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Mon (ethnic group)

The Mon are an ethnic group in Southeast Asia. They live in an area around the southern Thailand-Burmese border, historic lower Burma. There are believed to be around 800,000 people who claim Mon ancestory and retain their culture and language but the majority of the Mon, possibly 4 million, are absorbed into the Burman. The majority of Mon live around the city of Bagan or the site of their historic capital, the port of Mawlamyine.

The Mon were one of the earliest distinct groups to occupy Burma, moving into the area possibly as early as 1500 BCE. The Mon history has their first kingdom, Suwarnabhumi, founded around the port of Thaton in 300 BCE, they were converted to Theravada Buddhism in the 200s BC. They prospered in southern Burma until around 1000 when they came under pressure from new ethnic groups arriving from the north, successive waves of Burman and Thai groups slowly eroded the Mon kingdoms until the final collapse. The last Mon kingdom was Hongsavatoi, established around 1735, they reconquered much of their lost territory until the energetic Burman leader U Aungzeya forced them back, captured the kingdom by 1757. The Mon religious leaders were forced to flee to Siam and the Mon were harshly repressed. Burma, including the Mon territories was conquered by the British by 1824 after the second Anglo-Burmese War, the Mon had aided the British in the overthrow of the Burman monarchy. The Mon soon became anti-colonialists and following the grant of independence to Burma in 1948 they sought self-determination, U Nu refused them this and they rose in revolt to be crushed again. They have remained a repressed and defiant group in the country since then. They have risen in revolt against the central Burmese government on a number of occasions, intially under the Mon People's Front and from 1962 through the New Mon State Party. A partially autonomous Mon state, Monland, was created in 1974 covering Tenasserim, Pegu and Irrawaddy. Resistance continued until 1995 when NMSP and SLORC agreed a cease-fire and in 1996 the Mon Unity League was founded. SLORC troops continued to operate in defiance of the agreement.

The Mon language is part of the Monic Mon-Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic family, related to Vietnamese and Khmer. The writing system was developed from Pali and is Indic based, the Burman took and adapted the Mon alphabet following their conquest.

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