The 62nd Annual Karen State Day ceremony opened in Hpa-An on 7 November. The event, which will run until 11 November, includes a fair with games and food vendors, Karen cultural displays, and various competitions such as traditional dance, badminton, boxing, and cane-ball.
The event started with a speech by the Karen State Chief Minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint, in which she spoke of looking towards the future. Attendees included U Myint Swe, Vice President of Burma, representatives from every department of the Karen State government, the military, and police.
Also present were KNU officials and committee members, who in the past have been barred from attending due to the war with the Burma government. Since the 2015 signing of the National Ceasefire Agreement, the KNU and ethnic leaders have been invited to join with the state-level government in celebrating Karen State Day.
Padoh Shwe Maunn, head of the KNU’s Doo Pla Ya district, said, “Before the Burma government would not allow us to participate in this event, but now that the ceasefire is signed, we have the opportunity to work with the state level government. This is good for our people’s future, to progress in peace step-by-step.”
In addition to demonstrations of Karen culture such as traditional weaving, the various departments of the Karen State government, such as agriculture, transportation, and forestry, are running displays to educate people about their work. An exhibition by the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee includes highlights of their activities and the progression of the ceasefire.
A controversial coal power plant project in Wutt Kyi village in Hpa-an Township is among the displays featured by the government departments, while a prayer service was held opposing the project by local villagers at the planned project site on the fair’s opening day.
Two to three thousand people are expected to attend the festivities this year. Some, such as traditional dance competition judge, Aung Thein, said the event is important to bring Karen people together to celebrate their culture.
“It is very important to display Karen culture, for all people living in Karen State,” Aung Thein said. “Education and culture are the two most important things for the Karen people to move forward.”
However, not everyone felt Karen State Day does enough to represent all Karen people. Nan Mya Thida, writer for the Research Institute for Society and Ecology, said that while she thinks the event is important for educating people about Karen history and the root cause of the conflict, some of the government development projects on display neglect people in rural and marginalized communities.
Speaking to Karen News, Nan Mya Thida said, “What I want to ask is do they [government officials] know the core social and cultural values of the people living in Karen State? Here everything is all modernized, this is not traditional culture. Rural people don’t want to come here, it is so noisy and modern.”
Nan Mya Thida continued that in the future, the government needs to listen more to community voices and display the activities the native people want to see.
Karen State Day was first held in 1962 by the state-level government. Its aim is to provide education about Karen culture for all individuals living in Karen State regardless of their ethnicity, and to preserve Karen traditions for future generations.