Mon People

The Mon History

Thu 01 Apr 2004,
Among the present various inhabitants of Burma, the Mon are the oldest. They arrived into Burma probably between 2500 and 1500 BC. The Mon were close cousin of Khmers, with whom they originally came down from Mongolia. Since then, they settled in some parts of Thailand, and along Tenasserim and on the Irrawaddy delta of Burma. The first strong Mon kingdom in Burma was well-known as Suwarnabhumi, The Golden Land and it had a port capital Thaton (it is still situated in Mon State as a small town), which was not so far from the isthmian portage route; and through this window to the see they saw India, in its full glory, united and peaceful under emperor Asoka and a flourishing center of Theravada Buddhism. Asoka sent a mission of Buddhist monks to Suwarnabhumi and introduced Theravada Buddhisim, which improved new civilization to the Mon. The ancient monastic settlement of Kalasa, situated a few miles from Thaton and claimed by Mon and Burman chronicles to have been founded by Asoka?s missionaries, was mentioned in early Ceylonese records as being represented at a great religious synod held in Cylon (Siri Lanka) in the 2nd Century BC.

Before the establishment of Burmans?s well-known kingdom Pagan, the Mon both in Thailand and Burma, were politically organized as the confederacy of Ramanya and embracing the three kingdoms of Thaton, Dvaravati, and Haripunjaya. Until the 8th century, the Mon kingdom was stable and expanded well relationship with Indias for trading and commerce. The expension was sudden and revolutionary but peaceful, the Indian merchants and seamen came to Thaton as friends rather than as conquistadors or colonists. The Mon also accepted Indian culture and developed their civilization.

The second wave of peoples to come into Burman after the Mon were the Tibeto- Burmans from the north. The Mon reluctance allowed the infant Burman kingdom to survive and grow. In the process the leadership of the Tibeto-Burman tribes passed to the Burmans and in 849 AD they founded their own city Pagan. In 1044, the Burmese king Anawrahta came to the throne of Pagan. After he grew his power and influence, he challenged and conquered Theravada Mon in Thaton in 1057. It was a unity not by peaceful means but through force. The conquest of Pagan was the foundation of both Pagan?s economy and its culture. Mon craftsmen, artisans, architects, goldsmiths, and wood carvers -captured at Thaton- were taken to Pagan to teach their skills and arts to the Burmans. Mon monks and scholars taught the Burmese the Pali language and the Buddhist scriptures. The Burmans soon became scholars themselves, making Pagan the center of Theravada learning.

In 1287, Pagan fell to Mongol Kubla Khan?s armies. After the fall of Pagan, the Mon in lower Burma consolidated themselves and restored their own kingdom. The kingdom was initially established at Martaban, near Moulmein and ruled by king Wareru. Then the capital of kingdom was transferred to Pegu (Hongsawatoi) in 1365. The Mon were achieving another golden age again under wise rulers that lasted until 1533. During and half centuries of golden era, Pegu?s Hongsawatoi Dynasty produced rulers who are still loved by the people of Burma today, and who left behind many sacred monuments.

In 1531, Thabinshwehti became the Burman king of Taungoo and within a few years he conquered lower Burma from the Mon and established his capital in Pegu. After he died, his brother-in-law Bayinnaung established the second Burman empire, by occupying Shan plateau and some parts of Thailand. Later, the capital of kingdom was transferred to Ava of upper Burma and it became weak. In 1740, the Mon declared independence and reestablished their kingdom in Pegu (hongsawatoi). The Burman capital of Ava fell to the Mon in 1752 and nearly the whole Burma became under Mon rule then.

U Aunggzeya, a Burman leader who is better known as King Alaungphaya, drove the Mon out of upper Burma from Ava and regained other lost territories. By 1757 he defeated the Mon annexed the Mon kingdom of Hongsawatoi. The Mon have ever since become a people without a country. The conquering Burman leader U Aungzeya persecuted the Mon by massacring over 3,000 learned Mon monks near Rangoon; by burning down holy scriptures and monasteries; by proscribing Mon language and literature; and by genocidal mass execution whereby thousands of Mon were exterminated in several stockade-inferno holocausts. Racial discrimination was rife and hundreds of thousands of the Mon fled to Siam (Thailand) for safe haven. In modern human rights terminology, it was a drastic ?ethnic cleansing? process.

After 68 years under the rule of Burman kings, following the second Anglo-Burmese war, the entire Mon territory of lower Burma was colonized by the British in 1824. Until and except the periods they were colonized by the two alien nations, the Burman and British, the Mon had exercised full rights of self-determination for many centuries. During the periods when the Mon were master of Lower Burma, the people were happy and prosperous. Those glorious periods were expressed by western historians as golden ages under wise Mon rulers. Relations with foreign countries and foreign nationals were peaceful, cordial and harmonious. They blended their native culture with Theravada Buddhism which elevated them as teachers of their neighbours in Southeast Asia.

The British administration based on modern democracy and capitalism superseded the Burmese autocratic feudalism, which treated other ethnic nationalities who were their domination as serfs. The peaceful situation during the British reign gave an opportunity for most of the ethnic non-Burman refugees who fled the tuthless brutal oppression of the Burman kings to neighbouring countries, to return to Burma.

