Introducing the Chashan

 

In the west of Yunnan Province lie the Gaoligong Mountains. There, in a narrow fringe along the border with Myanmar (Burma), covered for in semi-tropical forest, is Pianma County, where the little more than 1,000 Chashan people live.

It is believed that the Chashan are the original inhabitants of those lands, because most of the names of their geographical accidents are translation of the original in Chasan language. In the chronicles of the Ming dynasty (15th century) the Chashan already appear as the original inhabitants of these lands.

In the 1950s, when the Minzu Shibie (minorities identification project), the first major work of ethnic identification in China was carried out, they were considered a branch of the Jingpo (known as the Kachin in Burma), but data emerging from new investigations makes us think that, in fact, they may be considered an independent ethnic group.

The Chashan do not consider themselves related to the Jingpo. They call themselves Ochang, but the populations that surround them call them Chashan. Possibly the denomination Ochang comes from the name given to this region during the Ming dynasty, which was later adopted for its residents.

Not too far from the region the Chashan inhabit, another indigenous people have been living for centuries: the Achang. This makes one think that a name so similar might possibly denote a similar origin or that the Chashan are, in fact, a branch of the Achang. Linguistic studies also show that the languages of the Chashan and the Achang are closely related.

A detailed study of their legends and the ceremonies they use to accompany the souls of the dead to the land of the ancestors suggests that the ancestors of the Chashan separated from the ancestors of the Achang around the 13th or 14th century and, crossing the Gaoligong Mountains, settled down in the lands where they now live.

These theories can help to explain the similarities in history, language and names between the Achang and the Chasan. Their special cultural characteristics make necessary their recognition as a separate ethnic group, to help preserve their language and unique culture that, given their scant population, is in danger of being lost forever.

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