Mon people

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Flag of the Mon people.png
Total population
c. 1.7 million
Regions with significant populations
 Myanmarc. 1.1 million[a][1]
Mon, Burmese, Thai
Theravada Buddhism, Mon folk religion
Related ethnic groups

The Mon (Mon: ဂကူမည်; Burmese: မွန်လူမျိုး‌, pronounced [mʊ̀ɰ̃ lù mjó]; Thai: มอญ, pronounced [mɔ̄ːn] listen ) are an ethnic group who inhabit Lower Myanmar's[2] Mon State, Kayin State, Kayah State,[3] Tanintharyi Region, Bago Region, the Irrawaddy Delta, and several areas in Thailand (mostly in Pathum Thani province, Phra Pradaeng and Nong Ya Plong). There are also small numbers of Mon people in West Garo Hills, calling themselves Man or Mann, who also came from Myanmar to Assam, ultimately residing in Garo Hills.[4][5][6] The native language is Mon, which belongs to the Monic branch of the Mon-Khmer language family and shares a common origin with the Nyah Kur language, which is spoken by the people of the same name that live in Northeastern Thailand. A number of languages in Mainland Southeast Asia are influenced by the Mon language, which is also in turn influenced by those languages.[7][8][9]

The Mon were one of the earliest to reside in Southeast Asia, and were responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism in Mainland Southeast Asia.[10][11] The civilizations founded by the Mon were some of the earliest in Thailand as well as Myanmar and Laos. The Mon are regarded as a large exporter of Southeast Asian culture.[12] Historically, many cities in Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos today, including Yangon, Bangkok, and Vientiane were founded either by the Mon people or Mon rulers.

Nowadays, the Mon are a major ethnic group in Myanmar and a minor ethnic group in Thailand.[6] The Mons from Myanmar are called Burmese Mon or Myanmar Mon. The Mons from Thailand are referred as Thai Raman or Thai Mon.[13][14] The Mon dialects of Thailand and Myanmar are mutually intelligible.[15]


In the Burmese language, the term Mon (spelt မွန်, pronounced [mʊ̀ɰ̃]) is used. During the pre-colonial era, the Burmese used the term Talaing (တလိုင်း), which was subsequently adopted by the British, who also referred to the Mon as Peguan, during the colonial era.[16] The exonym "Peguan" was originally adopted by the European writers at the time when Pegu was the capital of Lower Myanmar.[17] The etymology of Talaing is debated; it may be derived from Telinga or Kalinga, a geographic region in southeast India.[18] The use of "Talaing" predates the Burmese conquest of the Hanthawaddy Kingdom and has been found on inscriptions dating to the reign of Anawrahta in the 11th century.[18] In 1930 and 1947, Mon ethnic leaders, who considered the term "Talaing" to be pejorative, petitioned against the use of the term. "Talaing" is now obsolete in modern Burmese, except in the context of specific historical terms, such as the eponymous song genre in the Mahagita, the corpus of Burmese classical songs.

The Burmese term "Mon" is synonymous with the Burmese word for "Noble".[19] In the Mon language, the Mon are known as the Mon (spelt မန် and pronounced /mòn/), based on the Pali term Rāmañña (ရာမည), which refers to the Mon heartland along the Burmese coast.[20][21] In classical Mon literature, they are known as the Raman (ရာမန်).[16] The Mon of Myanmar are divided into three sub-groups based on their ancestral region in Lower Myanmar, including Mon Nya (မန်ည; /mòn ɲaˀ) from Pathein (the Irrawaddy Delta) in the west, Mon Tang (မန်ဒိုင်; /mòn tàŋ/) in Bago in the central region, and Mon Teh (မန်ဒ; /mòn tɛ̀ˀ/) at Mottama in the southeast.[22]



In around 3,000–2,000 BCE, the Mon people, descended from Proto-Austroasiatic people, possibly began migrating down from the Yangtze Kiang valley in Southern China to the Southwest along the rivers of Mekong, Salween, Sittaung, Irrawaddy, and further to Ping and Chao Phaya,[23][11][24] bringing with them the practice of riverine agriculture, particularly the cultivation of wet rice.[25][26] According to U Ye Sein and Geoffrey Benjamin, the Mon settlement reached south as far as Malaya.[11][27]

