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Who are the Karen hill tribe silversmiths?

[ Image credit: www.laulima.hawaii.edu ]
Southeast Asia has always been on the exotic side of civilization. For centuries, various nomadic tribes migrated [displaced by need] from as far as Siberia and Turkey in search for refuge from the conquering nomadic horse-people of the steppes: the Mongolian Khanate in particular. As a direct result, small nomadic clans drifted into the mountainous region where Burma, Thailand and Laos find a common point. Today the area is cryptically referred to as "The Golden Triangle" where the Mekhong and the Mae Kok rivers intersect to create the borderline for the 3 countries. Spread out through the mountainous range along borderlines, many hilltribes live an unsettled life, always at risk of having to move further on due to prejudice and persecution.

Like many similar minority ethnic groups, the Karens are referred by derogatory names like Kariang or Yang in Thai. However, the Karens refer to themselves as “Paa-Kaw-Yaw”. The majority of Karens reside in Burma where ethnic-persecution is a looming factor of village life in the forsaken jungles of SE Asia. We support and stand beside ethnic tribal groups who need us to speak up for their cause in resisting tyranny and terminating the threat of genocide. Burma is years behind because of this constant battle for civil rights between the central government with Big Gun and the numerous tribes who have unified and risen to defend their dignity with scythes and slingshots. The result is death and destruction, while remaining villagers have to abandon their homes ablaze in the flames of injustice, further fueling bitterness resentment—the karmic cycle of a tendentious government formed by a perverted military junta [and dictators who govern using politically correct titles].

One good example of how far the junta would go: The Wa people who have been disavowed—Wa State completely absolved by the ruling military

[We urge you to reach out and learn more about the things that happen to our fellow human beings]

Free Burma Rangers: Multi-ethnic Humanitarian Service Movement

The Karen National Union/ Karen Liberation Army

On this side of the border, in Thailand, the Karen population is continually growing while life has much improved in recent decades. Even so, the “Kariang” people are still treated as lower class citizens by Thai commoners. But like a good-hearted Buddhists that they are—Thai society is much more accepting of minorities than their neighbors. So much so that Thai government has successfully assimilated the tribal group into their tourism-based economy.

The Karen [กะเหรี่ยง] Pwa Ka Nyaw [pronounced Paw-kaw-yaw] are concentrated mainly in Mae Hong Son province, and western areas of Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Mae Sot, Chiang Rai and Phayao. The main subgroups are the Sgaw Karen [the most numerous], Pwo Karen, and the world-famous Kayan "long-neck" who’d slipped away from the perilous pursuit by Burmese military to neighboring Thailand in the 1980s. As fate would have it—the Kayan “long-neck” Karens in Thailand is flourishing due to the culture’s natural appetite to uplift tourism in the Kingdom.

[Learn more about the Karen Pwa Ka Nyaw Hill Tribe people on Wikipedia]

[Learn more about the Kayan long-neck Karens on Wikipedia]

hill tribe silversmith village Karen Pwa Ka Nyaw of Nasai are an industrious group of people who are eager to work from dawn-‘til-dusk in everything that they do [making silver beads and jewelry, dyeing fabric, tend to fruit plantations and rice paddies, plowing and harvesting—to name a few]. The women tend the young at home in social groups as they produce silver beads, cook and clean, dye and weave fabric, and make clothes for the family. At peak harvest or planting time—the women would also accompany their men out in the midday sun with babies tied to their backs as they pluck and plant the food to feed their clan throughout the year. The men tend to their farms and plantations during much of the year and lend a hand to their women whenever they’re asked to [obedience derived from matrilineal culture].

Because of this, most Karen hill tribe villages are self-sufficient. As a result, Nasai Karens have the inclination to reciprocate the gracefulness of Their Majesties and non-profits organizations who have had a hand in their livelihood. They are a grateful group of humans who knows that all they have to do is look across the mountain in the west to see how tormenting life can be.

Traditional dresses for women are very attractive and distinctive. Patterns are linked to villages and households where fabric weaving [and dyeing] is both a trade and a way of life. Unmarried girls wear loose white V-necked shifts, decorated with Job's-tear seeds at the seams. Married women wear blouses and skirts in bold colors, predominantly red or blue.

