Category Archives: Culture

Chakma people of Myanmar, Bangladesh & India

Chakmas peopleChakma People are an ethnic minority group that is spread across India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. A large concentration of the group resides in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan).  Chakmas are Tibeto- Burman, have their own culture, language and profess Theravada Buddhism – a combination of Hinduism and traditional religions.

Chakmas came to India from Bangladesh and since the tribe practiced Buddhism mainly, they identified themselves with the Hindus of India. They are said to have faced religious persecution in East Pakistan and therefore, due to communal violence and displacement, entered India through Lushai Hills of Assam (Today’s Mizoram). Chakma villages have a large number of Buddhist temples and they look up to Monks, who preside at important events and functions in the lives of the tribe. Foreign and local missionaries have been trying to convert Chakmas into Christians, thereby, creating resentment in them.

The Chakma people of India have been fighting for citizenship since 1960. At the time of migrating to India, they officially crossed the border under the leadership of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and so they are legitimate residents in the country. However, due to illiteracy and lack of understanding, many of    them have lost the legal document. Apart from denial of legal citizenship, Chakmas also face other forms of discrimination. They are abused and exploited and denied educational and employment opportunities and are often accused by other regions of being involved in criminal activities. At birth, children are not granted their birth certificate and although offered, in reality they are held back.

In a joint statement issued by Government of India and Bangladesh, in 1972, the Chakmas were to be conferred citizenship but the State of Arunachal Pradesh opposed this and continues to do so. The Supreme Court in September 2015, directed the central and Arunachal Pradesh governments to confer the citizenship rights on the “eligible” Chakmas. Many student groups and the Government of Arunachal Pradesh has opposed this decision and has filed a petition to the Supreme Court to re-examine the ruling objecting to the permanent settlement of Chakma in the state and their exclusion from the provisions of the Inner Line Permit.

chakamas people
The Chakma people of Myanmar are the least known people in the world and live in northern Rakhine State of Burma and adjacent southern areas of Chin State.  They are known in Myanmar as Daingnet people. Chakma Day is celebrated in Myanmar to revive the tribe’s lost culture, history, language and script.  Chakmas speak languages influenced by neighboring Chittagonian, a language close to Assamese. Chakmas are people with their own culture, traditions, folklore and literature. The staple diet of the Chakma people is rice, millets and bamboo shoot, that they call, “Bajchuri” and shrimp paste. Their cooking techniques include slow cooking vegetables and meat wrapped in banana leaves on low fire.

Chakma women wear traditional outfits that are hand woven and colorful with intricate designs. A two piece attire with a skirt at the bottom and a wrapped cloth above. Chakma people are mainly farmers by profession and are extremely protective of their culture and land. Although with time, in order to protect themselves against encroachment and to secure their rights to participate in any governmental decision making processes that affect them, the Chakmas have been coming out, speaking for their rights and actively pursuing their fight for attaining citizenship. Within the Chakma community, the Community has no caste distinction and maintain communal harmony amongst their people. There is no discrimination internally on grounds of behavior, acceptance or living together.

Myanmar Homes

TOWNS AND VILLAGES IN MYANMAR

There are few large towns or cities in Myanmar with the exception of Yangon, the largest city and port and former capital. The next largest cities are Mandalay and Moulmein. Towns and cities are usually found in or along rivers, which indicates they began as both irrigation and transport centers.

There are over 65,000 villages in Myanmar. The fall into three main types: 1) villages surrounded by palisades and fences with a village gate and sometimes guards; 2) villages without fences and no regular plan and with no public buildings in the village itself; and 3) villages strung out along a road or waterway. The second kind of villages usually often has a monastery outside the villages, fields within walking distance of the village and houses set among trees and fruit crops. Most villages have a monastery and cemetery, and sometimes a school. Clinics and hospitals are usually in the nearest town.

Homes in Myanmar

The traditional Burmese urban home is raised on four posts and has a concrete base. There are two or three rooms partitioned with plywood sheets that have curtains instead of doors. The main room is reached by the front door which sits at the top of a small flight of stairs. There are many rooms in the Bamar traditional house. Firstly. you will get to the living room at the entrance of the house. There, traditional Bamar food and drink, betel boxes, pickled tea leaves, cheroot and green tea pot are displayed. There is sometimes a well, granary and bullock cart in the courtyard.

