Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Karen – Ta daw Tha de

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

Ta daw Tha de

Relates to defence


– Ta daw – Shield

– Tha deh – Umbrella (material covering)

The  speeches of KNU leader Saw Ba U Gyi linked the idea of defence to the retention of arms on the part of the Karen. This particular understanding of self-defence has continued to surface throughout a number of Karen propaganda speeches. He declared, for instance, that the people ought not to ‘discard or throw away their weapons’ because people who ‘love their nation’ will be determined to ‘shelter’ (ta daw tha de) their nation. The author states:

Ter Per law Hsu K’wel, Ter Hsuit Kwei Hsu K’wel, Ter Nyo Kwei Hsu K’wel Nay May Ter Doo Ter Kwei Ter Daw Th’day Ter K’hu K’yar Kay P’pwart K’lu A’ko Pwart Lay A’eh A’pwart K’lu Thart Aao K’hu K’yar A’pwart K’lu K’daw Th’day P’pwart K’lu Ler Ter mart Aye Mart Thaw T’per A’gaw Lay T’kay Ter K’per law Hsu K’welt T’gay nay K’ber Tel Wel Nay Law.

“[do not] discard or throw away the weapons [because to] prevent persecution [and] to defend people someone who loves [their] nation will defend their people [from] persecution [and give] them shelter. Never talk about surrender.”

A second expression used for defence —one used more  frequently in local settings — translates more accurately as ‘protection’, K’hu K’yar . It suggests an analogy with chickens being looked after by their mother, and thus a maternal form of protection.

It is literally:

– Gehu – Hold under wings

– Gaya – [From] attack

In everyday language, therefore, ‘defence’ carries a positive connotation, embedded in familial relationships.  This reinforces the moral character of the demand to retain arms.

Another expression with a similar sense and common roots in Tha Noo Htoo relates to the Right of Defence, or , dtakwe dtaya leh geh dawthedeh gey eh thathemu. Literally:

– dtakwedtaya – permission/right

– leh – to

– geh – will

– dawthedeh – defend

– gey – go

– thathemu – life

For example,

Pwart K’nyaw T’gar Nay Aao Dot A’ter kwet Ter Yar Lay K’daw Th’day Kay A’thart Tha Moo (The Right of Defence) nay law. Ter Daw Th’day Law Kay Thart Nay May Ter Aao Moo Ter Kwet Ter Yar Nay Law. Na Daw Th’day, Na Traw Hser Ter nay Ter K’mart Aye Mart That, Ter K’mart hsu Mart Hser Nart Mart Thi Nart Nay T’may Ter mart Aye Mart Thaw Ber.

“A person must have the right of defence to protect his/her life – it is the right of people. It is not an abuse to protect yourself, defend yourself [from] persecution, torture, and killing.”

The Karen National Union has maintained that they took up arms for defensive reasons. They point not only to the independence years but also to historical precedents when they claim that ethnic Burmans entered the country and forced  Karen from their homes. For the Karen, their struggle has always been described in defensive terms.



[1] ‘Karen and Politics’, Kwe Ka Baung, Issue 3 pg.3


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