Mro people’s ‘taungyar’ traditions

By Uzin Kuthala (Malamye)Mro people are believed to have migrated to greener pastures and finally settled down in Paletwa Township, Chin State, and the northern regions of Rakhine State. According to history, up to the present day, these tribes were found to have lived in the above-mentioned regions for generations in terms of population and duration.
Mro people mostly get engaged in their livelihood of taungyar (slash-and-burn farming). By the time Thazin flowers blossom in the Myanmar months of Nadaw and Pyatho, Mro people gather at a public rest house in the middle of their village for a pot of intoxicating brew kept in the rest house. There they are frequently given advice by village elders on auspicious days in connection with allocation of land for slash-and-burn agriculture.
They usually build a rest house in the middle of their village. When guests arrive in the village, they take them to the rest house to be introduced to the young and old alike. This custom has been practiced in some villages, whereas other villages no longer practice it. Many contemporary examples will suffice to illustrate the point: the village public rest house is for consultation and exchange of information, solidarity and introduction of strangers to local villagers.
When the appointed days come, the heads of households take in their hands sharpened swords and wear a cane basket with a sling; then they shout in unison and hold worshipping of nats (spirits) from hills and mountains. When the slash-and-burn operation is nearly done, they take their whetstones from behind to sharpen their swords, facing towards the East. At the same time, they have to use the water from a bamboo tube and from nowhere else. They have to fill up the bamboo tube in advance for the next day. Then they take home a clod of earth and put it under the pillows to have a sweet dream.
Next morning, they go to an astrologer to read their dreams and listen to his interpretations whether the dreams are good or bad. If the interpretations are bad, they usually avoid the slash-and-burn areas to find new ones. Mro people avoid jungles infested with wild animals or evil spirits.
The slash-and-burn farming has been carried out in accordance with the number of family members. They, in turn, work on the farm collectively. Once they get engaged in slash-and-burn operations, they usually avoid bathing. They believe that if they do, they will suffer. The collective ways of slash-and-burn operations are threatened to be on the verge of extinction, according to some village elders.
The operations have to be completed before the end of the Myanmar month of Nadaw. Fallen trees and dense undergrowth are left dried under the sun for the two months of Pyatho and Tabodwe. During this period, men have to get household chores and goods finished and women will have to polish rice by pounding. Taking a rest is regarded as moving from one job to another, according to a saying.
During a moon-lit night of Myanmar month Tabaung, the village headman opens and drinks from the pot an intoxicating brew kept in the village rest house beforehand and villagers, in turn, take a sip of the brew. Then they get an appointed date for burning the fallen trees and the dense undergrowth.
Before setting fire, the guardian spirits are called upon to bear witness and wildlife is requested to flee the forest in which they live. Villagers armed with swords, bayonets, bows and arrows and tommy guns will be waiting at streams and creeks for fleeing animals, such as deer, monitor lizards, and boa constrictors. They shoot and kill them, taking them not to their respective houses, but to the rest house.
Villager elders, over 50 years old, cook and eat the meat in comradely association with other villagers. Cucumbers, chillies, pumpkins and other crops are grown in-between Taungyar paddy land. These fruits and vegetables are harvested, while Taungyar paddies are kept for their food.
Before harvest, blood from fowls and pigs are spread on bamboo posts and nats are worshipped with salted and cooked chicken or pork to produce more rice paddies.
According to the definition of culture, every race has its own traditions, which consist of unique characters. Traditional culture of one race depends on locations, religions and their way of living. Before the advent of contemporary religious beliefs, primitive people worshipped water, earth, hills and mountains for their security.
According to Rakhine historical treatises, Mro tribes are believed to have settled down in the Rakhine region around BC 4000-3500. Ancient Mro people worshipped the Sun and Moon as their common gods or saviours, rather than water, hills and mountains until BC 600. By that time, they were believed to have changed their faith to Buddhism. Their faith in Buddhism has relatively decreased in comparison with other Buddhists. Nowadays, the main religions among Mro communities are Buddhism and Christianity, and some Mro people still continue to practice nat-worshipping.

References:
Old essays on Mro people,
personal interviews
Rakhine New Treatise,
Danyawaddy New Treatise,
History of Khamee tribe
Translated by
Arakan Sein

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