Chi Suwichan Interview

Interview: Dr. Chi Suwichan, Karen Anthropologist & Musician

Dr. Chi Suwichan Phatthanaphraiwan, a Karen Anthropologist and musician from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

1. Tell us about the Pgaz k'Nyau (Karen) ethnic group in northern Thailand and what makes them distinct

There are some distinctive aspects that characterize the Pgaz k'Nyau people as follows:

Firstly, Language: They speak various Sino-Tibetan languages.
Second, traditional clothing: Karen's traditional attire is vibrant and distinctive. Women often wear colorful blouses and skirts adorned with intricate patterns and embroidery, while men wear traditional wrap-around garments.
Third, Agriculture: Historically, the Pgaz k'Nyau people have been skilled agriculturists, cultivating crops such as rotational rice and vegetable farming, a method involving rotating fields.
Fourth, Spiritual Beliefs: Traditionally, Pgaz k'Nyau spirituality revolves around animistic beliefs involving reverence for spirits present in nature.

2. Tell us about  the Karen harp and how it is emblematic of Karen culture

The Karen harp, known as the "Te Hna Ku" or "saung," is a traditional musical instrument that holds great significance in Karen culture. It's considered emblematic due to its role in their music, ceremonies, and storytelling traditions.

The Te Hna Ku is a type of arched harp made from natural materials like wood and bamboo, and strings traditionally crafted from silk or plant fibers. It consists of a resonator made from a coconut shell or gourd, a curved neck, and strings stretched between the resonator and the neck. The Karen people believe the Te Hna Ku to be a sacred instrument, often associated with spiritual and ritualistic practices.

In Karen culture, the Te Hna Ku is not just a musical instrument; it's a symbol of cultural identity and heritage. It accompanies traditional dances and storytelling in various ceremonies, festivals, and social gatherings. The melodies played on the saung often reflect the Karen people's connection to nature, their history, and their daily lives.

Moreover, mastering the Te Hna Ku is considered a skill passed down through generations. Younger members of the community learn to play the harp from elder musicians, ensuring the preservation of this cultural symbol.

The Te Hna Ku, through its music and historical significance, remains a cherished emblem of the Karen people, embodying their cultural traditions and stories.

The Pgaz K’nyau people, like many indigenous communities around the world, face several challenges related to climate change. These challenges often impact their traditional ways of life, culture, and livelihoods:

Changing weather patterns: Shifts in weather patterns, including irregular rainfall and temperature variations, can disrupt agricultural practices, affecting crop yields and food security.

Loss of traditional knowledge: Climate change can threaten the transmission of traditional knowledge from elders to younger generations. This knowledge is crucial for understanding local ecosystems, weather patterns, and sustainable resource management.

Natural resource depletion: Changes in climate can lead to the degradation of forests, rivers, and other natural resources essential to the Pgaz K’nyau people for food, medicine, and cultural practices.

Increased vulnerability to natural disasters: Extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and storms can pose significant risks to their settlements, infrastructure, and overall safety.

Access to clean water and sanitation: Changes in precipitation patterns and water sources due to climate change can impact access to clean water, affecting health and sanitation within the community.

4.  Tell us about how you got involved with Climate Heritage Network?

I have received support and coordination from the Siam Society Foundation. So, I had the opportunity to join the network.

5.  Tell us about your COP28 program

Harmony of Cultures: Asian Art and Melodies on Friday 8th December 2023,10:00-11.00 am. at Thai Pavilion.

Ancestral wisdom as a tool for climate change action: Southeast Asian Voices on Friday 8th December 2023,11.00-12.00 am. at Thai Pavilion 

6.  Do you have a Karen song about your heritage you can share with us?

7.  Anything else you would like to add

Is there anything that I can learn I can share and I can participate with activities related to culture and environment I have always good genes and willing to do it.

8.  How can people get in touch with you?

FB: Chi Suwichan.
FB page: Krunana creative.
YouTube: Krunana creative.

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