The British during the process of annexing Burma, persuaded the Mon to rebel against Burma, while they were attacking the Burman who were oppressing the Mon as slaves. An excerpt from the proclamation by the British commanding officer, Sir Archibald, written in the book entitled ? The Making of Burma? by Dorothy Woodman says: ?Choose from amongst yourselves a Chief, I will recongnize him.? The promise was never honoured but instead the first Commissioner Mr. A. D. Maingy was appointed to administer the Mon dominated areas of Ye, Tavoy, Mergui and Tenasserim after incorporating them into the British Empire. This behaviour of the British infuriated the Mon very much, and they pledged to oust British rule from Burma in collaboration with the Burman and other ethnic victims of imperialism.

Through the anti-colonial struggle to free Burma from the yoke of the British imperialism, the Mon worked together with their indigenous brethren up to the end of World War II. But when independence for Burma from the British was in the offing, the Mon asserted their identity and right of self-determination. Some Mon cultural and political organizations such as All Ramanya Mon Association, United Mon Association and Mon Freedom League were formed by Mon leaders and asked the Burman leaders to recognize their identity. But the demand was flatly rejected by the Burman leader U Nu, who was the Prime Minister then. He claimed that ?the Mon and the Burman were identical and so there was no reason for the Mon to crave for a separate ethnic identity?. This refusal to recognize their primary demand created the Mon national upsurge, and resulted in an escalation of their demand to reclaim their old homeland which covers the whole of lower Burma.

In signing the Aung San-Atlee agreement for independence of the whole Burma, the Burman leadership approached the frontier ethnic nationalities to join the Union of Burma at Penglong in Shan State. An agreement came out to safeguard racil equal rights of the ethnic nationalities and establish a Federal Union, but the Mon, the Karen and the Karenni were not participants of the Penglong Agreement. After the death of Gen. Aung San, the succeeding Burmese leaders twisted the agreement by writing a constitution based on a unitary system concentrating the executive administrative power in the central government in Rangoon.

The Mon?s demand for the creation of a Mon State which covers lower Burma was rejected again and the repressive action was also taken against them by the ruling Burman leaders. Some Mon leaders were assassinated and many were imprisoned. More than 100 Mon villages were also burnt down and destroyed by the Burmese Army. These repressive measures pushed the Mon to take up arms and continue their struggle for racial rights by means of armed struggle in the wake of Burma independence in 1948. Initially, under the leadership of Mon People?s Front (MPF), the Mon armed struggle had been carrying on until 1958. In July 1958, MPF agreed with the then U Nu?s parliamentary government to transform itself as legal Mon freedom struggle under the democratic system. The democratic government of U Nu was abolished the Burmese Army led by Gen. Ne Win in a coup d?etat in 1962 and since then the country was ruled by a military dictatorship. The Mon armed resistance movement was continued by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) which replaced the outgoing MPF. The Mon armed struggle under the leadership of NMSP has continuously fought against the single- party rule of Gen. Ne Win-led Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) and the present military regime, State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) for nearly four decades.

The NMSP has modified its claim to five districts of lower Burma, namely, Pegu, Thaton, Moulmein, Tavoy, and Mergui Districts to be formed as Mon State. It has passed through several phases of different political changes during the Mon armed struggle of the five decades against the ultra-nationalist Burman governments. In 1974, the Burman leadership led by Gen. Ne Win created the nominal Mon State covering Thaton and Moulmein districts to appease the Mons. In 1982, NMSP became a member of the National Democratic Front (NDF) which is an umbrella organization for all non-Burman ethnic nationalities resisting Rangoon governments for self-determination.

The economic deterioration, the demonetization of currency and the discontent with human rights abuses culminated in the world-renowned demonstrations of the students, monks and civilian masses in 1988, demanding democray, free elections and an end to the single-party rule. State power changed hands three times and just when the general will could no longer be contained, thousand troops were called in and thousands of demonstrators were massacred and thousands arrested. As a result of the military junta?s violent repression, thousands of students, monks, intelligentsia, political leaders, military personnel and ordinary citizens fled to the liberated areas controlled by members of NDF. With the initiative of NDF, a wider representative organization under the name of the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB) was formed including the ethnic Burman opposition groups in and out of the country.

Thailand has changed its policy towards Burma. It is adamant that the civil war in Burma should come to an end. Thailand, with its policy if ?Constructive Engagement? to Burma, does not need the Karen, Karenni and Mon areas as a buffer between her and Burma. It has hoped that peace in Burma will favour Thai commercial interests for quick profit and help stem the increasing flow of refugees from Burma. It has put constand pressure on NMSP and other ethnic non-Burma armed opposition groups along its border to enter into a cease-fire deal with SLORC and end the war. At the same time, the military regime SLORC was offering the many ethnic armed opposition groups including NMSP, asking them to enter into a cease- fire agreement with it. NMSP entered initial ceasefire talks with SLORC in late 1993. In mid-1995, it reached a ceasefire agreement with SLORC. Still the ceasefire agreement is not a political solution of Burma and the Mon do not obtain any rights from the present NMSP ceasefire with SLORC. The human rights situation in Mon region has not improved despite the NMSP-SLORC ceasefire. The political activities of NMSP have been under constant pressure and disturbance by the military regime SLORC. The deteriorating situation following the NMSP-SLORC cease-fire agreement ha led to to formation of a new political forum for the Mon people. In early 1996, the Mon Unity League (MUL) came into existence as a common Mon united front.

Note: This article is collected from the Book  “Discovery of  Rehmonnya”

Produced by Mon Unity League(MUL)