Doctrine divides, Action unites


  May 2014


Indigenous Karen Protect Thai Forest

Kipho Mora

Karen villagers mark the boundaries of the forest to prevent logging
and so-called development that does not benefit them but rather
hinders their ability to live. (Photo by Kipho Mora)

The Karen people from the Mae Kyo Klo area in northern Thailand have lived for many generations in the mountainous region of Mae Hong Son Province with their livelihood dependent on the area’s jungles and rivers. They are primarily farmers who till the land using the methods that their grandparents taught them.

“Our old generation,” says elder Saw Nu, “does rice farming along the mountains; and after the harvest, they leave the farm for seven years and then return to farm again. They tell their children that where are there are thick forests and the source of the river you don’t need to do mountain rice farming there.”

People in the city think that the Karen people who live in the jungle are destroying the forests and rivers. Consequently, they want to move the Karen people outside of the forests.

Local Karen villagers in the area though said that “the forest was destroyed and wild animals were killed by the people from the lowlands and city, not us. Our mountain people protect the forests and hunt but not for trading. After we kill the wild animals, we share the meat with the whole village. People from the city though, when they go to hunt, they hunt a lot of animals and bring them back in their truck to sell in the market.”

Now the forests and rivers are dying. They are not abundant like before. Thus, the local Karen people face problems every day. To bring back the life of the forests and rivers, the Karen people in the Mae Kyo Klo area gathered recently to discuss how to protect the forest. They have drawn lines to define the boundaries of the forest to limit logging and the forest’s destruction. As the Karen people in that area are spiritual people, they pray and ask the Spirit of the Forest to protect it:

“We come to tell you to keep safe our wild animals, the fish and frogs. We don’t want others to destroy life. If someone kills or gives you pain or eats you, you also eat them. If they cut your hand, cut their hand. If they break your legs, break their legs. If they kill you, everything depends on you [Spirit of the Forest]. How do you want us to respond to them?”

People from the city and wealthy people try to oppress the indigenous people and drown them with injustice. For justice and peace to emerge, however, one should not just listen to people with money; we should hear the voices of grassroots people and their stories of discrimination and the exploitation of their resources and the threats to their lives, livelihoods and way of life. Ignoring their desire for justice with apathy and silence is yet another form of injustice.

* Saw Doo Plaw Soe, who attended the School of Peace (SOP) conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) in 2010 in India, is a filmmaker and newswriter for the Kwekalu Karen Media Group.

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