Hopes to establish Karenni festival in Coffs Harbour

Representing the Karenni community in Coffs Harbour was Ayemin Kawkuhtoo (centre) and Robin Ashley with Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh.

HOPES are high for the introduction of the Kay Htoe Boe festival in Coffs Harbour in 2025.

It’s a traditional festival held dear to the hearts of the Karenni people who have a community of 99 people living in Coffs Harbour.

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Coffs’ Karenni population all came to the city from the same refugee camp on the Thai border.

Many of them, including the recently named 2024 Regional Unity Medal award winner Ayemin Kawkuhtoo, were born in that camp, which was the only home they knew prior to coming to Coffs Harbour.

The Kay Htoe Boe festival was celebrated annually in the refugee camp.

While they are happy to be living in Coffs Harbour, the adult population in particular is acutely aware of how important it is for them to keep their culture alive and pass this on to their children.

The idea of celebrating the Kay Htoe Boe festival annually in Coffs excites them and, while this festival would be held once a year, the preparation for the festival would allow them to meet as a community on a regular basis.

When Ayemin recently won the Regional Unity Medal at the Premier’s Harmony Dinner the idea to use his exposure to advocate for the Kay Htoe Boe festival was born.

Long time friend and supporter of the local Karenni community, Robin Ashley, along with Ayemin, is currently working with the Botanic Gardens and City of Coffs Harbour council to have a site allocated.

They would like the first festival to be held in April 2025.

As well as celebrating their traditional festival in their Australian home, another part of the vision for the festival is about educating the broader Coffs Harbour community about the Karenni population.

“The exposure given to the Karenni people when Ayemin received his award has sparked some curiosity from locals,” Robin told News Of The Area.

“Many Coffs Harbour community members are surprised that the Karenni people don’t speak Burmese, that they have their own Karenni language.

“This kind of awareness has been incredibly helpful for the Karenni community,” she said.

There are other Karenni communities living in Brisbane, Wollongong and Geelong.

It is anticipated that if the Kay Htoe Boe festival were held annually, Karenni communities from outside Coffs Harbour would also attend, thereby boosting tourism in Coffs Harbour.

Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh has met with Ayemin and Robin and is supporting plans for an annual festival.


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