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Saran Samantarat
Paisarn Tepwongsirirat
Ornsiri Panin

As one of the best practices on resourses-nature-harmonized, Karen culture is still being on the ecological crisis
Earth. The minority group of Karen approximately have 4-7 million people living on both side along Myanmar
Thailands border from Salawin watershade of Shan , Kayah,Kayin untill Tanintharyi former Tenasserim
Division(~700,000 in Thai). They problably settled in this region for thausand year ago or more.
The indigeneous Karen did not have manuscript since 1832 ,when Dr.Jonathan Wade adopt manuscript system from
Burmese alphabets for Karen phonetic .Originally they built and maintain their cultural practices through lots of
tales, speeches and lyrics[Tah or Eutah]. Carrying on, containing all with cultural code cosmologies,cultural
schemata- from generation to generation by distributed through several medias several scale among their built
environment within everydaylife practice which opportunated those for reproduction of perception places time
ritual mostly.
Rev.Harry Ignatious Marshall wrote The Karen People of Burma: A Study in Anthropology and Ethnology and
first printed in 1922. This book, stressed on Sgaw a subgroup of Karen in Burma ,is one of the most important Karen
ethnographic statement before civil war time after departure of British empire colonisation untill now in Myanmar.
The main idea of this article is to compare the cultural code consisted and latented in built environment, in term of
RapporpotsHigh-Level meaning of Karen Sgaw in Burma in 1900 with recently research in the same ethnic
group study in Thailand 2000-Indigenous Knowledge and Relativity in Cultural Landscape of Pa-ga-ger-yor.

The comparison derives on four narratives ,from little to larger rely to built environment scale . First the interior
perspective inside the individual house der. Second , the public house Blaw founded in both countries and time.
Third comparison is on the female social welfare house Der pee muemareand its gender discourse. The last
compares the layout planning of the villages Hipur, Thwaw , with an emphasis on each historical contexts.
The main codes from four scale on both place-time studing intrepretes in same direction that using of sustainablility
cosmology for all scale in both private and public from individual- community- World in Amos Rapporports High-
level meaning according to his bookThe Meaning of the Built Environment.


People who are without writing have a fantastically precise knowledge of their environment and all their resources.
All these things we have lost. (Claude Levi-Strauss,1978: 19)

The ethnicity of Karen has approximately 4-7 million populations distributed in large area where nowadays along
2000 km of Myanmar-Thai borderline. They are found between the tenth and twenty first degrees of north latitude
and between the ninety-fourth and one hundredth degrees of east latitude (Marshall1922:1). As Language Family
Group, Karenic branch is a member in Tibeto-Burman group, classified in name of Tibeto-Karenic. This branch can
divide in 3 zones -northern, central and southern Karenic sub branch. Which southern Karenic composed with 3
language tribes -Lekeh, Sgaw and Pwo. The Sgaw group is the largest and most widely scattered, (Suriya 2000;
PMCSA2007) the paper focuses on the Sgaw group also.

As a political reclaiming in deep ecology movement, Karen agriculture cultures were studied by many quality
academic papers for their behaviour on nature respect. (Yos2008; Pinkaew1996; P.Kunderstadter, E.C.Chapman,
and Sanga Sabhasri1978; Kannikar1999; Anan2000; Arunratana2003)
Their swindle rice field agriculture as rotation system was understand and substitute the slash and burn agriculture
which normally condemn in the nature conservation. Their rotational swindle agricultural system provides
subsistence-sufficiency-sustainability for self. The system that consumes none of non-renewable resources and little
energy produced zero waste with low carbon emission. By that, Karen culture should be known as one of the best
practices on nature-harmonized culture still living in the SEA region on Earth,regarding to Levi-Strauss ..have a
fantastically precise knowledge of their environment and all their resources. All these things we have lost.
Sustainability become the most interesting discourse in Trandisipline of Landscape,Environment,
Urbanism, Social Engagement as the World -matter of urgency-agenda, keywords such as flow, dynamic,
resilence, livable, renewing social ideology become significiant by reviews . (Thongpan Poonsuwan; Sulak
Siwalak;Folke2006;Hamin & Gurran2009;Swilling2011).

