Issue 1.1

4 Traditional Karen Sung Poems

“This is a series of traditional Karen poetry sung by students from The Nu Chet La Middle School, in the Mutraw region of Karen State. The students are dressed in traditional clothes made from local cotton and a unique backstrap weaving technique. The traditional colours are red for boys, and white for unmarried girls. These clothes are still worn regularly by Karen during celebrations.

The style of the poems are rhyming, and build to a repetition that reflects stories from our history and advice passed down through generations. The students play hand-hewn harps while singing. Written Karen, with unique characters that are neither Burmese nor Thai, only came into being in 1936. Prior to this, it was a language that was either spoken or sung.”

Homage to Mu Yel Pen – A Beautiful Karen Girl

“When the fifth Thai king ruled the country, Thailand was in a state of unrest. Thai monks predicted that if they took a girl named Mu Yel Pen from Mutraw, peace would be restored. Mu Yel Pen’s mother asked to sacrifice herself instead, but Mu Yel Pen refused. Thai officials finally tracked Mu Yel Pen down, and she was sacrificed after her arrest. 

Many people in Mu Yel Pen’s village still tell the story to this day — some even claim to be her relatives.”

Stay Together in Unity and Harmony

“This poem is told to us by our grandparents before they die. Their message is to stay undivided, and to help each other in unity so we can be victorious.”

Love Poem

“This is about love between two people. Couples may face difficult challenges but they can work it out as long as they are loyal to each other.”

Homeland of Kaw Thoo Lei

“This poem tells us that we should stay and work for our nation. Even those who leave ought to remember the beauty and nature of our homeland. If other countries can be ruled by their own citizens, the Karen people born in Kaw Thoo Lei can lead their own independent government, too.”

Thay Poe Mu is a 27-year-old Karen videographer and photographer. Born in the mountains of Burma, he has been living in a Thai refugee camp since March 2008.