The Ann people are shy, reclusive and happily nestled atop a low-lying escarpment near Keng Tung township. Historically they are tribal hunters and their religious beliefs are towards animism; worshiping spirit-animals, plants and the elements.
The chief is responsible for daily decisions and arbitration, while the shaman, who is highly revered within animist villages, is responsible for communicating with the spirits of “friendly ancestors.”
The group is famously known as the “black teeth tribe” due to their devotion to chewing betel-nut. Their dark reddened gums and apparently decayed teeth are also exaggerated by the wearing of a black lipstick, made from the bark of a charred tree.
Villages are generally located on mountain slopes and consist of wood and bamboo stilt houses. Pan Lea village is small, with only 23 dwellings. It is estimated that around 3,000 Ann remain today. Their subsistence supply of rice is grown in the valley, at the foothill of the escarpment.
The Palaung, who mainly live in the Kalaw area of Shan State, were originally part of the Mon-Khmer culture.
Palaung traditional costumes feature vibrant, saturated colors. The married women wear cane rings around their waists to indicate marital status. Most Palaung embrace their traditional way of life and live in long houses uniquely designed and constructed in their own style. Many Palaung families live together communally in 100-foot long houses.
The various Palaung groups of Myanmar live in Shan State. Some are located in the northwestern corner around Tawngpeng, while others live as far south as Keng Tung. It is thought the Palaung migrated to Myanmar before the Shan, who came from China during the 12th Century. The Palaung consists of several smaller sub-cultures including the Rumai Palaung, the Riang-Lang, the Golden Palaung and the Silver Palaung, each with their own dialect.
The Palaung live in remote villages together with other ethnic tribes. Over the years, they have steadily assimilated through intermarriage. Since there are no Palaung traditions forbidding inter-tribal marriages, Palaung-Shan marriages are particularly common.
Barry J Atkinson is a member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers. He spends much of his time enjoying adventures on Myanmar’s waterways. To embark on one, visit irrawaddyvoyages.com.