- An ethnic nationality found in Shan, Karen (Kayin), Mon, and Kayah (Karenni) States with an estimated population of between one and two million. Known as Taungthu ("Mountain People") in the Burmese (Myanmar) language, they are considered to be the second largest ethnic group in Shan State, after the Shans (Tai), and are found mostly in the southern and western parts of the state. They speak a Tibeto-Burman language closely related to the Karen (Kayin) language but consider themselves a separate ethnic group rather than a Karen subgroup. According to Pa-O legend, they are descended from a king of Thaton who reigned in the sixth century BCE, but they suffered oppression and dispersal after King Anawrahta conquered Thaton in 1057. Their traditional black or indigo outfits are said to be a symbol of that subjugation.The majority of Pa-Os are adherents of Buddhism, which has been strongly influenced by the religion of their Shan neighbors. The famed "hot-air balloon festival" observed at the end of the Buddhist lent in Taunggyi, featuring large balloons made in fanciful shapes out of traditional paper and lit with candles, is celebrated by both Pa-Os and Shans. Most Pa-Os are farmers, growing such crops as tobacco, thanapet leaves (used for wrapping cheroots), and mustard leaves.There has been a history of Pa-O resistance to the central government since Burma achieved independence in 1948. The first armed group was the Pa-O Lam Bhu, or Pa-O Union. The Pa-O National Organization/Army was a member of the National Democratic Front (1976) and the Democratic Alliance of Burma (1988) but signed a cease-fire with the State Law and Order Restoration Council in March 1991; a non-cease-fire group, the Pa-O People's Liberation Organization, is based on the border opposite the Thai town of Mae Hong Son.
Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). Donald M. Seekins . 2014.