The Karen in Northern Thailand

Rice is vital to the Karen. Harvest!                                                      Rice and cash crop terraces                Zucchini cultivation

The Karen People

 

With a population of around 450,000, the Karen is the largest minority group in Thailand. They tend to live in small villages of 300 to 400 inhabitants in the highlands of northwestern Thailand. They came from Burma (and before that Tibet) and settled in their current area about 200 to 300 years ago - before the Thai people. Most of the population continues to survive by farming rice on a subsistence basis, though they are increasingly planting market garden produce (vegetables, flowers etc.) and engaging in low paid work.

 

The Karen are a people in transition, living between the traditional and the modern. They recognise the risks and opportunities of modern life and are trying to balance old and new ways of living. Most of the villagers want to see their houses fitted with "modern" electricity connections. Many Karen see the need to forge closer links with Thai society but at the same time they want to retain their culture, their language and their Karen identity. The main problems facing the Karen are poverty and all the associated disadvantages (malnourishment, inadequate health care, illiteracy etc.), land scarcity (many Karen do not possess the official deeds to their land) and discrimination by the Thai population and authorities.