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Mons

Mons (môNs), Du. Bergen, commune (1991 pop. 91,726), capital of Hainaut prov., SW Belgium, near the French border. Located at the junction of the Canal du Centre and the Condé-Mons Canal, it is the processing and shipping center of the Borinage district, and the closing of most of the coal mines has caused economic hardship. It is also a manufacturing center. Known since the 7th cent., Mons became (1295) the seat of the counts of Hainaut. In the wars of the 16th to 18th cent., it was often attacked and occupied by Dutch, Spanish, and French forces. In World Wars I and II the city was the site of several battles. Of note in Mons are the Gothic Church of St. Waltrude (15th–16th cent.), the city hall (15th cent.), and many beautiful houses of the 16th to 18th cent. Educational institutions include the Polytechnic Faculty, the Academy of Beaux Arts, the Royal Conservatory of Music, and the Higher Institute of Architecture. The city is the scene of an annual pageant and festival of St. George.

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mons

mons (pl. montis, montes) The Latin word for ‘mountain’ and a term applied to large planetary mountains. The type example is Olympus Mons, the 26 km high volcano on Mars. Other examples include the Maxwell Montes on Venus.

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Mons

Mons a town in southern Belgium, the scene in August 1914 of the first major battle of the First World War between British and German forces (see also Angels of Mons).

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mons

mons (monz) n. (in anatomy) a rounded eminence. m. pubis the mound of fatty tissue lying over the pubic symphysis.

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Mons

Monsbanns, glans, Prestonpans, sans •Octans •Benz, cleanse, Fens, gens, lens •Homo sapiens • impatiens • nolens volens • delirium tremens • Serpens •vas deferens • Cairns • Keynes •Jeans, means, Queens, smithereens •Owens • Robbins • Rubens • gubbins •Hitchens • O'Higgins •Huggins, juggins, muggins •imagines • Jenkins • Eakins • Dickens •Wilkins • Hopkins •Dawkins, Hawkins •Collins • Gobelins • widdershins •matins • Martens • Athens • avens •Heinz • confines • Apenninesbonze, bronze, Johns, mod cons, Mons, St John's •Downs, grounds, hash-browns, Townes •Jones, nones •lazybones • sawbones • fivestones •New Orleans, Orléans •Lions, Lyons •Gibbons • St Albans • Siddons •shenanigans • Huygens • vengeance •goujons • St Helens • Hollands •Newlands • Brooklands • Netherlands •Siemens • Symons • commons •summons • Lorenz • Parsons •Goossens •Lamentations, United Nations •Colossians • Sextans • Buttons •Evans • Stevens • Ovens • Onions •Lutyens •Cousins, Cozens •Burns

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Mons

Mons

PRONUNCIATION: MOHNS
LOCATION: Myanmar (Burma)
POPULATION: Estimated 5 to 8 million in Myanmar
LANGUAGE: Mon; Burmese
RELIGION: Buddhism; some Animist and Hindu beliefs

INTRODUCTION

Mons were among the original inhabitants of the lands now known as Thailand (formerly Siam) and Myanmar (called Burma until 1989), migrating south from the Mongolian steppes as far back as the 3rd century bc. The kings and queens of the ancient Mon civilization founded the cities of Thaton, Bassein, and Pegu in Burma. Their empires spread as far as northern Siam (Thailand) and Vietnam, and their trade routes stretched to India and Malaysia. Absorbing cross-currents of Asian culture, the Mons embraced the new Buddhist religion and then spread it to neighboring states. Conflict with those neighbors—Burmese (Burmans), Shans, and Siamese—was always a feature of Mon life. Sometimes expanding their territory, the Mons also endured periods of conquest. When the rulers of Upper Burma vanquished the Mons in the 11th century, Mon craftsmen and scholars were brought north to enhance the Burmese city of Pagan. Lower Burma retained its predominantly Mon character until the Burmese King U Aungzeya conquered it completely and began killing thousands of Mon Buddhist monks and other civilians. Many Mons fled to Thai-land, and they became a minority group in central Burma.

The Mons had formed alliances with the French and later with the British against the Burmese, but found themselves increasingly marginalized. After World War II, when Burma gained independence from Britain, Mon dissatisfaction led to Mon nationalist insurgent groups taking up arms. Based in a narrow strip of southern coastline now called the Mon State, those groups fought a guerrilla war for decades, while trying to promote a revival of Mon culture. As human rights abuses of Mon civilians by the Myanmar military government became extremely widespread, the main Mon rebel group, the New Mon State Party entered into a ceasefire agreement in 1995. Many Mon dissident politicians and Buddhist monks have been imprisoned in Myanmar. Prominent Mons born in Thai-land have actively supported their cause.

