Burma is a country rich in culture and heritage, and of course, its people. There are about 135 distinct tribal groups that are recognised by the Burmese government. These ethnic nationalities are grouped into eight main ethnic races which are grouped primarily according to region rather the dialects spoken or ethnic connection. The Shan Ethnic Race for instance would include 33 sub-groups that would speak variations of dialects but its origins could be traced to four major languages.
This diversity can be attributed to Burma’s geographical position as it acts as a crossroad for neighbouring countries such as China, India and Thailand. There have been more than 2,000 years of cross migration that have led the cultures of these countries to interlace with what was the original Burma culture.
The following is the list of official ethnic tribes recognised by the government of Burma:
The Shan is possibly the largest ethnic community. They speak a language that is closely similar to Thai and Lao. Majority practice Theravada Buddhism and most of them living in the Shan State. They are estimated to number 3 to 4 million.
The Mon tribes are descendants of one of the early societies in the Southeast Asia. Its language is heavily accentuated by the Mon-Khmer tribes of Autro-Asia languages. The Mon language continues to decline as it is not encouraged beyond the fourth grade in government schools.
The Chin originated from Tibet-Burmese peoples. They live in a mountain chain lying along the western part of Burma. There are 40 sub-groups and dialects. The Chin is considered to be one of the large tribal minority groups in Burma.
The Kachin, like the Chin peoples belong to the Tibeto-Burman linguistic group. They inhabit the northern part of Burma almost touching the borders of China and India. Christianity is slowly spreading to this part of the region and is even considered as being the largest Christian minority in Burma with only 10% of its population practicing Buddhism.
The Bamar approximately constitutes two-thirds of Burma’s overall population. It is undoubtedly the biggest cultural minority of Burma. The Bamar live near the Irrawaddy basin. Its people speak the Burmese language. They are of East Asian origins and migrated from the Yunnan region of China 1,200 to 1,500 years ago.
The Kayah, also known as the Karenni have their ancestors traced back to the Sino-Tibetan people. The Kayah actually cover 9 different sub-groups that speak different dialects. The religions being practiced by its 250,000 people is a split between Buddhism and Christianity.
The Kayin people are sometimes referred to as Karen or the Kariang tribes. They dwell in the southeastern part of Burma making up 7% of the entire Burmese population. They speak the dialects Pwo, Sgaw and Pa’o. The Kayin language is considered very unique among similar Tibeto-Burman languages.
The Rakhine makes up an approximate 5.5% of Burma’s population. This tribe are of Arakanese descendants who have lived in the southeastern parts of Bangladesh.