Ethnic Diversity

Myanmar is ethnically diverse country with 135 distinct groups officially recognized by the government. These are grouped into eight major national ethnic races namely Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. 


The Kachin people or Jingpo people are traditionally hill dwellers that live mainly in north-eastern Burma as well as parts of China and India comprising 1.5% of the population. Their ancestors lived on the Tibetan plateau of the Great Gobi Desert in Mongolia and migrated gradually towards the south in 12 separate tribes not so far from China border. The Kachin people are known for their fierce independence, disciplined fighting skills, complex clan inter-relations, embrace of Christianity, craftsmanship, herbal healing and jungle survival skills. There is also one famous festival which is Kachin Manau Festival held in January at Myitkyina, Kachin State to ensure victory in battle to pray for health, protection from harm, for offspring to carry on family traditions and other religious occasions.


The Kayah or Karenni known as the Red Karen (-ni meaning red concerning to their favoured colour of clothing that the territory gained its historic name of Karenni or Red Karen) comprise 0.75% of the population and the Kayah state border with Thailand. There are 9 different ethnic subsets and they are the oldest indigenous group in Burma together with the Mon, migrating from China in the 6th or 7th century. The name given to Kayah women by the Bamar is “elephant women” because of the numerous lacquered cotton rings worn below the knee.


Kayin or Karen legends refer to a “river of running sand” which their ancestors reputedly crossed. Many Karens think this refers to the Gobi Desert, although they have lived in Burma for centuries. Kayin constitutes 7% of population with 11 tribes and its state borders with Thailand. Most probably, the Karen were among the earliest inhabitants to descend from China down the Irrawaddy into Burma.


The Chin people are one of the large ethnic minority groups in Burma. They are of Tibeto-Burman origin who came to Burma around the late 9th or 10th century AD and inhabit in the great mountain chain especially the Chindwin valley mainly in western part of Burma close to the Indian and Bangladesh border. More than forty sub-groups, many distinguished by their unique facial tattoos and costumes, have been identified among the 1.5 million Chins in Burma.


The Bamar people are the majority ethnic group of Burma composing 68% of the country’s total population that has 9 tribes in his group. They are of Sino-Tibetan origin and reside predominantly in the central plains near the Irrawaddy and Sittaung rivers. Bamar group is located around the Irrawaddy river and in the delta of the Irrawaddy (Yangon area). From Bagan lithic inscriptions, the Pyus, Mons, Thet, Kayans and other ethnic groups are known to inhabit the Myanmar Kingdoms founded by King Anawrahta. Of these groups, the Pyu people had a high level of civilization during the early years. Traditional Bamar culture strongly influences contemporary Burmese national customs and identity. The Bamar are predominately Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. People are expected to keep the basic five precepts and practise dana (charity), Śīla (morality), and bavana (meditation). Their native language (Burmese) is the official language of the country. The Bamar wear sarongs or longyi in Burmese traditionally. Women wear a type of sarong known as htamain, while men wear a sarong sewn into a tube called longyi or more formally a single long piece known as paso. Buddhist festivals and holidays are broadly celebrated among the Bamar. The Water Festival, Thingyan, which marks the beginning of the Burmese New Year in April, is one such example. Thadingyut, which marks the end of the Buddhist lent, is celebrated with the Festival of Lights in October. Kathina or robe offering ceremony for monks is held in July and again in November.


The Mon people are ascertained to be one of the first people in the Southeast Asia and probably the earliest of modern-day inhabitants to settle in the plains of Burma. They were responsible for spreading Theravada Buddhism, the oldest school of the religion, in Burma and Thailand. Currently, Mon constitute 2% of the population in Burma. The Mon culture is very rich and ancient. It is credited for having a major influence on the dominant Burmese culture and the Mon script was incorporated into the unified Burmese language. The earliest Mon writings date from the fifth century AD, and they are believed to have founded the world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, originally a Mon settlement. Many Mons believe that the whole of South-east Asia could have come under their control had their forefathers been a race of warriors rather than artists and poets. Mon State is home to the Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, an extraordinary golden rock perched precariously on a mountain outcrop.


The Rakhine, who are the majority ethnic group comprising 3.5% of population in Arakan State located west of Myanmar along the Indian ocean close to Bangladesh, have long been influenced by their proximity to India & have firmed strong trading links with the sub-continent. The Rakhines speak a dialect of Burmese that many scholars believe is the earliest form of the language, and in culture & dress they are very similar to Burmans. About one-quarter of Arakan’s population are Muslims known as Rohingyas, mostly of Bengali descent, and other minority groups include the Thet (shaka-ma), Khami (Mro), Daignet & Maramagyi, who live in the hills.


Along with the Karen, the Shan are the second largest ethnic group in Myanmar after the Burmans that are estimated about 9% of the population and live mainly in Shan State. Most Shans are valley-dwellers. They were among the first migrants into the area and are thought to have come from Yunnan, south-west China, where related Tai peoples still lives. One division of Shans migrated south to the Menam valley & became known as the Siamese or Thais, while other remained in Burma or moved into Laos. Following the Mongol sack of Bagan in 1287 AD, the Shans established a power base in Upper Burma, with their capital at Ava outside modern Mandalay. For nearly two centuries they controlled the fertile rice land around the middle reaches of the Irrawaddy & expanded into Kachin State and along the Chindwin River. The Shan are traditionally wet-rice cultivators, shopkeepers, and artisans.

National Races Village

The village is a type of museum where people can learn about the different histories, culture and lifestyles of Myanmar national races. Replicas of the traditional houses can also be found.
Location: near Thanlyin Bridge, Thaketa Township
Opening Hours: daily from 10 am to 5 pm
Fees: US $ 5/person