Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
The Riang, who have been officially counted as part of the De'ang nationality in China, have been known by several names in the past. The British mistakenly called them the Black Karen because of their appearance, but the Riang have no ethnolinguistic relationship with the Karen. The Riang are not related to the identically named Riang group in India and Bangladesh.
The Riang in Zhenkang County are the only De'ang group that retains features of the ancient clan and village commune system that used to prevail. In the past, Tai landlords controlled all the land in the area. Strict demarcation lines were clearly signposted between different villages and plots of land. Stone posts can still be seen today in the fields of Zhengkang. Traditionally the Riang and other De'ang groups believe their first ancestor, Phu Sawti, was hatched from a serpent's egg - the result of a union between a Naga (female serpent-god) and a spirit.
The Riang's belief in the above legend can be observed today in the dress of their women. "From their early teens, the women wear 40 or 50 cane hoops apiece, one resting upon another to a depth of a foot around their hips. The undulating movement when they walk resembles a snake's motion."
The Riang are the only De'ang group who have never embraced Theravada Buddhism. The majority of Riang today are animists. They believe spirits live in objects of nature and must be placated before peace can be experienced in their communities.
Missionaries worked among the Riang in Myanmar until they were expelled from the country in 1962. The Gospel of Mark was translated into Riang in 1950. Few members of this tribe have responded to the offer of salvation, however, and today there are no known churches among the Riang in either Myanmar or China.