Asian Review

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Shan Buddhists use a form of poetic performance to make Buddhist teachings interesting. These texts are read in the context of temple activity on holy days. They are read by specialists, called tsale, who have years of training in the specific ways of reciting this poetry, for the rhyming systems are very complex and the texts are usually written in the old style of writing that does not indicate tone. A normal Shan speaker cannot read these texts. Even listening to them is a skill acquired over time. The traditional homeland of the Shan straddles the modern boundaries of Burma, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. This is an area that has seen much turmoil over the past few centuries, with almost continuous wars and insurgency and with each country taking different approaches to the cultures of ethnic minorities. This paper looks at how the Shan have (or have not) managed to preserve both the performance and the traditional manuscripts of Shan poetic literature amidst this turmoil. The research is taking place as part of a project to examine the changing literary and ritual practices of Shan Buddhism across the Thai-Burmese border.



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