Mon people

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Mon
မွန်လူမျိုး‌
Total population
8,145,500[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations
 Burma 8 million
 Thailand 114,500
Languages
Mon, Burmese
Religion
Theravada Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Khmer and other Austroasiatic speakers

The Mon (Mon: မောန် or မည်; Burmese: မွန်လူမျိုး‌, pronounced: [mʊ̀ɴ lù mjó]; Thai: มอญ, pronounced [mɔ̄ːn]) are an ethnic group from Burma (Myanmar) living mostly in Mon State, Bago Region, the Irrawaddy Delta and along the southern border of Thailand and Burma. One of the earliest peoples to reside in Southeast Asia, the Mon were responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism in Indochina. The Mon were a major source of influence on the culture of Burma. They speak the Mon language, an Austroasiatic language, and share a common origin with the Nyah Kur people of Thailand from the Mon mandala (polity) of Dvaravati.

The eastern Mon assimilated to Thai culture long ago. The western Mon of Burma were largely absorbed by Bamar society but continue fighting to preserve their language and culture and to regain a greater degree of political autonomy. The Mon of Burma are divided into three sub-groups based on their ancestral region in Lower Burma: the Man Nya (မန်ည) from Pathein (the Irrawaddy Delta) in the west, the Man Duin (မန်ဒိုၚ်) in Bago in the central region, and the Man Da (မန်ဒ) at Mottama in the southeast.[1]

Once the predominant ethno-linguistic group in Lower Burma, speakers of Mon number fewer than one million today,[citation needed] and those of Mon descent number anywhere between two million and eight million.[citation needed] The majority of Mon are monolingual in Burmese and are counted as members of the majority Bamar.

Recent studies have suggested evidence indicating that the Mon and Bamar share a common genetic ancestry. A genetic study done on Mon and Bamar showed a high prevalence of a particular glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) mutation not found among Khmers, Laotians and Thais.[2]

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

The Mon were believed to be one of the earliest people of Indochina. They founded some of the earliest civilizations there, including Dvaravati in Central Thailand (whose culture proliferated into Isan), Sri Gotapura[3] in central Laos (modern Sikhottabong, Vientiane Prefecture) and Northeastern Thailand, Hariphunchai in Northern Thailand and the Thaton Kingdom. They were the first receivers of Theravada missionaries from Sri Lanka, in contrast to their Hindu contemporaries like the Khmer and Cham peoples. The Mon adopted the Pallava alphabet and the oldest form of the Mon script was found in a cave in modern Saraburi dating around 550 AD. Though no remains were found belonging to the Thaton Kingdom, it was mentioned widely in Bamar and Lanna chronicles. The legendary Queen Camadevi from the Chao Phraya River Valley came to rule as the first queen of Hariphunchai (modern Lamphun) kingdom around 800 AD.

After 1000 AD onwards the Mon were under constant pressure. With the Tai peoples migrating from the north and Khmer invasions from the east, the Mons of Dvaravati gave their way to the Lavo Kingdom by around 1000 AD. Descendants of the Dvaravati Mon people are the Nyah Kur people of Isan. The Mon were killed in wars, transported as captives, or assimilated into new cultures. The Mon as an entity virtually disappeared in Chao Phraya Valley. However, Hariphunchai kingdom survived as a Mon outpost in northern Thailand under repeated harassment by the Northern Thai people.

In 1057, King Anawrahta of Pagan Kingdom conquered the Thaton Kingdom. The Mon culture and the Mon script were readily absorbed by the Burmese and the Mons, for the first time, came under Bamar rule. The Mon remained a majority in Lower Burma.

Hariphunchai prospered in the reign of King Aditayaraj (around early twelfth century), who allegedly waged wars with Suryavarman II of Angkor and constructed the Hariphunchai stupa . In 1230, Mangrai, the Northern Thai chief, conquered Hariphunchai and the Mon culture was integrated into Lanna culture. The Lanna adopted the Mon script and religion.

Razadarit (1384-1422)

In 1287, the Pagan Kingdom collapsed, leaving the power vacuum. Wareru, who was born from a Mon mother and a Tai father, at Domwon Village in the Thaton District, went to Sukhothai for merchandise and later eloped with a daughter of the king. He established himself in Mottama and was proclaimed king of the Mon. The capital was later moved to Bago. His Hanthawaddy Kingdom (1287–1539) was a prosperous period for the Mon in both power and culture. The Mon were consolidated under King Razadarit (1383–1422), who successfully fended off invasions by the Bamar Ava Kingdom. The reigns of Queen Shin Sawbu (1453–1472) and King Dhammazedi (1472–1492) were the time of peace and prosperity.

The Bamar, however, regained their momentum at Taungoo in the early sixteenth century. Hanthawaddy fell to the invasion of King Tabinshwehti of Taungoo in 1539. After the death of the king, the Mon were temporarily freed from Bamar rule by Smim Htaw, but they were defeated by King Bayinnaung in 1551. The Bamar moved their capital to Bago, keeping the Mon in contact with royal authority. Over next two hundred years, the Mon of Lower Burma came under Bamar rule.