Early history[edit]

Ban Tha Lat, Mon inscription (9th CE), was found in 1968, in an area where other pieces of archaeological evidence testified to an ancient Mon presence. It is now at Ho Phra Kaeo Museum, Vientiane, Laos[28][29]
Map of Southeast Asia c. 900 CE, showing the Hariphunchai in light green.
Queen regnant Camadevi Monument in Lamphun, Thailand

The Mon are believed to be one of the earliest peoples of Mainland Southeast Asia. They founded some of the earliest civilizations there, including Dvaravati in Central Thailand (whose culture proliferated into Isan), Sri Gotapura in central Laos (modern Sikhottabong, Vientiane Prefecture) and Northeastern Thailand,[30][31]: 6, 7 [32][33][34] Hariphunchai Kingdom in Northern Thailand and the Thaton Kingdom in Lower Burma.[35]: 63, 76–77  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 CE.[36][37][38] Though no remains were found belonging to the Thaton Kingdom, it was mentioned widely in Bamar and Lanna chronicles.

According to the Northern Thai Chronicles, Lavo (modern Lopburi) was founded by Phaya Kalavarnadishraj, who came from Takkasila in 648 CE.[39][40]According to Thai records, Phaya Kakabatr from Takkasila (it is assumed that the city was Tak or Nakhon Chai Si)[41][42]: 29 [43] set the new era, Chula Sakarat in 638 CE,[44]: 22  which was the era used by the Siamese and the Burmese until the 19th century. His son, Phaya Kalavarnadishraj founded the city a decade later. Around the late 7th century, Lavo expanded to the north. The legendary Queen Camadevi from the Chao Phaya River Valley, was said to be a daughter of a Lavo king, as told in the Northern Thai Chronicle Cāmadevivaṃsa and other sources, came to rule as the first queen of Hariphunchai (modern Lamphun) kingdom around 750-800 CE.[45][46][47][48] A few years later, Prince Anantayot, son of Queen Camadevi, founded Khelang Nakhon (modern Lampang), playing an important part in the history of the Hariphunchai Kingdom.[49]: 28 

After 1000 CE onwards, the Mon were under constant pressure with the Tai peoples migrating from the north and Khmer invasions from the Khmer Empire in the east. A significant portion of the Dvaravati Mons fled west to the present-day Lower Burma. The Mons of Dvaravati gave their way to the Lavo Kingdom by around 1000 CE. Descendants of the Dvaravati Mon people are the Nyah Kur people of present-day Isan. The Mon were killed in wars, transported as captives, or assimilated into new cultures. The Mon as an entity virtually disappeared in Chao Phaya Valley. However, Hariphunchai kingdom survived as a Mon outpost in northern Thailand under repeated harassment by the Northern Thai people.

Myazedi Inscription (AD 1113) in Mon language in Bagan. One of the oldest surviving stone inscriptions in Myanmar.

In 1057 CE, King Anawrahta of Pagan Kingdom conquered the Mon's Thaton Kingdom in Lower Burma.[35]: 149  The Mon culture and the Mon script were readily absorbed by the Bamar (Burmans) and the Mons, for the first time, came into Bamar hegemony. The Mon remained a majority in Lower Burma.[50]: 307 [51]: 32, 33 

