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During the political transition in the 2010s, Kengtung, a remote town in eastern Myanmar, has seen an unprecedented emergence of Shan ethnic organisations. These Shan groups work on a wide range of issues from maintenance of tradition and custom to local development. They were also established at different times and range in size from a handful to a few hundred members. Some of them are led by elders whereas others are run by young people.
In mid-2018 I went to Kengtung to inquire into how these Shan organisations have developed in the multi-ethnic town with a Shan majority population and how they relate to other ethnic groups. In this seminar I will report on 8 months of field work studying 12 different Shan organisations in Kengtung. I will draw on interviews with about 40 informants who are the leaders of these organisations and about 20 other informants who are not directly associated with these organisations.
Based on their memberships, purposes and activities, I classify these 12 Shan organisations into two categories: organisations which exclude members of other ethnic groups and organisations that include members of other ethnic groups. Most of the exclusive organisations are culture and education organisations such as the long-established various Shan Literature and Culture Associations which lead annual Shan New Year events (see the photo), a Shan monastic school teaching English and the recently established Tai National School.
On the other hand, inclusive organisations are also working on education as well as social welfare, development and youth affairs. Almost all of them were formed after 2010. They include a Shan monastic school in a remote area providing primary education, an orphanage in town, a Shan NGO and small youth groups that provide an array of social services.
I first ask the basic question: why are some Shan organisations exclusive and some inclusive? Specifically, why are some culture and education types of Shan organisations exclusive while education, social welfare, development, and youth types of Shan organisations are inclusive? And why are education type of organisations are both exclusive and inclusive?
I am considering a few approaches in response to these questions, which I will explore in this seminar. My preliminary observation is that the exclusive Shan organisations claim to preserve Shan culture and language which is closely related to the idea of decency. On the other hand, inclusive organisations engage in civic activities to help others.
About the Speaker
Sai Maung began his PhD candidature in 2016 at the Department of Political and Social Change, the Australian National University. He has a master’s degree in Anthropology also from ANU. He originally came from Kengtung.