Organized Panel Session
While a vast majority of the Jinghpaw-speaking people, commonly known as “Kachin,” reside in northern Myanmar, a small number of them live in the adjacent areas across the state boundary: the southwestern corner of southwest China (where they are called “Jingpo”) and the northeast corner of northeast India (where they are called Singpho). This people, divided among three countries, adhere to three different religions: Christianity in Myanmar, animism in China, and Theravada Buddhism in India. This presentation focuses on the Singpho, a Buddhist Kachin community. They present a confounding case, for Kachin are supposedly, to quote Edmund Leach, “never Buddhists.” How have the Kachin in India all become Buddhist, and what does this striking exception mean to the general understanding of the hill-plain divide in Southeast Asia? In this presentation, I trace the making of this community in India, highlighting the roles played by a series of cross-border missionary monks from Myanmar during both the colonial era and the post-colonial (U Nu) era. While Buddhist missions were sent to various Kachin communities, they made lasting impacts only among those in India. This indicates, I argue, that the state boundary delineated the spaces of religious belonging and negotiation even among this borderland people during the twentieth century.