The Mon (Mon: မန္ or မည်; Burmese: မွန်လူမျိုး, pronounced [mʊ̀ɴ lù mjó]; Khmer: មន, Thai: มอญ, pronounced [mɔ̄ːn]) are an ethnic group who inhabit Myanmar's Mon State, Bago Region, the Irrawaddy Delta, the southern Myanmar border with Thailand, and Thailand's Thon Buri District, Pakret District, Phra Pradaeng District and Lat Krabang District.
The Mon were one of the earliest peoples to reside in Southeast Asia, and they were responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism in Mainland Southeast Asia. The civilisations founded by the Mon people were some of the earliest civilisations in the early history of Thailand as well as in the early history of Myanmar.
They speak the Mon language, an Austroasiatic language, and share a common origin with the Nyah Kur people of Thailand; they are from the Mon mandala (polity) of Dvaravati. A number of languages in Mainland Southeast Asia are heavily influenced by the Mon language. The Mon were a major source of influence on the culture of Myanmar and the culture of Thailand. Historically, many cities in both Myanmar and Thailand today, including Yangon and Bangkok were founded either by the Mon people or Mon rulers.
Nowadays, the Mon are a major ethnic group in Myanmar and a minor ethnic group in Thailand. The Mons from Myanmar are called Burmese Mon or Myanmar Mon. The Mons from Thailand (Siamese of ethnic Mon) are referred as Thai-Raman or Thai Mon. The Mon dialects of Thailand and Myanmar are mutually understandable.
The eastern Mon include the current royal family of Thailand who are of Mon ancestry. The Mon assimilated to Thai culture long ago, yet the royal women of the Chakri dynasty perform and keep their Mon heritage alive in the Thai court. The western Mon of Myanmar were largely absorbed by Bamar society. They have worked to preserve their language and culture and to regain a greater degree of political autonomy.
In the Burmese language, the term Mon မွန် (pronounced [mʊ̀ɴ]) is used. During the pre-colonial era, the Burmese used the term Talaing (တလိုင်း), which was subsequently adopted by the British, who also invariably referred to the Mon as Peguans, during the colonial era. The etymology of Talaing is debated; it may be derived from Telangana or Kalinga, a geographic region in southeast India. The use of "Talaing" predates the Burmese conquest of the Hanthawaddy Kingdom in the 1700s and has been found on inscriptions dating to the reign of Anawrahta in the 1000s. In 1930 and 1947, Mon ethnic leaders, who considered the term "Talaing" to be pejorative, petitioned against the use of the term. "Talaing" is now obsolete in modern Burmese, except in the context of specific historical terms, such as the eponymous song genre in the Mahagita, the corpus of Burmese classical songs. The Burmese term "Mon" is synonymous with the Burmese word for "noble." In the Mon language, the Mon are known as the Mon (spelt မောန် or မန် and pronounced /mòn/), based on the Pali term Rāmañña (ရာမည), which refers to the Mon heartland along the Burmese coast. In classical Mon literature, they are known as the Raman (ရာမန်).
The Mon of Myanmar are divided into three sub-groups based on their ancestral region in Lower Myanmar:
The Mon people possibly started migrating down from China into the Indochina area in about 3,000 BC. The Mon were believed to be one of the earliest peoples of Indochina. They founded some of the earliest civilizations there, including Dvaravati in Central Thailand (whose culture proliferated into Isan), Sri Gotapura in central Laos (modern Sikhottabong, Vientiane Prefecture) and Northeastern Thailand, Hariphunchai in Northern Thailand and the Thaton Kingdom in Lower Burma.:63,76–77 They were the first receivers of Theravada missionaries from Sri Lanka, in contrast to their Hindu contemporaries like the Khmer and Cham peoples. The Mon adopted the Pallava alphabet and the oldest form of the Mon script was found in a cave in modern Saraburi dating around 550 AD. Though no remains were found belonging to the Thaton Kingdom, it was mentioned widely in Bamar and Lanna chronicles. The legendary Queen Camadevi from the Chao Phraya River Valley, as told in the Northern Thai Chronicle Cāmadevivaṃsa and other sources, came to rule as the first queen of Hariphunchai (modern Lamphun) kingdom around 800 AD.
