The Tai of Shan State

Reports & Documents — By on July 7, 2006 10:36 am

The Tai of Shan State by Sao Noan Oo

A different Shan History

A lot of Shan histories and chronicles have been written by a lot of people. Few among those are the Shans themselves. Even so, there are fewer who write in English. One of them is Sao Noan Oo of Lawksawk, a former princely state in today’s Shan State.

Compared to most others, she does not write it as a chronology of events, but rather as a study of how Shans ruled, made their living and enjoyed themselves.

One thing that may be missing is about the “real Shan New Year” that is celebrated on the First Waxing Moon of the First Lunar Month (Naddaw in Burmese) either in November or December, according to the Gregorian calendar. That is because this tradition has been revived just recently i.e. years after the military coup in 1962. And Sao was by then an exile in the United Kingdom.

The following paragraph she wrote also sparks interesting comments from some readers:

“In the middle of the 7th . century AD. the Shan history in Burma is obscure and it is not clear what important significance the Kingdom of Nanchao played. There seem to be two conflicting views: the majority of authors think that Nanchao is a unified state of the Tai in Southern Yunnan and that it dominated Upper and much of the Lowland Burma in the 8th. and 9th century AD. The second group holds the view that the Tai or Shans and Nanchao were two different entities. D.K. Wyatt in his book, “Thailand-A short History” argues that Nanchao leaders were not Tais, as they followed a linkage system, when choosing their names. This is unknown among the Tai, but common among the Lolo and other Tibeto-Burma groups. Furthermore, the lists of words mentioned by Fan Ch’o were untraceable in the Tai language. No Shan, or other chronicle, mentions Nanchao or any of its rulers, but nineteenth century chiefs in Central Yunnan traced their ancestory back to Nanchao. (Some chronicles state that Nanchao, in the early period was not called Nanchao but “Laanzao” which means Land of a million Princes! — “The Upper Burma and the Shan States Gazetteer” also mentioned that in the Kingdom of Nanchao the ruling Shan-Chinese Chiefs spoke Chinese, but the mass of the population were Tais).”

A number of readers agree that names alone by themselves do not determine the ethnic origins of the owners. “Aung Htun, Ba Nyan and Htoon Myint are Burmese names,” one told S.H.A.N. “But the owners of these names have also been famous Shans who did a lot to improve the lives of the Shan people.”

Another stated: “There were several other Shans in history who took up Mon, Burmese, Wa, Thai, Indian and even English names. Maybe, a hundred years from now, there may be people who will argue that Nel Adams wasn’t a Shan.”

All in all, the reader shall not be disappointed by her presentation. Arguments, perhaps, but not indifference.

The Tai of Shan State by Sao Noan Oo (English version)

The Tai of Shan State by Sao Noan Oo (German version)