The Shan (Tai)

The Shan live primarily in Myanmar (Burma), but can also be found in neighboring China and Thailand. Shan is the Burmese name for the Tai (Dai) people of eastern Burma and Thailand; the Shan call themselves “Tai”. They are traditionally rice cultivators, shopkeepers and artisans. They have lived in the area that is today the Shan State of Burma for over a thousand years. Shan State comprises about a quarter of the land mass of Burma. In the early part of their migration out of today's Southwest China the Shan ruled over "Shan states" that are in today's China, Laos and Thailand as well as other parts of Burma. The British took control of the Shan states after the third Anglo-Burmese war in 1885.  After World War II, the Shan and other ethnic minorities joined with majority Bamar to create the Union of Burma.  The democratically elected government was overthrown in 1962 and the country, renamed "Myanmar", remains a military dictatorship to this day. The Shan have engaged in a guerrilla war with the Burmese military for several decades and maintain their own standing army.  Depredations by the Burmese regime have caused a massive exodus of young Shan males to Thailand where they can avoid conscription or enslavement. In some areas of Thailand, the Shan are the majority ethnic group.

Shan working knife:  dha-hmyaung

The Shan are Theravada Buddhists, one of the four main Buddhist ethnic groups in Burma. The Shan view of the world centers on the idea of 'power protection,' which protects people from the consequences of their actions, allowing them to do as they please. The Shan have their own language (spoken by about 5 or 6 million people)  but virtually all are bilingual in Burmese. The Shan language is closely related to Thai and Lao.

Agriculture is the driving force in the Shan economy. Rice is the major cash and family crop. Other crops include tea, soybeans, peanuts, coffee, and cotton. People living near larger villages or towns grow vegetables to sell in the market.

Shan farmers grow one other crop: it is estimated that as much as fifty percent of the world's illegal opium is produced in the Shan State.