The related tribespeople of the Shan State, the Was and Palaungs have had turbulent histories as well. Buddhist tea growers, the Palaungs have had small insurgent groups, which are now in ceasefire agreements with the government. The Was, notorious for their headhunting in the past, were exploited as troops for the Burmese Communist Party insurgency after World War II. An opium-growing area from the British colonial days, the Wa homeland now produces the biggest share of Myanmar's opium poppies, the raw material for heroin. A large Wa nationalist group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), involved in the narcotics trade, has a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar government. The impoverished region controlled by the UWSA has been Southeast Asia's main source of opium refined into heroin as well as methamphetamine production, and casinos there are patronized by Chinese gamblers from across the border.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

The Mons are an Austro-Asiatic people, closely related to the Khmers of Cambodia. Estimates of Mon population in Myanmar range from 5 to 8 million (no proper census has been done and many people of Mon ancestry only speak the Burmese language), and as many as 3 million Thais of Mon ancestry, as well as Mon populations in coastal Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Thousands of Mons from Myanmar live as refugees or migrant workers in Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries. Other Mon-Khmer ethnic groups include the Palaungs (about 400,000) and the Wa mountain people who number perhaps 1 million, half in Myanmar's Shan State and half in China's Yunnan Province.

While the old Mon empires covered immense areas of Southeast Asia, today Myanmar's Mon State is the only official Mon homeland. Located in Myanmar's southern Tenasserim region, the Mon State has a string of mountains separating it from Thailand, and flat coastal plains with farmland, fruit orchards, and mangrove wetlands. Numerous small islands lie offshore in the Andaman Sea, which has huge reserves of natural gas. The main cities of the Mon State are Thaton, Moulmein, Amherst (Kyaikkami), and Ye, all on or near the sea. Since the 1990s, deforestation has affected the Mon State as rainforest and mangroves have been cleared for timber and agricultural development.

LANGUAGE

The Mon-Khmer language group is distantly related to some in India and the South Pacific. It is very different from the neighboring Sino-Tai and Tibeto-Burmese groups. As learning Mon is discouraged by the current educational system of Myanmar, many Mons are only Burmese-speakers. To greet each other in their own language, Mons say "Mange rayaw," meaning "prosperity." They also ask, "Mo'ng mip ha?" ("how are you?"). "Thank you" in Mon is "Tang kun."

The Mon alphabet, based on the Sanskrit-related Pali script, has 35 letters. Mons taught their script to the Burmese, who devised an alphabet later adapted by many of Myanmar's ethnic groups.

FOLKLORE

Mons believe in a supernatural world, inhabited by spirits of the trees and fields, household and village spirits, ghosts of ancestors, and demons such as the "kalok daik," a spirit from the sea that devours children. A yearly "spirit dance" may be held to honor village spirits, with trance dancing by women possessed by the ghosts of their ancestors. Mon shamans, witches, and astrologers interpret messages from the spirit world and bad omens such as the cry of an owl. Buddhist monks may be called on to exorcise ghosts or other bad spiritual elements.

RELIGION

The Mons discovered Buddhism through contact with India. They practice a conservative form of Theravada Buddhism, emphasizing the study and interpretation of scriptures. Meditation, uncluttered ritual, and the merciful rule of law are important features. The monasteries are important centers of learning in Mon villages, and many young men and women become Buddhist monks or nuns for a short period or for life. During the September 2007 "Saffron Revolution" protests by Buddhist monks throughout Myanmar, Mon monks and their supporters marched in the towns and cities. In spite of their faith in a rigorous form of Buddhism, many Mons believe in old Animist or Hindu elements as well, such as possession by ghosts, and astrology.

The Shan State's Mon-Khmer relatives, the Palaungs, practice Buddhism along with the worship of Nats (guardian spirits), and the Was are largely animists with some Christians and Buddhists. In past times, the Was cut off the heads of victims who crossed their paths, leaving the skulls on posts leading to their villages. This was thought to protect the village and ensure a good rice crop. Their headhunting gave the Was a reputation as fearsome warriors that has lasted through their service in various insurgent groups and drug-trade militias.

