Karenni Ethnics’ Kay Htoe Boe (also called as) Tan Kon Tai Festival

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Soe Htike Aung

A group of men headed into jungle after loading the foods such as rice, cooking oil, water, and one and half inches thick twisted-ropes onto trunks which are decorated and erected with Karenni ethnics’ Kay Htoe Boe (also called as) Tan Kon Tai flag.

This trip is approximately 3 hours long trip from eastern part of Boe Lyar Village to Peh Lyar Village, Htee Poe Klo Village-tract, Deemawsoe Township, and they are heading to a group of people who are cutting down the post of Kay Htoe Boe (also called as) Tan Kon Tai in the jungle.

In the jungle, we may see a group of people who are preparing for foods to cook, tents, and stoves at cleaned field on hillside.
These are foods preparation cooking for those who are going to arrive by carrying back the Kay Htoe Boe pole.

They commonly choose the straightest and longest Eugenia (Tapyay) tree or Teak for Kay Htoe Boe (also called) Tan Kon Tai traditional pole. In this year, they choose the tree from the forest at eastern part of Boe Lyar Village with the purpose for the entire state’s Kay Htoe Boe Festival. This tree is supposed to be searched for a month ahead before festival. As they find out the good Kay Htoe Boe pole and read the chicken bone traditionally, then cut down the tree only after reading the good fortune.
In case they find out the negative fortune from reading chicken bone, they need to find another tree.

“At first they choose the date. Read chicken bone. It depends on the chicken bone result”, said U Hsaw Reh the village Kay Byar Kyel (the spiritual man who protect the village).

Since the era of ancestors, it (chicken bone) is read and placed under the Kay Htoe Boe pole, also called as Tan Kon Tai pole, one day ahead and cut down the tree at (1)AM in the morning after that day. Why they cut down at (1)AM in the morning is because they belief the Tan Kon Tai pole has holy power only if no animals rest on the chosen tree, and only if they cut down at the time before no animals awake and leave from their habitat, their nests, in that jungle.

About 40 villagers from different villages need to be gathered to cut down and bring back the post. The men both youths and elders travel there by cars, Htaw Lar Gyis, or motorbikes.

After cutting the tree down, no matter how far it is, the pole is carried back by only human power to the place Kay Htoe Boe festival is going to be held. The circumference of the tree is more than one hand long, and the length is over 30 feet. In the past, over 30 persons carried the tree together by equipping with scaffolding woods, called “Nyan”, or they use the ropes when it is carried at difficult areas.

The leading organizer of Kay Htoe Boe Festival U Mi Reh said the pole carriers could pass through the villages which have Tan Kon Tai pole, but they need to go around the villages which do not have Tan Kon Tai pole when they cut down and carry back the pole.

“It is different among villages. Some villages allow to pass through due to the custom, but some don’t. Why some don’t allow to pass through their village is because Boe Lyar villager, for instance, allow to pass their village if they already cut down Tan Kon Tai pole. We have belief that you cannot pass through the village if that village haven’t cut down Tan Kon Tai pole”, said Khu Mi Reh.

There is also a custom that not only the villagers who are going to hold Kay Htoe Boe Festival, but also the other villagers welcome the pole and pole carriers with traditional costumes and water spraying.
Those local women welcome Kay Htoe Boe, other called Tan Kon Tai, pole by spraying water with Eugenia leaf (Tapyay leaf).

It does not mean the Kay Htoe Boe, other called Tan Kon Tai, pole is supposed to be erected up within only festival days. It is said the pole can be erected till it is unbroken in accordance with Karenni tradition. It is also said it reminds the peoples’ attitude will be righteous and straight as the straightness of Kay Htoe Boe pole.

U Hsaw Reh, who is Kay Byar Kyel, said, “Be honest, righteous, and build pure heart.”

The new Kay Htoe Boe pole is not cut down every year. Some may cut once in five year while other may differ.

Kay Byar Kyel explained that they initially have to make a devotional offering to the pole, the so called “Ka Tyar” pole people devoted the spirits, which located next to the new Kay Htoe Boe, other called Tan Kon Tai, pole.

“Why we have to make devotional offering to Ka Tyar, the small Kay Htoe Boe (Tan Kon Tai) pole, is because it has been existed since the past big Kay Htoe Boe (Tan Kon Tai) pole is existed. Therefore, we called it Ka Tyar (the place to make devotional offering). It is also the place the spiritual indras can stay”, he said.

Karenni ethnic people celebrate this traditional Kay Htoe Boe Festival within March and April since their ancestor era, and it is celebrated every year in almost every Karenni ethnic villages.

It is the traditional festival held every year by the villages which believe it, the refugees living in Karenni refugee camp, and the Karenni ethnics who resettled in third countries.

The custom and culture of this Kay Htoe Boe Festival is the one existed as a common norm although we have different religions and ethnic minorities.

Karenni ethnics have believed and enshrined their customs and cultures since the era of Pawa Tani.
They held the festival briefly on March 28 as it has been being enshrined and maintained for the whole ethnicity until present day.

In case of holding this festival, the purpose of erecting or repairing the new Kay Htoe Boe pole is the commemoration of the gratitude of Pyay Thue Lue Moe (the Creation Angle) and to prevent from the climate changes and natural disaster.
“It is to have good climate, rich of rice, and healthy life,” U Hsaw Reh continued saying it.

Karenni people continue maintaining as much as they can to prevent from the loss of ancestors’ heritage, natural resources, and history.

This year Kay Htoe Boe Festival was planned to hold well attended with the guests from the whole state within March at Peh Lyar Village, Deemawsoe Township.

It was said they will not invite the guests from the whole state to festival in order to prevent from the spread of coronavirus.

“Because of the coronavirus… we.. in the beginning before the festival is held, we initially made those plans. For instance, we have plan requesting the returnees from foreign countries to inform about their return to clinic. Besides, we minimize the number of attendants to join in the process of cutting Tan Kon Tai post and festival event. And we also made plan checking the disease of attendants at entry gate. We already informed and requested the health department to help us regarding to this,” said Khu Nyar Reh, the security in charge of Kay Htoe Boe, also called Tan Kon Tai, Festival.

During Kay Htoe Boe Festival, the village residents host the participants at their house for accommodation, and the festival committee takes responsibility for meal.
However, the 62nd Kay Htoe Boe Festival was not held cheerfully, whereas it was held just in brief in order to prevent from the outbreak of coronavirus.

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