The Karen


The largest of the hill-tribes of southeast Asia, the Karen are also the least nomadic. Traditionally Animalistic, they always believed that keeping their villages dirty kept the evil spirits in the jungle. The influence of Christian Missionaries has turned the majority of Karen to Christianity. This has helped improve the cleanliness of the villages and the overall health of the Karen.

Location of Karen Villages we visited.

There is a large concentration of Karen Villages in the hills on the Thai side of the Thai-Burmese border. Having been displaced by the Burmese government many years ago, they have secluded themselves from the rest of the world. Living in bamboo huts, and sleeping on matting they make themselves the Karen live a very simple life. There is no electricity for many kilometers, except for the occasional diesel generator or small solar panel. Some outside groups have helped them set up outdoor plumbing for bathroom facilities and running water.

Mae Po Kee Village, high above the waterfall.

Their staple diet is rice, which they grow themselves. Sometimes they may sell rice or livestock in nearby towns if they need anything the jungle can not provide. The women stay home and make clothing, tend to the children, and garden. The men go into the jungle and pick edible vegetation and hunt for food.

After defeathering a chicken, a villager roasts it over an open fire.

A village by a river will have a pounding device that actually uses the power of the current to raise the mallet and then drop it into the bucket. Rice is ground up during the dry season so that it can keep through the wet season when no rice can grow. Villages without a river nearby manually raise and drop the mallet, similar to a seesaw.

When the rainy season comes the granulated rice will sustain the villagers.


The river provides fresh drinking water, fish, a place to bathe, and entertainment.

Some villages have been lucky enough to acquire schools from NGO's. This has allowed the children to receive some education before they attempt to attend government-run boarding schools in nearby towns. The students still find it extremely difficult to keep up with the city kids, and often drop out. The Village Elders of the villages we went to all thought it important for some of their children to go to school and move on so as to help the village. They know that the outside world is encroaching and that they can't stop it. They want to be ready for when it does.

The TOPS school at So Kay Kla Village.