Many Karen literatures never failed to mention the role of Karen kings and Karen kingdoms. There are many Karen folklores told or recited orally as source of wisdom, knowledge, instructions and discretion. Moral is what the Karen ancestors emphasized in the legacy they left. One of the popular maxims for the Karen people is to avoid three booby traps. They are (1) Corruption (2) Inebriety (3) Adultery. Obey it and you have success in your life. Break it and you will only meet trouble and failure. These precious words of wisdom were incorporated into myths and folklores and passed on to posterity generation after generation.
The Karens have a great stock of stories that are often told. These stories are told orally in the form of htars, folklores, sagas and legends. One unique and common thing of these stories is that they told about the Karen people and they constitute quite a great part of Karen history.
Admonition, instruction, moral and prophesy made up these stories. No one knew exactly when these stories began and by whom they were narrated. Perhaps, these stories might have been in use, since the Karen as a race entered old Babylon around 2287 B.C.
Successive Karen sages or anonymous leaders of the communities composed these stories in accordance with the passage of time, location and event. Many of the prophecies in these stories had already been fulfilled now. Even though most of the Karen’s prophecies used to predict happy endings, they demand wise decision and strict obedience to it. These priceless legacies had enriched Karen cultures for years, and revealed Karen characters in the simplest way…
The story of king Saw Ta Keh Tha
Probably the story took place around 700 AD when many city states began to emerge widespread in the land first called “Kaw Lah” by the Karen and now changed to Myanmar by the Burmese ruling junta. Dominant tribes made war against the others to control the land and expanded it as much as possible. To become the rulers of the land meant the “victors” and to become the subjects of the land meant the “victims”. Ruling the land to fat oneself with every resource and pleasing one’s whim over the suffering of the other races was the diplomacy of the land and revenge was the cause of the war. It was a time when the Burmese defeated her arch-rival the Mon and brought all different races of the land under her iron heel. The Burmese maxim of that time was “To be ruthless is to be king” and perhaps that was the policy practiced by most Burmese kings of the past. So it was understandable that how worse the condition might be for the victims of the land.
The Karen population managed to suffer silently every persecution imposed on them under the successive Burmese kings but hey were far from being annihilated or absorbed. The Karen people increased in number gradually. When they could not bear the atrocities any more, they chose a leader; named Saw Ta Keh Tha to fight the Burmese. Saw Ta Keh Tha mustered his people and fought the Burmese king for many days. Finally he defeated the Burmese king and seized the throne to become the king of the land. Saw Ta Keh Tha was a brave and strong king but had some week characters. He made the Burmese ministers of the court served him every day. He liked alcohol as well as beautiful women which were never to be absent from his presence. Once he ordered the Burmese minister to serve him Karen food and gave them long list of recipes for the meal. The Burmese ministers managed to provide every detail the king demanded and ordered beautiful Burmese women to serve the king every night. Saw Ta Keh Tha trusted his ministers too much but failed to learn their secrets.
One day king Saw Ta Keh Tha called a royal court for his ministers from every corner of his domain to attend. Out of revenge, pride and arrogance, he demanded the Burmese ministers to provide him with items impossible to get in the whole kingdom. He said to them, “When you ruled the land, you demanded my people to do many impossible things for you. Now it was time for you to repay it.” The ministers were them prepared to kill the king and seized the throne, knowing every weakness the king possessed. At the banquet Saw Ta Keh Tha indulged himself in all the best wine and beautiful women until he was totally drunk and collapsed. While he was asleep he was beheaded by his own ruthless and power-hungry ministers. As soon as the head of king Saw Ta Keh Tha rolled down and hit the palace floor, his body got up and grasped the center pillar of the palace firmly. The seemingly victorious and cunning ministers grinned lustfully among themselves, hoping that the power of the kingdom was now in their hands. They started cleaning the floor of blood and cleared all traces of Karen‘s Royalty from the palace. But when they got to the beheaded body clinging firmly around the center pillar of the palace, they tried hard to remove the body from the pillar. They were faced with horror… the body of king Saw Ta Keh Tha refused to be removed. It remained hugging the pillar adamantly. The dirty, wicked ministers used all the resources of the kingdom and sought the wisest advice of her learned citizens just to take the body off the pillar. They even used sorcery, witchcraft, magic, etc…. No matter how hard they tried, it was all in vain. The authenticity and symbol of Karen’s monarch remained forever in the kingdom. Strangely enough, the story went on, leaving chapter to be fulfilled soon. It was a common belief for all the population of the land at that time that one day king Saw Ta Keh Tha’s head will be placed on his body again and he will become alive to rule the kingdom of the land peacefully and prosperously to the end of time. When the Karen population heard that their king was assassinated, they became frightened and helpless. Apart from lamenting over their dead king, these could do nothing.
No one knows when that time will come. Until that day the Karen population will have to prepare for the worse and hope for the better.
“He that fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Friedric Nietze.