Shan Names

The name could be any name given by the parents or the elder as they desired. They do not have family surname. Sometimes the date and time of birth were taken into consideration in giving name. The name could be completely different from parents’ name. For instance, the father’s name is Kham Zet and the mother’s name is Seng Li. The child name can be Yuet Ngen. Yuet Ngen is the real name. Apart from the real name a person may have a prefix before the real name.
The prefix can be the followings depend on position, class, age, etc.
Sao (q0f;), Khun (ckef), Nang (emif;), Sai (qBm;), Maung (r.ifb), Saya (YoMb), Kein (cdif;), Lone (vkif;), Paw (ayMj),
Mae (trj), Pa (yMj), Nei (eBm;), Ya (,M@), Nong (e.ifh), Pi (yDj), Pu (ylb), etc.
For example;
“Kham Zet” is a real name.
“Sao Kham Zet” indicates that he is from a royal family.
“Khun Kham Zet” also indicates that he is from royal family.
“Nang Seng Kio” indicates that Seng Kio is a woman from royal family. However in modern time Nang is commonly used in the name of the ladies just to indicate that she is from Shan race, not necessarily from royal family. Nang can be assumed as racial surname for Shan girls.
“Sai Kham Zet” indicates that he is adult young person from Shan race. Sai can be assumed as racial surname for adult boys. It sometimes also means elder brother.
“Maung” is a common prefix Burmese name meaning young man. Since Shan has become more Burmanized the use of Burmese prefix is quite common.
“Saya Kham Zet” means Kham Zet is a teacher.
“Kein Kham Zet” means Kham Zet is an adult and respected person.
“Lone Kham Zet” means Kham Zet is an elderly person.
“Paw Kham Zet” means Kham Zet is respected as a father.
“Mae Kham Zet” means Kham Zet is a lady and also respectfully as a mother.
“Pa Kham Zet” means Kham Zet is an elderly mother.
“Nei Kham Zet” also means Kham Zet is old lady.
“Ya Kham Zet” means Kham Zet is an old lady.
“Nong Sai” means younger brother and “Nong Ying” means younger sister.
“Pi Sai” means elder brother and “Pi Nang” means elder sister.
“Pu Kham Zet” means Kham Zet is an old man.
“Khu Kham Zet” means Kham Zet is an expert.
Almost all the name of the Shan people has the meaning. Many Shan male use to have the name in precious metal such as Seng (oFif) (diamond), Kham (crf;) (gold), Ngein (ikdef;) (silver) and the high things like Sun (0ef;) (Wan), Leaun (vldefj) (moon), Lao (vm0f) (star), etc. Shan seldom change their names in normal circumstances. Some Shan young men may change their names after their monk-hood with the prefix “Hsang” (q0fjomifb?rlefjqmif;).
Common traditional name among the Shan were used by serial among siblings

 As for male;
Ai (nBmj) (eldest son),
Yee (,Dj) (second son),
Hsam (omrf) (third son),
Hsai (oBb) (fourth son),
Ngo (il0fh) (fifth son),
Nok (ekufh) (sixth son),
Nu (elU) (seventh son),
Noi (e.BU) (eighth son),
Lah (vMU) (ninth son),
Lun (vkdef;) (youngest or last),
Koi (u..Bj) (youngest or last),

As for female;
Ye (a,j) (eldest daughter),
Ee (nDb) (second),
Ahm (nmrfj) (third),
Ei (nBb) (fourth),
O (nl0fj) (fifth),
Ok (nluf) (sixth),
Et (ndwf) (seventh),
Laik (vAufh) (eighth),
Lah (vMU) (ninth),
Lun (vkdef;) (youngest or last),
Koi (u.Bj) (youngest or last).


