Karen New Year honors tradition, culture and unity

PHOTOS BY ANGELINA DELLA ROCCO/PLAINSMAN Karen youth perform traditional New Years celebration dances during Saturday’s festivities at the Earl Nordby Exhibit Hall on the South Dakota State Fairgrounds. In the second and third photos, people who attended were able to sample a wide variety of food made especially for the day, by members of the Karen community. And in the fourth photo, a tradition horn and drum was on display at the Karen culture table.

HURON — The Karen New Year celebration held Saturday at the Earl Nordby 4-H Exhibit Hall was alive with culture and joy.
A program was held that featured various speakers as well as dance and musical entertainment for all to enjoy. Among those speaking were Lah Maypaw Soe, Mayor Paul Aylward, Smoky Heuston, while Thra Iah Say gave a history of the Karen New Year. Proving music and dance entertainment were Karen youth of Huron, as some dancers traveled from Albert Lea, Minn., and Aberdeen.
This is the Karen year 2,759, which has been a major holiday in the Karen nation since 1938, at that time 2,677 was declared the first Karen New Year.
“The Karen people use the Lunar calendar and so will be a little bit different each year,” explained Thra Iah Say. “The Karen New Year Day usually falls in December or January, it comes on the first day of Pyathoe, the end of rice harvest time and people traditionally sound the Karen horn or drum.”
The horn is significant in Karen culture for two reasons, the first is as a signal that it is time to farm, while the next reason is that horn are used to pay respect to the flags.
“Early in the morning the head of the youth would sound the horn and everybody would know it is time to farm,” noted Chi, representing the Karen Cultural Association of the United States of America.
There are also two different ways to use the traditional drum, which are to let people know when someone has passed away, as well as a sign to call a meeting.
“The drum we use when the head of the chief of the village will sound the drum as a sign to call a meeting and all the villagers will go,” Chi said.
A table was set up with items to proudly showcase the Karen Culture, including the drum and horns, dolls, baskets and tools. Also set up was a display of images depicted a range of Karen lifestyle including Karen traditional activities, agriculture, daily needs and the beauty of the homeland.
Toward the end of the program, a group of 18 Karen youth performed the rope dance, each holding a single rope which tied together at the top as they danced to create one rope.
“Back in the homeland where we are from, the rope dance is specifically for new years,” explained Chi. “I used to be part of the rope dance back home and I was told that when we have seven ropes this represents seven ethnic groups, this is how we did it back home we would count the minority groups. Lets say we have 12 groups, then we would have 12 ropes, when you have these ropes tied up together in one, that’s all these people coming together in unity. That’s the meaning of the rope dance.”
Each year the Karen Association will hand out an award plaque to someone in the community. This year the Huron schools were presented with an award as a symbol of thanks from the Karen community.
“We want to thank all the schools,” Lah shared. “We are really thankful to be here and thank you all so much for helping us to live here.”
Receiving plaques were Huron Community Campus, the Huron School District including the high school, middle school, Washington Center, Madison, Buchanan and Head Start.
Following the program, everyone gathered to enjoy an abundance of food which was served to the hundreds of community members that attended.
“I’m so thankful for the community here, you have a very wonderful heart,” Lah said with a smile. “Eat as much food as you want, we like to share our food.”
At the end of another successful Karen New Year, the message was for everyone to enjoy being in the presence of one another while celebrating unity and culture.
“Our ancestry has a vision that once a year, we want to bring all people together to come and share the joys of the past year,” Chi said. “Everybody comes to share experiences and enjoy life together.”

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PHOTOS BY ANGELINA DELLA ROCCO/PLAINSMAN Karen youth perform traditional New Years celebration dances during Saturday’s festivities at the Earl Nordby Exhibit Hall on the South Dakota State Fairgrounds. In the second and third photos, people who attended were able to sample a wide variety of food made especially for the day, by members of the Karen community. And in the fourth photo, a tradition horn and drum was on display at the Karen culture table.


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