The Ta-ang are a Mon-Khmer group of thirteen communities who live in the hills of northern Shan state with their ancestral homeland centred on Namhsan, a stunning one road town that clings to the knuckle of a mountain overlooking steep, tea-leaf terraces.
With 13 different dialects among them using a combination of Burmese and Shan scripts, Ta-ang university students engaged with elders from their community and convinced them of the need to unite their people under a single, dominant script. A conference was held on 30th August 1972, in Zei An Gyi village just outside Namhsan with 300 to 400 elders and youth leaders.
On that day, a new script was chosen based on Burmese but with an extra character. August 30th is now celebrated as Ta-ang Literature Day. From the 1st August to 28th every August, the PCLA hold Ta-ang literature classes, with prizes and awards for the best writing held on the 30th. A conference is held every four years in a different Ta-ang village where elders and youth meet to discuss developments in literature, though the size of the conference and celebration depends on the scale of the conflict in the area. When clashes between the Ta-ang and the Tatmadaw close the townships, and movement is restricted, the PCLA would hold the celebration in secret, often with only the few members who were able to reach the village.
Like many of the ethnic cultural and literature associations, the PCLA find themselves in the middle of the ongoing civil wars. As a neutral party, the PCLA will frequently act as civilian spokespeople to the media, representing the community that bears the brunt of these clashes. Even the name of the groups is a vestige of the struggles the people have witnessed in decades of suppression. Palaung is how the Burmese name the Ta-ang. A Ta-ang Culture and Literature Association was not allowed by previous administrations.
To read more about the Ta-ang, their censored literature and my travels with them, take a look at my award-shortlisted political travel book, ‘The People Elsewhere: Unbound Journeys with the Storytellers of Myanmar’.