The Tribes of Burma/Tibeto-Burman Wave

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The connection between the Burmans, as we now know them and the races of a cognate stock in Tibet and China has by now been as closely followed up and as clearly defined as circumstances permit. Research has declared with no uncertain voice that the Burmans are related by a common ancestry in the far north on the one hand to the Tibetans and on the other to the far-spread Lolos of South-Western China, and the language test shows that the relationship can be traced up through a host of allied tribes occupying the country that now separates the three peoples. Although the precise spot cannot now be fixed, we know that it must have been somewhere in the eastern portion of the Central Asian table land that the Tibeto-Burman race acquired an identity of its own and that it was from this region that, century after century, it sent its off-shoots out along the valleys and hill ridges into Burma and Indo-China.

With the Tibetans we need not now concern ourselves, their seats are well-defined. Tibet is far from the frontier of Burma as at present marked out, our main interest is in the ethnic chain that stretches across the for the most part unexplored region dividing the two countries. The Lolos need only be considered shortly. Their home almost touches the north-eastern border of the Shan States and conceivably some of them may hereafter themselves immigrate into British India, but on the whole the course of their wanderings from their northern home has kept beyond the Mekong in the Yangtze region, well to the east of the Burmans and their nearest congeners.

The tribes with which we in Burma are most intimately concerned form, so to speak, a central stream which moved down south from the primæval breeding ground, between the Tibetans on the one hand and the Lolos on the other. Whatever may have been the point from which they started, it is certain that they must have at one period penetrated into the valleys near the headwaters of the Mekong and Salween, and for some distance in the far north their course must have spread over all the country in the neighbourhood of these two rivers. Now, we know that at about the 30th parallel of latitude there rises out of the maze of unexplored hills to the west of the Salween what Mr. G. Litton (one of the few persons who has so far seen it) describes as a "crescent of mountains" which forms the watershed between the Salween and the Brahmaputra, from the southern edge of which spring the sister streams, the N'maikha and the Malikha, which combine to form the Irrawaddy. We must keep this crescent in mind when we consider the movement of the Tibeto-Burmans from the north, for along a considerable portion of its length it is practically an insuperable barrier, and it is clear that as the Tibeto-Burman tribes came down, some of them were brought up by its snow-clad heights and were obliged, if they wished to pursue their southerly course, either to come out east and follow the Salween southwards or fetch a circuit towards Assam and the Brahmaputra in the west and so reach hill-ridges and fresh valleys along which their way could be pursued. We know this by the present distribution of the Tibeto-Burmans and by the test of language. There are signs of a common ancestry in the not very remote past in the speech of the Burmans, the Lisaws, the Chins and the Kachins, yet there are enough differences between the vernaculars of those of them who must have come down to the east of the crescent and of those who must have come down to the west of it to justify our adopting (for the purposes of provincial consideration only) a two-fold classification into Western (Malikha-Chindwin) and Eastern (Mekong-Salween-N'maikha) Tibeto-Burmans. To the former class belong the Chins and the Kachins of Upper Burma ; to the latter the Burmans of the Irrawaddy valley, the Marus and Lashis of the N'maikha, the Lisaws of the Salween and the Lahus and Akhas of the Mekong.

Of the Western Tibeto-Burmans the Chins or Kukis were probably the first arrivals in Burma. In the far off past they must have appeared on the Irrawaddy-Brahmaputra watershed and thence, continuing their southerly journey along the western edge of the Province, have worked their way to the southernmost limits of the hilly country on the sea-board of the Bay of Bengal. As Chins, Kamis, Mros, Chinboks, Chinbons, Yindus, etc., they have been for centuries in occupation of the western uplands, which extend from the north of the Upper Chindwin District (where the Chin merges into the Naga country) along the edge of the Assam uplands— the home of their blood-relatives the Lushais— down to the foot-hills on the fringe of the Irrawaddy delta, and have had time, by union with the plain dwellers, to form hybrid communities— like the Taungthas of Pakôkku and the Chaungthas of Arakan— whose connection with their Chin neighbours is no longer obvious. Save for a few villages in the Pegu Yoma and near the Sittang, the home of the Chins lies wholly to the west of the Irrawaddy.

At a much later date the Kachins appeared from the mountains in the far north. They had at the parting of the ways borne south-westwards along much the same course as that previously taken by the Chins, i.e., that bordering on the Brahmaputra region, but, at about the 28th parallel of latitude, finding the hills immediately to their south already occupied by the Chins and their cognates, they turned, probably within the last hundred years, to the east again and descended into and crossed the valley of the Irravvaddy, moving southwards on one side of the river as far as Katha and finding on the other an outlet in the Shan States, down which they are still continuing to press, This eastern thrust in the southward movement of the Kachins has had a somewhat puzzling result, for it has brought them down, within the last sixty years or so, into the country of the Eastern Tibeto-Burmans and has caused them to be erroneously classified with the Marus and other hill tribes, whose path from the north had lain in the Salween neighbourhood. The reader must not, however, be misled by their present habitat into assigning the Kachins an Eastern Tibeto-Burman origin.

