Wa Tribe

Topics: Marriage, Shan State, Paddy field Pages: 5 (1410 words) Published: September 22, 2008

Myanmar, formally known as Burma, is not only one of the most aesthetically beautiful countries in Asia, but also one of the most diverse in the world in terms of culture and natural resources. The landscapes of Myanmar include large mountain ranges with dense forests, vast mountain plateaus with deep valleys, and some 4,000 islands in the south. In the entire world, Myanmar is second only to China in biodiversity (Explore Myanmar). Within the country there are approximately 60 different ethnic groups that speak over one hundred languages, including the Wa tribe.

“Wa” (pronounced Va in English) refers to a mountainous tribe of about one million people who live in the southern part of the Nu Shan Mountains, which run along the border of Myanmar and China. The Wa refer to themselves, “Va,” “Pa rauk,” and “A va,” which all mean “a people who reside in the mountain.” The Wa distinguish themselves with there own language – Wa (Ma 170).


Commercial Activities

The Wa rely on mountain farming, which varies in technique and productivity in different regions. Basically, they have three different methods of farming, which developed at different times and now coexist to help adapt to different ecological environments. The oldest method is slash-and-burn cultivation in which they plant seeds with a wooden stick and rely on the ash of wild plants to fertilize the crop. After a year the land is abandoned and it is about eight to ten years before they utilize the same area. The second method combines the slash-and-burn technique with plowing by using iron tools to spread the seed. These two methods provide the major source of food for the Wa, and are applied to about half of the total farm land. The third farming method is to cultivate rice paddy fields, which exist mostly on the outskirts of the A Wa Shan region where the land is level and close to water supplies. Rice paddies account for about five percent of their total farm land. Labor is divided by gender. Males do the cutting, burning, and plowing, while women do the seeding, weeding, harvesting, cooking, and weaving.


By the end of the nineteenth century, the Wa participated in regular markets for trading, mainly with other ethnic groups in the region. They trade in iron tools and living necessities such as pottery, salt, cotton cloth, thread, etc. In the late nineteenth century, British dealers introduced opium to this region. As a result, opium became the large scale commodity product of the Wa (Time). They exchange the drug for living and production necessities including rice, cows, tea, iron, and weapons. In section 2 of this project I will delve deeper into this issue and the current role drug trafficking plays in Wa society.



The Wa have a well defined homeland called “A Wa Shan” (Mount A Wa), within the southern part of the Nu Shan Mountains. The people live in mountain villages with the populations of villages ranging from less than 100 people to more than 400 families belonging to several different clans. Most larger villages are composed of several smaller ones. Family houses are built in the ganlan style, which is a bamboo structure with a straw roof, raised off the ground, with livestock sometimes kept underneath (Mises 42).

Social Structure

The villages, which are formed of several clans, are the basic territorial, economic, political, military, and religious organizations. A village clearly distinguishes its territory from that of others, and within it a small portion of farmland and all forests and rivers remain the common property of the village. The villages are related by kin, territory, and political and economic interests, which form a tribe. Before the 1950s, villagers used to have common rights and duties in affairs such as election of leaders, military actions, building, farming, and religious rituals.

Each village had three kinds of...
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