This paper shows cultural codex meaning evidents in term like that but not from currently Buddism Ideology,in
indigeneous knowledge side. Ever those keywords happened in Buddism Ideology too before.
Karen culture, in between from pre-history period till modern era, is the otherness of current knowledge. Cause the
Karen had no written language in the early. The cultures were conveyed by no manuscript which rejected from
World currents (white- Christian colonize- masculine) knowledge along the linear trajectory same pattern to be
primitive implication. It is not to be inferred that they were without a literature. On the contrary, a large quantity of
bard literature was handed down orally from generation to generation in tales, legends, and mythical stories (tah;hta)
much more than the number of leaves in the forest. The Sgaw language was reduced to writing by using the Burma
alphabet in denoting most of the sounds by Dr.Jonathan Wade in 1832. By his word the Karen language is a beauty
and force of expression unsurpassed perhaps in any other language in the Word. (Marshall1922:32-33). This culture
coded of high-level meanings (related to cosmologies, cultural schemata, worldviews, philosophical system, and the
sacred) upon their built environment as in their everydaylife practice. To make way to understand the otherness of
knowledge ,this paper intended to find how culturally coding extracted to this ethnic built environment and to
investigate clue that take part to its sustainability according to a Rapporports statement it is the social situation that
influences people s behavior, but it is the environment that provides the cues.(Rapporport1982,1990:57)

Contents of this document separated in eight parts; first, Introduction, showed brief information on Karen culture;
second, Reviews, show literature for key ideas and essence history researches, which construct following core
narratives compare cases from Burma1900 and Siam2000. Third show cultural code comparing on micro scale of
house furniture especially fireplace meaning; forth narrate and compare the ideology code on blaw public-house
case that almost disappeared from Thailand; fifth on social welfare of widow house; and sixth narrative on
thwaw, hi pur, village scale; finally end up by conclusion.


The method of this qualitative research becoming from mixed with historical method on documentaries
interpretation and gathering empirical data in field as ethnography or anthropological fieldworks and vernacular
architecture fieldworks .On the former stressed onto ;( Greetz, erving guffman;
processual symbolic analysis Turner and the latter is regard to the meaning in Built environment of Rapporport
1980 . Both done in recently research: Indigenous Knowledge and Relativity in Cultural Landscape(Saran 2009) .

Prescribed formal behavior for occasions not given over to technological routine, having reference to beliefs in
mystical beings and powers. (Turner1967:19)
a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, preformed in a sequestered place, and
designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors goals and interests (Turner 1977:183)
Rituals are storehouses of meaningful symbols by which information is revealed and regarded as authoritative, as
dealing with the crucial values of the community.(Turner1968a:2)

Not only symbols reveal crucial social and religious values; they are also (precisely because of their reference to the
supernature) transformative of human attitudes and behavior.
Likewise, a symbol is the smallest unit of ritual which still retains the specific properties of ritual behavior; it is a
storage unit filled with a vast amount of information(Turner 1968:1-2)
Symbolics can be objects, activities, words, relationships, events, gestures, or spatial units. (Turner 1967: 19)

Limanality and communitas
Built environment
T.J. Batuska explained the built environment by four interrelated characteristics. First it is everywhere provides the
context for all human endeavours or everything humanly created, modified, constructed, made, arranged, or
maintained. Second, it is the creation of human minds and the result of human purposed or to fulfil human needs,
wants, and values. Third, it created to mediate the overall environment and forth, every component of built
environment is defined and shaped by the context; each and all of the individual elements contribute either positively
or negatively to the overall quality of environments both built and natural and to human-environment relationships in
every scale from individual, society, including global and even planetary.(McClure,Bartuska2007:5-7)

Meaning in built environment
According to Amos Rapporport 1990, he suggested that in case of primitive and vernacular environments, the
considerable meaning had from the users not reader. He suggested communicate meaning, cultural code at three
distinct levels in his updated epilogue ; High-level meanings related to, for example, cosmologies, cultural
schemata, worldviews, philosophical systems, and the sacred; Middle-level meanings, those communicating
identity, status, wealth, power, and so on-that is latent rather than the instrumental aspects of activities, behaviour,
and settings; Low-level everyday and instrumental meanings; mnemonic cues for identifying uses for which settings
are intended and hence the social situations, expected behaviour, and the like; privacy, accessibility, penetration
gradients; seating arrangements; movement and way-finding; and other information which enables users to behave
and act appropriately and predictably, making co-action possible.( Rapporport 1990:221)

