The Karen known in Thai as the Kariengs, occupy
settlements along the north-western border of
Thailand, in particular on the ranges west and
south of Doi Inthanon. They are the longest
established tribal group in Thailand, except of
the Lawa, crossing the Salween river at least
three hundred years ago in the 17th century.
They probably number about 400,000 but there
have been recent large influxes from Burma as
the authorities there have tried to suppress a
long running independence movement.
There are two main subgroups in Thailand, the majority
Skaw, and the Pwo, but many other affiliated
groups exist in Burma. They speak a
Tibeto-Burman language which linguists find very
difficult to categorize.
The Karen tend to live in permanent settlements of around
25 houses raised on stilts. Each household
consists of the parents and their unmarried
children. Married daughters and their families
may also live in the same house. The highest
authority is the village priest who runs the
village along with the elders.
The Karen have rituals to live harmoniously with the "Lord
of the Land and Water", as well as with nature
spirits in the rocks, trees, water and mountains
that surround them. They also have guardian
spirits and believe in the soul.
In their villages in the lower valleys, they are cultivating wet
or paddy rice, using a rotating agricultural
system over a large area of land and do not cut
all the large trees down when they clear a plot.
They are probably the best forest conservers of
all the minorities and are also skilled weavers
and make some of the finest baskets.
Karen cloth is hand-woven on back-strap looms and is
predominantly red with white, blue or brown
vertical stripes. Stitching is clear and
decorative. The men may wear simple forms of
this material in a sleeveless tunic (or northern
Thai clothing), while the women wear more
elaborate styles on their sarongs.
The women's blouses are made of dark homespun cotton with
horizontal embroidered patterns decorated with
seeds woven onto the lower half. Unmarried girls
of the Skaw group wear plain white shifts, while
those of the Pwo are more decorated. The Karen
are famous for their use of beads for
The Karen people
are very peaceful and cooperative, who like the
other hill tribes, reserve their highest
veneration for their ancestors and living