Monday, June 24, 2024

Young Pa-O And Shan Rappers Initiate Ethnic Solidarity And Coexistence

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To remove years of ethnic prejudices and tensions, two ethnic youngsters wrote and performed a song in Pa-O and Shan languages.


Pa-O and Shan youths have never previously collaborated on a song.

“Common Opps” or “Common Enemy” is the title of a famous collaborative song performed by Pa-O and Shan young singers.

Their desire is to put an end to the racism and prejudices, as well as religious fundamentalism, that have existed since the time of their ancestors.

A photo in which Shan and Pa O young people are seen together
A photo, in which Shan and Pa-O young people are seen together.

Shan State is home to a diverse range of ethnic nationalities, and three districts in Taunggyi are where Pa-O and Shan people coexist and live.

Although modest conflicts have existed throughout history, the two ethnic groups (Shan and Pa-O) have rarely engaged in large-scale military engagements or conflict. Street fistfights between Shan and Pa-O youth, some of which resulted in injuries, for example, would be indicative of minor tensions and misunderstandings.

In regard to these instances, a 50-year-old Pa-O man stated, “Shan and Pa-O are geographically interdependent, and we’re like siblings. Our diverse communities should communicate with one another as much as possible. Even at the national level, Pa-O and Shan have little interaction and dialogue. Similarly, there is little interaction or communication between Shan State’s many ethnic groups. We need to get together and interact more. That’s how I’d like it to be”.

The two teens agreed that they did not want ethnic tensions and racial prejudices to persist among today’s generation because the Shan and Pao ethnic groups have coexisted in Southern Shan State since their ancestors.

A photograph of different ethnic nationalities in Shan State standing next to each other
A photograph of different ethnic nationalities in Shan State standing next to each other.

The two artists are Khun Htet Naing, a 22-year-old Pa-O youth, and Sai Suam Main, a 21-year-old Shan youth.

Social media brought the two young musicians together. They cooperated on a rap song in two languages (Shan and Pa-O) because they had the same goal and desire to reduce racism and religious extremism.

“Shan and Pa-O are plagued with racial prejudices. Many people feel they do not get along with one another, and this attitude is especially prominent among older generations and adults, although it may also be felt by young people. As a response, I came up with the idea of creating a song with our Shan friend to demonstrate that young people do not have prejudices like adults. We do not have extremism based on ethnicity or religion. Such biases do not belong among Shans and Pa-O. There are only two types of people: good and bad. We are going to band together. So, we wrote our song collaboration around those principles,” said Khun Htet Naing, a Pa-O Rap singer, explaining his goal and intention.

Similarly, Shan rapper Sai Suam Main agreed that when Pa-O rapper Khun Htet Naing proposed collaborating on a song and performing it in both Shan and Pa-O languages, he liked the idea and agreed to sing with him.

“Collaboration between Pa-O and Shan youths on a song might help to reduce tensions between the two groups, especially among young people. But, older generations and adults would not comprehend, thus adults do not listen as much to the songs on which we work. They will not comprehend the concept and may continue to be biased towards one another and quarrel. Young people, on the other hand, have no boundaries. Hopefully, this awareness will extend to older generations, who will have a similar perspective,” Sai Suam Main expressed his desire.

Similarly, the two young musicians intend to collaborate on additional songs with young people from other ethnic groups. They believe that their efforts to reach out to one another will be met with no barriers or limitations. They intend to use music, songs, and the arts to help reduce ethnic tensions and prejudices. They came together because they both enjoy music and want to remove misconceptions about it. The two artists revealed their shared motives and intentions.

A group photo in which Shan and Pa O young people are seen together
A group photo, in which Shan and Pa-O young people are seen together.

In Shan State, all ethnic groups coexisted. The Shan and Taang (Palang) ethnic groups, for example, have coexisted in Northern-Shan State since their ancestors’ time. Nonetheless, as a result of the Military Council’s divide and rule tactic, ethnic conflicts have grown.