Of our Eastern Tibeto-Burmans, the Burmans are the most important. The Burmans themselves have been purposely excluded from the scope of this note, but it is essential here, in order to understand the distribution of the Tibeto-Burman branch as a whole, to bear in mind the following facts regarding them. When first heard of their capital was at Tagaung on the Upper Irrawaddy. How long they had been there before the commencement of the historical period we do not know, but in their first beginnings as a nation, their trend—till they were brought up at Prome and Toungoo by the Talaings—-was towards the south, and even if we had no other guide we should have every reason, from this southward tendency, to infer an origin from further north. Tagaung lies at the northern end of what is now the Burmese country proper. Above this the population of the Irrawaddy valley is mainly non-Burman, and it is clear that the Burmans, when they reached Tagaung in those far off days, must have descended from a region now mainly inhabited by Shans, Kachins, Marus and the like. The presence of the Kachins on the Upper Irrawaddy has been accounted for in the preceding paragraph. They are late comers from the north-west, just as the Shans, whose movements will be touched upon below, are migrants from the east. The real prehistoric inhabitants of the country along the Irrawaddy valley from Bhamo due north must be looked for elsewhere than among the Shans and the Kachins. We find them in the Marus, the Szis and the Lashis, who, though they have been often regarded in the past as Kachins, are not Kachins, and who, moreover, speak vernaculars that present features that are strikingly like those of Burmese. These hill people, now more or less scattered by the Kachin irruption, extend northwards through the Myitkyina District, past the Confluence and up the N'maikha, or eastern branch of the Irrawaddy, and it is a reasonable inference that this trial of cognate tribes speaking tongues that are closely allied to Burmese marks the course of the prehistoric Burman's ingress into the country that now bears his name.

North of the Confluence our information is fragmentary, but the evidence of Macgregor, Woodthorpe, Errol Gray, Pottinger and Prince Henri of Orleans all shows that to the west of the N'maikha in the region with which we are concerned the preponderating elements are Kachin and Mishmi; that immediately to the east of the Malikha, in the wedge of hill land that lies between it and the N'maikha, come the people known to Errol Gray as Khunnongs and to Prince Henri as Kiutzes, and that the Lashi and Maru country falls to the east of this again in the immediate neighbourhood of the N'maikha, According to both the last travellers, the Malikha seems to mark a clear dividing ethnic line which I would call the line of separation at this point between the Eastern and Western Tibeto-Burmans. The accounts of Prince Henri, who reached the Malikha from almost due east, indicate that the transition from the Lisaws of the Salween to their neighbours the Lutzes, and from the Lutzes to the Kiutzes was comparatively slight, and it is certain that voca-bularies and such data as exist in regard to physical type point to the Khunnongs (Kiutzes), Lutzes, Marus and Lashis as well as the prehistoric Burmans being all component parts of a cluster of tribes spreading in a southwesterly direction down from the headwaters of the Sal-ween and connected with the Lisus or Lisaws, who still occupy a considerable portion of the upper reaches of that river and are also found scattered here and there on the hills along the eastern edge of Upper Burma and the Shan States. The Lisus are, so to speak, a link connecting the Burmans with the Lolos by way of the Mossos of the Upper Mekong, The Lisaws of Burma are identical with the Lisus described by Prince Henri, Cooper, Gill and other travellers. It has been suggested that the Lahus or Muhsos of the Shan States are the same as the Mossos. That there is a connection between the two tribes is certain, but it is probably not as close as the similarity of name implies. At the same time there is ample linguistic evidence to show that the Lahus have much in common with the Lisaws, the former being an eastern branch of the same prehistoric stock who in their southward journey have followed the course of the Mekong just as the Lisaws have that of the Salween, and it seems likely that, unless they are more closely related to the Lolos, the hill dwelling Akhas or Kaws of Kengtung also belong to the same Eastern Tibeto-Burman branch. However this may be, the country of the Lahus and Kaws, which abuts on that of the Lolos and Miaotzus, marks the furthest eastern limit of the region inhabited by those Tibeto-Burmans with whom we are dealing. The furthest western limit has been reached by the Arakajnese, who, breaking off from the main Burman body, probably during the period when Tagaung was the Burman capital, crossed the Arakan Yoma and settled down on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, thus penetrating into a region west of that occupied by the Western Tibeto-Burmans.

There is reason to believe that; just as the Arakanese branched off to the west, so in their turn the ancestors of the peoples now known as the Taungyos and Inthas moved off from the main Burman body towards the east, and took up their abode in the Southern Shan States. The main ground for this view is that both the Inthas and the Taungyos, though they have acquired some of the characteristics of the non-Burman communities among whom they reside, still speak a language which closely resembles Arakanese (i.e.) Burmese of an archaic type) and points to their having an identical origin. The above theory accounts in the simplest way for the speech of the Taungyos and Inthas. In any case, however, whether it is correct or not, there can hardly be any doubt but that the two tribes are Tibeto-Burman. They are certainly not Tai or Mon Khmer.

The only other Tibeto-Burmans besides those mentioned above that are numerous enough to deserve general mention here are the Kadus of the Katha District. They are a hybrid community with doubtless some Shan and almost certainly some Kachin or even Chin blood in their composition. Whatever their origin, however, they are now nearly Burmanized and in any case they fall properly into the Tibeto-Burman race family.