Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific header image 2

Karen – Dta p’tu Dta Ka

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Ceasefire, Karen

Dta p’tu Dta Ka

Relates to ceasefire

The Karen word for cease-fire translates as ‘stop shooting,’ and does not necessarily convey the same meaning as the English equivalent. Literally:

– Dta p’tu – stop

– Dta Ka – shooting

It may be applied to very local situations and conveys the idea of a general suspension of hostilities, and not merely ‘stop shooting’.  It can be used to suggest that a conflict has ended in a certain area – for example following a recent army operation.

For instance, in its 57th Revolution Day statement the Karen National Union declared that it would seek to quickly discuss the current ceasefire agreement [for the betterment] of the whole country:

Dta p’tu Dta Ka Lay Tee Law Kaw Puu Daw Ta Bay Aa Puu Dot K’sa Taw K’tolt tha Kolt Ter Lay Aa Klay Aa Gaw Nay Law.

“The ceasefire in the whole country will be discussed as soon as possible.”

In the midst of increasing abuses by the Burmese regime in Karen National Union 2nd and 3rd Brigade areas, the Karen Youth Organisation—in an April 2006 statement regarding the ongoing offensive—reminds the people that:

K’Nyaw Daw K’lu Hser Pwo K’ray Dot Na Aa Pa Nay Pel 2004 Lah January Aa Puu Nay Heet Nay Wel Ter Ber Thart Ber Khart Ter K’tolt Ter Aher Law Aaw Law Ter P’tu Ter Khart Nay Law. Ber Hsar Kel Aeh P’thi Wel Der Lay Na Aa Pa Aa Ter Mar Thay Nay T’per Lu Per Pwe, T’per Pa Naw Wel Ter Aher Law Aaw Law Aeh Bur Nay Law.

“[The] Karen National Union and [the] SPDC [in] January 2004 had [an] agreement about [the] ceasefire but now we see that [the] SPDC do not respect or recognize the agreement.”

The Burmese here appear to see a ceasefire as temporary, while the Karen have an expectation that it is longer lasting.  One sign that the word ‘ceasefire’ has caused confusion is that it was dropped altogether in a recent episode. The Karen National Liberation Army/Karen National Union have had cease-fire agreements with the Burmese government on a number of occasions, most of which have collapsed amid increased Burmese offensives. The most recent such agreement began in late December 2003/January 2004 and broke down in 2005, after the KNU were accused by the government of a bomb attack in Rangoon . In the dialogue in this case, however, a new term replaced the prevailing term ‘ceasefire’. The phrase ‘gentleman’s agreement’ was introduced, and is a direct translation from the English:

– pwa doet ta yu yaw – Gentleman (respected elder)

– ta er lor or lor – Agreement or pact

It must also be noted that it is unlikely that the majority of Karen would apply the present contextual meaning to the term. At least one Karen leader who works closely with Karen villagers in Karen state used a literal translation meaning ‘the old men’s agreement (referring to Gen Bo Mya and then Prime Minister Khin Nyunt)’[1] and villagers generally understood this to mean the then-current ceasefire. The Karen term for ceasefire  has too broad a meaning and would most likely only be understood by those in the Karen political hierarchy as relating to the suggestion of ‘ceasefire’ in a western context.

After a 2006 split within the KNU ranks, it was reported that the Burmese army were no longer interested in maintaining a ‘Gentleman’s agreement’. The KNU’s General Secretary reported that after a recent delegation had spoken to the Junta the response had been:

“They said that from their part, the gentleman’s agreement is a matter of the past. They don’t want to start from the past. They insinuated that they want to start with new steps. As for other matters we must discuss them when we have dialogues, they said.”[2]

It is likely therefore that the expression will now carry with it either the further connotation of a failed agreement, or will no longer be used.




[1] The term ‘old men’ suggests an honorofic with elders holding deep respect within the Karen community.

[2] Gentleman’s agreement is dead says Burma junta to KNU, DVB, 9/10/06



No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment