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The Mon History

Among the present various inhabitants of Burma, the Mon are the oldest. They arrived into Burma
probably between 2500 and 1500 BC. The Mon were close cousin of Khmers, with whom they
originally came down from Mongolia. Since then, they settled in some parts of Thailand, and
along Tenasserim and on the Irrawaddy delta of Burma. The first strong Mon kingdom in Burma
was well-known as Suwarnabhumi, The Golden Land and it had a port capital Thaton (it is still
situated in Mon State as a small town), which was not so far from the isthmian portage route; and
through this window to the see they saw India, in its full glory, united and peaceful under emperor
Asoka and a flourishing center of Theravada Buddhism. Asoka sent a mission of Buddhist monks
to Suwarnabhumi and introduced Theravada Buddhisim, which improved new civilization to the
Mon. The ancient monastic settlement of Kalasa, situated a few miles from Thaton and claimed
by Mon and Burman chronicles to have been founded by Asoka?s missionaries, was mentioned
in early Ceylonese records as being represented at a great religious synod held in Cylon (Siri
Lanka) in the 2nd Century BC.

Before the establishment of Burmans?s well-known kingdom Pagan, the Mon both in Thailand
and Burma, were politically organized as the confederacy of Ramanya and embracing the three
kingdoms of Thaton, Dvaravati, and Haripunjaya. Until the 8th century, the Mon kingdom was
stable and expanded well relationship with Indias for trading and commerce. The expension was
sudden and revolutionary but peaceful, the Indian merchants and seamen came to Thaton as
friends rather than as conquistadors or colonists. The Mon also accepted Indian culture and
developed their civilization.

The second wave of peoples to come into Burman after the Mon were the Tibeto- Burmans from
the north. The Mon reluctance allowed the infant Burman kingdom to survive and grow. In the
process the leadership of the Tibeto-Burman tribes passed to the Burmans and in 849 AD they
founded their own city Pagan. In 1044, the Burmese king Anawrahta came to the throne of
Pagan. After he grew his power and influence, he challenged and conquered Theravada Mon in
Thaton in 1057. It was a unity not by peaceful means but through force. The conquest of Pagan
was the foundation of both Pagan?s economy and its culture. Mon craftsmen, artisans, architects,
goldsmiths, and wood carvers -captured at Thaton- were taken to Pagan to teach their skills and
arts to the Burmans. Mon monks and scholars taught the Burmese the Pali language and the
Buddhist scriptures. The Burmans soon became scholars themselves, making Pagan the center
of Theravada learning.

In 1287, Pagan fell to Mongol Kubla Khan?s armies. After the fall of Pagan, the Mon in lower
Burma consolidated themselves and restored their own kingdom. The kingdom was initially
established at Martaban, near Moulmein and ruled by king Wareru. Then the capital of kingdom
was transferred to Pegu (Hongsawatoi) in 1365. The Mon were achieving another golden age
again under wise rulers that lasted until 1533. During and half centuries of golden era, Pegu?s
Hongsawatoi Dynasty produced rulers who are still loved by the people of Burma today, and who
left behind many sacred monuments.

In 1531, Thabinshwehti became the Burman king of Taungoo and within a few years he
conquered lower Burma from the Mon and established his capital in Pegu. After he died, his
brother-in-law Bayinnaung established the second Burman empire, by occupying Shan plateau
and some parts of Thailand. Later, the capital of kingdom was transferred to Ava of upper Burma
and it became weak. In 1740, the Mon declared independence and reestablished their kingdom in
Pegu (hongsawatoi). The Burman capital of Ava fell to the Mon in 1752 and nearly the whole
Burma became under Mon rule then.

U Aunggzeya, a Burman leader who is better known as King Alaungphaya, drove the Mon out of
upper Burma from Ava and regained other lost territories. By 1757 he defeated the Mon annexed
the Mon kingdom of Hongsawatoi. The Mon have ever since become a people without a country.
The conquering Burman leader U Aungzeya persecuted the Mon by massacring over 3,000
learned Mon monks near Rangoon; by burning down holy scriptures and monasteries; by
proscribing Mon language and literature; and by genocidal mass execution whereby thousands of
Mon were exterminated in several stockade-inferno holocausts. Racial discrimination was rife and
hundreds of thousands of the Mon fled to Siam (Thailand) for safe haven. In modern human
rights terminology, it was a drastic ?ethnic cleansing? process.

After 68 years under the rule of Burman kings, following the second Anglo-Burmese war, the
entire Mon territory of lower Burma was colonized by the British in 1824. Until and except the
periods they were colonized by the two alien nations, the Burman and British, the Mon had
exercised full rights of self-determination for many centuries. During the periods when the Mon
were master of Lower Burma, the people were happy and prosperous. Those glorious periods
were expressed by western historians as golden ages under wise Mon rulers. Relations with
foreign countries and foreign nationals were peaceful, cordial and harmonious. They blended
their native culture with Theravada Buddhism which elevated them as teachers of their
neighbours in Southeast Asia.

The British administration based on modern democracy and capitalism superseded the Burmese
autocratic feudalism, which treated other ethnic nationalities who were their domination as serfs.
The peaceful situation during the British reign gave an opportunity for most of the ethnic non-
Burman refugees who fled the tuthless brutal oppression of the Burman kings to neighbouring
countries, to return to Burma.

