Karens (kərĕnzˈ) [key], members of a Thai-Chinese cultural group, one of the most important minorities in Myanmar, living in the Kayah State, Kayin State, Tanintharyi, and the Ayeyarwady delta. They form 7% of Myanmar's population. The Karen hill tribes have tended to remain animistic, but among those settled in the plains there are about many Buddhists and Christians. The Karens speak the Karen languages of the Sino-Tibetan family. They are mostly farmers, but Karen tribespeople were superior soldiers in the military units raised in Myanmar under British rule.
A major unifying element among the Karens is a strong opposition to Burmese political domination. Their revolt (1948–49) against the union government aimed at separation from Myanmar. They scored important successes, and the government was forced to grant the Karenni State (later Kayah State) a large measure of autonomy. The Karens continued their rebellion through the 1990s, by which time, however, there were only an estimated 4,000 active guerrillas. Between 1995 and 1997 the Karen rebels suffered setbacks when government forces mounted significant offenses against them. Apparently promising negotiations in 2004 ultimately failed, and new offensive operations followed. Negotiations in 2011, however, led to a cease-fire that was signed by both sides in 2012.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.