The Hkamti Shan

Originally autonomy of Hkamti Shan with greater Putao valley has been ruled by Hkamti Sawbwa until 1886 when British occupied Myanmar. Meanwhile the Khamti Shan, the valley’s original settlers, tend toward Buddhism. In addition to being home to pagodas and monasteries, Khamti Shan villages are like huge gardens due to the ethnic group’s status as the main vegetable growers in the region. It is typical for each house, built on raised floors with thatched roofs, to be surrounded by a lush array of edible plants, including celery, cabbage, potatoes, and white and yellow mustard. As elsewhere in Myanmar, mustard is used in the Putao area not only as a food ingredient but also for making plant oil, which is thought to have medicinal value: It is spread on the belly to relieve stomach pain, for daily use as well as for women who have recently given birth. Uniquely for the Putao region, mustard oil is also used for cooking in the same way that palm, peanut, sunflower and other edible plant oils are used elsewhere. It’s said among locals that Buddhist taboos against harming animals have also helped turn the Khamti Shan villages into refuges for wild birds, which seem to understand that in Buddhist villages they are less likely to be shot out of the sky with a traditional slingshot or crossbow than in non-Buddhist villages.

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