Karen Cosmologies; Cultural Schemata
According to Pinkaew Luangaramsri, the cosmological concept of Karen is the relationship composition of
Buddhism-Animism-Nature-People. She suggested that the key essence is inseparability of the wholeness in three
narratives; first, Karen do not separate nature to nature guardian ,belive that those are the same where live in
different dimensions,nature is not a physcal body but has spiritual like human being; second, consequency from
first,so it is impossible to nature- whole or apart- acquisition, respect is core concept in relationship system of human
being and nature being. Third, people do not separate everydaylife practices,social practice, ethics out from nature
beliving. Authentic karenic ways of life (Buddism in Karen way) survive not only Karen social system but also whole
nature system. Correct human life must become both social instruments or custom tool and social final ideology or
SIAM 2009: Indigenous Knowledge and Relativity in Cultural Landscape of Pa-ka-geh-yor[Karen Sgaw]-
This qualitative research interests in indigenous cultural landscape of an ethnic group Karen Sgaw in Thailand.
Research method by investigated cultural codes in the practice in everyday life, as Erving Goffmans The
Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, within the Built Environments as costumes and stage setting. Data collected
from field works along Northern Western to Southern of Thailand done during 2007-2008, supported by former
vernacular architecture reports from 1975-2007. Where representative all the settlements of Karen Sgaw or
Pakarkeryor in Thailand.
The results of the study found classification nomenclature system of Karen Sgaw architecture on their own
terminology; the common tradition layout planning of house and its auxiliary buildings; the cultural Code embedded
in architectures such as village, house, construction system, utensils, and hearth. Building material as bamboo
encoded by oral literature and language structure in everyday life practices contained cultural system such as social-
collectiveness. The discovery of blaw-public house in Thailand. The social-welfare system in case of
derpeemuemare-non kid widows house .The genderism spatial system in case of the household stove that not only
keep its basic functions of wants and needs but the hearth also conveys the essence Ideology or Karen Sgaw cultural
code. Metaphorically, if a Karen common house infer to body of productive of a female subject , a stove at the heart
of the house infer to her productive womb . Karenic stove is furniture that take part of reproduces the culture and
ethnic identity forever.
Karen Sgaws architecture and their built environment are not only supply the basic needs, but also contain the
cultural identity, the cosmology as cultural code. Differenced to mainstream value assessment in Architecture,
stressed on aesthetical senses from the observers out-side, the study invited the assessment from cultural codex
interpretation in-side.
Relativity sytems from cosmological codes, in between of becoming of new life, changing of seasoning dynamical
still in the relationship found in the baby-mother thought the earth-moon relationship formed by unseen web as
umbilicus spiral and its imitation of norporgra- the spiritual stick. The Karen paradigm and their cosmological
cultural codes embedded in the practice of everyday life. As well, sometimes the smallest detail reveals the most
important meaning about a Culture.(Saran Samantarat2009)
Burma1916: The Karen People of Burma.A Study in Anthropology and Ethnology
The Karen People is a classical anthropological monograph. It is full of data ,ironically, it is still the most
recent general description of basically all aspects of Karen culture in Burma. Since it was written 75 years ago there
are evidently many current questions which the book cannot answer. But it is still a significant ethnographic
study,which has been widely read and widely quoted., Marshall gave the Karens respectabibliy though this book,
not by overdoing all their great efforts,but by the emphasis on a comprehensive description of the life of the groups
living in the forest with their veneration of the forest spirits,etc.This accomphishment can not be overemphasized.
(from Anders Baltzer Jorgensen Forward in 1997 version)
Sites on this book was around Ayeyawaddy Division and Bago Division nowaday. In the page 59 there is a drawing
of plan of longhouse village, presumed drawn by the author Rev.Harry Ignatious Marshall himself. For help for
compare and explanation I use this picture and its specification to be core of following.

