Ethnic Diversity in Myanmar
Myanmar is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, with a population of approximately 53 million people divided into 135 different groups. People in Myanmar are called Burmese, and there are eight major national ethnic races identified officially are Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Mon, Bamar, Rakhine, and Shan. While it is true that Myanmar has breathtaking historical sites you don’t want to miss, its real charm resides in its people. Let's take a look at some famous ethnic groups in Myanmar.
Roughly 68% are the Bamar people, numbering approximately 30 million people. They live mainly in the river valleys and plains, particularly around the Irrawaddy River, which covers the Magwe, Sagaing, Mandalay, Bago, Yangon and Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) divisions, while the smaller ethnic minorities lived in the mountains and hills. Since the Bamar people constitute the majority of Myanmar's population, their language, customs and identity are closely intertwined with the Burmese national identity as a whole.
The Kayin people, also called Karen people, live in eastern Myanmar, bordering with Thailand. The Karen languages belong to the Tibeto-Burman language family and with different dialects. Although majority of the population are thought to be Theravada Buddhism, the Kayin people are mostly Christians.
The Kachin people, also known as the Jingpo people, live in northern Myanmar, bordering with China. Similar to Kayin, more than half of the Kachin people are Christians. A variety of Kachin languages are related to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages, but Jingpo is the most widely spoken common language.
Living mainly in Mon State, Bago Division, the Irrawaddy Delta and along the southern border with Thailand, the Mon people were one of the earliest peoples to settle in Southeast Asia. They also had a major influence on Burmese mainstream culture, and are credited with the spread of Theravada Buddhism in Indochina. The Mon language used to be an Austroasiatic language related to Khmer, but the majority of Mon people are now monolingual in Burmese.
Rakhine and Chin
The Rakhine and Chin peoples both occupy the western region of Myanmar where the Rakhine constitute about 4% of the population. The Chin constitute about 1% of the population and mainly live near the borders with India and Bangladesh. Most of the Chin people are Christian while the Rakhines are Theravada Buddhists in generations.
The Shan live primarily in Shan State, and are a branch of the Tai ethnic family whose offshoots are found throughout Southeast Asia. Thus, most Shan can speak both Shan and Burmese languages. Like the Bamars, they are mostly Theravada Buddhists.
If you visit Inle Lake, you will encounter people from one of the smaller minorities called the “Intha” people. Their characteristic ‘leg-rowing’ skill—using one leg to stand on the boat and the other as if it was a long paddle to row the boat—has been the signature of Inle Lake and you don't want to miss it while you are in Inle.
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