Palaung people

Palaung people
Palaung Woman Kalaw Shan Myanmar.jpg
A Palaung tribal woman near Kalaw, Shan State, Burma.
Total population
557,000 (est.)
Regions with significant populations
Burma, smaller populations in China: Yunnan, Thailand



Theravada Buddhism

The Palaung (Burmese: ပလောင် [pəlàuɴ lùmjóʊ]; Thai: ปะหล่อง, also written as Benglong) are a Mon–Khmer ethnic minority found in Shan State of Burma, Yunnan province of China and northern Thailand. They live mainly in the northern parts of Shan State in the Pa Laung Self-Administered Zone, with the capital at Namhsan. There are three main subgroups of Palaung: the Palé, Shwe and Rumai.[1] The Palaung State Liberation Army was a rebel group which fought against the Burmese government starting from January 1963 but entered a cease-fire agreement with the Burmese government in April 1991.

In China, they are referred to as the De'ang (Chinese: ; pinyin: Déáng Zú also spelt Deang) people. The Chinese government groups together the Palé, Riang, Rumai and Shwe peoples as the De'ang ethnic nationality. The group also includes the Danau (Danaw) who may no longer have a separate identity from the Palé.

A Burmese depiction of the Palaung in the early 1900s.
De'ang manuscript



There are several distinct Palaung languages. Depending on their subgroup, the Palaung speak Palé, Riang, Rumai or Shwe.[2] Ethnologue lists three Palaung languages (Rumai, Ruching, and Shwe. Related to Palaung, but forming a separate group are two Riang languages, Riang and Yinchia. All of these languages belong to the Palaungic ("Palaung" or "Ta-ang") sub-group of the Mon–Khmer language family. The Riang languages are reported to be unintelligible or only understood with great difficulty by native speakers of the other Palaung languages.


Shorto (1960) lists the following consonants for Palaung:

Labials Dentals Palatals Velars Glottal
p t t͡ɕ k ʔ
b d d͡ʑ g
m n ɲ ŋ
v s
r,l j
Front Central Back
High i ɯ u
Mid tense e o
Mid lax ɛ ə ɔ
Low a

According to Shorto (1960), /ə/ does not occur alone in primary stressed syllable, but only in an unstressed syllable or as the second member of a diphthong. There are also a large number of diphthongs, including /eo/, /eə/, /aə/, /ɔə/, /oə/, /uə/, and /iə/.

Although Milne (1921) includes the vowels /ü, ö, ɪ/ in her transcriptions, Shorto (1960) did not find these as vowel phonemes in his work.

(Note that the words cited below in the Syntax section come from Milne (1921), so their phonetic representations may need revision.)


Nouns and noun phrases

The order of elements in the noun phrase is N - (possessor) - (demonstrative)

Consider the following examples:

kwɔɔn ai öö
child we two this
this child of ours

Prepositions and prepositional phrases

Rumai Palaung has prepositions, as in the following example:

ta khuun hɔɔkhəm
to great king
to the great king


Clauses in Rumai are generally in subject–verb–object (SVO) order:

əən dii d͡ʒüür gaaŋ
he future buy house
He will buy a house

Text sample

The following part of a story in Rumai Palaung is from Milne (1921:146-147)

Naaŋ̩ rashööh, naaŋ grai ta khuun hɔɔkhəm naaŋ daah,
lady awake lady narrative:past said to great king lady say
The queen awoke and said to the king
öö ka tööm rɪɪnpoo hlai uu lööh khənjaa öö ai lɔh shoktee haa öö
oh neg ever dream even one time ruler oh we two come fast place this
'Oh, I never dreamed (like this) before, oh Ruler, (since) we two came to this place to fast
Phadiiu la puur shəŋii, ɔɔ rɪɪnpoo khuun phii leeh
today full good seven day I dream great spirit come down
seven days ago. I dreamed that the great spirit came down
dɛh ɔɔ hɔɔm makmon kəəm ŋaam hnjo hnjo
give me eat long mango gold sweet very
and gave me long mangoes of gold to eat. They were very sweet.'


Most De'ang are adherents of Theravada Buddhism and Buddhist temples can be found in most of their towns. Buddhism is present in all of the daily activities of this ethnic group. At the age of 10, many children are sent to the monasteries, primarily for education. Most of them return to lay life in later years.

The Riang are the only one of the four groups who have never converted to Buddhism. The majority of the Riang are animists.


  1. ^ Palaung = The Peoples of the World Foundation
  2. ^ Klose, Albrecht (2001) Sprachen der Welt: ein weltweiter Index der Sprachfamilien, Einzelsprachen und Dialekte, mit Angabe der Synonyma und fremdsprachigen Äquivalente (Languages of the world: a multi-lingual concordance of languages, dialects and language-families) Saur, Munich, Germany, page 403, ISBN 3-598-11404-4

Further reading

  • Palaung Women's Organisation. (2006). Poisoned flowers: the impacts of spiralling drug addiction on Palaung women in Burma. Tak, Maesot, Thailand: Palaung Women's Organisation.
  • Ashley, S. (2006). Exorcising with Buddha palaung Buddhism in northern Thailand. Ottawa: Library and Archives Canada = Bibliothèque et Archives Canada. ISBN 0494033096
  • Howard, M. C., & Wattana Wattanapun. (2001). The Palaung in northern Thailand. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books. ISBN 9748832511
  • Cameron, A. A. (1912). Notes on the Palaung of the Kodaung Hill tracts of Mong Mit State. Rangoon: Govt. Printer.
  • Milne, Leslie. An Elementary Palaung Grammar, Oxford, Clarendon Press (1921).
  • Milne, Leslie. A Dictionary of English-Palaung and Palaung-English, Rangoon (1931).
  • Milne, Leslie. The Home of an Eastern Clan: A Study of the Palaungs of the Shan State, Oxford, Clarendon Press (1924).
  • Shorto, H.L. 1960. Word and syllable patterns in Palaung. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; 1960, Vol. 23 Issue 3, p544-557.

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