Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Karen – Na Ni

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

Na Ni

Relates to trust

The Karen word for trust, (na ni), is similar to Western conceptions, though it carries also the notion of ‘belief’. Literally:

– Na – faith/belief

– Ni – have

Whether these terms were so closely related prior to the mass Christian conversions that took place in the 1800s is unclear.  Christian Karen are critical of the way many Karen continue to hold to animism.  They not only see this as foolish –the result of people fooling themselves – but they also consider that the retention of such beliefs make a person less trustworthy.  The implication here seems to be that to trust a person requires the sharing of common beliefs – that trust and belief are closely aligned – and that therefore Karen animists can not only be trusted to a limited extent in political matters.  This linking of trust and belief can be viewed as extremely inflammatory, considering that the greater proportion of the Karen population, and Karen forces (Karen National Union [KNU] / Karen National Liberation Army [KNLA] ), are non-Christians.

The following article, taken from issue 3 (1998) of the Karen language Tha Noo Htoo journal and undoubtedly written by a Christian Karen criticizes the belief that many of the Karen hold in animism:

Ber Kart Ter Hsuu Ter Nar A’gay Nay May Ter nar Nay Htee Poe Kaw Poe Law. P’may Kwar Lay Ter Hsi Hsoe Tel Hsoe A’pu, Ter Hsi Hsoe Lay A’hel Taw Tay Wel Lee May Lay Pwart Htee Poe Kaw Poe T’per Duut Aao Taw Nay Wel Nay Law.

“About superstition [it] gives [our] people trust. [But] If we look back through ancient history people [have] created it [themselves].”[1]

Christian Karen decry the belief by many Karen in old religions or superstitions, stating that those who believe such superstitions have fooled themselves. It must be noted in this first quote the author uses the word trust emfe‹>f as opposed to belief w>femf Ter Nar which is especially important in relation to a further paragraph from the article:

Ler Ter Hsi Hso Tel Hso’ A’pu Ter Gay Ler A’hel Kel Tay Lee A’thart T’per, Ter Doh Taw Tall Tol Ter Hsaw T’leh Kwel Thart, Ter Thert Hert Gu Hert Gaw Kel Ler Nay Pwar Htee Poe Kaw Poe T’par Aa T’eh Dot, T’ber Thart Per Twel Khu Wel Ler Kler T’boe boe A’puu P’hti Ber Aaw Lol. Ler Ter Nay A’kol Ter Nar Nay Htee Poe Kaw Poe T’aao, Ge Ber Ter Nar Nay T’aao A’paw Koh Ter Per P’naw Nawl Pert Wel Pwar Ter Per Hser Poe A’hser Thay Wel Law.

“Things happen in history – progress, change, misery. We can see that national people don’t want to follow this way (animism). National people do not have trust, do not feel strong so we limit these people in the revolution.”

The author continues that the situation has changed and that ‘national people’ – implying those who have not changed their beliefs and continue to follow the old ways – cannot be trusted and therefore have no place in the revolution.

It is interesting to note the general tone of this paragraph especially in relation to the 1994/95 split which saw Buddhists breakaway from the predominantly Christian led KNU. The inability perhaps to distinguish between trust and belief may have been a contributing factor in conflating religious orientation and personal character or loyalty.




[1] ‘Letter to the Brave People’, Ya Se, Tha Noo Htoo, Vol. 3, pg. 6-7



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