“Shan and Pa-O youths collaborated on this rap song. We also aim to make the same effort with other ethnicities. I have Ta-ang friends (Palaung). Nonetheless, those amongst my friends are not that interested in rap music. We would collaborate if we had Taáng friends who shared the same goal and vision. I’d want to collaborate on writing a song on the negative consequences of people’s biases against one another based on race and ethnicity.” Sai Suan Maine, a rapper from Northern Shan State, agreed.

Northern Shan State is home to both ethnic armed organizations and ethnic political parties. Armed warfare and clashes between ethnic armed organizations have also impacted and divided various ethnic parties and communities.

The armed struggle between the EAOs has had an impact on the relationship in that it has resulted in situations where community members have been arrested and killed on suspicion of being affiliated with one of the sides. This has resulted in communal divides and a lack of trust.

“People in the community manage to get along and communicate with one another despite the armed conflict between different EAOs. But, people did not trust and associate with one another as much as they had previously. In recent months, circumstances have improved (with the reduction of inter-EAO warfare), and the social fabric has begun to mend. People are interacting with one another, which has reduced distrust “ remarked a 30-year-old guy from both the Shan and Ta An ethnic groups.

The divide and rule strategy has also had an influence on Southern Shan State. The military-drafted 2008 constitution assigned three townships : Hsihseng Township, Pinlaung Township, and Hopong Township, to the Pa-O Special Self-administered Region.

A group photo showing Shan States diverse ethnic nationalities
A group photo showing Shan State’s diverse ethnic nationalities.

Ethnic tensions between ethnic groups in the self-administration zone became prevalent with the creation of such an autonomous entity in the manner specified by the 2008 constitution.

“When I was in high school, we (Shan) and Pa-O students shared a dormitory. If we got into an argument, they’d (the Pa-O friends) warn us (Shan) that we stay in the Pa-O area. As is typical of young people, insults and trashing are frequently used. They labeled me as gay since I had pale skin. I become mentally wounded and angry at times.” A Shan youth in his twenties shared his experience.

Yet, he maintains that, since the military takeover, there has been greater unity among diverse ethnic youths, and individuals will no longer discriminate against one another. Right now, young people are joining together to oppose arbitrary dictatorships; they also understand the distinction between the just and the unjust.

“Young people are living in a new era, where extremism and nationalism based on race and religion have no place. We only judge individuals based on what is good and bad, just and unjust, and not on their ethnicity or religion. We should not discriminate, as the Shans and Pa-O have lived in the same region for many years. This is how I view it: we should not be divided “ According to Pa-O singer Khun Htet Naing.

According to Sai Su, the Sao Thusandi Youth Leadership Award laureate, the Shan and Pa-O communities have grown increasingly racist as a result of radical nationalism and policies.

“The youth are free of prejudice and discrimination. Extremists and narro-minded individuals may persuade us if we do not carefully examine and learn from the history. You’ll trust what they say and go along with their narrative. It would be the root cause of distrust between various ethnicities,” Sai Su said.

Sai Su stressed that we could learn from our past and the practices of our ancestors, such as how they coexisted, interacted, and treated one another harmoniously. We should also talk in a language that everyone understands.

The Shan and Pa-O ethnic groups share many traditional customs, practices, and foods.

Shan State, where various ethnic nationalities coexist, is akin to a vibrant garden with a variety of colorful flowers blooming.

“Our distinctions may be seen not just within ethnic groups, but also within individuals. We think and behave in quite different ways. Despite our differences, I feel we can coexist, which is a great and powerful thing for us to embrace. The ability to cohabit does not come from a nation or ethnic group as a whole, but rather from an individual, from his or her thoughts and attitudes. It is entirely dependent on how each Pa-O and Shan thinks. I am a mixed-race Shan-Pa-O. People must accept and embrace their differences “ added Ma Tae Phyu.

“If you start discriminating, it may lead to national prejudice and discrimination, as well as a political division. If you treat each other as equal human beings, there will be less tension. We must band together on the basis that we are all human beings,” Ma Tae Phy, a multiracial Shan-PaO, stated.

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