Lower Burma became effectively war fronts between the Bamar, the Thai and the Rakhine people. Following King Naresuan’s campaigns against the Bamar, the Mon were, either forced or voluntarily, moved to Thailand. The collapse of Mon power propagated waves of migration into Thailand, were they were permitted to live in city of Ayutthaya. A Mon monk became a chief advisor to King Naresuan.

Bago was plundered by the Rakhine in 1599. Bamar authority collapsed and the Mon loosely established themselves around Mottama. Only with the unification of King Anaukpetlun in 1616 were the Mon again under the rule of the Bamar. The Mon rebelled in 1661 but it was put down by King Pye Min. Mon refugees were granted residence in western Thailand by the Thai king. The Mons then played a major role in Thai military and politics. A special regiment was created for the Mon serving the Thai king.

Bamar power declined rapidly in the early eighteenth century. Finally, the Mon rebelled again at Bago in 1740 with the help of the Gwe Shan people. A Bamar monk with Taungoo royal lineage was proclaimed king of Bago and was later succeeded by Binnya Dala in 1747. With the French support, the Mon were able to establish an independent kingdom for 17 years before falling to Alaungpaya in 1757. Alaungpaya, the Bamar ruler U Aungzeya, invaded and devastated the kingdom, killing tens of thousands of Mon, including learned Mon priests, pregnant women, and children. Over 3000 priests were massacred by the victorious Bamar in the capital city alone. Thousands more priests were killed in the countryside. Alaungpaya's army was hugely supported by the British army. This time, Bamar rule was harsh. The Mon were largely massacred, encouraging a large migration to Thailand and Lanna.

The Mon rebelled at Dagon in the reign of Hsinbyushin of the Konbaung Dynasty and the city was razed to the ground. Again in 1814 the Mons rebelled and were as harshly as before put down. These rebellions generated a huge wave of migrations that the Child-Prince Mongkut proceeded to welcome the Mon himself.

The Mon in Thailand were settled in two areas – Pak Kred in Nonthaburi and Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan. Other minor Mon settlements were found throughout Central Thailand. Over time, the Mons were effectively integrated into Siamese society and culture.

The 61st Anniversary of Mon National Day in London

Colonial period[edit]

An ethnic Mon woman in Thailand, in 1904.

Burma was conquered by the British in a series of wars. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War, the Mon territories were completely under the control of the British. The Mon aided the British to free themselves from the rule of the Burman monarchy. Under Burman rule, the Mon people had been massacred after they lost their kingdom and many sought asylum in the Thai Kingdom. The British conquest of Burma allowed the Mon people to survive in Southern Burma.

After Burmese independence[edit]

The Mon soon became anti-colonialists and following the grant of independence to Burma in 1948 they sought self-determination, U Nu refused them this and they rose in revolt to be crushed again.

They have remained a repressed and defiant group in the country since then. They have risen in revolt against the central Burmese government on a number of occasions, initially under the Mon People's Front and from 1962 through the New Mon State Party. A partially autonomous Mon state, Monland, was created in 1974 covering Tenasserim, Pegu and Ayeyarwady River. Resistance continued until 1995 when NMSP and SLORC agreed a cease-fire and, in 1996, the Mon Unity League was founded.

In 1947, Mon National Day was created to celebrate the ancient founding of Hanthawady, the last Mon Kingdom, which had its seat in Pegu. (It follows the full moon on the 11th month of the Mon lunar calendar, except in Phrapadaeng, Thailand, where it is celebrated at Songkran.)

The largest Mon refugee communities are currently in Thailand, with smaller communities in the United States (the largest community being in Fort Wayne, Indiana and the second largest being Akron, Ohio), Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

Language and script[edit]

See also: Mon language

The Mon language is part of the Monic group of the Mon–Khmer family, closely related to the Nyah Kur language and more distantly related to Khmer. The writing system is Indic based. The Burmans adapted the Mon script for Burmese following their conquest of Mon territory during Anawrahta's reign.

Traditional culture[edit]

Members of the younger generation in folk costume

Mon culture and traditional heritages includes spiritual dances, musical instruments such as the kyam or "crocodile xylophone", the saung harp and a flat stringed instrument. Mon dances are usually played in a formal theater or sometimes in an informal district of any village. The dances are followed by background music using a circular set of tuned drums and claps, crocodile xylophone, gongs, flute, flat guitar, harp, etc. Mon in Burma wear clothes similar to the Bamars. Those living in Thailand have adopted Thai style scarfs and skirts.

The symbol of the Mon people is the hongsa (Mon: ဟံသာ, [hɔŋsa]), a mythological water bird that is often illustrated as a swan. The hongsa is the state symbol of Bago Region and Mon State, two historical Mon strongholds. It is commonly known by its Burmese name, hintha (Burmese: ဟင်္သာ, IPA: [hɪ́ɴθà]).

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 'Historic Lamphun: Capital of the Mon Kingdom of Haripunchai', in: Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David, Ancient Chiang Mai Volume 4. Chiang Mai, Cognoscenti Books, 2012. ASIN: B006J541LE
  • Mon Nationalism and Civil War in Burma

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]