Cultural Suicide




There are an estimated 60 million people in Myanmar. While most live along the accessible coastline, some reside within the Himalayas. A handful of that subset are a group of people known as the Taron; at an average height of under 4’3″ (130 cm), they’re regarded as the only pygmies native to Asia — at least for now. There are fewer than a dozen full-blooded Taron left. And before this century is out, there will be none.

Intentionally. But it’s not genocide. It’s their choice.

The Taron were first discovered by outsiders in the 1960s. At the time, there were four dozen or so Taron, and researchers believed that the population was large enough to sustain itself for at least a few more generations. But genetic disorders were very common, likely in large part due to the amount of inbreeding within the community. The population dwindled as the number of viable births plummeted. As one surviving Taron, a man named Dawi, told a wildlife scientist by the name of Alan Rabinowitz (through interpreters), “for many years the Taron only marry each other. But when we have babies, the babies have small brains and small bodies. It was no good.” That was in 2003 or 2004.

With birth defects the norm, the Taron leaders decided to simply stop continuing the ethnic bloodlines. Dawi continued: “We don’t want Taron babies anymore. Long ago, the Taron decided not to have babies with each other. Only with [a neighboring ethnic group called the] Htalu. [ . . .] There are few Taron left. Many die alone.” Dawi, the youngest pure-blood Taron in his village, 39 at the time of the interview, was likely to die alone — and likely to be the last of his people.

A photo of Dawi and Dr. Rabinowitz can be found here; photos from a 2011 expedition to the Taron community can be seen here.

Bonus fact: Myanmar is one of three countries which have not adopted the metric system as its official set of weights and measures, according to the CIA World Factbook. The other two are the United States and Liberia.

From the ArchivesThe Most Isolated People in the World: Intentionally (again).

Related: “Beyond the Last Village: A Journey of Discovery in Asia’s Forbidden Wilderness” by Alan Rabinowitz. This is the book which, among other things, recounts Dr. Rabinowitz’s meeting with Dawi and other Tarons. 13 reviews, 4.5 stars.