Ma Mon Kaing Village မမုန္ကိုင္ေက်းရြာ
Although there are 37 Villages around Indawgyi Lake, not too many of them actually sit next to the water. Ma Mon Kaing is one of the exceptions. Located on the lake’s west shore, it is easy to get the impression from the main road that Ma Mon Kaing is fairly small as the road threads through only a corner of it. Nonetheless, the village is quite large and contains four hundred families (roughly double its nearest neighbor, Lon Ton)
We had the privilege to sit down with U Pu Hyno, the former village leader of Ma Mon Kaing for twenty years (1967-1987) and lifelong resident who gave us some details about the history and culture of Ma Mon Kaing.
Village Early Days
The current village was founded in 1891 (Myanmar year 1379) by two brothers who had come from Lon Ton to take part in the growing teak trade around the lake. Similar to Le Pon Lay Village, the teak was transported downstream from the mountains where it would be sent by boat across Indawgyi and up to Mogaung where it was then sent either north or south via rail.
The name Ma Mon Kaing, along with many of the village names here, comes from the Shan-ni language. Ma Mon is a type of mango tree and Kaing means chicken (in this case referring to the size of the fruit). This tree was and still is quite plentiful in the region so it seemed an apt name for the village.
World War II was a chaotic time around Indawgyi Lake, however, Ma Mon Kaing seems to have been fairly calm. Primarily, it served as a hospital town for a dispatch of Allied soldiers to recover.
Shortly after the war ended, Myanmar achieved independence and the English left the area. As most of the teak had been depleted, they had to stop cutting these trees for 30 years. During this time, they turned back to fishing and farming. Small-scale gold mining was also quite popular.
Changing Conditions in the Village
Indawgyi is only 25 miles from one of the most productive mining regions in Myanmar (Hpakant) and is quite rich itself with minerals. Although there is currently a shift towards protecting the environment around the lake, there have been fairly large mining operations in villages just south of Ma Mon Kaing particularly in Maing Naung and Nam Mun as well as some to the north.
Because these places were so well-known, U Pu Hyno informed us that Ma Mon Kaing was able to stay fairly undetected and gold would turn up in many places around the village. Some examples he gave us included when it would just wash up during the rainy season, beneath houses and sometimes even when they were digging toilets. If anyone asked where the gold came from, there was a general agreement to say that it came from somewhere else to try to keep a lid on the secret.
Similarly, fishing was a fruitful enterprise. It wasn’ rare to come home with up to 8 kilograms of fish. During this time, fisherman used 4-inch nets which allowed immature fish to grow large enough to reproduce before they were caught. Today, this is one of the biggest environmental challenges at the lake. With a population that’s nearly doubled in twenty years and has grown roughly tenfold since U Pu Hyno’s youth, there has been more pressure on the lake.
Furthermore, despite being prohibited, many fishermen use two-inch nets. It’s part of a cycle where more fishermen have been competing for smaller and smaller game drastically reducing the supply of fish in the lake. The government has taken steps to remedy this to prevent species depletion, but it is a controversial topic among the fishing communities around Indawgyi.
Ma Mon Kaing Today
Nowadays, fewer people from Ma Mon Kaing are fishing. The majority of people are now farmers. During the off-season, there is an uptick in fishing and a significant number of young men (as with most of the villages around the lake) either go into the forests or to the mines to find work. They may work a season or a few years depending on how successful they are before returning back home.
Ma Mon Kaing village is just a short motorbike or bicycle ride from Lon Ton. Heading from the North, you can travel in through the main village road which passes by the monastery and lake before cutting back inwards towards the morning market.