The Karen are the largest hilltribe group in Northern Thailand. They account for almost half of the entire hilltribe population. They are located in many provinces along the Western border of Thailand and also further into Thailand. Mostly they are located in Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun, Tak and Kanchanaburi. The Karen tribe originate from Burma and the Thai- Burma border area. Over the past century they have moved further into Thailand to avoid political unrest.
The Karen belong to the Sino-Tibetan linguistic group and they can be divided into 4 major sub groups: the Skaw (White Karen), the Pwo, the Pa-O and the Kayah. The two most numerous subgroups are the Skaw and Pwo. The Pwo tend to have more weaving in their costumes and the men have a distinctive way of fixing their long hair with many clips; the girls also do this too.

Skaw Karen girls

Karen settlements are normally at a lower altitude than other hilltribes - approx. 500m above sea level. They often reside in valley areas. Karen villages don't move their location often, and many villages have been in the same place for hundreds of years. They have clear boundaries and rights over agricultural land and practice land rotation, leaving land fallow for recovery. They raise many kinds of domestic animals including elephants. The Karen are renowned for their skills with elephants.

Karen women are skilled at weaving. The young women wear long white dresses and married women wear sarongs and shirts mostly in a red colour. These are woven by the tribewomen as well as bags and clothes for the men. You can often see the women working on their backstrap looms. Men are skilled at basket weaving and produce large baskets to store rice or clothes.

Skaw Karen woman

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    Last updated:    08 ตุลาคม 2002 16:02:13