Pa-O & Kayan (Myanmar)


The Pa-O is the seventh largest ethnic nationality in Burma.

The Pa’O settled in the Thaton region of present-day Myanmar around 1000 B.C. Historically, the Pa’O wore colorful clothing until King Anawratha defeated the Mon King, Makuta of Thaton. The Pa’O were enslaved and forced to wear indigo-dyed clothing to signify their status.

The Pa’O people are the second largest ethnic group in the state of Shan. They also reside in Kayin State, Kayah State, Mon State, and the Bago Division. They are believed to be of Tibeto-Burman lineage, and share the language and culture of the Karen people. They compose two distinct groups: The Lowland Pa’O, based in Thaton, and The Highland Pa’O, based in Taunggyi. It is believed that there are as many as twenty-four Pa’O subgroups.

Many of the modern day Pa’O have fled to Mae Hong Son Province, in northern Thailand, due to ongoing military conflicts in Myanmar.

The Pa’O people of upper Myanmar commonly wear black or navy blue. The traditional outfit of the Pa’O consists of a turban, a white shirt, black or navy jacket and long black trousers for men. The women’s traditional Pa’O outfit consists of five pieces: a blouse, a jacket, a longyi that covers the knees, a turban, and two large, conical shaped hair pins. Both men and women pin a Pa’O flag badge on to their jacket. It represents the Zawgyi and dragon from their origin story. Men use a large red sling bag to carry knives, hoes or long choppers. Women use a cane or bamboo sling basket. Those from lower Myanmar wear Burmese style clothing.


The Kayan are a sub-group of Red Karen (Karenni people), Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority of Myanmar (Burma). The Kayan consists of the following groups: Kayan Lahwi (also called Padaung), Kayan Ka Khaung (Gekho), Kayan Lahta, Kayan Ka Ngan. Kayan Gebar, Kayan Kakhi and, sometimes, Bwe people (Kayaw).

Padaung (Yan Pa Doung) is a Shan term for the Kayan Lahwi (the group in which women wear the brass neck coils).

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