Once native to a broad region stretching from southern Myanmar to Cambodia, the Mon have been absorbed – sometimes willingly, sometimes not – by the more powerful Burmese and Thai cultures in Myanmar and Thailand respectively over the last thousand years.
Though no one knows for sure, the Mon may be descended from a group of Indian immigrants from Kalinga, an ancient kingdom overlapping the boundaries of the modern Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. They were responsible for much of the early transmission of Theravada Buddhism in mainland Southeast Asia.
Since 1949 the eastern hills of the state (as well as mountains further south in Tanintharyi Region) have been a refuge for the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and its tactical arm, the Mon National Liberation Front (MNLF), whose objective has been self-rule for Mon State. In 1995, after years of bickering and fighting, the NMSP signed a ceasefire with the Myanmar government. Since then, peace has largely been maintained, and foreign travellers can now venture south of Mawlamyine freely.