Myanmar Ethnicity and Languages 3


The Wa are famous for being former headhunters and for growing and trading opium. Until 1989 they were considered allies of the Burma Communist Party. The name means “mountain dwellers” and indicates that the Wa live in high and inaccessible areas. About 700,000 Wa live in the eastern Shan state on the border with China in an autonomous region that resembles a separate state.


Members of this tribal group live mainly in India and to a lesser extent in north-eastern Myanmar. The formerly warlike tribal groups received their own coherent identity under the English through the Christian mission, which led to a struggle against British rule and integration into the Indian state. After long negotiations, the Naga in India received their own state in 1963. In Myanmar, the 2008 constitution set up a three townships self-government zone within the Sagaing region. The special traditions of the tribes are used for tourism purposes.


The rugged and sparsely populated Chin State- the population consists of approx. 500,000 residents – is inhabited by an abundance of different Chin subgroups who speak different dialects, which do not make direct communication possible. After the British conquest of Burma, the Chin tribes fiercely resisted the new colonial rulers. Then came the first Christian missionaries towards the end of the 19th century, who – as in the case of the Kayin and other ethnic groups – gave the tribes a written language by translating the Bible. A unified Chin identity was not created. This can be seen from the fact that the almost 100% Christianized Chin are fragmented into an abundance of different communities, which reflects the geographical and linguistic diversity of the Chin Mountains.The state has hardly been developed for tourism so far. Because of the difficult living conditions, many Chin have moved to other parts of Myanmar or abroad, such as India. Ethnically related groups live there. In the course of Christianization and migration, some of the characteristics formerly regarded as “typical” Chin, such as the women’s face tattoos, are disappearing.

Traditional Chin Cemetery

Rakhine (Arakan)

According to hyperrestaurant, the state of Myanmar, in the north of which the majority of the Rohingyas live, was a Buddhist kingdom for centuries, in which a cosmopolitan climate prevailed due to the lively trade with the countries in the west. There were attempts by the Rakhine kings to penetrate the Burmese heartland and, conversely, campaigns by the Burmese and Mon kings in the opposite direction. In 1884, the Crown Prince of the Burmese Empire residing in Amarapura succeeded in conquering the weakened Rakhine Empire. As a result, the most famous Buddha image became Rakhine, Mahamuni (“the great sage”) sawed up and brought to the capital of the victorious general. Today the temple in which the image stands belongs to Mandalay, which was built by King Mindon near Amarapura in the mid-19th century.

Panglong Conference of the 21st Century

At the “Panglong Conference of the 21st Century” held from August 31 to September 3, 2016, the ethnic diversity in the various costumes of the more than 1,000 participants in the meeting could be seen. Only the Muslims were not represented. The conference was named after the place where Aung San made an agreement with representatives of three ethnic groups – the Shan, Kachin and Chin – in February 1947.

A lot of speeches were made at the conference. No resolutions were passed. The greatest success was the fact that a continuation of the conference was agreed. At the second Panglong Conference, which took place at the end of May 2017, a number of joint decisions were taken, but the central issue of the secession of some areas of the Union remained unresolved. The third Panglong conference took place from July 11th to 16th, 2018.

Migrant workers

The poor socio-economic situation has led many Myanmares to go abroad. Even in the socialist period there were a number of Burmese who worked as seafarers. This trend has continued. Several companies are training junior seafarers in Myanmar.

In the meantime, a large number of agencies are placing Myanmar workers primarily in other Southeast Asian countries, especially Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as in the Middle East. It is estimated that there are more than 2 million migrant workers in Thailand alone. Overall, it is estimated that 10% of the population work abroad. Their remittances to their families in Myanmar add significantly to the country’s gross national product. This means that the country faces similar problems as other countries with a high proportion of migrant workers. The demands for better protection of migrants from the sending countries through binding agreements within the ASEAN alliance have not yet been followed by concrete steps.