preservation Committee
For Karen New Year 2737 (1997)

Eastern Pwo Karen
by Mahn Thint Naung
(Kawkareik District 1976)
Burmese Language Text

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