Men wear blue baggy trousers with typically red-striped shirts. Black Karen men wear black shirts with a red cummerbund or head scarf. Adult males—whether in gladness or in gloom—usually leave their home to commandeer the in-law’s estate towards prosperity—well, at least the portion [the dowry] inherited by the espoused daughter, anyhow. Correspondingly, the daughter now has a man to breed and to engender her heritage with [mind you: this relationship is more symbiotic than it feels on paper]. Karen daughters carry on their mother’s name.

Traditional houses are raised on teakwood stilts, a ladder leads up [2-3 meters] to a porch with a store room and kitchen to one side, a living area and bedroom on the other. Beneath the house is a working area, often with a foot-operated rice pounder beside a handful of dilapidated wood stumps utilized by silversmiths as workstations and to shape the silver sheets.

No two married woman live in the same house. Sexual immorality is forbidden in Karen culture. In some villages, the punishment in banishment or torture, then left for dead. The village headman has great power over his community which is most evident in the remote depths of Thailand’s deciduous forest. The headman [the shaman, the chief] is regarded as the spiritual as well as the administrative leader.

Traditionally, the Karen hill tribe people have supported their families by engaging in slash and burn agriculture, which required them to move their villages every few years in search of new fields when old ones lost their fertility. The hilltribes were persuaded to discontinue their nomadic lifestyle when the Thai Government illegalized harvesting of trees and clearing of hillside land. Subsequently, the Royal Project of Thailand was established to assist the hilltribes with adapting to the “anchored-lifestyle” they would have never considered otherwise.

In its infancy days, research and development was priorities for the Royal Project's first decade [established 1969]. From the beginning, many agencies—local and international, cooperated with the Royal Project to establish a solid foundation. These agencies include universities, the Ministries of Agriculture and Cooperatives of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Interior, State Owned Enterprises, the private sector, international organizations and foreign governments. Today, the work of the Royal Project has evolved into four major endeavors: research, agricultural extension, development, and socioeconomic activities.

We believe in philanthropy and yearn to make a humanitarian difference.

[Karen hill tribe Trust] Improving Health by installing clean water systems and latrines

[Stu and The Kids] Giving teenagers a better future with sponsorship for a college education [estimated $3500/year per student, including living costs]. If kids can envisage something better for themselves, it inspires us to give them a chance.

Up until the 1980s, opium cultivation was a major source of income for many of the hilltribes. International pressure, and leadership foresight compelled the Thai government to move quickly and diligently to eradicate opium by supplementing the tribes’ livelihood with livestock and other cash crops: cabbages, corn, rice, mangoes, longan, and other marketable fruits and vegetables. Though perhaps the most awe-inspiring of government undertaking to “settle and assimilate” the nomadic hilltribes, the Royal Project of Thailand commissioned silver jewelry experts to impart their knowledge of “silver bead-making” to selected tribal groups. Today [2016], only a handful of those silver-villages retained their skills and their tools—Nasai Silver Village is one. At its peak, more than 70% of household in Nasai were producing silver jewelry components of some type [from 2004 through 2007].

The first generation of Karen silversmiths were taught to carefully handcraft each design from scratch, using high-content silver [99.9% silver granules]. They learned to give each design a unique appearance only seen in their own ecosystem, thus the distinct “Karen hill tribe” patterns and shapes of their silver designs.

Now the fourth generation are in line to inherit the unsophisticated tools and trade. This means that we the people who market their creation do so in light of how and why the “hill tribe silver project” began.

Today, each handmade silver bead [and components and jewelry] is a unique masterpiece that represents the history of Karen culture, past and present. The typical silver design made by the hill tribe is imprinted by using a stamping tool and hammer. Often, these designs are as simple as the shape of leafs and flowers, or an animal. Many motifs are symbolic designs resembling their physical environment and spiritual world. Some designs are barrowed from other cultures due to demand [Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity]. Rest assured—silver designs handcrafted #byHillTribe is one of distinction and charity. Your purchase preserves the timeless culture and identity of the enduring Karen hill tribe people.

Click play to view a short YouTube video of Karen Hill Tribe Silversmiths at work in their natural environment—their own home.

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