Kayah State is a state of Myanmar. Situated in eastern Myanmar, it is bounded on the north by Shan State, on the east by Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, and on the south and west by Kayin State. It lies approximately between 18° 30′ and 19° 55′ north latitude and between 94°40′ and 97° 93′ east longitude. The area is 11,670 km² (4,530 sq miles). Its capital is Loikaw. The estimated population in 1998 was approximately 207,357, according to UNICEF. It is inhabited primarily by the Karenni ethnic group, also known as Red Karen or Kayah, a Sino-Tibetan people.
Ethnographers classify anywhere from seven to ten ethnic groups as native to Kayah State. In addition, Shan, Inthar, and Bamar live in the north and Pa-O in surrounding hills. Each group is also known by more than one name. Clearly, ethnicity in Kayah State is a complex issue, made more complex by the current political situation. According to the 1983 census conducted by UN and the Burmese government, the Kayah composed 56.12%, while Bamar (17.58%), Shan (16.66%), Karen (6.45%), mixed races (2.08%), and other groups formed minorities. Ethnolinguists distinguish the following linguistic groups in Kayah State.