Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Karen – Tee Kaw Dta Ka Lu

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

Tee Kaw Dta Ka Lu

Relates to order


– Tee Kaw – State

– Dta Ka Lu – Command/Order

The Karen language does not have an expression to convey the meaning of order, as in the meaning of state of affairs or of maintaining a status quo. Rather, the Karen word for order  dta ka lu purely refers to the issuance of a command. When asked about the possibility of a word that would suggest an internal social threat to the Kawthoolei state, it was suggested by one Karen official that the word state be placed in front of the verbal form. However, it is unlikely that this would be used to convey the western meaning.

The fact that the Karen language does not have a word for order in relation to stability of the state does not mean that such problems regarding religious, or in some cases political ideology, have not been perceived as a threat to the Karen revolution by certain Karen leaders.

By the 1960s, a millenarian sect, the Telekhon (the Fruit of Wisdom), originally founded in the mid-1800s, had grown to include over 7000 adherents and had come to maintain their own administrative system. The growing popularity of the cult led to its leader, the Phu Chaik, attempting to draw Karen soldiers away form the KNLA and to join what was becoming a radical anti-Burmese government movement. In 1967 the Phu Chaik ordered an unsuccessful attack on a Burmese army position in Kyaikto town. After the attack, which left 24 of the Telekhon fighters dead, the KNU attempted to quash the movement, arresting and executed two of its leaders.

A similar incident occurred in the early 1990s. A vegetarian-Buddhist retreat had grown around a pagoda at Thu Mweh Hta on the Moei River, and a number of KNLA soldiers had abandonned their arms to join the village. Aware of the problem, General Bo Mya appointed one of his commanders to monitor the situation. Set against a backdrop of what was already perceived to be an anti-Buddhist bias by the pre-dominantly Christian leadership, the commander further exacerbated the situation, resulting in over four hundred Buddhists converging on the KNU’s headquarters to vent their frustrations. The inability of General Bo Mya to rectify the situation, attributing the problem to Burmese government instigation, would result in a major split within the Karen movement in 1995.

Despite the fact that such problems are internally produced there is no word in Karen to adequately describe a threat to the state from within its own society – and when such threats do occur they are normally considered to be Burmese agitation.





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