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Deputy Minister of Culture Than Shwe said this week that the ministry has no independent plan to protect the ethnic Taron – often referred to as the “pygmy” people of Kachin state’s Putao – who are on the verge of extinction.
According to a 2003 study by Rangoon University’s Anthropology Department, only five pure blooded Taron people were still alive – four siblings and one elderly person aged over 100 years. They are all between 1.2 metres and 1.37 metres tall.
The minister said the Taron people “need to be educated” that their self-imposed ban on procreation is “leading them into extinction”.
He said it would be implausible for the ministry alone to start a programme to preserve the Taron, and that any plans would require the cooperation and support of the Kachin regional government.
In 1997, a US zoologist, Dr Alan Rabinowitz had a chance encounter with the last five remaining Taron in the forests around Putao, and spent some time with them. He said that the head of the clan, Dawi, age 39, explained that Taron babies were being born with increasingly severe birth defects, and that the Taron elders had decided that rather than risk any more misshapen children, they would let their race go extinct.
The Taron are supposedly descended from an ethnic group concentrated in China known as Derung who migrated to Burma from Tibet in the 1880s.
According to Rabinowitz, after the discovery of genetic similarities between the Taron and Derung people, Dawi announced he would travel to Tibet in order to search for a wife. Whether he did or not is unknown.
See video: The Last “Pure” Pygmy and His Gift