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Myanmar's Ethnic Groups

Myanmar People

Myanmar is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. This colourful ethnic mixture is the product of three mass migrations from Central Asia and Tibet. The first group of migrants to enter Myanmar were the Mons. The second migration brought the Tibeto-Myanmar people, and the third saw the arrival of the Tai Shan.

Myanmar’s 60,280,000 person population is divided into 135 officially recognized ethnic groups. These 135 ethnic groups are subsets of 8 major national ethnic races. National ethnic races are grouped by region as opposed to language or actual ethnicity.

The Bamar are the ethnic majority in Myanmar. They make up 68% of the total population and dominate both the government and the military. Because they drastically outnumber every other ethnic race in the country, their language (Burmese) is the official language. They are of Sino-Tibetan origin, but they have become a mixture of the Mons and the Tai Shan over time. The Bamar live in the central plains near the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers. They are predominately Theravada Buddhists.

Myanmar’s second largest ethnic race, the Shans, are related to the Thais and the people of Laos. They live in the river valleys of the Shan plateau. Most Shan survive on their farming abilities. While most members of this race are Theravada Buddhists, the Shan State is home to a number of ethnic groups that practice Christianity. Shan State is rich in natural resources, such as silver, lead, gold, tungsten, rubies, sapphires and teak.

The Kayin, or the Karen, are the third largest ethnic race in Myanmar. After Myanmar gained its independence, this race pushed strongly for independence, but have since adjusted their aim. The Kayin people live in tribal mountain villages as well as along the Myanmar-Thailand border. The majority of Kayin are Theravada Buddhists who also practice animism, while approximately 15% are Christian.

The Rakhine, or Arakenese people live along Myanmar’s western coast. They are very closely related to the majority Bamar race, sharing the same religion, and differing only slightly in language. Though not a subset of the Rakhine people, the Muslim Ronhingya people of Indo-Aryan race reside in Rakhine state.

Myanmar’s earliest settlers, the Mon people settled in the Ayeyarwaddy delta, Mon state, and Karen state. These people were vital in shaping the culture of modern Myanmar. Their script became a part of the Burmese language, and, perhaps most importantly, they brought Theravada Buddhism to both Myanmar and Thailand.

The Kachin people can be found in northern Myanmar. They are subsistence farmers practicing rotational cultivation of hill rice. This race is known for its expertise in fighting, herbal healing and jungle survival. Historically, the Kachin people were animists. They worshipped various gods as well as their ancestors. The entire race is said to share a common ancestor in Madai, a man they worshipped as a god. Rituals were performed with most daily activities to prevent bad luck. Today, as a result of American missionaries, most of the Kachin people are Christians.

Karenni state, home to Kayah people, was independent until the British colonization of Myanmar in 1886. The Karenni, or the Kayah, are a subset of the Kayin people. The Kayah themselves include nine different ethnic subsets. Together with the Mon people, they are the oldest indigenous group in Myanmar, migrating from China in the 6th or 7th century. One subset of the Kayah, the Padaung tribe living on the Myanmar-Thailand border, are famous for the neck rings worn by the women of this group.

The Chin people inhabit both the Chin and Rakhine state on the Myanmar-India border. They arrive in Myanmar in late in the 9th century A.D. Chin villages were once self-governed municipalities run by chiefs and councils of elders. Missionaries manages to convert about 80% of these people to Christianity, but many still practice traditional tribal beliefs and Theravada Buddhism.

Many unrecognized ethnic groups exist. The Burmese Chinese and the Panthay are two of these such groups. Together they make up 3% of Myanmar’s population. Burmese Indians make up 2%.

Myanmar People

Kachin Girls
 Kachin Girls Kayin Girls   Ethnolinguistic map of Myanmar
Did You Know?
The name Myanmar is derived from the local name Myanma Naingngandaw, which is a name used by the governent which is currently in power there. While the real meaning of the name is not clear, it is interesting to note... ... More

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GDP 2010 USD 45.4 B
GDP 2012 USD 54.0 B
Inflation 9.13 %
Unemployment Approx. 35%
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