Tachileik Chins Strive to Keep Culture Alive
20 May 2012: The name Tachileik has been well known as a Thai-Burmese border town for its underground opium trades, but not much is heard about a small number of Chins residing in the easternmost part of Shan State.
Mostly Christians, the Chin community made up of church pastors, construction workers and a few government employees uses their local churches as a meeting center not only for religious services but also for cultural and social activities.
With the new generation of children growing up in a predominantly Buddhist town, Chin leaders are concerned about protection and promotion of their cultural and religious identity in a non-Chin speaking environment.
Pastor Morris, a father of three daughters, said: “We are so small in numbers and yet spread across the area, which makes it difficult for us and our children to meet on a regular basis. But we make every effort to meet at church on Sunday.”
Over the past few weeks, we have organized a once-a-week gathering in the church compound for our youth group to practise Chin traditional dances with the help of Mai Bawi Kil Hnem from the Kalay University, he said.
“Through this gathering, they [youths] get to know each other and more about Chin culture. In the future, they will be able to present Chin traditional dances on such important occasions as the Chin National Day celebration,” said the Chin pastor.
It is estimated that there are about 400 Chins currently living in Tachileik and its surrounding villages, with the first Chin migration to the area dating back reportedly to the 1950s during the war against the Kumintan Chinese army.
Many of the Chin soldiers, who were posted and deployed mostly in the northeastern parts of Shan State, got married to the local women or didn’t return to Chin State after the war, it was claimed.
Sometimes, we feel like, the pastor added, we live in a different world as we haven’t got much communication with other Chin communities both from inside and outside of Burma.
“Therefore, it is important that we, as a community, try to find ways in which we could not only maintain but improve our own relationship, unity and identity as a people,” stressed Pastor Morris who has lived in Tachileik since early 1990s.
To be able to effectively safeguard and pass our cultural identity onto the young generation, we need a concerted effort and input from Chin communities across the world by extending our network and exchanging what we have in a more practical way, the pastor said.
“Now that we, the Chins, have spread all over the world migrating into other dominating groups of peoples, it is crucial that we strengthen our community through any possible means and ways,” remarked the pastor.
Most of the Chin Christian pastors in Tachileik are also missionaries working among other ethnic tribal groups such as Lahu, Akha, and Palaung.
The pastors are not only preaching the gospel but also helping the minority groups of Shan State in the development of their livelihoods, according to the Chin pastor whose church looks after orphans.
With a recent increase of about 15,000 kyats in airfare prices across the country, a developing Chin community in Tachileik, not easily accessible by car from the central parts of Burma, fears being further isolated from the Chin majority.
Pastor Morris, originally of Tlangkua village in Thantlang Township of Chin State, said of their willingness to forge better relationship with the global Chin communities and to get involved more in collaborating and promoting Chin cultural values.
The future generation of Chin communities across the world will certainly depend on how much collective effort and contribution is made for supporting each other in order to strengthen communication and social network in safeguarding their cultural and traditional identity.
Reporting by Thawng Zel Thang