Langley’s Karen people welcomed the year 2752, with a community party on Saturday, Jan. 12.
The Karen calendar began 739 years before the Gregorian (or Christian) calendar, when the Karen people arrived in Burma (Myanmar) from Mongolia, explained Saw Hermon Lay, a counsellor with the Karen community, who emceed the event at Christian Life Assembly on the weekend, along with Naw Candace Marvel.
This year, the Karen new year fell on Jan. 12, but the date varies from year to year, Lay explained, depending on the lunar cycle.
Wearing traditional clothing, the Karen people performed music featuring Karen instruments and demonstrated dances from their homeland.
The event also featured food traditionally prepared for such celebrations, including curried meat dishes, vegetables and rice.
Between 300 and 400 people from across the Lower Mainland filled the gymnasium at Christian Life Assembly for the standing room-only event.
Most of the guests were members of the Karen community, but many local Canadians came to celebrate, as well.
The Karen women wore elaborate traditional dresses with fancy high heels, while the men donned sweaters and wraps.
The celebration opened with a horn-blowing and poem, followed by a welcoming speech from Mahn Aung Mya Thein and City of Langley Mayor Peter Fassbender. Other addresses were given throughout the afternoon by Saw Joe and Naw Knyaw Simon, and by Bob Gabriel from Immigrant Services Society of B.C.
Performances included the don dance, the bamboo dance and the Saw T’Kwah.
During the don dance both men and women wore white and blue outfits and danced to traditional drums and instruments.
It was followed by the bamboo dance, which is typically performed at weddings and funerals and involves several sticks of bamboo laid on the ground in a cross stitch pattern (resembling a setup for the game X’s and O’s).
Dancers lift the sticks a few inches off the ground and clap them together to create the musical beat while other dancers hop between the squares.
The ceremony closed with the crowd singing “Let’s March Together… to the New Year.” It was followed by a reception, cultural clothing show and concert.
Asked why it is important to hold the community celebration, Karen Pastor Pwe Si explained, through an interpreter, that it is important for the Karen people to continue to celebrate their traditions and to ensure that their unique culture is passed on to future generations.
“The most important in our Karen traditions are the clothes and respecting elderly people and neighbours,” he said.
Several hundred Karen people call the Lower Mainland home today, said Lay. The vast majority came to the Lower Mainland from refugee camps in Thailand after fleeing persecution in Burma.
The Canadian settlement began in late 2006 and early 2007, with about 100 people arriving in Langley from the Thai camps, where many had lived for 20 years. However, since then, around 20 children have been born into the community, Lay said.
Additional information can be found at kareninitiative.com, a website set up to support Karen refugees in Greater Vancouver.