The Kayan people have practiced their traditional Kan Khwan belief since they emigrated from Mongolia during the Bronze Age and started their wanderings towards the Salween River area in Karenni State (in present day Burma). They lived there until they became displaced people in the 1990s as a result of the actions of the Burmese military government.

Although some Kayan people have converted to Christianity many still follow their traditional Kan Khwan beliefs and at festive times of the year everyone participates in the ancient ceremonies.

The Kan Khwan religion

The world was created by the eternal creator god Phu Kabukathin, assisted by two creator deities: Pikahao and Kabukaban and their four Messengers: Mann created heaven, Ti created the earth, La Taon created trees and plants and La Nan created man and animals.

All the components of the universe are linked together by a web; thus the earth is braced to the stars and the moon by a spider’s web. At creation earth still lacked density and the land and the water were fluid so the God Phu Kabukathin planted a small post in the ground. As the post grew the earth also grew into seven outer and inner layers and it became firm. The post was named: “The means of formation of earth” – the Kan Htein Bo in Kayan.

The Kan Htein Bo Poles

For the stability of the world and mankind everyone should pay homage to the Kan Htein Bo bestowed by God. God also gave the people seven commandments to guide their lives.

Next to the Kan Htein Bo is a podium, the Kantan, where offerings are placed to the Gods and to the guardians of the woods, lands, mountains and waters.

Kan Htein Bo Poles


The Kan Htein Bo Festival

On their wanderings the Kayan often tried to plant Kan Khwan poles, but they never remained firm until they reached Demawso where they settled.

Now every year, between the months of March and April, the Kayan erect a new pole. The Eugenia tree, the first tree to be created, is the preferred tree. The pole is elected with much ceremonial and ritual over a number of days. Groups of young men 'pwai' around the pole to venerate it: dancing and playing drums, gongs and bamboo flutes. The women sprinkle the pole with Eugenia leaves, fetch 'thi' (rice wine) and sprinkle the men with water to keep them cool.

The pole is comprised of The Sun at the peak – venerated as the only self-illuminating planet in creation. Next to it is the Moon, the Sun’s mate and man’s means of telling the time. Then comes the Sanctuary – where the eternal deities reside, and the streamer - a ladder connecting heaven and earth, at the top of which is a spider’s web which humans must pass through to reach heaven.

“The Creator dances around the Kay Htoe Boe”
The Kan Htein Bo Festival described by a Kayan student
Click here to read in full

Reading the Chicken Bones

The morning the pole is erected the shaman consults chicken bones to foretell the fate of the village for the forthcoming year and ask for advice on matters of importance to the village.

The annual Kan Htein Bo festival also serves to maintain solidarity between the residents of the three Kayan villages in the Mae Hong Son area and the Kayan people living in the refugee camp in Baan Nai Soi.  The main festival rotates between the three villages and the camp in a four year cycle; everyone who can will travel to the host village to share traditional food and drink and perform traditional dances.


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