The Kachin are among the latest arrivals to Myanmar, descending south from the mountains that border the north of Myanmar with China at some point in the 16th or 17th century. They travelled east and west, to Yunnan province in China and to India. The main settled in the Sumprabum Triangle, the once cultural heartland of the Kachin people. The decades of conflict which began in 1962, shifted this heartland to their self-controlled territory in Laiza, along the Chinese border, where Kachin languages and literatures could be taught, written and published without fear of suppression and imprisonment from the Myanmar central government.
After the bi-lateral ceasefire in 1994, cultural groups emerged, taking advantage of new freedoms in movement and associations. Among the foremost of these is the KCLC
Formed on May 3rd 1997 in Myitkyina, the KCLC now has rep offices in 42 townships across the country with over 1000 committee members spread across 6 departments: traditional rules and rights, culture and history, Manau dance organisation, literature and publications, women, youth, financial. The headquarters is still in an attractive two storey wooden house on the outside edge of the famous Manau Cultural Park in Myitkyina. Upstairs, weathered and faded photographs of Kachin Duwas and cultural elders from the early 20th Century line the walls, with a small bookcase of Jinghpaw language books. For although they are named the Kachin, and the organisation itself has members from each of the six communities that identify under this western-imposed umbrella term, it is the Jinghpaw language and literature that is promoted (the remaining five, such as the Rawang and Zaiwa, have established their own respective literature organisations.)
The KCLC, under the steady leadership of the former chairman Duwa Walu Sin Wa published a tri-lingual quarterly literary magazine, Shapawn Yawng (the name of the first legendary leader of the Kachin people), run creative writing workshops, support mobile libraries and are involved in the teaching and propagation of their literature both inside Myanmar, especially in the IDP camps and to the exiled Kachin community across the world.
The use of ‘co-operation’ in their title, rather than the more common ‘Association’ or ‘Committee’ is significant to the vision of their group. While many of the ethnic culture and literature associations will often work on projects within their own department, in the KCLC they all co-operate together on organisation wide activities, supporting each other even if the project or event is not related to their expertise or knowledge. This unified approach is even more important for the Kachin given breakdown of the ceasefire on 2011 and the ongoing conflict since and where the use of their language without permission can still end in imprisonment.
To read more about the Kachin, 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’.