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 – Hawkulaw gerwaw

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

Hawkulaw gerwaw

Relates to region

The Karen words for region are exclusively used to refer to Burma and its peoples, with the language having no particular word to embody any of the other countries in the area. The concept of region has two words, both with the same meaning, but classified by the use of a separate identifier – although the literal term of law ‘to cry’ it is often used as part of the word hawku which translates also as ‘land’.


– hawku (law) – land (area)

– gerwaw – circle

What is exactly meant by a Karen ‘region’ is somewhat blurred.  Generally the reference is to the Karen ‘region’ within Burma but sometimes a wider area is implied.  Although Thailand is home to over 300,000 Sgaw and 50,000 Pwo Karen it is not normally associated within the Karen National Union definition of region. Nevertheless in some sections of Karen society there remains the view that the Karen region reaches into Mon state, Thailand (especially Chiang Mai), which according to The Karen History was part of a Karen kingdom that stretched as far as Cambodia prior to its usurpation by a Tai King.[1]

These historic claims materialised shortly after the Second World War when, with Karen nationalism on the rise and the prospect of Burma’s independence being granted, the KNU sent a memorandum to the British government asking for a free Karen country they designated as the ‘United Frontier Free States’ which were to include Tennesserim, Nyaunglebin, parts of Pegu and also Chiang Mai.

While the Karen leadership has abandoned such claims on parts of Thailand, there remains friction regarding Tennesserim, in Mon state, which has been designated as the Karen’s 4th Brigade area. While for the most part animosities have been checked, mainly due to the intervention of the National Democratic Front, sporadic arguments have resulted in fire-fights with the last major occurrence taking place in 1988 over the trading gate at Three Pagodas Pass. It would appear the relationship at least between the KNU and the main New Mon State Party, which has signed a ceasefire with the Burmese government,  is now relatively stable.

However, it must be noted that the KNU still recognizes large parts of Mon state to be part of a greater Karen country and an accommodation would need to be made between both sides should the Karen, and all of the groups belonging to the National Democratic Front, realise their genuine federation of states. Such an agreement will not be easily achieved due to the Karen insistence, since 1947, that they have a country with a seaboard.




[1] See Saw Aung Hla ‘The Karen History’


No Comments so far ↓

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

Leave a Comment