Karen community celebrates New Year
Melbourne’s Karen community recently held their New Year was celebrations at Werribee Park Community Farm, in Melbourne’s west.
More than 1500 people attended the celebration which included exhibitions of traditional dance and song, food stalls and Karen crafts.
Rangers from Werribee Park helped to organise the event and joined in the dancing, singing and sharing of food.
The Karen are one of Burma’s minority ethnic groups who have been persecuted and displaced by the Burmese government over decades and who now largely live in refugee camps along the Thai Burma border.
Since the early 2000s, thousands of Karen have come to Australia and are now one of the largest emerging communities who have settled in the Werribee area, as well as in communities in Bendigo and in Nhill, in western Victoria.
Karen community leader and Werribee Park ranger Hsar Ju said the celebrations were an important community event.
“These celebrations are really important for us because they bring the community together. We all get to meet each other and talk about what is going on in the community and who needs support,” he said.
“It is also important in keeping our traditions alive and for the young people to learn about them and to see our culture in action close up,” Hsar said.
Werribee Park Community Farm began life back in 2012 with a partnership between AMES Australia and Parks Victoria working with newly settled communities who have arrived in Australia as humanitarian visa holders.
Since then the farm has become a major community hub for many other local CALD and mainstream communities. It now boasts vegetable gardens created and managed by local Karen and South Sudanese who have helped to create an All-Abilities Veggie Garden with financial support from the local Sikh community.
The Karen New Year (S’gaw Karen) also known as the Kayin New Year is one of the major holidays celebrated by the Karen People.
The Karen New Year falls on the first day of ‘Pyatho’, the tenth month in the Burmese calendar, and typically falls in December or January.
The timing coincides with the completion of the Southeast Asian rice harvest in the lead-up to Pyatho celebrations typically include don dances and bamboo dances, singing, speeches, and the consumption of food.
The Karen New Year was established in 1937 or 1938. The holiday was recognized by the British colonial administration as a public holiday in 1938. In 2017, the two Karen major liberation groups, leaders from the Karen National Liberation Army and the Karen National Union, jointly celebrated the Karen New Year for the first time since 1967 in Kayin State‘s Hlaingbwe Township.