Family tie is very important in Shan . They use to have big family. A single child in a family is very rare. They use to live together with parents until or unless they got marriage and wanted to live by themselves. Children respect their parents very much. Sometimes the parents do not want the married children to leave. They build houses in their compound for them or give them rooms to live together in their home. The son seldom goes to live with his wife’s parents (ckdefjclpf) but wife use to live with son’s parents. Going to live with wife’s parents after getting marriage is considered as poor or low status of the man and it is looked down by society.
Family always dine together round the table. Children never eat before the parents and elders have eaten. Fish, pork, beef, bamboo-shoots, vegetables, and curry in the pot or banana leave were laid on the bamboo table which was about two feet in diameter and one feet high. They use to have five to six varieties of dishes on the table. After the family has gathered round the table the pot of steamed rice is served separately to each person by passing the pot. Members take up the rice, roll it in their hand in lumps and eat with curry or dishes. It’s a beauty to the family when all the family members go to the festival together. Families are united in community. They use to join together in building houses, making or repairing roads, digging well or water drainage in all development of the village and community. Sometime they even defense and guard their village and community together for security and well being of the dwellers. Usually the chief of the village has power and authority over community. In many places the Buddhist monk has the authority over the village. In the old days courting among young stars started as early as the age of twelve. When a boy came to a girl’s home and wanted to meet, have a chat or courting with the girl, it depended very much on the favor of the girl’s parents. Parents had influence, authority and control over children very much. Children also listened and respected parents’ opinion. When parents did not like the boy meeting their daughter they use to say, “She is not at home” or “She is not free to meet you at the moment” or “She is already in bed” etc, even though she was at home and available. But when the parents of the girl liked the boy they usually gave favor and asked the boy to come in and take a seat and they would call the girl to come and see the visitor. Usually boy came to girl’s home only in the evening because they all had to work in rice field at daytime. The meeting or courting usually took place at home in front of the parents while the girl was weaving. The boy use to bring something to do at girl’s home such as plying strings or cutting strips of bamboo while chatting or courting the girls. When their conversation was serious the parents use to go away, leave them alone and give them privacy to talk. Parents always wished that their children would have good husband and good wife. Parents use to ask about their family and background history of the boy or girl before giving a green light. Holding hand, hugging or kissing before they became fiancé is very rare. Rape was extremely rare. Meeting or courting secretly was considered as wrongdoing. The courting sometimes also took place at the market, on the road to the market or home, in rice field while working in the field or at the well when girls were fetching the water. The language used during courting was different from ordinary conversation. They use to start with talking about the moon, the star, the flower, the river, the valley, the mountain, the stream, the bird etc. to express their interest and love. They never directly say “I love you.” For those who knew how to read and write, they wrote love letter “Leik Kao” (vdufjcA0f) (green letter). These were usually written in poetry, by himself or by a professional letter-writer. He did not send letter to the girl if she did not read. Instead when he paid his evening visits, he brought the letters with him and read or sang them to her, throwing as much meaning and sentiment in his voice as much as possible. The girl, of course, was the subject of the poems, which in many lines and rhymes told her that she walked as gracefully as a duck swims, her face was like the full moon shining in the night, the palms of her small hands and the soles of her tripping feet were pink as lotus flowers etc.

Courting and Marriage

In the old days Shan woman used to marry at young age as early as sixteen. Man married at any age after sixteen but often waited until eighteen or twenty. Usually it was considered proper and matched if husband was older and taller than wife. Even though parents wanted to see their children get good husband and good wife they rarely tried to force their children to marry against their will. However getting approval from parents for marriage was very important. Some boys and girls had to savage their love relationship because of parents’ disapproval. Some ran away with their fiancé when they could not convince their parents and did not want to savage their love-relationship. Sometimes parents cut relationship with their daughter who ran away with the man whom they didn’t approve but soon forgave and restored relationship. Matchmaking was also quite common and done when the parents did not want their son or daughter getting marriage with the one they didn’t like.
Normally when a boy fell in love with a girl and wanted to get marriage he must tell his parents and asked them to go to the girl’s parents and asked her parents’ permission to get marriage. The boy’s parents would then assign one or two or three people, on their behalf, to go to the girl’s home and ask for permission to allow the boy to get marriage with their daughter. If the girl’s parent liked the boy and wanted their daughter to get marriage with him they may ask for “body-money” (uM@cdif;) to pay to the girl’s parent to get permission. Sometimes they bargained for days or weeks and sometimes the marriage had to be abandoned because of disagreement on body-money. Sometime body-money was too high and the parents of the boy could not afford. Sometime cattle and other material were also included in body-money.
On wedding day when the bridegroom came to the bride’s home to take the bride, parents usually sent out the bride with tears. Elders and parents gave blessing to the new couple before they leave home. Normally the wedding ceremony lasted for three days; pre-wedding day, wedding-day and post-wedding day. Usually young people from the village did all the cooking and celebration. The wedding expenses were usually born by the parents of bridegroom. Getting marriage with sibling or closely related relative was not allowed and was condemned by society. The children born in the family were a strong binding between father and mother. If wife did not bear children the husband sometimes took second wife. This may cause the first wife to get a divorce. More often first wife did not object and willing to live on good terms with the second wife. If there were children born by second wife, the first wife looked on them as her own and was very fond of them. Both women and men among the Shan could divorce each other at will but divorces without deplorable cause were looked upon with disapproval by the society. Polyandry was unknown. A woman giving birth without marriage was very much looked down by society. Single parent was shameful.
In the old days, people were divided into two classes; high-class and low-class. SaoPha (chief), traders, goldsmith, and farmers belonged to high-class people. Fishermen, hunters and butchers belonged to low-class people and they were not allowed to live together with high-class people in the same village. They had to have their own village. Nowadays there is no such discrimination any more.
Husband is usually doing leading role in the family. Wife must not be the head of the family or decision maker. If wife plays a leading role or holding the string on husband the community look down on the husband.

