- 東洋文化研究所紀要 (ISSN:05638089)
- vol.162, pp.154-266, 2012-12-20
This paper aims to outline the development of knowledge on the Karen people of Burma, and to locate the first publication of the Christian version of Karen history in this knowledge formation process. In "A History of the Pgakanyaw," Saw Aung Hla narrates a history of struggle against persistent attempts by Buddhist Burmans and Mons to swallow the Pgakanyaw, who, with their unique language, script, culture, and kingship, had managed for many centuries to hold to a monotheistic faith, which was to be later fulfilled as Christianity. The question, then, is; what is the origin of the historiography of this first Christian version of Karen history? A substantial part of the Karen knowledge widely shared to date was mostly formed by the American Baptist missionaries during the second quarter of the nineteenth century in Tenasserim Division of colonial Burma. Two early Baptist missionaries played prominent roles with the help of nameless Karen assistants. Jonathan Wade was the creator of both Sgaw and Pwo orthographies, and the compiler of the dictionaries and grammar books. Through his works, Karen ethnicity emerged and was linguistically defined. Francis Mason published the first systematic and general description of the Karen people as a part of the natural history of Tenasserim Division. Mason's core idea that the Karen were a lost tribe of Israelites and therefore originated as a biblical nation remained unquestioned until doubtful anthropologists gained the initiative in interpreting the ethnic origin of the Karen. Knowledge on the Karen was in the first place produced, collected and shaped in an organized manner by the hands of the Baptists. It was then distributed through printing and publication, and shared with the world. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Baptist mission created an amount of information and knowledge on the Karen as never been seen before in Burma. These had in time attained the quality of valuable "first-hand records" and "classics" indispensable for knowing who the Karen were. British colonialists who came into contact with the Karen a few decades later also followed the understanding carved out by the early Baptists. On the other hand, the two other concerned parties, who, to modern eyes, were supposed to have held a close relationship with Karen knowledge, remained silent up to the twentieth century in terms of written sources. They were the Karen themselves on one side, and the ethnic Burman, a neighbor to the Karen, on the other. The records of the former would be discovered if a serious research were to be conducted on the early Sgaw and Pwo periodicals kept in the Baptist missionary archive in America. The lack of sources on the latter would tend to indicate theoretical skepticism about whether the ethnic category, consciousness or identity of "Burman" and "Myanmar" had truly already been established among the Burman speaking population in nineteenth century Burma. Around the turn of the twentieth century, the British colonial administrators began to survey the Karen as a subject to be ruled and integrated, and added a vast amount of demographic and linguistic data to the Baptist-originated perceptions on the Karen. The twentieth century saw another institutionalization of Karen knowledge when anthropology began to deal with the Karen and built up an academically verified and systematized knowledge of the Karen. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Burma was rapidly transformed into an ethnically organized and articulated society. Burman nationalism was, of course, the most acute expression of this ethnicization. Along with the elevated nationalistic atmosphere, the Karen were often accused of siding with the colonialists, and their image deteriorated and became fixed in the mind of the Burman majority. On the side of the so-called Karen people, Baptists, who had already grown influential in colonial Burma, started to propagate their ethnic claims especially in the political sphere, and at the same time their public utterances began to be recorded, particularly in the English language. The 1940s was a major transitional period in Burmese history, and the Karen were now becoming more and more a significant political issue in Burma. After Burma accomplished independence, a substantial change occurred in conditions on the mode of Karen knowledge production. American Baptists and British colonialists, two major and privileged composers of Karen knowledge, left Burma and the Karen for good. A fair amount of witness reports that continuously radiated the impression of the Karen as being "Christian," "pro-British," and "anti-Burman" were left behind, and these turned into valuable and firm historical records which were never to be updated again. Saw Aung Hla's version of Karen history is, in this perspective, a legitimate and fundamentalistic successor to the Karen knowledge which had been fostered in Baptist mission history in Burma. It was also one of the most carefully structured ethnic claims made in the late colonial Burma.