An ethnography of representation combining the following elements: (a) The American Baptist Mission to the Karen people of Burma; (b) The emergence of Karen nationalism as a consequence of the former, demonstrating the centrality of the phenomenon of "writing," introduced by the missionaries, in this process; (c) The colonial milieux in Burma, as evoked by the diverse documentary voices of American Baptists, British colonialists, and Karen Christians; (d) Ethnic politics, from the Karen rebellion after Burma's independence through the current democratic challenge posed by a coalition of Burma's largest ethnic groups, including Burman; (e) The fieldwork process; research and writing; ethnography; exoticism and primitivism; and the construction of this text itself.
An ethnography of the Karen National Union, a predominantly Christian insurgent army in Burma, is constructed. Through an assemblage of texts, some of which have been translated into English for this project, the origins, construction, and articulation of organized Karen nationalism and cultural representation is depicted. The role of writing, print-technology, and the circulation of texts is demonstrated to be central to the foregoing processes in the Karen case. An anthropology of religion and an ethnography of the politics of ethnicity explicates the transitions from conversion to ethnic nationalism to ethnic separatism to democratic opposition.
An evocative pastiche of discourses both reflects and contends with the impossibility of objective representation, with regard to both the subject and the process of research, which are thematically analogous: They both begin and end in religion and politics--Christianity and revolution. Diverse discursive styles and voices display the contested nature of knowledge while simultaneously participating in the experiment of re-construction. An academic, analytical style, for example, contributes to an understanding of the dynamics of the emergence of ethnic nationalism and notions of identity among Karen Christians in Burma, while the inclusion of Karen stories provides the reader with meaningful complementary ethnographic grounding. These juxtapositions simulate and stimulate the always inherent tension between daily life and retrospection; between action and reconstruction; between experience and representation; between living and writing.