Burma, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar has an estimated population of 53 million. The Karen people live mostly on the southeast edge of Burma as well as in part of northeastern Thailand. This area that crosses over into two countries is called the Karen State. A constant revolution and the longest running resistance today was started in the end of the British Colonial Era. The Karen state was given a constitution and certain land borders that the head of the state at the time disagreed with strongly. They refused to sign the Panglong Agreement, which was the basis for the constitution of Burma in 1947; nonetheless, a constitution was granted to the Karen state. The main leading political force, the Karen National Union (KNU), during this time was completely unsatisfied, and the KNU raised a rebellion in 1949 that continues today.
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar used to be referred to as Burma; this change was implemented by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. The reason the state is still referred to as Burma is because the Union Solidarity and Development Party is referred as a oppressive regime, making policies that often the majority of the population doesn’t agree with. A retaliation of the citizens of this state often choose to ignore many of the policies of the regime, including the renaming of the state; hence the two names of Burma or Myanmar, both the same place, just different stances.
The number of Karen people in the Kayin state in Myanmar is estimated around 1.5 million people in the Union report, but many other studies report the population of the Karen people is much larger. A more accurate estimate is that 7 million Karen people live in Burma, and about 1 million live in Thailand.
The Karen people speak three main branches of the Karenic languages, Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa’o Karenni. The language is written using the Burmese script.
The majority of the Karen population practices Buddhism, which includes Animism. Around 65-75% of the population are Buddhist, but the Karen of Thailand claim to have their own religion. Around 25% identify as Christian. Around 90-95% of Karen people immigrating into the U.S. are Christian.
Arrival in the U.S.
The Karen people first arrived to the U.S. in 2004. Minnesota is home to the largest concentrated population of the Karen people. Other places with significant populations are California, Texas, New York, and Indiana.
According to the Karen Community of Minnesota, in 2017 there were over 17,000 Karen living in Minnesota. Many live in Saint Paul and Maplewood. Around 90-95% of Karen people immigrating into the U.S. are Christian. There are often many celebrations in Saint Paul and Maplewood for the Karen New Year. The Karen New Year is based on the full moon and is traditionally held on the first day of the month of Pyathoe in the Buddhist calendar. These celebrations often include traditional dancing, music, and singing.