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The Kheshorter forest. Photo - KESAN/SuppliedThe Kheshorter forest. Photo - KESAN/Supplied

A film on the Kheshorter forest showcases Karen tradition and raises awareness about deforestation in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s conflict-ridden areas are not only populated with soldiers and rebels, they are also home to indigenous communities which aim to protect the forests of their ancestors. This is the case of the villagers starring in The Kheshorter: Indigenous Karen’s Community Forest, a documentary screened on August 9 at the Orchid Hotel, in Yangon.

The 26-minute film is a look into the indigenous Karen people’s lives. They talk about their knowledge, wisdom and practices of sustainable conservation. The forest, as they explain, is the cradle of their identity as well as their main resource. If the forest disappears, they might go with it.

An old Karen with his traditional instrument. Photo - KESAN/SuppliedAn old Karen with his traditional instrument. Photo - KESAN/Supplied

According to Ko Saw Alex Htoo from the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), deforestation in Myanmar is happening at an incredible pace. Myanmar has indeed the third-highest rate of deforestation in the world, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. Forests used to cover 52 percent of the country in 2000, but in 2015 that figure fell to 43pc. The current Forest Law, Ko Saw Alex Htoo points out, has many flaws. Notably the all-too centralized management of resources which is, according to him, a source of conflict.

The Karen people are worried, and so should the rest of us. “Our actions for forest and wildlife conservation have positive impacts on the world, which is affected by the circumstances of climate change and global warming,” says Saw Oh Moo, a community elder who travelled to Yangon for the event.

Karen people playing their traditional instruments. Photo - KESAN/SuppliedKaren people playing their traditional instruments. Photo - KESAN/Supplied

Shooting in the forest

But the film is as much about trees as it is about people.

The release of The Kheshorter coincided with the International Day for the World’s Indigenous Peoples. For KESAN and the Kawthoolei Forestry Department of the Karen National Union (KNU) – the two sponsors – the documentary is a way to pay homage to the Karen indigenous communities’ cultural traditions.

They hope the film will meet a wider public. “We have plans to screen it in Thailand and we are also thinking about collaborations with foreign embassies in Yangon. We want to reach out to international organisations involved in Myanmar’s transition period,” said Ko Saw Alex Htoo. “Information on the subject is rare.”

The indigenous people staring in the documentary ““The Kheshorter: Indigenous Karen’s Community Forest”. Photo - KESAN/SuppliedThe indigenous people staring in the documentary ““The Kheshorter: Indigenous Karen’s Community Forest”. Photo - KESAN/Supplied

He also hopes that other communities in other remote parts of Myanmar will watch the film. “The cooperation and collaboration of local communities is really important for forest conservation. I mean for every forests,” he added.

The job of shooting the film wasn’t an easy one – recount the crew members. They had to reach remote villages high up in the mountains, under heavy rains and strong winds. Oh, and no actual roads led to these villages. Filming took some time too. They had to wait for weeks before some of the traditional festivities they wanted to capture on video actually took place.

The Karens with a member of the Kawthoolei Forestry Department of the Karen National Union (KNU). Photo - KESAN/SuppliedThe Karens with a member of the Kawthoolei Forestry Department of the Karen National Union (KNU). Photo - KESAN/Supplied

The film is a good introduction to the matter of deforestation and a peep into Karen culture. It might have benefited from a bit more footage, and less talk – the director was eager to get his message across, perhaps a bit too much. The editing, the filming and the sound taking were rather amateurish. Humbly, the crew recognizes that they are not professionals.

U du Yarthi Taw Ko Mhi Ei, “climate depends on forest”, is an old Myanmar proverb. It might be time to listen to ancient wisdom.

Source: Myanmar Times | 14 August 2017

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