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Mons celebrate Buddhist holidays, including the full moons that begin and end Lent (a three-month period of Buddhist prayer and study that coincides with the monsoon season). At the Buddhist New Year in the Spring, Mons enjoy the Water Festival with music, dance, and playful water-throwing. There are also individual festivals held yearly for the temple structures called pagodas. These have all-night dance and theater performances, sports events, and special foods. Overseas Mons celebrate Buddhist holidays and Mon National Day, a commemoration of the founding of the last Mon kingdom.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Traditionally, after a baby is born, the Mon mother and baby have turmeric, a yellow spice, rubbed on their skin as a healing potion. The mother rests near a fire for three days afterwards. Babies have their ears pierced, and women wear earrings all their lives. Boys stop wearing them at around age 10, when most become novice Buddhist monks for one to three months. At age 20, most Mon men become monks again for a short period. Some choose after age 21 to take vows and remain monks for life. The monks are greatly respected in Mon society for their self-discipline and learning. Some girls and older women become Buddhist nuns. Both monks and nuns keep their heads shaved, wear simple robes, and eat only vegetarian food.

Mons believe that the soul can leave the body, even when someone is asleep. Sometimes, it is said the soul takes the form of a butterfly. The soul leaves for good when someone dies, which is considered a step on the way to rebirth through reincarnation. If they can afford it, Mons prefer large funerals for family members, with music and a feast for guests and the Buddhist monks who chant prayers. The body is usually cremated.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

Mons use honorifics in front of their names, usually Nai for men and Mi for women. When they meet, they put their hands together in a "prayer" position and bow slightly. If greeting an older person or a monk, the hands are held up in front of the face and there is more of a bow.

Guests are served tea or at least water. People take their shoes off inside the house. Older people are to be treated with the respect that you would show your own parents or grandparents, and should not be touched on the head or spoken to impolitely.

Boys and girls meet at festivals, and sporting or school events, which they attend in groups. Rather than dating, a boy usually visits a girl at her parents' house. Once a relationship has begun, love-letters are often exchanged.

LIVING CONDITIONS

The Mons in rural areas have suffered from efforts by the Myanmar military government to control their region for resource exploitation. Logging companies from neighboring Thailand decimated forests in the Mon State, and a pipeline bringing natural gas from offshore to Thailand traversed the area. Human rights groups accused the Myanmar military of abusing local people while securing the pipeline route, and a lawsuit was filed in the United States on behalf of affected villagers against one of the petroleum companies involved, Unocal. During the 1990s, Mons were moved to new settlements near Myanmar army bases and were used for forced labor as military porters and road/railway builders. Many thousands fled this treatment to Thailand, only to be pushed back across the border. Others have gone to Malaysia and other counties, seeking safety and work. The displaced Mons in rural Myanmar are especially susceptible to tropical diseases such as malaria, typhoid, and dysentery. Even in the cities, there is a severe shortage of medical facilities, personnel, and medicines. Malnutrition has been increasing steadily. In 2007–2008, steep increases in prices of essential commodities including fuel and rice further narrowed the margins of survival for the Mons in Myanmar.

In the countryside, Mon houses are built of wood or bamboo. On short or tall stilts, they are one or two stories high, with a sloping thatched roof and a verandah along the front. In the cities, Mons live in wood, brick, or cement houses, with ornamental carvings and balconies. Families with money now prefer brick or cement houses, as seen by people on trading journeys to Malaysia or Singapore, even though the electricity supply is not reliable enough to keep them cool with fans or air conditioning. Often there is a shop on the first floor and family living quarters upstairs. Mon-related ethnic groups, the Palaungs live in multi-family wood and bamboo longhouses, and the Was live in houses of woven bamboo.

A railway line runs through Mon State as far south as Tavoy. A highway runs parallel to it. Much transport is by shared jeep or truck, small riverboats, or ocean-going vessels. In the countryside, ox-carts and small motorbikes are the main forms of transportation, and travel in the mountains is done on foot.

FAMILY LIFE

When a Mon couple wants to marry, they usually ask their parents' permission. A simple ceremony is held in which the couple joins hands. The couple may exchange vows. Buddhist monks often attend, but it is not a religious ritual. Friends give wedding gifts and refreshments are provided.

Mon families are large, especially in the village. Having six or seven children is average. Child mortality is now high because of malnutrition and infectious diseases. Divorce is allowed in Mon society, and any children usually live with the mother.

Mons keep cats in their houses as pets, as well as colorful songbirds in bamboo cages. Dogs are considered very low and dirty animals and so aren't considered good household pets. Stray dogs sometimes live in the monastery yards.

