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Kayin (Karen)

Kayin State, formerly Karen State, lies in southeast Myanmar on Thai border. Not many travelers make the long journey to this region, which is well off the beaten tourist track, but when they do, they find a landscape that is quite different from the rest of Myanmar, with hugh rice fields, countless caves and strange rock formations.

The geography of Kayin State is shaped by the Dawna mountain range, which runs right through it, sometimes reaching a height of over 2,000 meters (6,562 ft). The mountains are barely accessible, and very few roads rin through the thick jungle. The Kayin themselves live in small village communites which are autonomous and ruled by the village chief. Their lives are generally simple and revolve around agriculture and cattle-breeding.

Like many ethnic groups in Myanmar, the Kayin originated in Central Asia and migrated to what is now Myanmar during the 7th and 8th centuries. Initially they settled in the Ayeyarwady Delta and the present Kayin State, but later they were driven back to the Thai border. Even today there are still a lot of Kayin in the Ayeyarwady Delta, Mon State, and Kayah State (Karenni State).

The Kayin, though consisting of numerous different ethnic groups, are subdivided into the Pwo and the Sgaw Kayin, who have developed different languages. The Sgaw are also subdivided into two: the Paku (white Kayin), which include the Pa-O and the Kayan, and the Bwe, who once again can be split into the Kayinni (red Kayin) and the Kayinnet (black Kayin). Apart from the various dialects, there are three main Kayin languages: Sgaw, Pwo and Bwe.

These differ from Myanmar language, research into the original script is being carried out.