1. Fireplace
2. Hso Hko for receiving guests
3. Sleeping Room
4. Back Veranda
(1.-4. is a unit of family room is a house der)
5. Paddy Bins
6. A Widows Room (Smaller than the others)
7. A Detached Family Room
Blaw- Guest room specified in a room in plan. The
heading of the picture is
From here short name and code used for any information
from this book is Burma1916,(B19) and
Siam2009,(S20)for my research. The next session is Code
of House and its parts where 1.-4. includeed,then to the
public Blawcode and then Widow house code and then the

village and its parts as paddy bins, stockade,etc,stessed in cultural code not physical Data which I reported in paper

Karen family system (matrialineage and verilocallity)
Before go to the house and its code. I will show cultural code in Karen cloths. There are 2 gender men, women and 2
status youth and elder. Cloths coded for
everyday and instrumental meanings; mnemonic cues for identifying uses or Low-level meaning. However it use
as social constructive instrument too. It is importantly prohibit for dressing wrong gender-status cloths. So the codes
is cultural schemata, explains the familiar and pre-acquainted knowledge one uses when entering a familiar
situation in its own culture, or High-level meanings. Actually some pattern arranged in their cloths came along with
mythical characters of ancient times in their legendary. Its good example to show how otherness of knowledge exists
in other culture.
Terminology of house
,the research found 6 types in Karen legendary tales; king-house[Derjorpa,];orphan-house
[Derplowkaeh], male-house [Derkwa];female-house[Dermue],widow-house[Derpeemuemare]. Last is public house
[Blaw]. Former 3 types are only in tales but male house which probably is a Karen Pwo house. The latter 3type
found in study. In this section is for female-house,actually, almost every Karen houses are in this type house that
belong to female and be representation of her body. Derpeemuemare found once in a while in any villages. Blaw
found only just one in Chaigrai. (S20)
In the page 62 of (B19) there is a picture expand unit of Karen family room in a long house.

1. Waterjoist place htipulaw(B19),Tihterloah(S20)
2. Fireplace cooking
3. Fireplace-Social hearth
4. Guests lounging place Hso Hkofor chief unit only(B19), Tohkoh(S20)5.Family sleeping room
6.Back Veranda
My research found two hearths house especially in one case that son family live with his mother house ,his wife and
his mother have each clan spirit, which need their own stove as female matriarch shrine. However, this ambiguous
situation was in temporary. (S20)

First presented by Pati Kaew Jige and Siwagon Odochaw, on31th March 2006, Faculty of Arch. KMTL, after that developed from Pati Joni
Odochaw interviewed by author.