According to the Joshua Project: Various types of houses can be found in the Burmese villages. The wealthier people often live in sturdy, mahogany homes that are raised off the ground and have plank floors and tile roofs. Those with lower incomes may live in thatched roof, bamboo houses that have dirt floors. All activities take place on the dirt floors, including eating and sleeping. Therefore, it is extremely impolite to enter a Burmese house wearing shoes.

According to Countries and Their Cultures: “The traditional house is made largely of bamboo. Flattened pieces of bamboo made into large plaited sections are used to make the walls. The floors are made of bamboo planks or wood. The frame of the house is made of wood, with hard and durable wood being used for the house posts. Roof coverings are made of a variety of materials, including thatch made from broad-leafed grass or palm fronds. Roofs may be covered with tiles, wooden shingles, or zinc sheets. Some old houses use whole tree trunks for pillars and have splendid teak paneling. The front of the house usually has a veranda that is raised a few feet off the ground. This is the public area where guests are entertained. The center of the house is the living area for the family. Behind it is a covered cooking area where rice is stored. Especially in urban areas, these houses are being replaced by more generic ones made from cement. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures everyculture.com ]

In the Irrawaddy Delta area natural materials such as thatch from the palm trees and shrubs that grow across the delta provided cheap, rainproof, and relatively cool roofing. In the old days houses in rural areas were mostly built of bamboo, thatch or palm leaves and rattan was used instead of iron nail for tying the structure together. Rattan is a wild creeper which grows profusely in many forests of Myanmar. It is a very resilient fiberous gift of nature which Myanmar people have been using for various purposes since time immemorial.

Some ethnic minorities have distinctive styles of houses.Many Palaung traditionally lived in multiple-family houses. Today, these structures are very rare, and most Palaung live in single-family houses. See Individual Ethnic Groups

Describing the inside of a Kachin house, Steven Martin wrote in Time magazine, “Their house was a modest structure of concrete and wood but the sitting room was decorated with an impressive collection of posters. Among them was a concert shot of the Scorpions and, next to that, a classic of Bruce Lee that I hadn’t seen since my youth: the scene from Enter the Dragon in which Bruce is sporting two dramatic claw marks across his chest, his mouth wide open mid-caterwaul. High up on the opposite wall was a shelflike shrine supporting the images of Jesus, Mary and the Buddha. Though I have spent the better part of two decades in Southeast Asia, this was the first time I had seen Christ and the Buddha share the same household altar. I was admiring the shrine when Myo Aung entered the room. “My father was Burman and my mother was Kachin. Burmans are always Buddhist but many Kachin are Christians.” [Source: Steven Martin, Time magazine, 2002]

Possessions in Myanmar

In main room of the house is the family alter with a Buddha image surrounded by flowers and offerings, there is often a coffee-style table and set of wooden or plastic chairs. The walls and shelves tend be decorated with calendars, pictures of deceased relatives and plastic flowers. The kitchens tend to be small or separated from the house. The refrigerator is kept in the dining room. Traditional musical instruments include harps and xylophones. The kitchen is in separate part of the house. Household utensils are placed in the kitchen. Traditionally a loom was kept under the house where traditional clothes were weaved.

Homes of the poor often have woven bamboo and thatch wall which are relatively cool in hot weather. Woven mats are also placed on the ground. Bucket baths are raised above the ground on timbers.

Many Burmese thatch homes are decorated with family photographs and movie posters from India, Japan and the United States. Windows have fire-hardened bamboo bars and if there is electricity it comes from an exposed bulb. Most people sit on the floor and if there are seats they are usually offered to old people. [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

In villages many music players, home karaoke machines and televisions are operated by car batteries. You often see people walking around with car batteries. Candles are often on hand in case the electricity goes out.

People tend to sleep on the sheets of a bed rather than under them. If people are chilly they use a blanket. Many people wash their feet before going to bed.

Myanmar Mats

Mats are essential items in a Myanmar household. They are woven from thin strips of the thin reed, which grows in swampy areas of the Irrawaddy Delta region and Taninthayi Division of Lower Myanmar. The traditional mat weaving industry flourishes in Pantanaw, Danubyu, Laymyetnha, Hinthada and Maubin Townships in Ayeyawady Division. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

It takes at least about twelve days to weave a mat. The reeds are systematically processed after being cut by being sunned, soaked in water and peeled into strips before being woven into a mat. The thin straps are often dyed and used to make colorful patterns. Most mats have two layers. A mat which only has the upper layer woven in decorative designs is called “one smooth side” mat. When both of the two layers are woven in patterns the mat is called “two smooth sides”.

