Myanmar is a country of proud historical and cultural traditions, rich with natural resources. It has a population of almost 55 million. With free movement of the people within the country for centuries, categorising people into distinctive ethnic groups is always a problematic task. Even self- identification of ethnicity poses problems as some people may identify themselves with many different ethnic groups and some with none at all. Regardless of the difficult task of categorization, there are 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the government. According to CIA World Factbook, the majority group Burmese make up 68% of the country’s population of 55 million, with the Shan (9%), the Karen (7%), the Arakanese (Rakhine) (4%) and the Mon (2%), together making up the largest ethnic nationality groups.
Some similarities exist between the ethnic groups in Myanmar, as the majority of the population practices Buddhism. Myanmar people lifestyle is mostly based on Buddhism way of life. Among the ethnic groups, Mons were the ones who gave Myanmar its writing (Pali) and the first ethnic group, who converted to Theravada Buddhism at a very early point in their history; unlike other ethnic groups in the region, they seem to have adopted Theravada orthodoxy before coming into contact with Mahayana tendencies. It is generally believed that the Mon provided the link of transmission whereby both Thais and Cambodians converted from Hindu/Mahayanism to Theravada Buddhism. The Mons are also the oldest and one of the earliest people of Indochina. In 1983 the population was about 1.6 million and in 1996, the population grew to 2.4 million. The Mon lives mostly in Mon State, Bago Region, the Irrawaddy Delta and along the southern border of Thailand and Burma. Mon State is bordered by Bago Division to the north, Tanintharyi Division to the south and Kayin State to the east.
Historically, there were three Mon Kingdoms : the Thaton Kingdom or Thuwunnabumi, the Hanthawaddy or Pegu Kingdom, and the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom through which political establishments by the Mon-speaking people ruled large sections of present-day Myanmar. The first Kingdom, Thaton was a Mon kingdom existed in Lower Myanmar from at least the 4th century BC to the middle of the 11th century AD. The Hanthawaddy Kingdom was the dominant kingdom that ruled lower Myanmar from 1287 to 1539 and from 1550 to 1552. The Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom was the kingdom that ruled Lower Burma and parts of Upper Burma from 1740 to 1757.
The majority of Mon speaking people live in Mon state, followed by Kayin state and Tanintharyee division. Mon language is the part of the Mon-Khmer family. Mon script is used for the liturgical languages of Pali and Sanskirt and also source script of the writing system of Myanmar and Shan languages. Myanmar language is derived from Mon script because King Anawrahta Minsaw, the father of first Myanmar Nation established his capital in Pagan with 30 elephant loads of Mon treasures and 30,000 Mon artisans. Present days Mons are bilingual, speaking Myanmar and Mon languages.
Symbol and Dance
Hintha (Bramani Duck or mythological swan) is a symbol of Mon people and is also the state symbol of Bago Region and Mon State, two historical Mon strongholds.
Dance and Musical Instruments
Mon cultural dance is a spiritual dance. The real Mon culture originally derives from ‘spiritual worship’. Mon empire comprised of 32 cities (or townships) including Kao Swe and Mon Da La and performance to show respect for guarding spirits (or gods) takes place in all 32 cities. Mon traditional musical instruments are “the kyam” or “crocodile xylophone”, the harp and a flat stringed instrument.
Mon’s distinctive red longyis (sarongs) are still popular for both men and women. Mon men wear red checkered longyis, shirts without collars and traditional jackets. Mon women wrap their long hair around a comb and wear longyis and open-fronted blouses that button in the centre.
Thingyan htamin (Mon Thingyan rice), a traditional Water Festival rice dish, is one of the famous moon food. It’s a mixture of fully boiled rice in candle-smelt water served with mango, pawn and fish salad. During Thingyan Festival, in Mon State, people used to give the rice away as a donation. We can also buy easily around 500 kyats for a plate.
Majority of Mon ethnic are devoted Buddhists. For long history, King Anawrahta was converted to Theravada Buddhism by a Mon monk. Shin Arahan. Since then, Theravada Buddhism became the dominant religion of Myanmar and the inspiration for its culture and civilization.
Mon nation day is marked one day after the full moon day of the lunar month of Thabodwe (February).