After 1000 AD onwards, the Mon were under constant pressure with the Tai peoples migrating from the north and Khmer invasions from the Khmer Empire in the east. A significant portion of Mon of the Dvaravati fled west to present-day Lower Burma. The Mons of Dvaravati gave their way to the Lavo Kingdom by around 1000 AD. Descendants of the Dvaravati Mon people are the Nyah Kur people of present-day Isan. The Mon were killed in wars, transported as captives, or assimilated into new cultures. The Mon as an entity virtually disappeared in Chao Phraya Valley. However, Hariphunchai kingdom survived as a Mon outpost in northern Thailand under repeated harassment by the Northern Thai people.
In 1057, King Anawrahta of Pagan Kingdom conquered the Thaton Kingdom. The Mon culture and the Mon script were readily absorbed by the Burmese and the Mons, for the first time, came under Bamar rule. The Mon remained a majority in Lower Burma.
Hariphunchai prospered in the reign of King Aditayaraj (around early twelfth century), who allegedly waged wars with Suryavarman II of Angkor and constructed the Hariphunchai stupa. In 1230, Mangrai, the Northern Thai chief, conquered Hariphunchai and the Mon culture was integrated into Lanna culture. The Lanna adopted the Mon script and religion.
In 1287, the Pagan Kingdom collapsed, leaving the power vacuum. Wareru, who was born from a Mon mother and a Tai father, at Domwon Village in the Thaton District, went to Sukhothai for merchandise and later eloped with a daughter of the king. He established himself in Mottama and was proclaimed king of the Mon. The capital was later moved to Bago (Pegu). His Hanthawaddy Kingdom (1287–1539) was a prosperous period for the Mon in both power and culture. The Mon were consolidated under King Rajathiraj (1383–1422), who successfully fended off invasions by the Bamar Ava Kingdom. The reigns of Queen Shin Sawbu (1453–1472) and King Dhammazedi (1472–1492) were a time of peace and prosperity.
The Bamar, however, regained their momentum at Taungoo in the early sixteenth century. Hanthawaddy fell to the invasion of King Tabinshwehti of Taungoo in 1539. After the death of the king, the Mon were temporarily freed from Bamar rule by Smim Htaw, but they were defeated by King Bayinnaung in 1551. The Bamar moved their capital to Bago, keeping the Mon in contact with royal authority. Over the next two hundred years, the Mon of Lower Burma came under Bamar rule.
Lower Burma became effectively war fronts between the Bamar, the Thai and the Rakhine people. After the passing of Bayinnaung, his son King Nanda of Toungoo Empire used more oppressed rules against Mon people. In 1584, King Nanda secretly sent two Mon chiefs; Phraya Kiat and Phraya Ram to assassinate Naresuan of Phitsanulok in Kraeng. Upon learning Naresuan was not at fault, Phraya Kiat and Phraya Ram joined Naresuan’s campaigns against the Bamar's Toungoo court. Then, the Mon were, either forced or voluntarily, moved to Ayutthaya (now Siam or Thailand). The collapse of Mon power propagated waves of migration into Siam, where they were permitted to live in the city of Ayutthaya. A Mon monk became a chief advisor to King Naresuan.
Bago (Pegu), the capital of Toungoo Empire was plundered by the Rakhine in 1599. Bamar authority collapsed and the Mon loosely established themselves around Mottama (Martaban). Only with the unification of King Anaukpetlun in 1616 were the Mon again under the rule of the Bamar. The Mon rebelled in 1661 but the rebellion was put down by King Pye Min. Mon refugees were granted residence in western Siam by the Siamese king. The Mons then played a major role in Siamese military and politics, as they would later established the Chankri Dynasty of Siam (Thailand). A special regiment was created for the Mon serving the Siamese king.