The British during the process of annexing Burma, persuaded the Mon to rebel against Burma,
while they were attacking the Burman who were oppressing the Mon as slaves. An excerpt from
the proclamation by the British commanding officer, Sir Archibald, written in the book entitled ?
The Making of Burma? by Dorothy Woodman says: ?Choose from amongst yourselves a Chief, I
will recongnize him.? The promise was never honoured but instead the first Commissioner Mr. A.
D. Maingy was appointed to administer the Mon dominated areas of Ye, Tavoy, Mergui and
Tenasserim after incorporating them into the British Empire. This behaviour of the British
infuriated the Mon very much, and they pledged to oust British rule from Burma in collaboration
with the Burman and other ethnic victims of imperialism.

Through the anti-colonial struggle to free Burma from the yoke of the British imperialism, the Mon
worked together with their indigenous brethren up to the end of World War II. But when
independence for Burma from the British was in the offing, the Mon asserted their identity and
right of self-determination. Some Mon cultural and political organizations such as All Ramanya
Mon Association, United Mon Association and Mon Freedom League were formed by Mon
leaders and asked the Burman leaders to recognize their identity. But the demand was flatly
rejected by the Burman leader U Nu, who was the Prime Minister then. He claimed that ?the Mon
and the Burman were identical and so there was no reason for the Mon to crave for a separate
ethnic identity?. This refusal to recognize their primary demand created the Mon national
upsurge, and resulted in an escalation of their demand to reclaim their old homeland which
covers the whole of lower Burma.

In signing the Aung San-Atlee agreement for independence of the whole Burma, the Burman
leadership approached the frontier ethnic nationalities to join the Union of Burma at Penglong in
Shan State. An agreement came out to safeguard racil equal rights of the ethnic nationalities and
establish a Federal Union, but the Mon, the Karen and the Karenni were not participants of the
Penglong Agreement. After the death of Gen. Aung San, the succeeding Burmese leaders
twisted the agreement by writing a constitution based on a unitary system concentrating the
executive administrative power in the central government in Rangoon.

The Mon?s demand for the creation of a Mon State which covers lower Burma was rejected again
and the repressive action was also taken against them by the ruling Burman leaders. Some Mon
leaders were assassinated and many were imprisoned. More than 100 Mon villages were also
burnt down and destroyed by the Burmese Army. These repressive measures pushed the Mon to
take up arms and continue their struggle for racial rights by means of armed struggle in the wake
of Burma independence in 1948. Initially, under the leadership of Mon People?s Front (MPF), the
Mon armed struggle had been carrying on until 1958. In July 1958, MPF agreed with the then U
Nu?s parliamentary government to transform itself as legal Mon freedom struggle under the
democratic system. The democratic government of U Nu was abolished the Burmese Army led by
Gen. Ne Win in a coup d?etat in 1962 and since then the country was ruled by a military
dictatorship. The Mon armed resistance movement was continued by the New Mon State Party
(NMSP) which replaced the outgoing MPF. The Mon armed struggle under the leadership of
NMSP has continuously fought against the single- party rule of Gen. Ne Win-led Burma Socialist
Programme Party (BSPP) and the present military regime, State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC) for nearly four decades.

The NMSP has modified its claim to five districts of lower Burma, namely, Pegu, Thaton,
Moulmein, Tavoy, and Mergui Districts to be formed as Mon State. It has passed through several
phases of different political changes during the Mon armed struggle of the five decades against
the ultra-nationalist Burman governments. In 1974, the Burman leadership led by Gen. Ne Win
created the nominal Mon State covering Thaton and Moulmein districts to appease the Mons. In
1982, NMSP became a member of the National Democratic Front (NDF) which is an umbrella
organization for all non-Burman ethnic nationalities resisting Rangoon governments for self-

The economic deterioration, the demonetization of currency and the discontent with human rights
abuses culminated in the world-renowned demonstrations of the students, monks and civilian
masses in 1988, demanding democray, free elections and an end to the single-party rule. State
power changed hands three times and just when the general will could no longer be contained,
thousand troops were called in and thousands of demonstrators were massacred and thousands
arrested. As a result of the military junta?s violent repression, thousands of students, monks,
intelligentsia, political leaders, military personnel and ordinary citizens fled to the liberated areas
controlled by members of NDF. With the initiative of NDF, a wider representative organization
under the name of the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB) was formed including the ethnic
Burman opposition groups in and out of the country.

Thailand has changed its policy towards Burma. It is adamant that the civil war in Burma should
come to an end. Thailand, with its policy if ?Constructive Engagement? to Burma, does not need
the Karen, Karenni and Mon areas as a buffer between her and Burma. It has hoped that peace
in Burma will favour Thai commercial interests for quick profit and help stem the increasing flow of
refugees from Burma. It has put constand pressure on NMSP and other ethnic non-Burma armed
opposition groups along its border to enter into a cease-fire deal with SLORC and end the war. At
the same time, the military regime SLORC was offering the many ethnic armed opposition groups
including NMSP, asking them to enter into a cease- fire agreement with it. NMSP entered initial
ceasefire talks with SLORC in late 1993. In mid-1995, it reached a ceasefire agreement with
SLORC. Still the ceasefire agreement is not a political solution of Burma and the Mon do not
obtain any rights from the present NMSP ceasefire with SLORC. The human rights situation in
Mon region has not improved despite the NMSP-SLORC ceasefire. The political activities of
NMSP have been under constant pressure and disturbance by the military regime SLORC. The
deteriorating situation following the NMSP-SLORC cease-fire agreement ha led to to formation of
a new political forum for the Mon people. In early 1996, the Mon Unity League (MUL) came into
existence as a common Mon united front.