On the one hand, Mon's Hariphunchai Kingdom prospered in the reign of King Aditayaraj (around early twelfth century), who allegedly waged wars with Suryavarman II of Angkor (between 1113 and 1150 CE)[35]: 161, 195  and constructed the Hariphunchai stupa (in present-day Lamphun, northern Thailand). In 1289, Mangrai also known as Mengrai[c] was visited by merchants from the Mon kingdom of Haripunchai. Hearing of the wealth of that kingdom, he determined to conquer it, against the advice of his counselors.[52] As it was thought impossible to take the city by force, Mangrai sent a merchant named Ai Fa as a mole to gain the confidence of its Phaya Yi Ba. In time, Ai Fa became the Chief Minister and managed to undermine the King's authority.[53]: 38 [54] In 1292, with the people in a state of discontent, Mangrai defeated the Mon kingdom and added Haripunchai to his kingdom. Phaya Yi Ba, the last king of Hariphunchai, was forced to flee south to Lampang.[35]: 208–209  A few years later, Phaya Yi Ba's son, King Boek of Lampang, attacked Chiang Mai with a large army. King Mangrai and his second son, Prince Khram, led the defence against the Lampang army. Prince Khram defeated King Boek in personal combat on elephant-back at Khua Mung, a village near Lamphun. King Boek fled by way of the Doi Khun Tan mountain range between Lamphun and Lampang, but he was caught and executed.[52] King Mangrai's troops occupied the city of Lampang, and Phaya Yi Ba was made to flee further south, this time to Phitsanulok. The Mon culture was integrated into Lan Na culture. The Lan Na adopted the Mon script and religion.[55]: 29, 30 [56][57]

13th to 15th centuries[edit]

In 1287, the Pagan Kingdom collapsed, leaving the power vacuum. Wareru, who was born from a Mon mother and a Tai father, at Donwun 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 Pegu (Bago). His Hanthawaddy Kingdom (1287–1539) was a prosperous period for the Mon in both power and culture. The Mon were consolidated under King Rajathiraj (1383–1422), who successfully fended off invasions by the Ava Kingdom. The reigns of Queen Shin Sawbu (1453–1472) and King Dhammazedi (1472–1492) were a time of peace and prosperity.

16th to 17th centuries[edit]

The Bamar, however, regained their momentum at Taungoo in the early sixteenth century. Hanthawaddy (Hongsawadee) 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 of Taungoo in 1551. The Bamar moved their capital to the former Mon's Hanthawaddy capital, Pegu (Bago), keeping the Mon in contact with royal authority. Over the next two hundred years, the Mon of Lower Burma came under Bamar rule.

Under Bamar rule, Lower Burma became effectively warfronts between the Bamar, the Thai and the Rakhine. After the passing of Bayinnaung, his son King Nanda of Toungoo Empire used more oppressed rules against Mon people. In 1584, King Nanda secretly sent two Mon chiefs; Phaya Kiat and Phaya Ram to assassinate Naresuan of Phitsanulok in Kraeng. Upon learning Naresuan was not at fault, Phaya Kiat and Phaya Ram joined Naresuan's campaigns against the Bamar's Toungoo court.[58] Then, the Mon were, either forced or voluntarily, moved to Ayutthaya (now Siam or Thailand). The collapse of Mon power propagated waves of migration into Siam, where they were permitted to live in the city of Ayutthaya. A Mon monk became a chief advisor to King Naresuan.

Pegu (Bago), the capital of Toungoo Empire was plundered by the Rakhine in 1599. Bamar authority collapsed and the Mon loosely established themselves around Mottama (Martaban). Following reunification under King Anaukpetlun in 1616, the Mon once again came under Bamar hegemony. The Mon rebelled in 1661 but the rebellion was put down by King Pye Min. Mon refugees were granted residence in western Siam by the Siamese king. The Mons then played a major role in Siamese military and politics. A special regiment was created for the Mon serving the Siamese kings.

18th to 19th centuries[edit]

Bamar power declined rapidly in the early eighteenth century. Finally, to restore their former Hanthawaddy (Hongsawadee) Kingdom, the Mon rebelled again at Bago in 1740 with the help of the Gwe Shan people. A 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 as Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom before falling to the Bamar King Alaungpaya in 1757. Alaungpaya, the Bamar ruler U Aungzeya, invaded and devastated the kingdom, killing tens of thousands of Mon civilians, including learned Mon monks, pregnant women, and children. Over 3,000 Mon monks were massacred by the victorious Bamar soldiers in the capital city alone.[59][60][61] Thousands more monks were killed in the countryside. Alaungpaya's army also fought against the British East India Company. This time, Bamar rule was harsh. The Mon were largely massacred, encouraging a large migration to Siam (Thailand) and Lanna. The Mon rebelled at Dagon in the reign of Hsinbyushin of the Konbaung dynasty of Burma 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 of Mon people from Burma to Siam.

