How it Began

Kachin Life Stories began in late 2009 when Dr Marip Kum Ja, a member of the overseas Kachin community in Singapore, met up with Dr Stan BH Tan and a casual conversation of getting to know each other soon made its way to one about recording stories of the Kachin people. There have been several significant academic texts written about the Kachin people in the English language, and a rather large undiscovered treasure trove in both Jingphaw by Kachin scholars and Myanmar-based scholars, and in Chinese by researchers and scholars based in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Yet, none was able to capture the dynamic and varied lives of the Kachin people. And thus was planted the embryonic beginnings of what would now become known as Kachin Life Stories (#kachinlifestories).

Between 2009 and 2010, the development of Kachin Life Stories was mainly confined to the Kachin community in Singapore. A rather modest motivation at that time was simply to allow Kachin people to represent themselves to the world by recording the lives and aspirations of the Kachin for their present and future generations, and to the world at large. Volunteers from the Kachin community in Singapore began collaborating to record excerpts of their life stories with the help of post-graduate students under Dr Stan BH Tan, recalling episodes of their lives both in Singapore and in Kachinland. This later developed into a series of Life Stories as a Method of Inquiry seminars designed specially for the Kachin community in Singapore. In late 2010, the the Kachin musician and minister, Chyingtawng Zaw Naw, collaborated with Dr Stan BH Tan to produce a prototype Life Stories through Sounds methodology.

In 2011, Kachin Life Stories began to travel out of Singapore, with a clear objective of bringing the project to Kachinland in the very near future. In June 2011,Chyingtawng Zaw Naw collaborated with Dr Stan BH Tan-Tangbau (Zau Doi) and Ms Cecilia SY Koh-Maran (Ja Hkawn) to perform the First Public Seminar on Kachin Life Stories at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. In July 2011, KBCS and Ja Hkawn organised a workshop in Singapore for Kachin mothers (and fathers!) using an applied form of the Life Stories as a Method of Inquiry on the subject of “motherhood.” This close collaboration with the Kachin community in Singapore would contribute to further modify the framework of recording the lives and aspirations of the Kachin people to become Kachin Life Stories in late 2011.

By late 2011, on the basis of earlier attempts at designing the framework for recording the lives of Kachin people, Dr Stan BH Tan-Tangbau was able to reboot the project design into an endeavour to create an ambitious large-scale public knowledge base of quantifiable narratives of the Kachin. A crowd-sourced “autoethnographic” public project, this knowledge base is to be generated by individual Kachin in an autonomous fashion with “Life Stories” as the simple parameter guiding their participation. Finally, ordinary Kachin can participate as equal partners in an uncollective to generate knowledge about their individual selves and their larger community.

Submitted in the autumn of 2011, this project design, under the title Life Stories as Empowerment: Kachin Life Stories would receive a Japanese Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) KAKENHI (Grants-in-Aid) Award under the 若手 A Category (Reference No.: 24682009) in April 2012. With this generous funding from JSPS and the full support of the Kachin community in Singapore, we began to earnestly bring this project back to Kachinland and areas in Myanmar with strong Kachin presence such as Yangon, Mandalay, and Pyin Oo Lwin; and overseas Kachin communities in Tokyo, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Texas, Washington, Sydney, Melbourne, New Zealand… and counting.

Through the active endorsements and contributions from individuals far and wide, and grassroots organisations home and away, Kachin Life Stories as a Public Project designed for the Kachin, shaped by the Kachin, and operated by the Kachin effectively began to take root in the year 2013. We hope it will continue to grow and blossom with more Kachin sharing excerpts of their Life Stories to re-draw the canvas of knowledge about the Kachin where individual Kachin could locate their place in this grand analytical narrative; and serve as a diverse but collective voice of the Kachin people in building a peaceful and sustainable tomorrow.