Actually the unit of longhouse (B19) differs much in plan and circulation compare with the single house (S20).
However several cultural codes are the same surprisingly. Like the swidden rotation agriculture system, both houses
had its destiny to live and die in rotation as life. Longhouse is habitable only for a year or two, was built by the
combined efforts of the men of the little community from material of which the supply is abundant, and can be
replaced quickly(Marshall:63). Dermue,Der house metaphorically means female owners body. It is reason to destroy
the house , her pigs and her chicken to nature along her funeral rites.(S20) Clues for masculine place both happened
in HsoHko (B19) and in toh koh especially in jorplaewoo(which raised platform like hso hko) and male shrine-
perhjokoh (S20).
The most important female sign in the house is her wombs that is hpa k pu, the fireplace where cooking, healing to
improvised the new born mother and custom ceremonies such as kih jue wrist tying or the calling back of the kla
or ta kweh kla and house rite of au xae. As Marshall one who has entered into intimate association with these
people,has been entertained in their houses, and has sat beside their fireplaces will testify to their love of fun and their
jolly laughter.(Marshall:23)
[MaeUrLoh], [piklapoo], hpa k pu fireplace consists of four upright bamboo poles fastened in the floor beams
below and reaching to the cross-beam above. On the floor a rough box-like enclosure is built around the bottom of
the poles and filled in with dirth and ashes. Three round stones give support to the cooking vesselsA hole cut in
each of two front poles of the fire place a little way above the floor serves as a holder for the bamboo stick kept for
stirring the cooking rice and others foods.(B19:61)
The cultural codes that underline items explains more here .
Four upright bamboo poles Skee terh columns are sitting on 2 pieces of bamboo trunk bases called
Pah kwah. It has proverb refer that two bamboo trunk bases are parent in the house, and refer four columns as their
sonsin-law, bonding deeply connected family relationship. In the field work one who accepted researcher as a part
of family invited the conservation around the fireplace, called it Skee terh in place of piklapoo. Skee terh form a
sacred space, to pass something to other person through this space is vigorous prohibit.
Three round stones Lershaw, each piece of stone refer to mother, father, and predecessor spirit. So it taboos to act
without respect here. First rite for start living in new house TohKehDer is finding appropriately of the dirt, three
stone and three fruits of chilli procured for new stove. (Akkarapong2007)
Pieces of used charcoal with ash should be use as medicine with water to heal bellyache and ash use to shower in the
air for lucky journey for member of family.
The holes and bamboo stick LonDohKwah. The sticks always use in the most rites of Karen including comfort
ceremony ta kweh kla [riak Kwan]. Case of Karenic elephant kla riual in Kanchanaburi use londohkwah to
be one of ten essence things such as bannana, sugar cane, black sesami,[tiedboiled rice, mold sticky rice ,streamed
sticky rice, sacred water( with cucurma root; Acacia concinna ripped fruit ) water, red thread and white thread; and
last stir rice stick londohkwah.
The bamboo stick and its holes that keeping place calling the same name. They used as family remote spiritual tele-
relationship, eg. Parent can call their son who absence to come back by talking in this holes or in stick like psychic
mobile telephone.
Karen parent must intent to construct LonDohKwah as good as they can both hole and stick, the irregular shape of
LonDohKwah may cause of abnormally shape of newborn baby mouth. LonDohKwah means the langur
(Semnopithecus ;Presbytis spp.) tale which still live in their tales which told always along the stove. This is a way
cultural codes latent in built environment.(S20)

Others artefact Norporklah and ?



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( On temporary house the compromising of Pado house(right) connect with its modern growth)
According to Marshal , In a few Karen villages a young mens club-room blow is still maintained ,but not in term of the guestchamber and boy club-room, however, I found blaw as village place for ritual custom
sometime. According to Marshall, In the earlier days among the Karen of the hills the blaw was an important
feature of village life. It is still retained, although it seems to have lost some of its former significance. It is the guest
and club-room reserved in the central part of the village-house. Strangers coming in for a visit or passing by on their
journey are entertained here. Such a convenience was necessary in the days when the tabu of the Bgha feast was
strictly observed, and no outsider was allowed to enter to Der. There was raised dais (in the blaw). Besides
serving as guest-chamber, the blaw has another important uses, namely, as the gathering-place for the young men
of the village, repairs to the blaw to be with his fellows and to sleep there. Among the Kachins the blaw is a place
of license.(Marshall:62,138-139)

Blaw, and its plan

Blaw, interior riaise dais, its upsidedownskeeter
According to my research, code of blaw latent in its skeeter and its raised dais in my field work blaw here refer
to the chief of the village actually Karen village chief position is Hi kow but in this case he is blaw kow. The
raised dais in plan related to male villagers in an annual ritual which separated place for elders and youth villagers.
The up-side-down skeeter may refer to other of world beyond, related to their cosmology somehow according to the
There are more interesting codes about blaw, such as Prohibit to construct it more than one day, which allow only
real surplus labours and materials for village. According to its location blaw is in front of the village and separate
from most villagers units (both longhouse, and single-house village). Other adapted blaw in Thailand found in Tak
province , the village chief built up to keep everyday instruments like museum, which also expressed their re-identify
self of the village along the problem with the border refugees camps.
However, blaw issues contained as action part on recommendation of Education and culture for Karen tradition
conservation subcommittee, a part of the resolution of Thailand Government in 3 August 2010, item16th. One
important detail is Pushing, the Karen rotation agriculture landscape had to be a Cultural Word Heritage.