Rama I – founder of the reigning Chakri dynasty of Siam (now Thailand)

On the one hand in Siam side, after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, two descendants of Mon aristocrats who moved to Siam in 1584; Phraya Pichai and Phraya Chakri became the left and right-hand man of King Taksin of Thonburi, and they largely helped Taksin's campaigns in the liberation of Siam from Burmese occupation and reuniting Siam.[62] King Taksin himself also was a Sino-Mon descent and his maternal grandmother was a sister to chief of Siam's Mon community.

After the collapse of Taksin's Thonburi Kingdom, Phraya Chakri founded the Chakri dynasty and ascended the throne in 1782 as Rama I. Rama I was born to Thongdi, a leading Mon nobleman serving the royal court in Ayutthaya in 1737.[63] Rama I's queen consort Amarindra was born to a wealthy Mon family who migrated to Siam in the earlier times. Rama I founded Bangkok City and moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok. When a huge wave of Mon migrations from Burma (now Myanmar) to Siam (now Thailand) happened in 1814, his grandson, the Prince Mongkut (later Rama IV) proceeded to welcome the Mon himself at the Siam-Burma border. Mongkut himself and the Chakri dynasty of Thailand today are of partial Mon ancestry.

The Mon in Thailand settled mainly in certain areas of Central Thailand, such as Pak Kret in Nonthaburi, Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan and Ban Pong, among other minor Mon settlements. Mon communities built their own Buddhist temples.[64] Over time, the Mons were effectively integrated into Siamese society and culture, although maintaining some of their traditions and identity.[65]

19th to 20th centuries[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 in 1852, the Mon territories in Burma were completely under the control of the British. The British aided the Mons 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.

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 Mon soon became anti-colonialists. Following the grant of independence to Burma in 1948, they sought self-determination. U Nu, the first Prime Minister of Burma refused the Mon self-determination. Mon separatist groups 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 (NMSP). The BSSP-led government established a partially autonomous Mon State in 1974 out of portions of Tenasserim and Pegu regions. Resistance continued until 1995 when NMSP and ruling SLORC agreed a cease-fire and, in 1996, the Mon Unity League was founded.

21st century[edit]

Nowadays, the Mon are a major ethnic group in Myanmar and a minor ethnic group in Thailand.[6]The Mons from Myanmar are called Burmese Mon or Myanmar Mon. The Mons from Thailand are referred as Thai Raman or Thai Mon.[13][66] A recent study shows that there is a close genetic relationship between central Thai and Mon people in Thailand, who migrated from southern Myanmar.[67]

Due to the post-independence internal conflict in Myanmar, many ethnic Mon from conflict zones have migrated to the First World countries via the refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar borders and in Malaysia. The Myanmar Mon refugee communities can be found 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.


Mon script on the Myakan inscription (ca. 1084–1112 CE)

The Mon language is part of the Monic group of the Austroasiatic languages (also known as Mon–Khmer language family), closely related to the Nyah Kur language and more distantly related to Khmer and Vietnamese. The writing system is based on Indic scripts. The Mon language is one of the earliest documented vernacular languages of Mainland Southeast Asia.

Many languages in the region have been influenced by the Mon language. Tai Tham alphabet and Burmese alphabet are adaptations of the Mon script. Tai Tham alphabet is primarily used for Northern Thai language, Tai Lue language, Khün language and Lao Tham language. The Burmese alphabet is used for Burmese language, Shan language, S'gaw Karen language and other languages.

Historically, the Tai adopted the Mon alphabet, which the Tai developed into their own writing systems as the Tai Tham alphabet, for the Thai Yuan people in the northern Thailand.

Although Thai adopted more features from the Old Khmer alphabet than from the Mon, plenty of vocabulary in Thai language today were derived from the Mon language.[68][69] Burmese has derived and borrowed vocabulary from the Mon language, especially related to administration, architecture, cloth, cuisine and flowers.

