MON PEOPLE STRIVE TO PRESERVE DREAM OF OWN HOMELAND
(By DENIS D. GRAY, Associated
Sangkhlaburi, Thailand -- You won't find it on any maps or road signs, but on full-moon nights like this, with a thousand lanterns flickering, Buddhist monks praying and sarong-clad women carrying offerings, one can almost believe that Monland lives in more than dreams.
The Bor Kamot-Kaban festival is one of many celebrated by 6,000 Mon people whose hillside home has proved a haven from the harsh military regime in nearby
Living above a spectacular lake ringed by craggy limestone mountains, these heirs of one of Southeast Asia's great civilizations strive to preserve their language, traditions and even the dream of an independent homeland -- something they last possessed 250 years ago.
"People were tired after 40 years of fighting. Homes were burned, fields destroyed, people were killed or disappeared. Now they are trying to re-establish their lives," says Kasauh Mon of the Human Rights Foundation of Monland.
Some 100,000 Mon are thought to live in
Thai authorities forced 10,000 Mon refugees back into
The Mon make do as fishermen, farmers and small traders.
But they have a home, thanks to a revered 94-year-old monk. When the old town of
At the crown of the hill, the abbot constructed the resplendent Wang Wiwekaram Monastery as a repository of Mon culture. Donations poured in from many Thais who also regard him with great reverence.
"He's a good and intelligent leader for the Mon people. We don't see anybody to replace him. It's very sad," Kasauh Mon says.
efforts, youngsters learn the Mon language. Each year he invites monks from
Activists in Sangkhlaburi have started a Mon Culture and Literature Survival Project, a news agency and Web site and are conducting investigations into human rights abuses by Myanmar's ruling military.
Although the junta denies the accusations, the exiles have detailed arrests and torture, confiscation of land, forced labor, and attempts to suppress the Mon language and traditions.
Splinter groups battle
At night, to the shimmering tones of strings, cymbals and xylophones, mothers turn preteen daughters into little princesses of old, combing their long, shiny hair into garlanded topknots and rouging their lips.
The next morning, 16 of them dance in the vast monastery courtyard. The faithful fill a canoe with rice, fruit and sweets and float it on the lake in memory of an ancient monk who needed sustenance while meditating on a boat far out at sea.
It was the Mon who spread the dominant Theravada Buddhism into
Politically, they flourished in
Jack Dunford, who heads a collection of aid groups called the Burma Border Consortium, says the most the Mon can hope for is that their rights and culture will be protected within a federal union in
"To be realistic, the Mon are not going to have their own kingdom or sovereign state," he says.
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