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Wa

WA, a wild tribe inhabiting the north-east frontier of Upper Burma. Their country lies to the east of the Northern Shan States, between the Salween river and the state of Keng-Tflng, extending for about 100 m. along the Salween and for considerably less than half that distance inland to the watershed between that river and the Mekong. The boundaries may be roughly said to be the Salween on the W., the ridge over the Namting valley on the N., the hills E. of the Nam Hka on the eastern and southern sides, while the country ends in a point formed by the junction of the Nam Hka with the Salween. The Was claim to have inhabited the country where they now are since the beginning of time; but it appears more probable that they were the aborigines of the greater part of northern Siam at least, if not of Indo-China, since old records and travellers (e.g. Captain McLeod in 1837) speak of their having been the original inhabitants with small communities left behind from Kfng Tung down to Chiengmai; while the state of Keng Tung, just S.E. of the Wa country, has still scattered villages of Was and traditions that they were once spread all over the country. Their fortified village sites too are still to be found covered over with jungle. The people are short and dark-featured, with negritic features, and some believe that they are allied to the Andamanese and the Selungs inhabiting the islands of the Mergui archipelago, who have been driven back, or retreated, northwards to tbe wild country they now inhabit; but their language proves them to belong to the M&n-Khmer family. They are popularly divided into Wild Was and Tame Was. The Wild Was are remarkable as the best authenticated instance of head-hunters in the British Empire. They were formerly supposed to be also cannibals; but it is now known that they are not habitual cannibals, though it is possible that human flesh may be eaten as a religious function at the annual harvest feast. Their head-hunting habits have an animistic basis. In the opinion of the Wa the ghost of a dead man goes with his skull and hangs about its neighbourhood, and so many skulls posted up outside his village gate mean so many watchdog umbrae attached to the village, jealous of their own preserves and intolerant of interlopers from the invisible world. Thus every addition to the collection of skulls is an additional safeguard against ill-affected demons, and a head-hunting expedition is not undertaken, as was once thought, from motives of cannibalism or revenge, but solely to secure the very latest thing in charms as a protection against the powers of darkness. Outside every village is an avenue of human skulls, amid groves conspicuous from long distances. These consist of strips of the primeval jungle, huge forest trees left standing where all the remaining country is cleared for cultivation. The undergrowth is usually cut away, and these avenues are commonly but not always in deep shade. Along one side (which side apparently does not matter) is a line of posts with skulls fitted into niches facing towards the path. The niche is cut sometimes in front, sometimes in the back of the post. In the latter case there is a round hole in front, through which sometimes only the teeth and empty eye-sockets, sometimes the whole skull, grins a ghastly smile. Most villages count their heads by tens or twenties, but some of them have hundreds, especially when the grove lies between several large villages, who combine or run their collections into one another. The largest known avenue is that between Hsiing Ramang and Hsan Htung. Here there must be a couple of hundred or more skulls; but it is not certain that even this is the largest. It is thought necessary to add some skulls to this pathway every year if the crops are to be good. The heads of distinguished and pious men and of strangers are the most efficacious. The head-hunting season lasts through March and April, and it is when the Wa hill fields are being got ready for planting that the roads in the vicinity become dangerous to the neighbouring Shans. The little that is known of the practice seems to hint at the fact that the victim selected was primarily a harvest victim. A Wild Wa village is a very formidable place to attack, except for civilized weapons of offence. All the villages are perched high up on the slope of the hills, usually on a knoll or spine-like spur, or on a narrow ravine near the crest of the ridge. The only entrance is through a long tunnel. There is sometimes only one, though usually there are two, at opposite sides of the village. This tunnelled way is a few inches over 5 ft. high and not quite so wide, so that two persons cannot pass freely in it, and it sometimes winds slightly, so that a gun cannot be fired up it; moreover, the path is frequently studded with pegs in a sort of dice arrangement, to prevent a rush. None of the tunnels is less than 30 yds. long, and some are as much as 100 yds. Round each village is carried an earthen rampart, 6 to 8 ft. high and as many thick, and this is overgrown with a dense covering of shrubs, thin bushes and cactuses, so as to be quite impenetrable. Outside this is a deep ditch which would effectually stop a rush. These preparations indicate the character of the inhabitants, which is so savage and suspicious that the Wa country is still unadministered and naturally does not appear in the 1901 census returns. The total number of the Wa race is estimated at more than 50,000. 0- G. Sc.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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