The Ethnic Peoples of Modern Day Myanmar

The people of Burma are a numerous collection of many indigenous tribes and different peoples that have migrated in along familiar path ways across ancient lands or travelled from far away islands and horizons from all directions and pre dating borders by many centuries before. There is no surprise to see so many different races and cultures that have all come together over time to bring about the new face of Burma and all this remarkable lands stands for. The last of a long line of ancient Asian empires now opening up to western requests for expedition and further understanding, Burma, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar as it is also known, offers the latest breed of traveller the last chance to see how a secluded empire, shielded away from international recognition for so many years, can now open up and invite the world to see its inner glory for itself.

What lies ahead for this newest and most infantile of global travel destinations nobody really knows, especially as this majestic of countries is still in the throes of shaking of repression, and is currently desperately trying to lay some sort of infrastructure for future development. What can be counted on however, is a fascinating wonder for the intrepid traveller to marvel at the valuables of this unspoilt jewel and behold the amazing journey this land and peoples has come through. The people of Burma surely is a collection of peoples that have migrated and blended in to the social pattern of what we can now find as modern day Myanmar and will be responsible for the most warmest of welcomes wherever you travel throughout this intriguing land.


There are actually over 135 ethnic groups making up the modern day face of the Burmese people. The large part of this number, some three quarters of all Burmese are direct descendants of the Myanmar people coming from the north out of the Tibetan and Chinese region. These people are also known as Burmese or Bama or alternatively Mranma. Most ethnic races apart from recent immigrants from neighbouring China and India still seek out their existence in the hills as they have done since time in memorial. There have been three separate migrations from these northern lands and some ancient dialects still can be heard in these hills, if you can locate them, that is.

The first of these famous migrations was that of the Mons. The Mon was of the original race appearing in the South East Asia region and settled down the Eastern Burmese border region that neighbour’s modern day Thailand. These people were known to have brought the religious knowledge of Theravada Buddhism that is still followed vigorously today throughout Burma and Thailand. The Mon race settled in the Ayeyarwaddy River Delta and made a home in the fertile valley. Their descendants can easily be found today in the Eastern states of Mon and Karen.

The second significant exodus south into the region came from settlers hailing from sources found in Tibeto-Myanmar regions of the mountains.  The third great migration to Myanmar happened during the 13th and 14th centuries and contained people now recognised as the Tai Shan race. The modern day Bamars form the largest current ethnic group consisting of around 68% of the total present population.  Also called ethnic Myanmars their heritage includes a mix with the Mon and Tai Shan peoples. They are predominantly Buddhist but are only likely to be found in the river valleys and plains.


The Rakhine or Arakenese form the second largest group and settled over time throughout the west of Myanmar. There are three million Arakenese now living down the Burmese West Coast and all are Buddhist. Their language is shared with that of the Bamar people. The third largest are the Karen or Kayin living in the East like the Mon.

The next group are the Shin and their descendants have the closest links to modern day Thais and people of Laos. The Chin people and Kachins also have a long history in the region and are still prevalent today. The Red Kayin people are now known as the Kayah and can be found in Kayah State.