- About the Cover
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[End Page i]
Cover Illustration of a Yang Hsek couple with a child. From a bound album entitled “Tribes of Burma,” ca. 1900, artist unknown. Watercolor on paper. Courtesy of Burma Collections, Center for Burma Studies, Northern Illinois University.
This is a hand-painted illustration of a Yang Hsek couple, one of the names given to the Karen ethnic group. The couple is recognizable by their iconic garments, which feature a long vertical red-and-white-striped cotton tunic worn by mothers and their children. Yang refers to Karen in Shan, while Kariang is the Siamese rendering of the name.
Above the couple and their child (not visible on the cover of this issue), the word Yang Hsek is written in pencil in three different languages from left to right: Southern Shan, Burmese, and Tai Khuen, as well as English, apparently added later in black ink. In the middle of the page and written in Burmese, the number “13” indicates the original page number in the album. This representation comes from a rare illustrated album, encompassing twenty-two plates of twenty-two other ethnic groups living in the Eastern part of Burma where these languages were heard. This album is undated and includes no further information regarding its provenance, but we can assume that it came from the Kengtung area, Eastern Shan States (in the extreme Northeast of Burma) where similar albums were found, and where the groups represented in this album used to live.
This bound album made of paper gives detailed visual depictions of couples from a wide range of ethnic groups of this area with their specific attire and accessories such as the earrings, the woven bamboo basket on her back, the hair band, the pipe, the tools, and so on. This type of album was probably produced by a local artist, sometime in the twentieth century who may have had access to previous albums done locally and likely intended for a European clientele then living in British Burma.1 Such albums had a long tradition in Guizhou provinces in China where they were known as the Miao Album since the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century it became a commodity highly appreciated by missionaries and travelers.
Acquired by Northern Illinois University (NIU) in 2005 to celebrate their second millionth volume, this album is now in the Rare Book and Special Collections at the NIU Founders Memorial Library. [End Page ii]
1. C. Raymond. “An Ethnographic Illustration of Wa People in British Burma during the Early 20th century: Notes on A Shan Album from the NIU Burma Collection, with Reference to Similar Illustrations from Other Sources,” The Journal of Burma Studies, 17, no. 1 (2013) 221–41.