Karens, the name of a people of India, occupying various portions of Burmah between 280 and 10° N. latitude, and 990 and 930 E. longitude. The name Karen is of Burmese origin, and designates a class of the Mongolian family of tribes who call themselves Pgah Kenzau, a term meaning man. They first became known to Europeans in A.D. 1824-7. They appear to be identical with the Kakhyens, which Kincaid thinks to be only another name for Karen. He says that all these tribes, through the whole extent of the Shan country, and farther north, are called Kakhyens. They are found from the Martaban Gulf inward as far as the Burman population has ever extended. They are numerous about Rangoon and Ava, and are known to extend at least two hundred and fifty miles east of Ava. These tribes are supposed to number about five millions.
Origin. — There is much doubt as to their origin. There are amongst them many distinct traditions which would point to a Thibetan source. Mason (in his Tennasserin) says that they regard themselves as wanderers from the north, and as having crossed "a river of running sand," by which name he says Fa Hian, the Chinese pilgrim who visited India about the 5th century, constantly speaks of the great desert to the north of Burmah, and between China and Thibet. Bruce says that they are of Turanian stock, and allied with the Tamulians of India and the inhabitants of Thibet (p. 145, 147). A portion of northern Burmah and Yunnan has been suggested as the probable original seat of the Karen race. Many authorities consider them as the aborigines of much of Burmah. Amongst the reasons assigned for this view are the following:
(1) They received from the Burmese their name of Karen, which means first or aboriginal.
(2) Their habits are much more primitive than those of the Burmese, and they dislike their subjugation to the latter.
(3) They have traditions distinctly fixing their early location on the eastern side of a body of water which they call Kaw or Kho, which is so ancient a term that they have lost the meaning of it altogether, but the tradition itself shows that this was the Bay of Bengal.
(4) The Moans or Talaings, a people who are older residents than the Burmese in Farther India, say the Karens were in the country when they first entered it, and were known as Beloos or wild men by their forefathers (Journ. American Oriental Society, vol. iv).
Description. — The Karens of the north are more advanced in the arts and in the habits of civilization than those of the southern district. They reckon themselves not by villages nor by cities, but by families, having a patriarchal form of society, single families, occupants of one house, often numbering from three to four hundred members. Their houses are immense structures, made of posts, with joists at a height of seven or eight feet from the ground, the sides being lined with mats, the roof being of palm-leaves, and the partitions of bamboo matting.
It is the southern section of these tribes, however, which is best known, especially those designated as Sgau and Pgho Karens. The latter are called by the Burmese Talaing Karens, and are a vigorous people, robust, full- chested, with large limbs, square cheek-bones, thick and flattened nose, but not specially prominent lips. The.Sgau, or pure Karens, are smaller, with a complexion lighter than others surrounding them, and with a general languor about their movements. Mr. Judson in 1833 wrote of them as "a meek, peaceful race, simple and credulous, with many of the softer virtues and :few flagrant vices, greatly addicted to drunkenness, extremely filthy, indolent in their habits, their morals in other respects being superior to many more civilized races, though he was told that they were as untamable as the wild cow of the mountains" (Wayland, Judson, i, 542 sq.).
Religious Traditions. — They have amongst them a great number of religious traditions which bear a marked analogy to Biblical history. The tradition respecting the creation specifies that man was created from the earth, and woman from one of man's ribs. The Creator said, "I lose these, my son and daughter. I will bestow my life upon them," and he then breathed a particle of his life into their nostrils, "and they came to life and were men." God made food and drink; rice, fire, and water; cattle, elephants, and birds. Traditions concerning man's primitive state and first transgression, very similar to the Bible narrative, are also preserved amongst them. Naukplau, who answers to the serpent of Genesis, is variously impersonated as sometimes male and sometimes female: man is located in a garden, with seven different kinds of fruits of which he should eat, with one exception. Nauk'plau meets him and tells him the character of all the fruits, and assures him that the forbidden one is the most delicious of all. He prevails on the woman first to taste this fruit. She gives it to her husband, etc. On the morrow Ywah (on this name, see below, under Religious Views) comes, etc. The very detail of the narrative is preserved to a marvellous degree.
