The Karen with an estimated population of 320,000 are the largest grouping of the Hill Tribe settlers in Thailand.
Originating in Southern China they are a nomadic people who are now spread all around South East Asia. It is said that they were the earliest of the Hill Tribes to settle in Thailand. Their numbers have also been swelled in more recent times as many have fled persecution in Mayamar, formerly Burma.
They are renowned as skilled elephant handlers and farmers. Most live in the mountainous northern regions of Thailand, although traditionally their villages tend to be at lower elevations than many of the other Hill Tribe groups.
The Karen have their own language, but some speak Thai as well now. There are also many voluntary groups which help the children learn Thai and English.
Many of the hill tribes were involved in opium growing in the Golden Triangle mountainous areas of Northern Thailand. That coupled with very destructive farming techniques of clearing land and abandoning it to move onto a new area once the soil had been milked of all nutrients put the Hill Tribes on a collision course with the Thai people,and governments all around the world.
In 1969 Thailand's late revered King His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej the ninth monarch of Thailand from the Chakri dynasty, titled Rama IX decided to try to help tackle the crisis with a caring and constructive approach. He visited many of the Hill Tribe villages in the mountainous areas near Burma, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai to study the regions problems.
The Royal Project was born - new rotational crops that could replace the opium were encouraged and assisted by volunteers and governments here and abroad with an emphasis on self sufficiency for the Hill Tribes and conservation.
Silversmithing had been practised for many generations and was used throughout the different hill tribe peoples to represent wealth and status amongst themselves.
However,it was not until around the time of the Royal Project that many of the farmers of the Karen Hill Tribe peoples were taught silversmithing techniques. It became a cottage industry up until what we now see today.
Their beautiful silver designs reflecting their accent on harmony and nature becoming available to the outside world.