The First Long Journey

Ancient Babylonian to Mongolia (2234-2197 B.C)

Most Karen history books, either in Karen or English, pointed the original place of Karen people as Babylon and the recorded data was around BC 2234. When the pages of world History are opened according to that location and date, the region, at that time was known as Mesopotamia, “Land between Rivers”, specifically the Tigris and Euphrates. New peoples, sage as well as savage from faraway lands came and some even rose to prominence in the region by gradual infiltration or conquest. The Karen race might have been one of them which bore another name. Civilization was in full swing at that time with rivaled races attempted to establish their own nation-states.

The domineering races or mixed races came to be known as empire-builders of the region at that time were Assyrian, Sumerian and Akkadian. The dominion was at that time known as “the old Babylonian Empire” and lasted four centuries. Some Karen scholars still support the popular opinion that the Karens are the lost tribe of Israel. In “The Karens” by Rev. John Hackney, the author disagreed with the lost tribe theory and proposed the Mesopotamian origins of the Karen people. He cited in his book that there were some accountable resemblances between the Karen and the Akkadian in the language they spoke and in the rituals they performed.

None of the Karen history books recorded the number of years, the Karen lived in Old Babylon but all agreed that the Karen left the old Babylon in BC 2234 and started moving northwards along the Euphrates to Mt. Ararat (now called Bu Agri Dagi). There are many interesting questions arose and further research awaited for all Karen historians. How large is the number when they left? Who were their enigmatic leaders? What cause them to leave the land?

According to Saw Aung Hla’s “The Karen History” the Karen’s migration to the North was filled with excitements and adventures. Why did they choose to go back to a land which seemed to be their foremost origin remained a mystery? One explanation is possible. The Karen culture taught them to love and respect their birth place. That’s why they went back to homage to their late ancestors as well as say their last good bye. They settled for a while at Nor Wah (Lake Van), sustained themselves by slash and barn cultivation around the foot of Mt. Ararat, some occupied the land at Lake Uremia, and some along the coast of Caspian Sea (Karen name – Nor Kabi Kaba). Nor is the term still used today and means “Large Lake”. There, they trekked along the River Atrek, crossed the vast desolation plains, rivers and mountains in the north and entered Turkestan (Kazakhstan). There, they followed the Syi Darya River; climbed and crossed the Tian-Shan Mountain ranges and reached Issyk Kul Nor. They moved again and arrived in Mongolia in the year BC 2197. They settled down in Ural Altaic and stayed there for 180 years. The mass exodus of the Karen population from the old Babylonia to Mongolia was the longest march ever made by a national race which covered a journey of more than 10,000 Kilometers and lasted 38 years.

This first epic long journey of the large Karen race, marked with legacies and legends, miracles and myths, facts and fictions is not easily forgotten. It will always be remembered, honored and kept alive by all the Karens who are now living in many countries of the world.

Added List for Reference.

1.  True Love and Bartholomew, Rebels on the Burmese border by Jonathan Falla.

2. World History, Combined edition, by Upshur, Terry, Holoka, Goff, Lowry.

3.  The Holy Bible

Who were the Karen leaders in this long journey? The world witnessed a similar magnificent human’s feat again after an interval of over 700 years. In around 1446 BC, another race, the Hebrews or the Israelites, who for 430 years had been slaves in Egypt, (made) an exodus (see the Holy Bible, Exodus 12:37-40). They were led by their God chosen leaders with Moses at the head and successively followed by Joshua who finally made possible for the Israelites to possess the Promised Land. The journey, full of miracles and excitement, comprised of more than a million people, covered a distance of over 2000 Kilometers and lasted 40 years. In trying to guess who might be the enigmatic and charismatic leaders of the Karen people in their farther and longer journey, only one name stands out in many Karen history books and literatures, “Toh Meh Pah”. Until now, no Karen has denied the legendary role played by Toh Meh Pah in the Karen history but still not in a hurry consider him a real person because of his enigmatic super-natural characters. The story was sometimes told with diverse version but the theme and objective remained the same.