Lon Ton Village လံုးတံုရြာ
It’s a special treat to finally be able to write about this village. Although we love all the places around Indawgyi Lake, we live and do most of our work in Lon Ton so naturally, it holds a special place in our hearts. Over the last week, we have had the opportunity to talk with numerous village elders, go to a wedding, watch the community build houses together, attend a funeral and visit the local monastery to learn about some of relics there.
Although our team is a mix of foreigners and Myanmar citizens, we are lucky to be the first foreign company officially registered at the lake as well as its first foreign residents. It is such a privilege and we greatly appreciate how warmly the community has welcomed us. As we continue to live and work here, we will have much more to discuss about this village.
Early History of Lon Ton
Lon Ton is one of the original villages around the lake. It was founded in 1787 and its name comes from the Shanni language. Lon means coming down from the hills and Ton means finding food. So Lon Ton was where people came down from the mountains to get food and trade or essentially a marketplace.
The village is located exactly at the center of the lake and for this reason and has always been a crossroads between the Kachin people who lived in the mountains who would come down to get products like rice, vinegar, alcohol, fish and many other products in exchange them with the Shan-ni for things they either gathered or grew in the forests west of Indawgyi.
Lon Ton has changed much since its early days. It began with a monastery and around 50 houses on the hill near the water (today there are roughly 250 households). It really is the first flat land from the mountains and was an ideal space for the creation of a village.
Although there were some other smaller settlements, Lon Ton was a part of the original four major villages including Nyaung Bin, Hepa, and Lwe Mun. These largely Shan-ni communities were under the auspices of the nearby powerful kingdom of Mohynin which remains today the township capital.
Life Around Indawgyi Lake
We had the opportunity to speak with two different village elders who were able to give us some interesting insights on the early days of the village. Both of them have families who have been living here for countless generations. This week, we will share what U Chit Maung talked with us about. He is 86 years old, spent his whole life in Lon Ton and remember when the village was mostly on the original hill from where it spread.
He told us that when the village first began, there was no system of currency here. Instead, people relied mostly on a barter system. The original four villages of Indawgyi Lake each had their own specialties, some grew better rice while others grow better tomatoes, and so on. It was not until the time of the Burmese King Mindon (the penultimate king before Britain fully annexed Myanmar) that silver began being used as a form of currency. This pure silver found in northern Myanmar was so smooth that it could be cut easily with a soft knife.
As with other villages around the lake, British colonization primarily took the form of exploitation of the vast amounts of teak that grew around the lake. Colonization is a difficult and weighty subject in any country and came in many different forms particularly in Myanmar.
As U Chit Maung remembers it, however, it was actually a good time for the people around the lake. The people of Lon Ton had steady jobs and could earn good money. Undoubtedly, there were numerous problems that arose alongside of it, but he regarded the era as a time when the general standard of living around the lake improved.
The Village Today
U Chit Maung moved from his original home on the hill when he was 24 to about three hundred meters down the road. He has worked as a farmer, fisherman, painter, house builder among any other jobs. He has been living in the same house for sixty-two years and had several children and many grandchildren. His house sits across the street from one of the small schools in Lon Ton and is a local hangout for kids before and after class.
He didn’t have to look far to find love either. He and his wife grew up across the road from each other and were married for over sixty years until she sadly passed a few months ago.
He continues to be a very active member of the community and, as he tells us, he is one of the first people that researchers come to when they want to know about the history of both Lon Ton and Indawgyi Lake. You can find him most days sitting in front of his house across from the school talking with the local children and he is always up for a good chat and a cup of tea.