Mat weaving is a lucrative home industry. The mat goes in suits Myanmar’s culture as well as its hot weather. A traditional mat in a Myanmar house adds auspiciousness to its interior.

Myanmar Fans

Although a fan or umbrella are not included in the prescribed articles of donation for use of Buddhist monks, they are necessities in a tropical country like Myanmar. They are therefore always added to the list of articles donated to monks during Buddhist religious holidays. A large fan or umbrella helps to shade the bare-shaved head of the monk who goes barefooted when he goes round village or town under the hot morning sun to accept offerings of food. They are also protects him if there is a drizzle. The fans made for monks are large and are usually made of palm leaves. Nowadays they are covered with velvet fabric and have the donors’ names printed on it. When the monks preach sermons they generally screen their faces with the fans, close their eyes and concentrate on their sermons. This traditional method of giving sermons is called “Yet-htaung taya” (“preaching with the fan put right in front of the preaching monk”). But there are times when the monks do not screen their faces and preach sermons face to face with the audience in sonorous voice. This style of preaching is called “Yat-hle.” [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

Included in the paraphernalia of the Myanmar royalty was a fan called “Daung-taung yat”. made of peacock tail feathers with a long handle. Palace pages gently fanned the royals with this fan during the hot season. When the British conquered Myanmar and ruled the country, they introduced ceiling fans which they brought from India. These were originally large fans made from cloth fastened to a long rod and attached to the ceiling. The rod tied to a rope was pulled by an office boy. This contraption was called a”punkha” (fan) and boy that operated it was “a punkha wallah.” When electricity punkhas in the rooms in office buildings were connected together with pulleys and ropes and run by a single big electric motor. Such a network of ceiling fans was used in Yangon Gereral Hospital until the outbreak of World War II.

Paper fans are widely used in Myanmar. Traditional Burmese ones are made of small thin slats of bamboo pasted on both sides with paper and usually trimmed to form a circular or oval shape. The paper fans were a must in the old days when electric fans were not yet imported. At weddings and religious ceremonies, where attendees were crowded and when the atmosphere was very close, these “portable air conditioners” were in great demand. Distributed at the marriage ceremonies they carried the names of the brides and bridegrooms. Those given away at religious ceremonies such as novitiation ceremonies had the names of the noviatiates and their parents and the date of the ceremony printed on them. With the introduction of electric ceiling fans and air conditioners, the custom of distributing fans on these occasions faded away.

However, paper fans are still distributed at funerals. The name of the deceased. his or her parents names are printed on one side of the fan and the other side carries extracts from Buddhist teachings. The fan also doubles as an invitation card because it invites the members of the cortege to a morning reception where monks are fed in memory of the dead and then the invitees are treated to a breakfast.

Parasol from Pathein

The umbrella industry of Pathein, the capital of the Ayeyarwady Division of Myanmar’s delta region, is well known and was established in Pathein over a hundred years ago. The first umbrellas were made of paper, but through experience the makers became innovative and began to produce umbrellas with canopies of cotton, silk and satin with attractive floral designs. These newly fashioned umbrellas gained popularity with the ladies and sales expanded across the country. They also caught the attention of visiting foreigners who purchased them as souvenirs, interior decoration on walls and for use as unique lampshades. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

The production of the Pathein umbrella is more or less a family industry, with several divisions of labour used in the making of a single umbrella. Each worker is assigned a different task: with one responsible for making the framework of ribs and another the shaft, and others still making the canopy, the grip, the hub which holds the ribs together, and even the wedge or switch for opening and closing the umbrella. Each person works separately and is a specialist so to speak in his own line of work.

The shaft and ribs of the umbrella are made of bamboo and the hub and grip from a softwood known locally as “Ma-U Thit”. The raw materials of bamboo and wood are obtained from the lower hill slopes of the Rakhine Yoma Mountain Range near Chaungthar, which is close to Pathein.

When all the different parts made by different craftsmen are ready they are put together to make an umbrella. The canopy—dyed in pastel shades of mauve, pink, green and blue to deflect the sunlight—are attached to the frame. Sometimes a few darker shades too, such as black, dark blue and bottle green, are added. When the canopy has been fixed to the rib frame, small flowers of varying shapes and colors are painted on the background.

It is a wonder that so many different parts made by different hands all fit so snugly together, and one is able to open and close the umbrella smoothly without a hitch. Once the umbrella is folded then a small bamboo ring—wrapped in colored wool thread and attached with the same thread to an indentation on the grip— is slipped on to the folded umbrella to keep it tightly closed.