CLOTHING

The Mons, living in a tropical climate, wear light-weight cotton clothes. Men dress in shirts with trousers or sarongs called nein, often with a checked pattern. Mon women wear short jackets, blouses, or T-shirts with sarongs called kloit. For special occasions, they wear silk sarongs embroidered with gold or silver threads and a matching sash that crosses over one shoulder. The sarongs are made by simply sewing the fabric with one seam into a wide tube. Men knot theirs at the waist, and women wrap theirs tightly and then tuck them in at the waist. Mon girls decorate their hair with orchids and other flowers, and use a sunscreen or face powder made from a fragrant wood. Mon men used to have their legs and arms elaborately tattooed with Buddhist inscriptions and symbolic animals, but this practice is now uncommon.

The Mons' relatives in the mountains of the Shan State, the Palaungs and Was, have their own distinctive styles of dress. Palaung men wear loose trousers and jackets of homespun indigo with bright-colored sashes and turbans. The women wear short cotton jackets with striped sarongs. Rattan, bamboo, and silver hoops circle their waists, and they wear masses of beaded necklaces and large, circular silver earrings. More beads are wound around their turbans. Wa men, when not in olive drab military uniforms, wear dark homespun cotton clothing. The women wear sleeveless jackets, short wraparound sarongs, and bracelets and headbands made of silver.

FOOD

Mons who can afford to enjoy curries of beef, pork, or chicken served with many dishes of rice, and seafood including crab, lobster, shellfish, prawns, and many varieties of river and ocean fish. harrok, a paste made of fermented fish, is a favorite accompaniment to any meal. Fish soup with noodles is a popular breakfast. Plain tea is served with meals, and tea or coffee with sweetened, condensed tinned milk is served between meals. Cookies, small cakes, and orange- or coffee-flavored hard candies can be bought in the shops. Fruits are the most popular snacks, especially mango, durian (a pungent large fruit with a hard spiky shell), pineapple, and watermelon. Mons make a cooling snack by mashing watermelon pulp in a bowl and mixing in sweetened condensed milk. Mon cuisine influenced Burmese cooking in the days of the royal courts and has in turn been influenced by the dishes of India, Thai-land, and Malaysia. Mons consider their food spicier than that of the Burmese (Burmans).

EDUCATION

In villages, Mons rely on the local monasteries to teach their children. There is a shortage of schools, teachers, and educational materials in the government schools, and instruction there is carried out in Burmese. The Mons value literacy and education highly, and resent what they consider to be the deliberate suppression of their language and culture by the predominantly Burmese (Burman) government of Myanmar. The idea that the Mons are an assimilated people who have become absorbed into the Burmese mainstream has been promoted by the government. Mon schools supported by the New Mon State Party following the 1995 ceasefire have been shut down by the Myanmar government. Nonetheless, many Mon people, especially in the Thai border area, still speak and read their ancient language, which is mostly taught at monastery schools. The Mon political underground promotes Mon literacy and the study of ancient history.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

Mon classical music is played by ensembles of horns and percussion instruments. Two distinctively Mon musical instruments are a U-shaped frame with a series of metal gongs suspended along it, and the mi-gyaung, a long zither in the shape of a crocodile. "Mon songs" are one of the categories of Burmese classical music and are usually faster in tempo than other compositions. Mon dance, influenced by Indian classical dance, includes solo forms and the group "candle dance," performed by girls holding lit candles in each hand to reenact a courtly welcome to the Buddha.

Most of Mon literature is Buddhism-related. In centuries past, Mon monks wrote detailed interpretations of Buddhist theory and hid them away when rival ethnic kingdoms were in power. In the 20th century, Mons revived and published these old works. Religious texts in Mon are tolerated by the Myanmar government, but other Mon writing is discouraged. Underground writers, and those in exile, have written essays about Mon history. Exiled journalists formed the Independent Mon News Agency and Kaowao News Group to provide updates online. An exile group, the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, publishes a newsletter called "The Mon Forum."

Mon woodcarvers, metal sculptors (specializing in Buddha images), mural painters and architects deeply influenced Burmese, Shan, and Thai culture. Their work can be seen in the ruins of Myanmar's ancient capital, Pagan, and in art museums around the world. The famous Shwedagon Pagoda, a massive golden spire in Myanmar's largest city, Rangoon, was established by a Mon queen, Shin Saw Bu, in the 15th century.

