Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Shan – Lawng Lawt Liao | Kwan Kor

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Independence, Shan

Lawng Lawt Liao

Relates to freedom

Kawn Kor

Lawt on its own means ‘to be free, loose, without restraint’. Combined with liao, which means ‘to be single or solitary, or unmarried’, lawt liao means ‘to be disengaged, independent, or free from oppression’.  Lawng is a substantive prefix denoting a topic changing lawt liao into a noun, freedom. On its own, lawt liao means to be free from oppression or free to do whatever one wants without restraint. The term can be applied to a person, a people or a country.

When the term sao kor – ‘live alone, live separately’ – is added to lawt liao to become lawt liao sao kor, the term gains the added meaning of being free from another country’s rule. The term on its own means ‘to dwell alone’, live separately’ or ‘be independent’. Together with möng it becomes ‘independent country’.

Kawn on its own means ‘to lead’ and kor means ‘alone, separately. Together they mean independence. The term is used when talking about a country.

Both terms are the result of debate among Shan leaders in 1946 prior to Burmese independence about which Shan words to use, or even create, for political concepts. The Shan State Army currently uses lawt liao on its website, Tai Freedom.

When the two terms are combined to form lawt liao kawn kor, this conveys a strong sense of escaping or being free from oppression and aggression – as well as independent from another country’s rule. For most Shan the two terms are indistinguishable and associated with being independent from another country’s rule through succession.[1] Although much of the Shan political and military leadership considers federalism as the realistic way forward, there is widespread common support for ‘freedom’. The feeling has only grown in many Shan after decades of civil war, human rights abuses and poverty, which they feel is caused by the central – and Burman – government.

A small group of Shan elders in exile declared independence (Kawn Kor) for Shan State in 2005. Although the group faded into obscurity fairly quickly, their call was popular.

“Most activists therefore were not so surprised when a distinguished but politically nameless group of their compatriots suddenly claimed Independence in April and announced the creation of an interim Shan Government (ISG). All had treated it outright as the natural outcome of the Burmese military’s inability to find a political solution. However what few of them anticipated was the stunning response of the Shans in favor of independence (Kawn Kor) over federalism and the idea of having a government of Shan State, if not actually the one that was established by the virtually unknown people at a secret meeting on 25 March. “The people are desperately in need of a mechanism where they can unburden themselves, an organization that will take steps to deliver them from their troubles,” one respondent to a S.H.A.N. survey wrote. “They understandably cannot talk about their problems to the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council, as Burma’s rulers are collectively known) as it is their first and foremost problem.”[2]

The term, lawng hang, can also be used in place of lawng lawt liao. It is a much older term used in pre-colonial times. It is not originally a Shan word, but a loan word from Burmese. While the term can be substituted for lawng lawt liao, the term applies more to the individual freedom of being able to do or say whatever a person wants, to make decisions freely. It implies that a person has a right to do this and cannot be forced to say or do something they do not want to say or do.

The Thai terms saeripap (เสรีภาพ) and isarapap (อิสรภาพ) are also used by Shans, especially those who live in more Thai influenced areas near the Shan State-Thai border, or have spent some time as migrant workers in Thailand. Both words come from Pali. Saeripap defines individual freedoms or liberty to do, say or think whatever a person wants. Isarapap, on the other hand, applies to states and the rights of peoples as a whole and is closer in meaning to independence or liberation. It concerns the ability of a country or a people to decide for itself as a community and not be coerced by any other state or people.

What is conveyed in these words used with respect to freedom and independence is that they strongly imply a context in which freedom is being challenged. They carry a tone of defensiveness – a sense of feeling challenged.



[1] Discussions with Sai Khuensai Jaiyen, Chiang Mai, 2009.

[2] “Die Hard Awakens”, Independence, Shan Herald Agency for News, Vol. 22, No. 219, 2005.


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