words and photos by Zaïré Talon Daniels

Many of us saw 2020 on our calendars and smartphones. But the Karen people welcomed in the year 2759, according to their traditional timetable, at a celebration Jan. 4 at the Akron Public Library. The festivities included guest speakers, traditional music, food, and a display of dancing from several cultural groups. 

Karen New Year is very different from our western New Year’s celebration. The Karen New Year is held on the first day of Pyathoe, which marks the end of the year’s rice harvest, says KCA chairperson Saw Ajino Wah. It is customary to have a feast to celebrate that year’s good harvest and to consecrate the land for the year to come. In addition, this period is when new houses would be built for the residents of the community. 

In modern times, the holiday is more for family and friends to get together and enjoy sports, food, and traditional dancing and music, as many Karen live outside the borders of their homeland, according to Eh Saw, a young leader in the Karen Youth Leadership Club. This holiday is a very important day that symbolizes Karen solidarity nationwide. About 1,000 Karen people have moved to the Akron area in the last decade with help from the Karen Community of Akron and other groups. Due to the military regime in Myanmar, many Karen have been forced to leave their homeland because of decades of fighting. 

The Karen Community of Akron is one of the largest refugee groups in our area, with other Karen people spread out across the rest of the United States, Europe and Asia. The majority of Akron’s Karen residents were born here or in refugee camps. 

Cultural displays such as this allow the elders in the Karen community to pass on their traditions to the youth who may not have experienced life in Myanmar.

Mon performers take the stage Jan. 4 at the Akron Public Library showcasing traditional dance and dress for the Karen New Year celebration.

Karen women display traditional clothing and cultural material at Karen New Year.

Mon Performers showcase some fancy footwork while performing a traditional dance Jan. 4 at the Karen New Year celebration.

Dancers from the Karen community showcase traditional dancing and dress at the Main Library for the Karen New Year celebration.

The Karen Community Combing Choir performs a traditional song in their native language at the Karen New Year celebration on Jan. 4.

A young member of the Karen Community performs with a traditional stringed instrument and the Karen national flag.

Young members of the Karen Community showcase traditional dancing, dress, and fabrics in a special performance Jan. 4 at the Karen New Year celebration.

Performer and choreographer Hsa Win leads his dance group in a bran- new performance created especially for the Karen New Year celebration on Jan 4. (Also pictured at top.)

A performer showcases traditional dance and dress from Nepal at the Karen New Year celebration on Jan 4.

Zaïré Talon Daniels is currently a senior at the University of Akron studying photography, art history, and anthropology. In his free time, he enjoys reading, fitness, and meeting interesting people. He hopes to pursue a career in photojournalism following graduation. 

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