Other traditions point to a flood, in which the waters "rose and rose till they reached to heaven." Others refer to an early separation of the human family. " Men had at first one father and mother; but, because they did not love each other, they separated, after which they did not know each other's language, and became enemies and fought." Still another says that when they were scattered, a younger brother, or the "White Westerner," came, begging the Karens to return to the place where they left God; which tradition is said to have had much to do with the early success of the missionaries amongst these people, as the Karens applied these traditions to them.
Religious Views. — They have remarkably clear views of God, whom they believe to be "immutable, eternal; that he was from the beginning of the world. The life of God is endless; generations cannot measure his existence. God is complete and good, and through endless generations will never die. God is omnipotent, but we have not believed him. God created man anciently. He has a knowledge of all things to the present time. He created spirit and life." This God is known as Ywah, "which approaches the word Jehovah as nearly as possible in the Karen language." He was not, however, worshipped when the missionaries first went to the Karens. A great power for evil (Satan) since the fall has rendered relief to man by introducing charms against sickness, death, and other misfortunes, and this personage, though without image, is widely worshipped. Thus originated their daemon worship. They appear to believe in the immortality of the soul, though it is doubtful if this obtains universally amongst them. Mr. Cross doubts if they have any proper idea of the resurrection of the dead. Transmigration is not accepted amongst them, and many think the soul "flies off in the air." They are thus distinguished from the Buddhists, though long resident with them in Burmah.
Spirit Worship. — Besides the Ywah and the daemons above alluded to, they believe in many other spiritual beings known as Kelah, or, speaking more definitely, every object has a kelah, whether men, trees, or plants, and even inanimate objects, such as axes and knives. The grain growing has its kelah, and when it does not flourish it is because the kelah is leaving it, and it must be called back by invocation. The human kelah is not the soul, nor is the responsibility of human actions lodged in it, nor any moral character attached to it. All this is attributed to the Thah. The kelah is the author of dreams; it is that nature which pertains to life, the sentient soul, the animal spirits. It can leave the body at will. When it is absent disease ensues; when yet longer away, death results. Kelah seems to signify lift, or existence in the abstract, or of the individual. It is more apt to forsake feeble persons and children. The kelah of one person may accompany that of another in going away, hence children are kept away from a corpse, and the house where a person dies is abandoned. Great efforts are made to induce a departed kelah to return. Tempting food is placed on the public wayside or in the forest, and various ceremonies and rituals are gone through, which sometimes are thought to be successful in securing the return of the kelah. One might almost wonder that its return should be considered desirable when we are further told that the kelah has seven separate existences in one, which endeavor to superinduce madness, recklessness, shamelessness, drinking propensities, anger, cruelty, violence, murder, and are constantly bent on evil. But along with the kelah we learn of Tso, which means power, and seems to be a personification of reason. If the tso becomes heedless or weak; or is unfortunately circumstanced, then the kelah can do mischief, but otherwise it is powerless for evil.
