Karen Traditional Costume

Karen Traditional Costume

Traditionally, most Karen people are farmers who cultivate “hill rice”. They live in villages that are small clearings in the forest. Houses are made entirely of bamboo and thatch. A nearby stream or river may provide a place for villagers to bathe, do washing, and collect drinking water.

The type of traditional clothing worn by men and women varies on marital status: Karen men wear a longyi and a sleeveless shirt (usually red) or a white say plo (men's dress). Unmarried Karen women wear long white dresses. Married Karen women wear a sarong and sleeveless shirt (usually black).

The Hmong, the Karen, the Lisu, the Mien, the Akha, the Lahu, the Lua, the Thin, and the Khamu are the recognized indigenous peoples of Thailand. Most of them live as fishers or as hunter-gatherers.

The nine beams represent the different areas in Burma where the Karen people are the majority. In the middle is the Karen drum, an instrument used by the Karen in their traditional songs and dances.

Traditionally they come from Kayah State and Shan State in Myanmar. Due to ethnic and political conflict in Burma, many fled to Thailand and sought refugee status here. That is how the Karen Long Neck villages in Thailand came about.

The Karen languages are comprised of a group of languages spoken primarily in the coastal areas of Thailand and in the lower regions of Burma. There are three main Karen languages and many dialects. The main types are S'gaw (pronounced Skaw), Karen, Western Pwo Karen, and Eastern Pwo Karen.

There are few written records of the Karen origin story. The Karen people began to inhabit what eventually became Burma about two thousand years ago. They traveled from Tibet and China and settled largely in the hills bordering the eastern mountainous region of Burma.