A Shan caravan scene, Bhamo 4301544
Photographer: Watts and Skeen
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph from the Curzon Collection of a Shan caravan encamped at Bhamo, Burma, taken by Watts and Skeen in the 1890s. Burma has over a hundred diverse ethnic groups. While the Bamar (Burmans) constitute the majority of the country’s population (about 65%), the Shan are one of the larger ethnic groups of Burma, in which category are also the Mon, Karen, Kayah, Chin, Kachin, and Rakhines. The Shan, similar to the Thais, inhabit the upland plateau and rolling hills of north-east Burma. At various times, the main groups fought for domination over upper and central Burma. In the 13th century, the Shan established a powerful kingdom centred around Ava, but they were unable to forge a united entity from their warring fiefdoms and failed to find dominion over Burma. Under British rule they were given a semi-autonomous status as the Shan States. They are recognisable by the turbans worn by their men and married women and by the baggy trousers in which the men are usually dressed. Bhamo was significant as the closest town to the Chinese frontier and a market town for the surrounding hill region. Although most of its population is now Kachin, it was once a Shan capital.