Music and Dancing

Shan love freedom and happiness. They are very sociable people. They used to sing and dance at every festival and celebration. Without singing, beating gong, mong, cymbal and dancing, they do not consider it “festival.” The way of dancing is unique. There are different kind of dances such as Ka Nok (uMjelufh), Ka Doe (uMjwl0f;), Ka Lai (uMjvBm;), Ka Seng (uMjoFif;), Ka Mong Seung (uMjr.if;oldif;), Ka Gong Kon Yau (uMju.if@ulefj,m0f;) and Ka Mong (uMjr.if;), depend on the rhythm, beat and style of gong, mong and cymbal.
They used to dance together in group as party dance. According to the legendary story bird-dancing (Nok) and deer-dancing (Doe) (uMjelufhuMjwl0f;) in the month of October is a celebration of the light festival based on the story of the spirits of the people and animals welcoming the return of Buddha after his preaching and thanksgiving to his mother and other spirit in spiritual world. This dancing of Nok and Doe is in fact a Buddhist belief and religious in nature but it is claimed to be Shan cultural dance . In the past women did not dance in religious ceremony but only men did. Nowadays men and women are dancing together. Each small village has at least one band of gong, mong and cymbal and people march with it from the surrounding districts to attend any great festival in other village. The men and women form a large circle in front of the monastery around gong-mong band and they dance together all daylong far into the night. The performance is a very serious and solemn affair. When the dancers grow tired they give a weird shout in unison “hei” as a signal for the music to cease and the dancing will pause. As soon as one circle of men ceases dancing, another circle is ready to begin when gong, mong and cymbal start. The players of gong, mong and cymbal are also changed. After dancing they go into the temple and pray.

There are different Kind of gongs (drum) (u.if@)
There are different kind of mongs made of bronze in different sizes, 10 to 40 centimeters in diameter, 5 to 7 pieces in one set. It produces different sound in harmony. Gong, mong and cymbal must be played together. Shan never play single instrument without combination of three during festive celebration. Shan are also fond of flute especially reed flute. Reed flute gives a beautiful sound. Reed flute music from Yunnan is very popular. There are different kind of flutes.
There are different kind of string instruments.
Folk songs are usually sung by a solo person without musical accompaniment. But sometime it is accompanied by flute or violin. There is no folk song for group singing. Most of the musical instruments are made of bamboo, goblet, clay, single or multiple string instruments.

The Belief in Creation

Shan believe that this present world is incalculably old. Hundreds of thousands of years before our world was created there were other worlds existed. After many years each world was destroyed and formed again. This world in which we now live will also be destroyed by fire and will again be renewed. There are different versions of the creation. When our present world first came into existence it was covered with water. At first the water was shallow but in time it grew deeper becoming a great deep sea, which rose higher and higher until it almost reached the heavens. The breath of the gods made the first men and women live. When the breath of the gods is taken from us we die. In all, counting insects, reptiles, birds and beasts there are 100,000,000 creatures.

Even though Shan declare that they are Buddhists, they also believe in many kind of spirits. Some spirits are believed to be benevolent, good and helpful but others are considered as wicked, evil and harmful. When a person is being accused of possessing evil spirit, he must be exorcised by witchdoctor by beating and sometimes a man died of beating. Evil spirit possessed are driven out from village and excommunicated from society. People look down on the family members and relatives of the one being accused of possessing evil spirit. They consider them as defiled and outcasts. Sometime spiritual witchdoctors are invited to exorcise the spirit by paying large sum of money and offering. When witchdoctor failed to exorcise the spirit they use to come to Christian pastor for help.
Shan adopted Buddhism since AD 71. Later Shan have adopted Theravada Buddhism from Burmans. Theravada is one of the eighteen Nikaya schools that formed early in the history of Buddhism. These developed in India during the century subsequent to the death of the Buddha. Almost all Shan are Buddhists. That is why they use to say, “Shan are Buddhist.” They believe that right thinking, ritual sacrifices, and self-denial will enable the soul to reach nibanna (a state of eternal bliss). They also teach reincarnation and each person’s future well being is determined by his behavior (deeds) in previous life. Fate of a person depends on merit (karmaumrfb) he’s gained in the past life. All intentional actions, good or bad, will lead to future result. Thinking of doing bad thing is also bad karma. Good action is referred as Kusala (ulUol0fb). Bad action is Akusala (nMUulUol0fb). It brings fortune by giving alms to monks and listening to sermons from monks. People usually give in hope of getting return. Large gift is more auspicious than small gift. If a person has nothing to give he can act auspiciously by simply rejoicing at other person’s giving by expressing Sadhu(oMxlU) (meaning it is good). Past Karma also offers perhaps the only religiously satisfactory explanation of the suffering of the people who have done nothing to deserve it in this life. Whatever happen people always point to Karma. In Mahayana tradition "tradition" , merit is often transferred to all sentient beings. The basic Buddhist teachings are “Four Noble Truth” and “Holy Eight Fold Paths.”
Suffering, Origin of suffering, Nibanna, Holy Eight Fold Paths
Right view or right understanding, Right thought, Right speech, Right action,
Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration

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