The History & Culture of The Karen Hill Tribe

By | January 7, 2014

Karen Hill Tribe, Northern Thailand

There are as many as 400,000 Karen people living in Thailand. They can be found living both in the mountains and on the plains, most of them in the provinces of Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Rai, but also in central Thailand.

The earliest migrants started arriving in Thailand during the 17th century from southern China & Tibet, this was later supplemented by people from Burma where the largest number of the tribe are still located.


Karen Hill Tribe, Northern ThailandThey typically live in bamboo houses raised on stilts, beneath which live their domestic animals, pigs, chickens and buffalos.

The mountain-dwelling Karen practice “Swidden agriculture” (which is defined as slash and burn and consists of cutting and burning of forests or woodlands to create fields for agriculture or pasture for livestock),and the plains-dwellers, for the most part, cultivate irrigated rice paddy fields.

Karen Hill Tribe, Northern ThailandThe Karen people are also noted for their skill in both weaving, Handcrafted Silver beads, bracelets & other silverjewelry, musical instruments, animal bells, unique tobacco pipes and numerous other crafted items.

Each of the many sections of this large ethnic group has its own style of dress. Unmarried girls wear loose white vee necked blouses. Married women wear blouses and skirts in bold colours, predominantly blue and red.

Karens were originally animist,but about 25% of them living in Thailand have now been converted to Christianity by western missionaries.

The Karen people are very peaceful and co-operative, and are completely amenable to the other hilltribes, they reserve their highest veneration for their ancestors and living elders.