The Conservation Of A Race As A Missionary By-Product -- By: Edward Norman Harris

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 077:306 (Apr 1920)
Article: The Conservation Of A Race As A Missionary By-Product
Author: Edward Norman Harris


The Conservation Of A Race As A Missionary By-Product

Edward Norman Harris

Toungoo, Burma

Coming across a copy of the last Government census report of Burma not long since, I was greatly and happily surprised by what I learned. Formerly I had supposed that the Karens were a decadent race, or at least that they were losing their language and their distinguishing racial characteristics. I think most other missionaries to these people were, and probably still are, of the same opinion. We feared that the Karens were becoming rapidly Burnian-ized. Many of them speak the Burmese language as fluently as their own, and there are some who use nothing else, having quite forgotten their mother tongue. This tendency seemed so strong that we expected the Karen language to disappear entirely in the course of a few generations, if not within a few decades. I remember to have heard Dr. Smith, our senior missionary, the president of the Karen Theological Seminary, lament that the literature with which he has so laboriously and so splendidly enriched the Karen language would soon pass out of use with the waning of the Karen people. But the figures given in the census prove that so far from being a decadent race the Karens are showing signs of marked virility. Not so very long since,— in fact I think it was less than thirty years ago, but I have not the figures at hand,— they stood fourth among the races of Burma in numerical importance, not only the Burmese, but also the Talaings and Shans taking precedence over them. Now, on the other hand, they stand second, the Talaings and Shans having been outdistanced. During the ten-year period covered by the census, while the population of the province as a whole increased from 10,490, 624 to 12,115,217, or fifteen per cent, and the Burmese population from 7,437,363 to 8,317,842, or about twelve per cent, the number of persons actually

speaking the different dialects of the Karen language rose from 881,290 to 1,067,363, an advance of over twenty-one per cent. Part of this increase has been due to the inclusion of dialects or tribes which were not formerly comprised in the census areas. But if we turn to the statistics of the Sgaw and Pro Karen tribes alone, which were not affected by changes in the census, we find that they show practically the same rate of increase, the number of those actually speaking these dialects having risen during the period named from 704,835 to 850,756.

But what most attracted my attention was the comment of the superintendent of the census, Mr. C. Morgan Webb. Referring to the Karens as a whole, he says: —

“In the midst of communities who have readily amalgamated with whatever tribes and races happened t...

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