WORK

The Mons have traditionally been wetland rice farmers, although forced relocation and demands for crop quotas by the Myanmar military have greatly disrupted their agricultural production. Mons also raise coconut and betel palms and other fruit trees. On the coast, Mons have fished and gathered shellfish, but this occupation has been diminished by overfishing by foreign trawler fleets. Logging of the remaining forests by foreign timber firms has made it difficult for Mons to hunt or gather rattan and other forest products. Mon farmers have had their land confiscated for military-owned plantations and the cultivation of jatropha, an introduced bio-fuel crop, which takes away land that was used for food production.

The economy has also been depressed in the cities, where people try to make their living in shops or offices, or through sea trade with Malaysia and Singapore. Many people have to hold more than one job just to buy enough rice for their families. Numerous educated Mon professionals have emigrated to Thailand or elsewhere overseas.

The Palaung people are known for their tea growing and are also hill rice cultivators. The primary cash crop for the Was has long been opium poppies. They gain a minimal profit from raising heroin's raw material, the value of which increases the more it is refined and the further it is transported. A great many Wa men serve in the United Wa State Army (20,000 strong), while the women raise and harvest hillside rice and opium poppies.

SPORTS

Young Mons enjoy practicing a style of kick-boxing similar to Thai boxing, but even less restrained. Soccer is extremely popular, as is chinlone (a game like "hacky-sack" played with a woven rattan ball).

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

All-night theater shows, with comedy and musical performances, are a traditional form of entertainment. Cities, towns, and some villages have "video parlors" that show foreign movie DVDs, or homemade productions in the Mon language. Numerous Mon pop music groups make and distribute their own recordings. Songs by some Mon recording artists, like the pop band Anat Ghae, have been purchased and released with Burmese-language lyrics by Burmese (Burman) singers for national sales. With satellite television and the Internet severely restricted by the government, shortwave radios are still important sources of news and international music.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

Mon woven cotton blankets from the town of Mudon are well-known in Myanmar. Mons in Myanmar and Thailand make pottery, often of a red-orange clay. The Mons are also skilled goldsmiths. The Palaungs craft lacquered baskets, textiles, and silver jewelry.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Heroin addiction is quite widespread among young people in the Mon cities and in the Palaung and Wa regions where opium is refined into heroin. Along with the trafficking of young women to Thailand and China for prostitution, intravenous heroin use has contributed to an extremely high rate of HIV/ AIDS infection. There is still not enough educational material available about the disease and not enough medicine to treat those who have contracted it.

The Mon people have long resented the downfall of their ancient civilization and the suppression of their culture at the hands of outsiders, but now, due to Myanmar military government efforts to push them aside and obtain their natural resources, many of the Mons of Myanmar have struggled for their daily survival.

GENDER ISSUES

Mon society is tolerant of gay and transgender individuals. The status of women among the Mons is traditionally high, and the ancient Mon empires were from time to time ruled by queens. However, warfare and human rights abuse have left many Mon women victimized. Rape by the Myanmar military forces has been common, and Mon refugee girls and women have been forced into prostitution in Thailand.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Asia Watch. "A Modern Form of Slavery: Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand." New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993.

———. "The Mon: Persecuted in Burma, Forced Back From Thailand." New York: Human Rights Watch, December 1994.

Human Rights Foundation of Monland.http://rehmonnya.org/ (29 May 2008).

Independent Mon News Agency.www.monnews-imna.com (29 May 2008).

Kaowao News Group. http://www.kaowao.org (29 May 2008).

Lang, Hazel J. Fear and Sanctuary: Burmese Refugees in Thai-land. Ithaca NY: Southeast Asia Program Cornell University, 2002.

LeBar, Frank, ed. Ethnic Groups of Mainland Southeast Asia. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files, 1964.

Mirante, Edith T. Burmese Looking Glass: A Human Rights Adventure. New York: Human Grove Press, 1993.

"Mon Music of Burma," CD, Nai Htaw Paing Ensemble (San Francisco: Fire Museum Records, 2006).

Mon Unity League. "The Mon People: A Noble Past, An Uncertain Future." Burma Debate III, no. 6 (Nov/Dec) 1996.

Smith, Martin. Ethnic Groups in Burma. London: Anti-Slavery International, 1995.

South, Ashley. Mon Nationalism and Civil War in Burma: The Golden Sheldrake. London: Curzon Press, 2002.

Takano, Hideyuki. The Shore Beyond Good and Evil: A Report from Inside Burma's Opium Kingdom. Reno NV: Kotan Books, 2002.

—by Edith Mirante

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