Some of the lesser known communities around the world and what makes them so fascinating.
One of the first people to settle in Southeast Asia, the Mon are said to have migrated southward from western China into Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma) about 1,200 years ago, and established one of the earliest civilisations there. The Mon of Myanmar reside mainly towards the southeast of Yangon in Mon State and Kayin State. It was the Mon who introduced Buddhism to Myanmar around the eight century AD. They also pioneered wet rice farming, and irrigated rice (grown both for consumption and trade) is their main produce. Mon people reside in village settlements that have their own monastery, and their houses, which closely resemble Thai homes, are wooden framed structures built on poles. There are an estimated eight million Mon people in the world today, and most of them live in Myanmar and Thailand.
BELIEFS & SPIRITUALITY
Mon people are deeply religious and the majority of them practise the Mon’s ethnic religion, which is a combination of spiritual worship and Buddhism. They believe that all objects are inhabited good and evil spirits, and Buddhist monks are the mediators between the human and spirit worlds. Mon shamans, who are mostly women, perform spirit dances at which they allegedly become possessed by spirits to help alleviate illnesses in the village. The Mon believe that a person can get sick due to a lack of spirituality, so to restore the spiritual energy, offerings are made to Buddha.
CULTURE & CUSTOMS
Spiritual dances and traditional musical instruments are part of the Mon culture and heritage. The dances are accompanied by background music using drums, crocodile xylophones, gongs, harps, flutes and flat guitars, and are performed in a formal theatre or in village gathering.
CELEBRATIONS & CEREMONIES.
The Mon people do not observe formal weddings or matrimonial ceremonies. Instead, when a couple decide to get married, the boy’s friends approach the girl’s parents, and if they approve of the relationship, the boy is then allowed to move in with the girl and her family for three years. Only upon the completion of the three-year period can the couple proceed to establish their own household. When it comes to lineage, the Mon are not particularly patrilineal, although the deity that represents the house spirit can only be hung in the home of the eldest living male of a lineage. One of the main celebrations for the Mon is Thingyan, the water festival held to usher in the Myanmar New Year. It is a tradition during this celebration to prepare Thingyan rice (rice cooked with sandalwood scented water), which is eaten with various side dishes that are usually slightly spicy and salty, like dried fish, fried onions and pickled salads.
TRADITIONAL FARE Mon cuisine is essentially curry-based. It is similar to Burmese food, but with a more extensive choice of curries, and Mon food is generally spicier than most other cuisines.
TheMon language, also called Talaing or Peguan, belongs to the Austroasiatic language family. It shares a common origin with the Nyah Kur people of Thailand and is a distant relative of the Khmer language group. One unique feature is that, unlike most Southeast Asian languages, the Mon language is not tonal (use of pitch in a language to distinguish vocabulary or grammar), but follows a vowel-register system instead.