There are other spiritual beings, such as Kephoo, a species of vampire, which is the stomach of a wizard, and in the form of the head and entrails of a human being goes out at night to seek food. It destroys human kelahs. Therets are spirits of those who have died by violence, as by tigers or other wild beasts, by famine, or sword, or starvation. These can neither go to the upper region (Mukhah), nor to that of the Plu, where men are punished, but must remain on earth, causing mortal sickness. Offerings and supplications are made to them. Tahmus or Tah-kas are spectres of those who have been dreadfully wicked in this life. They appear as apparitions only, in form of horses, elephants, dogs, crocodiles, serpents, vultures, ducks, or colossal men. Sekhahs are spirits of persons left unburied, and of infants or aged persons who have become infirm because the tso has left them. Plupho are inhabitants of the infernal region, and are spirits; of all who go naturally to their proper place, and renew their earthly employments, building houses, cutting rice, etc. The location is undeclared, but is above the earth, or below it, or beyond the horizon. It is presided over by king Cootay or Theedo. At his call the kelahs must go, and men die.. Under his dominion they serve, as in an intermediate state, a probation, and if good go to heaven, if bad to hell or Lerah, which has two gradations of punishment, one being more severe than the other. Tahnahs or Nahs are the spirits of two sorts of fiends which take the form of any animals they please, and prey upon men. The Lord of men created them as a punishment in consequence of a disobedience on the part of men to one of his commands. They have a king who was the great tempter of man in the garden. Miikhahs are the ancestors of the Karens who inhabit the upper region, and are the creators of the present generation. Sometimes they work imperfectly, and, as a consequence, ill-favored. and imperfect persons are found. They preside over births and marriages, mingling together the blood of two persons. They are worshipped with offerings. The Keleepho create the winds; the Tah Yoorniu cause eclipses; the Cooda and Lauphoo preside over the wet and dry seasons.
Priesthood. — There are amongst the Karens a class of people who serve as prophets, and assume conditions of mind and body much like those affected by the "medicine-men" amongst North American Indians. What with writhing of the body, rolling on the ground, foaming at the mouth, etc., they are presumed to attain a state of clairvoyance favorable to the prediction of coming events. The prophecies uttered by these which are retained in tradition mostly pertain to the deliverance of the Karens from the oppression of the Burmese. These prophets are of two classes. The wees compose ballads and other poetry, and have great power in calling back departed kelahs. The other class are known as bookhos, and are rather priests than prophets, taking the lead in the religious ceremonies of the people, instructing them in their religious obligations, and are a more respectable class, being heads of communities, though not hereditary chiefs.
Missions. — Missionary work was commenced amongst these tribes about 1828, by Messrs. Boardman and Judson, who were succeeded by Messrs. Wade, Mason, and Kincaid. Twenty-five years after that the Karen apostle Ko-thau-Bu, a native convert, met with wonderful success amongst these people. Associated prominently with this great movement was Rev. Mr. Vinton, who "in six years planted forty churches, opened forty-two houses of worship and thirty-two school-houses, and saw between eight and nine thousand Karens raised to the level of Christian worshippers. In 1852 alone he received five hundred Karens into the Church. In 1868 the Baptist Mission report showed that they had amongst this people sixty-six native ordained pastors and evangelists; three hundred and forty-six native preachers unordained; three hundred and sixty native churches; nineteen thousand two hundred and thirty-one church members, and nearly sixty thousand natives" of all ages known as Christians. A writer in the Madras Observer (India) stated that, in Oct. 1868, a gentleman, not in sympathy with the Baptists, but a great traveller, performing his journeys on foot through Burmah while amongst these Karen districts, said that on one occasion "he found himself for seventeen successive nights, at the end of his days' journeys through the forest, in a native Christian village.
Literature. — Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. iv; Wayland, Life of Judson; Brace, Races of the Old World; Whitney, Language and the Study of Language; Latham, Elements of Comparative Philology; Anderson, Foreign Missions (N. Y. 1869); Mullen, Ten Years of Missionary Work in India; Mrs. Mason, Civilizing Mountain Men, or Sketches of Mission Work among the Karens (1862); Mrs. Wylie, Gospel in Burmah. For a full history of the mission work amongst the Karens, see Mason, Gospel in Burmah; Report of American Baptist Mission Union for 1868. A comparative vocabulary of the Sgau and Pwo dialects of the Karen language, by the Rev. Dr. Nathan Brown, Baptist missionary, now of New York City, may be found in the Jour. of the American Oriental Society, vol. iv. SEE BURMAH (II. Missions). (J. T. G.)