Everyday Life in Myanmar

In many ways the Myanmar of today is little changed from the Burma that emerged after World War II. Some visitors say traveling to the country is like going back in history. You can still find wind up cars and trucks. Much of the farming is still done by hand and animals without machines. In villages television and even electricity can be a rare sight. Many people favor traditional clothes. But now that Myanmar is finally reforming things are changing—and they are changing very fast, in the words of the World Bank: at “warp speed.”

Problems in everyday life include water shortages, cut off electricity, insects in the toilets, flooding and termite damage.

According to the Joshua Project: “The thickly forested mountains provide valuable lumber, while the fertile valleys support intense rice cultivation. Rice cultivation is their main occupation and basic means of economic support; it is grown for both personal consumption and trade. Although the Burmese ideally grow rice in irrigated fields, they also resort to slash and burn cultivation. With this process, the fields are cut and burned before any new crops are planted. To help in the fields, cattle and buffalo are raised to draw heavy wooden plows. It is a daily task for a whole Burmese family to go out into the fields to work. Mothers work with their babies, while the older children accompany their grandparents. [Source: Joshua Project]

Many tools used in everyday life are made of bamboo and wood and to a lesser degree of metal. Modern technology is represented most prominently in the form of sewing machines, loudspeakers, battery-run transistor radios, some guns, and occasional vehicles. A surprising number of machines and vehicles date back to the World War II era.

The traditional Burmese units of measurement are still in everyday use in Burma. According to the CIA Factbook, Burma is one of three countries that have not adopted the International System of Units (SI) metric system as their official system of weights and measures. However, in June 2011, the Burmese government’s Ministry of Commerce began discussing proposals to reform the measurement system in Burma and adopt the metric system used by most of its trading partners.

Citizens and permanent residents are required to carry government-issued National Registration Cards (NRCs), also known as Citizenship Scrutiny Cards, which permit holders to access services and prove citizenship. These identification cards often indicate religious affiliation and ethnicity. There appeared to be no consistent criteria governing whether a person’s religion was indicated on the card. Citizens also are required to indicate their religion on certain official application forms for documents such as passports, although passports themselves do not indicate the bearer’s religion. Members of many ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Muslims, faced problems obtaining NRCs. [Source: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor International Religious Freedom Report for 2011]

Economic Daily Life in Myanmar

In August 2008, the Washington Post reported: “Today, the average household spends up to 70 percent of its budget on food. At tea shops or grocery stalls, people pull out bricks of local bills to pay for basics in an economy that the International Monetary Fund estimates suffered inflation of 40 percent in 2007. Fuel rationing and price controls have insulated the country from much of the recent shocks to the world economy. Nonetheless, black market prices for gasoline and diesel fuel have continued to spiral upward in recent months, residents say. [Source: Washington Post, August 16, 2008]

Analysts and Burmese residents say unemployment — and underemployment — is on the rise. Salaries that were already inadequate have failed to keep pace with inflation. To make up the shortfall, professionals such as government geologists double as taxi drivers, professors sell exam scores, civil servants demand bribes to process paperwork and prison guards run elaborate operations allowing the smuggling of money to inmates, in return for a 20 percent cut, local residents and former detainees said. Teachers sometimes sell lunch to their students. “Can you imagine asking your students for money? I couldn’t do it,” said a 26-year-old former elementary school teacher who switched to being a tour guide. So many people engage in corruption that the Berlin-based watchdog group Transparency International rated Burma in 2007 as tied with Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world.

For a long time purchased articles and food were placed in leaves, sometimes wrapped in string, rather than plastic bags or paper, in part because of a shortage of plastic. The effect on the environment was positive as people in Myanmar tend to litter a long and leaves quickly decompose while plastic does not.

Myanmar’s Backwardness

Myanmar missed many technological advances during 50 years of being shut off from the world by the military junta and has been struggling to catch up since an elected government came to power in 2011. Few people in Myanmar know, for example, that a man walked on the moon.

