Kayah – the land of the Kayan people

Recently, I visited Kayah, a quaint state in the east of our country. I was mesmerised with the beauty of the place. Kayah is in the initial stages of being developed as a tourist destination. Hence, the untouched lands are a treat to the eye.

After my trip, my thoughts have been dominated by Panpet and Htaneelalehl villages, the land of the Kayan people who wear brass coils. Since Kayah is a remote area, it is yet to be developed fully economically. Hence, the living standards of these Kayan people are poor. They don’t have access to electricity. They carry their own water from streams. Because of insufficient water, they have created their own cisterns where they collect rainwater and use them later. Their underdevelopment in the areas of education, health, society and economics affects their daily income and knowledge.

These people like to stay immersed in their own culture and traditions. Hence, they are not interested in what’s happening in the world, although they have contact with the world. They don’t know how to use email, internet, Facebook, TV and mobile phones.  They are only interested in cultivation, hunting, yarn spinning, weaving looms, making bamboo canes and brewing Khaung Yay.

But they live their lives peacefully and happily. They will deny life in the city even if we invite them to live in Loikaw, the capital city of Kayah and offer them a large house to live in or a good salary. I was born in the riverside village of Bago river, but I can’t live in my native village since I am already used to the urban culture. But it doesn’t mean I am ungrateful to my native village. I love the area and don’t mind a short visit. However, I found that these Kayan people are not like me.

Kayan people enjoy the abundance of nature – they create enough food such as rice and corn through farming, they enjoy sunlight during the days and moonlight during the nights. They weave their own clothes, help and protect each other. They live peacefully and are content with their lives. It shows in their gleaming and honest smile.

Many years ago, these areas were marred by battles and the Kayan people had to escape to Monpaung, Monpan and Kyarbo villages which are located in Mae Hong Son District of Thailand. Thailand has been using our refugee Kayan people to attract Tourists under the name of Community-Based Tourism (CBT). In fact, tourists used to think that Kayan people were natives of Thailand. But later, they came to know that they are originally from Myanmar. Today, tourists come to Kayah state to observe the lifestyle of these fascinating people who wear brass coils.

Nowadays, our government has been negotiating with armed forces to reach an agreement on peace around the country and they have agreed to cooperate with KNPP (Karenni Army) to protect border trade route from Maesae to Bipi (13). According to the National Export Strategy of Ministry of Commerce, International Trade Center (ITC), Ministry of Commerce and CBI (Netherland) are cooperating to implement Tourism Focussing on Kayah State (2014-2017) project. This project started from 26-8-2017 and cost USD two million.The aforementioned project has been supported by the regional government as well.

Kayah state is quite peaceful off late. Therefore, tourism is also developing slowly in the region. Many Kayan people have come back from borderland to be associated with the upcoming tourism industry in the state. However, many Kayan people are yet to come back and their relatives are waiting for them.

Kayan people who just came back to their motherland are well-experienced in attracting tourists, thanks to their exposure in foreign countries. They have been using their experiences and supporting the International Trade Center (ITC) to enhance Kayah State tourism. Unfortunately, they still need training in technical processes even though they know how to attract tourists. In the souvenir shops, sadly, we found out that there are lots of souvenirs from other countries because we are yet to create our own souvenirs which have enough quality to attract tourists. We already have exclusive handicrafts with our distinctive identity. We need to promote them more to create awareness about the rich cultural heritage of Myanmar.

We have to use our own tourism resources properly. We have implemented CBT in Dawkee, Yankhu, Salonekanar, Pinmasaung and Kathelkhu villages are located in Panpentviallge. Kayan People who live in these villages are unique because of their neck rings made with brass. By visiting these villages, tourists not only will get a chance to interact with these fascinating people, but they can also observe brewing Khaung Yay, handicraft making, weaving in the looms, flagstaffs, their shrines, their cultures, traditional instruments, music and enjoy the delicious food. They can also enjoy trekking as well. There are two CBT projects which are currently on in Panpet and Tanelalel villages. is 18 miles from Loikaw and takes about one hour and thirty minutes to reach by car.

Htaneelaleh village which is located 12 miles from Loikaw and is a 30-minute drive by car has mostly Kayah people living in the villages. There are (157) houses, (161) households, (390) males and (408) females living in the village. HteePwint Lake, an extinct volcano is located at the entrance of the village. Tourist can observe the traditional flagstaffs of Kayah races while visiting this village.

During an observation trip to Loikaw, we went to Thiri Mingalar Pagoda, Kandayawati, Sawphyar Manor, Cultural Museum, Khaung Yay business, Kayah sausage business, Kayah curry business, loom business and mysterious Kyat Gu.

We have showcased CBT projects of Panpent and Htaneelaleh villages in ITB Berlin which were held in Berlin, Germany from March 9, 2016, to March 13, 2016, and we grabbed the Diamond Award, the grand prize of Golden City Awards there. Panpet and Tanelalel villages from Kayah State, Lwalkhaw, Innne, Htine and Kakkufrom Shan State were awarded ASEAN Community Based Tourism Award 2017 by ASEAN General Secretary Office in ASEAN Tourism Forum 2017, held in Marina Bay Sand Expo & Convention Centre, Singapore from January 18, 2017, to January 20, 2017.

The CBT projects of Panpet and Htaneelaleh villages have immense potential because of the uniqueness of the Kayan people. Kayah races with their own cultural and unspoiled natural resources will continue to attract tourists in the coming years. However, the biggest obstacle for developing tourism in these villages is the unstable political condition.

I want to compare Kayan people who are mainly involved in CBT with a flower. A flower’s well-being depends on the nourishment the plot of land where it breeds. I am hoping that this plot of land prospers so much that the flower retains its original beauty and continues to bloom happily.

The Kayan people living in other countries are those flowers who’s original fragrance has been covered by fragrance from other sources. I have read in the eyes of the Kayan people that they want to meet and unite with their relatives who are living in other countries. I hope they get an opportunity to do so. I hope that these Kayan people gain back their original fragrance and return back to their motherland to unite with others from their own race.

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