Bamar power declined rapidly in the early eighteenth century. Finally, the Mon rebelled again at Bago in 1740 with the help of the Gwe Shan people. A Bamar monk with Taungoo royal lineage was proclaimed king of Bago and was later succeeded by Binnya Dala in 1747. With the French support, the Mon were able to establish an independent kingdom for 17 years before falling to Alaungpaya in 1757. Alaungpaya, the Bamar ruler U Aungzeya, invaded and devastated the kingdom, killing tens of thousands of Mon, including learned Mon priests, pregnant women, and children. Over 3000 priests were massacred by the victorious Bamar in the capital city alone. Thousands more priests were killed in the countryside. Alaungpaya's army was hugely supported by the British army. This time, Bamar rule was harsh. The Mon were largely massacred, encouraging a large migration to Thailand and Lanna. The Mon rebelled at Dagon in the reign of Hsinbyushin of the Konbaung Dynasty of Burma and the city was razed to the ground. Again in 1814 the Mons rebelled and were, as harshly as before, put down. These rebellions generated a huge wave of migrations of Mon people from Burma to Siam.
On the one hand in Siam side, after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, two descendants of Mon aristocrats; Phraya Pichai and Phraya Chakri became the left and right hand man of King Taksin of Thonburi, and they largely helped Taksin's campaigns in the liberation of Siam from Burmese occupation and reunion of Siam.
After the collpase of Taksin's Thonburi Kingdom, Phraya Chakri founded the Chakri Dynasty and ascended the throne in 1782 as Rama I. Rama I was born to Thongdi, a leading Mon nobleman serving the royal court in Ayutthaya in 1737. Rama I's queen consort Amarindra was born to a wealthy Mon family who migrated to Siam in the earlier times. Rama I founded Bangkok City and moved the capital from Thonburi to it. When a huge wave of Mon migrations from Burma (now Myanmar) to Siam (now Thailand) happened in 1814, His grandson, the Child-Prince Mongkut (later Rama IV) proceeded to welcome the Mon himself at the Siam-Burma border. Mongkut himself and the Chakri dynasty of Thailand today are of Mon descent.
The Mon in Thailand settled mainly in certain areas of Central Thailand, such as Pak Kret in Nonthaburi, Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan and Ban Pong, among other minor Mon settlements. Mon communities built their own Buddhist temples. Over time, the Mons were effectively integrated into Siamese society and culture, although maintaining some of their traditions and identity.
Burma was conquered by the British in a series of wars. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, the Mon territories were completely under the control of the British. The British aided the Mons to free themselves from the rule of the Burman monarchy. Under Burman rule, the Mon people had been massacred after they lost their kingdom and many sought asylum in the Thai Kingdom. The British conquest of Burma allowed the Mon people to survive in Southern Burma.
In 1947, Mon National Day was created to celebrate the ancient founding of Hanthawady, the last Mon Kingdom, which had its seat in Pegu. (It follows the full moon on the 11th month of the Mon lunar calendar, except in Phrapadaeng, Thailand, where it is celebrated at Songkran).
The Mon soon became anti-colonialists and, following the grant of independence to Burma in 1948, they sought self-determination. U Nu, the first Prime Minister of Burma refused the Mon self-determination and they rose in revolt to be crushed again.They have remained a repressed and defiant group in the country since then. They have risen in revolt against the central Burmese government on a number of occasions, initially under the Mon People's Front and from 1962 through the New Mon State Party. A partially autonomous Mon state, Monland, was created in 1974 covering Tenasserim, Pegu and Ayeyarwady River. Resistance continued until 1995 when NMSP and SLORC agreed a cease-fire and, in 1996, the Mon Unity League was founded.