Nowadays, the Mon language is recognised as an indigenous language in both Myanmar and Thailand. Due to the fall in number of Mon language speakers in the recent decades, Mon was classified as a "vulnerable" language in UNESCO's 2010 Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.[70]



Ceremonial helmet of Queen regnant Shin Sawbu, now at the V&A Museum, London

The symbol of the Mon people is the hongsa (Mon: ဟံသာ, [hɔŋsa]), a mythological water bird that is often illustrated as a swan. It is commonly known by its Burmese name, hintha (Burmese: ဟင်္သာ, IPA: [hɪ́ɰ̃θà]) or its Thai name: hong (หงส์). The hongsa is the state symbol of Myanmar's Bago Region and Mon State, two historical Mon strongholds. Also, the hongsa is the city symbol of Thailand's Pak Kret City, a historical Mon settlement area.


Mon culture and traditional heritages includes spiritual dances, musical instruments such as the kyam or "crocodile xylophone", the la gyan hsaing gong chime, 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, violin, etc.[71]


Mon National Day celebration in Bago, Myanmar (2019)

During Songkran festival in Thailand, the Mon residents of Phra Pradaeng District hosts very unique Mon traditional ceremonies and folklore performances.[72]Loi Khamod festival[73]: 7, 8 [57][74][75][76]Luknoo festival [77][78][79]Mon Floating Boat festival [80][81]Hongsa and Centipede Parade festival [82][83][84][85]


Mon women wear traditional shawl-like Sbai, known as Yat Toot in Mon language, diagonally over the chest covering one shoulder with one end dropping behind the back. This tradition distinguished Mon women from other 134 ethnic groups in Myanmar. Archaeological evidence from the Dvaravati era portrays that Dvaravati ladies wearing what seems to be a piece of Sbai hanging from their shoulder.[86] Mon people of Myanmar and Thailand today are the descendants of Dvaravati.

Mon men in Myanmar wear clothes similar to the Bamars. Those living in Thailand have adopted Thai style garments. It seems that Mon clothing has been shaped through its dynastic traditions as well as external influences.


Htamanè glutinous rice

Mon cuisines and culinary traditions have had significant influences on the Burmese cuisine and Central Thai cuisine today. Some of dishes that are now popular in Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand were originally Mon dishes. For example, Htamanè (ထမနဲ) in Myanmar, and Khanom chin and Khao chae in Thailand. A traditional Mon dish served with rice soaked with cool candle-and-jasmine-scented water is consumed by the Mon people during the Thingyan (Songkran) Festival in the summer. In Thailand, the dish is known as Khao chae (ข้าวแช่) and was considered "royal cuisine".[87][88] As the dish is served during Thingyan as part of their merit-making, it is known as Thingyan rice (သင်္ကြန်ထမင်း) in Myanmar today.[89] Like Cambodian, Lao, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, fermented fish seasoning are used in Mon cuisine.[90]

Folk games[edit]

Many games in both Myanmar and Thailand were Mon origins. Among them, Len Saba (lit.'saba tossing game'; Mon: ဝိုင်မ်ဟနဂ်; Burmese: ဂုံညင်းဒိုး), Lor Kon Krok (Rolling a Mortar Bottom) and Mon Son Pa (Mon Hides a Cloth) are the most famous Mon traditional children games and are recognised as Intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.[91][92]


Notable people[edit]


See also[edit]



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Further reading[edit]

  • Forbes, Andrew; Henley, David (2012). "Historic Lamphun: Capital of the Mon Kingdom of Hariphunchai". Ancient Chiang Mai. Vol. 4. Cognoscenti Books. ASIN B006J541LE.
  • South, Ashley (2013). Mon Nationalism and Civil War in Burma: The Golden Sheldrake. Routledge. ISBN 9781136129629.


  1. ^ According to CIA Factbook, the Mon make up 2% of the total population of Myanmar (55 million) or approximately 1.5 million people.
  2. ^ a b The exact number of Mon living in other countries is unknown. They are usually counted as Burmese or other Asian in censuses.
  3. ^ The name according to historical sources is "Mangrai", and this is used in most modern scholarly applications. "Mengrai", popularised by a 1907 publication, is commonly found in popular usage. Also note that 'Meng' means 'Mon' in Yuan language.

External links[edit]