Adapted blaw in Guitah Village,Tak
The old practice of village communities in exiling widows and orphans to the jungle, and the occasional
abandonment of little children by their parents who were attempting to escape from raiders are, happily, things of the
past. Fear, the instinct of self-preservation, and superstition serve to explain such phenomena,...Nowadays orphans
find a home without difficulty; widows and aged persons are cared for; parents enjoy their firesides and manifest
love for their offspring, with whom they are, in fact, too indulgent, ever to their hurt; and young men and women are
not above giving tender care to some little niece or nephew. (Marshall:27)


For derpeemuemare key codes latent in its locality and appropriated size, interpreted in research. Actually it is an
example of self-organization social welfare.

Karen Women Organization2010

Comparison of size, a Karen local house derker and a
widow house derpeemuemare in Tak
On Marshall pictures page 59 , legend no.6 is A Widows Room (Smaller than the others). A Karen female widow
is supposed to self sufficiency on her ever day life in her little hut and of courses her stove, sign of her clan spirit
body, in affordably of self- maintenances. Its tiny scale must plan from the construction phase both span and bay in
th waw ,consider it is more complicate to built. The explanation is tiny scale in this case is culture code too.
According to Rapporport, it fits in Middle-Level meaning.
The other code is locality. Widows House always located near core of the village such as centre of longhouse in th
waw or sideway of the main road middle of the village. Every villager can visit and takes care for her welfare in that
position. I only found a dog living closed to upon the platform just only in case of derpeemuemare.

In Karen Sgaw word ze phi means teakwood plant, phi same word in the meaning of village. Its clues for
material codex in linguistics. There are lot of taboo for many wood species and also characteristic types of plant such
as double-trunk tree using as construction materials, however the teak wood is allowed to do. Generaly the most of
the houses were made by several species of bamboos.
In Karen village there are few groups of houses, each clusters keep only for brother-sister household direct from their
maternity predecessor. It is prohibit to build new house penetrate between other clan cluster. Again that cultural code
related to the locality of built environment.

Typical site plan of a house combine, with a house Der,DerKer, a platform chicken-hut ShorKarKoh and a
platform barn BuePor with piglet place underneath( to protect rodent thief) , are to be general typical unit of
habitat-body in Karen Sgaw landscape.
According to Yoko Hayami, a Karen community, referred to as zi or hi is typically the largest autonomous unit,
constitutes the basic ritual and moral entity that grounds a Karen persons sense of belonging. hior zi, is often
used in paired contrast to pga(forest) which is the realm of wild animals and spirits, the forest is the antithesis of
the comunitys social order, the orderly space of human habitation.(Hayami: 141)
On( s20) study, there is variation of types of village related to the name of its chief. Basically, ordinary village is hi;
phi;hi pur (literally house) means village, which the chief of each villages name hi kow(literally house head) .
Some village has its stupa-koh(the ancient Tibetian stupa in form of collected accumulate gravels probably
happened before buddism stupa) name hi r tor koh and its chief name hir kow. Blaw village in Chingrai name
their chief both hi kow and blaw kow.

According to Marshall the village was the political unit, in village-house th waw each family having its living-room
opening off of the common corridor. Everybody was thrown into intimate contact with everybody else in the village.
Politically and socially the village was the center of their common life.In the village the elders (phga tha phga
literally, the old men) were looked up to as connecting the village life with past, in which all wisdom and culture were
supposed to have been revealed.Above the elders was the village chief (thkaw or skaw)
(Marshall: 127-128)
In my opinion, name the chief thkawrelated to th waw longhouse-village; skaw probably like zi kaw as
Hayami referred. She also endnotes that
It may be that the Karen longhouse was a temporary manifestation during a period of severe ecological or social
crisis within the immediate environment.(Hayami:332)
As her statement, there are exists in Marshalls picture of gateway and stockade fence of th waw village. He
explains that it is being modified by contact with the Burmese way of building (the fortress village), and every stage
of evolution from the village-barrack to separate family houses may be observed in Karen villages to-
The problem here is only from this last underlining phase. This introduce to the malicious , most assumed the linear
trajectory, that one is more original or authentic than the other one. About the fortress village concepts came from
some text in Burma History also quote here.(Suthachai Yimprasert2001, Lieberman1984, U Khin Mg Kyi & Daw



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