Nowadays, the Mon are a major ethnic group in Myanmar and a minor ethnic group in Thailand. The Mons from Myanmar are called Burmese Mon or Myanmar Mon. The Mons from Thailand (Siamese of ethnic Mon) are referred as Thai-Raman or Thai Mon.
Due to the post-independence Internal conflict in Myanmar, many Myanmar citizens of ethnic Mon from conflict zones have migrated to the First World countries via the refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar borders and in Malaysia. The Myanmar Mon refugee communities can be found in the United States (the largest community being in Fort Wayne, Indiana and the second largest being Akron, Ohio), Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
The Mon language is part of the Monic group of the Austroasiatic languages (also known as Mon–Khmer language family), closely related to the Nyah Kur language and more distantly related to Khmer. The writing system is based on Indic scripts. The Mon language is one of the earliest documented vernacular languages of Indochina (Mainland Southeast Asia).
It cannot be denied that a number of languages in the region are heavily influenced by the Mon language. Tai Tham alphabet and Burmese alphabet are adaptations of the Mon script. Tai Tham alphabet is primarily used for Northern Thai language, Tai Lue language, Khün language and Lao Tham language. The Burmese alphabet is used for Burmese language, Shan language, S'gaw Karen language and other languages.
Historically, the Tai and Bamar lords adopted Mon alphabet, which the Tai developed into their own writing systems as Tai Tham alphabet, for the Thai Yuan people in the northern Thailand, and the Bamar developed Burmese alphabet, for the Burmese in Burma (Myanmar). Most scholarships believe that the Bamars adapted the Mon script for Burmese following their conquest of Mon's Thaton Kingdom during Anawrahta's reign in the 11th century.
Although Thais (Central and Southern Thailand) adopted more features from the Khmer alphabet than from the Mon, plenty of vocabulary in Thai language today were derived from the Mon language. Burmese language also has a lot of words derived from or borrowed from the Mon language, especially related with administration, architecture, cloth, cuisine and flowers.
Nowadays, the Mon language is recognised as an indigenous language in both Myanmar and Thailand. Due to the fall in number of Mon language speakers in the recent decades, the Mon language is classified by UNESCO as "Endangered language" that could lead to an "extinct language".
The symbol of the Mon people is the hongsa (Mon: ဟံသာ, [hɔŋsa]), a mythological water bird that is often illustrated as a swan. It is commonly known by its Burmese name, hintha (Burmese: ဟင်္သာ, IPA: [hɪ́ɴθà]) or its Thai name: hong (หงส์). The hongsa is the state symbol of Myanmar's Bago Region and Mon State, two historical Mon strongholds. Also, the hongsa is the city symbol of Thailand's Pak Kret City, a historical Mon settlement area.
Mon culture and traditional heritages includes spiritual dances, musical instruments such as the kyam or "crocodile xylophone", the saung harp and a flat stringed instrument. Mon dances are usually played in a formal theater or sometimes in an informal district of any village. The dances are followed by background music using a circular set of tuned drums and claps, crocodile xylophone, gongs, flute, flat guitar, harp, etc. Mon in Burma wear clothes similar to the Bamars. Those living in Thailand have adopted Thai style scarfs and skirts.
Mon cuisines and culinary traditions have had significant influences on the Burmese cuisine and Central Thai cuisine today. Some of dishes that are now popular in Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand were originally Mon dishes. For example, Htamanè (ထမနဲ) in Myanmar, and Khanom chin (ขนมจีน) and Khao chae (ข้าวแช่) in Thailand.
A traditional Mon dish served with rice soaked with cool candle-and-jasmine-scented water is consumed by the Mon people during the Thingyan (Songkran) Festival in the summer. In Thailand, the dish is known as Khao chae and was considered "royal cuisine". As the dish is served during Thingyan as part of their merit-making, it is known as Thingyan rice in Myanmar today.