Religion and politics among the Chin people in Burma (1896-1949)
Abstract: In many Asian countries today, there are potential conflicts between the majority religionand culture and ethnic minorities who practice another religion or religions. Problems areeasily aggravated if the government applies a confessional policy on religion, which favorsthe majority religion, while minority religions are marginalized or even suppressed. Contemporary Burma, or Myanmar, is one example. Actually the very name "Myanmar" implies confessional claims and ethnic exclusiveness, even if the present military junta would prefer to be characterized as having opted for a secular policy on religion.In Burma, the maneuvering room for ethnic minorities is at issue. The current situationof the Chin, Kachin, and Karen, for instance, can be seriously questioned from a humanrights point of view. This study focuses on religion and politics among the Chin people inBurma. Until the British annexation in 1896, Chinram was an independent country ruledby the Chin's traditional tribal and local chiefs called Ram-uk and Khua-bawi, respectively.Although all the tribes and villages followed the same pattern of belief systems, the ritualpractices in traditional Chin religion - called Khua-hrum worship - were very much mutuallyexclusive, and thus could not serve to unite the entire Chin people under a single religiousinstitution. The traditional structures of religion and culture are explored in Part One.By the turn of twentieth century, however, Chin society was abruptly transformed bypowerful outside forces of change. The British conquered Chinram, and the Christianmissionaries followed the colonial powers and converted the people. This process is studiedin Part Two with special reference to the nature of change, which was thrust upon Chin society and - more importantly - how the Chin responded to it. Part Three focuses on how the Chin increasingly became related the Burmese attempts to form an Independent Federal Union. As the process towards independence progressed, the Chin increasinglyarticulated their own Christian traditions of democracy and asserted a burgeoning self-awareness of their own national identity.
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