The First Long Journey

Ancient Babylonian to Mongolia (2234-2197 B.C)

Most Karen history books, either in Karen or English, pointed the original place of Karen people as Babylon and the recorded data was around BC 2234. When the pages of world History are opened according to that location and date, the region, at that time was known as Mesopotamia, “Land between Rivers”, specifically the Tigris and Euphrates. New peoples, sage as well as savage from faraway lands came and some even rose to prominence in the region by gradual infiltration or conquest. The Karen race might have been one of them which bore another name. Civilization was in full swing at that time with rivaled races attempted to establish their own nation-states.

The domineering races or mixed races came to be known as empire-builders of the region at that time were Assyrian, Sumerian and Akkadian. The dominion was at that time known as “the old Babylonian Empire” and lasted four centuries. Some Karen scholars still support the popular opinion that the Karens are the lost tribe of Israel. In “The Karens” by Rev. John Hackney, the author disagreed with the lost tribe theory and proposed the Mesopotamian origins of the Karen people. He cited in his book that there were some accountable resemblances between the Karen and the Akkadian in the language they spoke and in the rituals they performed.

None of the Karen history books recorded the number of years, the Karen lived in Old Babylon but all agreed that the Karen left the old Babylon in BC 2234 and started moving northwards along the Euphrates to Mt. Ararat (now called Bu Agri Dagi). There are many interesting questions arose and further research awaited for all Karen historians. How large is the number when they left? Who were their enigmatic leaders? What cause them to leave the land?

According to Saw Aung Hla’s “The Karen History” the Karen’s migration to the North was filled with excitements and adventures. Why did they choose to go back to a land which seemed to be their foremost origin remained a mystery? One explanation is possible. The Karen culture taught them to love and respect their birth place. That’s why they went back to homage to their late ancestors as well as say their last good bye. They settled for a while at Nor Wah (Lake Van), sustained themselves by slash and barn cultivation around the foot of Mt. Ararat, some occupied the land at Lake Uremia, and some along the coast of Caspian Sea (Karen name – Nor Kabi Kaba). Nor is the term still used today and means “Large Lake”. There, they trekked along the River Atrek, crossed the vast desolation plains, rivers and mountains in the north and entered Turkestan (Kazakhstan). There, they followed the Syi Darya River; climbed and crossed the Tian-Shan Mountain ranges and reached Issyk Kul Nor. They moved again and arrived in Mongolia in the year BC 2197. They settled down in Ural Altaic and stayed there for 180 years. The mass exodus of the Karen population from the old Babylonia to Mongolia was the longest march ever made by a national race which covered a journey of more than 10,000 Kilometers and lasted 38 years.

This first epic long journey of the large Karen race, marked with legacies and legends, miracles and myths, facts and fictions is not easily forgotten. It will always be remembered, honored and kept alive by all the Karens who are now living in many countries of the world.

Added List for Reference.

1. True Love and Bartholomew, Rebels on the Burmese border by Jonathan Falla.
2. World History, Combined edition, by Upshur, Terry, Holoka, Goff, Lowry.
3. The Holy Bible

Who were the Karen leaders in this long journey? The world witnessed a similar magnificent human’s feat again after an interval of over 700 years. In around 1446 BC, another race, the Hebrews or the Israelites, who for 430 years had been slaves in Egypt, (made) an exodus (see the Holy Bible, Exodus 12:37-40). They were led by their God chosen leaders with Moses at the head and successively followed by Joshua who finally made possible for the Israelites to possess the Promised Land. The journey, full of miracles and excitement, comprised of more than a million people, covered a distance of over 2000 Kilometers and lasted 40 years. In trying to guess who might be the enigmatic and charismatic leaders of the Karen people in their farther and longer journey, only one name stands out in many Karen history books and literatures, “Toh Meh Pah”. Until now, no Karen has denied the legendary role played by Toh Meh Pah in the Karen history but still not in a hurry consider him a real person because of his enigmatic super-natural characters. The story was sometimes told with diverse version but the theme and objective remained the same.

The Story Of “Toh Meh Pah”. Is Toh Meh Pah a real or symbolic person?

Once there were two brothers who lived and farmed together in the far north. In time, both married and raised large families, but they stayed living and farming close to one another.

One day a wild boar came and wrecked the rice fields. The elder brother, although sixty years old, pursed the boar through the forest and found its lair. The boar was rooting about nearby. The old man raised his spear and aimed for the pig’s head, just where the long and lethally sharp tusks joined the skull on each check. He thrust forward with his spear which passed through the boar’s head and pinned it to a tree. The animal was so big that the old man couldn’t move it by himself, so he returned home and told his sons to go and fetch the carcass. But when they reached the place there was no pig – only the spear fixed in the tree, and the two giant tusks lying on the ground. The young men picked these up and brought them home, giving the old hunter the name Toh Meh Pah, or ‘Boar Tusk’.

Toh Meh Pah decided to make a comb out of one of the tusks. When he had done so, he combed his hair with it – and instantly felt quite young again, not sixty but a mere twenty years old. He realized that the comb had magical properties, so he kept it safe. In future, whenever age weighed in him, he’d simply take out his comb and shed a decade or two.

With his youth and vitality assured for ever, it was not surprising that Toh Meh Pah’s family rapidly increased in number. Soon there were too many of them for their land in the hills, so Toh Meh Pah declared that they have to go and find a new home where the soil was richer and could support them all. He would go ahead and find the place first – and so he set off.
In ever region that he passed through, Toh Meh Pah tried the same experiment. He dug eight holes in the ground, all the same size, and used the earth from the first to try and fill the others. The richer the soil, the more it would spring out and expend. Generally the soil from one hole would fill two or three more but at last he found a place where seven holes could be filled in this way. This was perfect, he concluded, and he returned to fetch his family.
So he and his brother and all their children packed up and moved, following Toh Meh Pah through the forest. After a long march they reached a river where they sat down to rest and eat. In the water they found some snails, and on the bank they was roselle (hibiscus) growing. They’d never tried eating either but they looked good, so fires were lit and snails and roselle put on to boil. After a while someone poked one of the snails with a knife and said, ‘It’s still hard. And you can see the blood coming from it; can’t be cooked yet.’ So they waited, but after several hours the snails were still hard and the blood (which was of course the color from the rolelle) was still bright. Toh Meh Pah grew impatient, wanting to move on; after another hour he announced that he was going ahead with his family, and that they’d blaze a trail by cutting down banana trees so that his brother could follow when the snails were cooked and eaten. Off he went.

But, wait as the brother’s family might, the snails never cooked – until at last some Chinese travelers came by and laughed at them and showed them how to take the end off the snails and suck out contents. They ate quickly and set off to follow Toh Meh Pah – but they’d waited so long that the bananas had grown up again and the trail was obscursed. And that was the last the Karen ever saw of Toh Meh Pah, or his children, or his magic comb.

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