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “Even by the standards of authoritarian regimes, Burma lives in an epoch unto itself, a relic of the prosperous country that was once the world’s largest exporter of rice. Rangoon—or Yangon, as it is now known—which was so alive with diversity and immigration that it had a Jewish mayor in the nineteen-thirties, is today a place of deprivation and haunting beauty. The banyan trees reach out from the moldering remains of villas and colonial offices. Ancient buses, cast off by Japan, and now absurdly overloaded, wheeze through canyons on the broken macadam. Outside the law courts, men in crisp white shirts and longyis, Burma’s traditional ankle-length sarong, hunch over ancient typewriters, feeding the maw of the bureaucracy. Gaping sinkholes in the sidewalk reveal the sewer beneath, exhaling into the tropical air. Book venders, not far from where Pablo Neruda lived in the nineteen-twenties, display on their blankets books with such titles as “Essentials of Selling,” “Radio and Line Transmission,” and the I.M.F.’s “Seventh Annual Report: Exchange Restrictions, 1956.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 6, 2012 *-*]

“In the countryside, Burma lives by candlelight. Three-quarters of the population get no electricity, though the nation has abundant oil, gas, and hydropower resources. The number of cell phones per capita is the lowest in the world, behind North Korea. Less than one per cent of the population is connected to the Web. In eastern Shan state, where I chatted with a woman who had never heard the name of the sitting President, cars are vastly outnumbered by horse-drawn carts.

Cost of Living in Myanmar

Takashi Shiraishi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Myanmar’s per capita income is far below that of Laos and Cambodia in terms of market-based foreign exchange rates to the dollar. However, the quality of people’s diets in Myanmar is no different from that in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam as far as consumption of oils and fats, seafood, fruit, eggs and drinks are concerned. The only difference seems to be that people in Myanmar eat a little less meat than Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese. [Source: Takashi Shiraishi, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 10, 2008 +]

“Consumer spending by the upper 20 per cent of Myanmar’s households is about four times the comparable amount spent by the lowest 20 per cent. Despite such a big disparity, there is almost no difference between the two groups in terms of the ratio of food expenses, thereby challenging Engel’s Law, which states that as income rises, the proportion of income spent on food tends to go down. In other words, the income gap mostly translates into differences in the choice of foods and the fact that the rich are eating better. +

“These findings reflect the insufficient state of the country’s infrastructure, such as electricity, tap water and housing. People are not buying TVs, refrigerators and other household electrical appliances because electricity is supplied to less than 20 per cent of the country’s farming villages. In sum, everyone is eating every day even though they are poor, and the rich-poor divide has not resulted in major visible differences in lifestyles. Under such circumstances, a popular uprising may have difficulty catching fire.”

Myanmar, Tradition, Repression and Modernity

Describing Myanmar in 2005, Richard Paddock wrote in Los Angeles Times, Myanmar “is mostly isolated from the outside world. There are none of the McDonald’s, Starbucks or KFC outlets here that have become ubiquitous in Southeast Asian cities. Instead, workers crowd into dilapidated buses carrying shiny, metal cylinder lunch boxes with separate trays for their rice, curry and vegetables. Women commonly walk down the streets of central Yangon carrying goods on their heads. [Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005 *]

“Secret police and a network of informers watch over the populace. Listening to overseas radio broadcasts or watching foreign shows on satellite television can result in seven years in prison. Foreign journalists are rarely allowed to visit. Dissidents are arrested in the middle of the night and vanish into the prison system. There are more than 1,300 political detainees, rights groups say, including other leaders of Suu Kyi’s party. Members of the public interviewed for this article asked not to be identified out of fear for their safety. *

“Myanmar’s isolation from the West has kept the country in a kind of time warp where many traditions remain intact. Most men wear a longyi, a sarong-like garment that reaches nearly to the ankles. Women and children wear a striking yellow sunscreen that is made from the bark of the thanaka tree. Women spread thanaka on their cheeks in circles, rectangles or swirls, sometimes to stunning effect. In central Yangon, life spills onto the streets. Families set up little kitchens in the roadway. Women sit in busy avenues selling vegetables. On the sidewalks, craftsmen make signs and mend clothes or umbrellas. Some shopkeepers run generators on the sidewalk to cope with power outages. Others set up small tables with telephones, charging 10 cents a call. Children claiming to be orphans beg for money.*

Corruption has reportedly invaded nearly every aspect of commerce. At the post office, people mailing a letter tip the clerk so she will mark the stamp instead of peeling it off and selling it. At hospitals, patients pay orderlies so they can see a doctor. “Even if blood is pumping from your artery, unless you tip the gurney operator, you will die on the stretcher,” a diplomat said. *

More overtly, the regime maintains control through countless restrictions. Anyone who allows guests to stay overnight must report their names to the police.Access to Internet sites is limited and e-mail is delayed so government minders have time to read it. There are few cellphones, and foreign publications are censored. Some people get around it, including Internet users who have become expert at accessing restricted websites. Others listen to the BBC and Voice of America on radio despite the ban. Illegal satellite dishes have sprouted from rooftops, allowing millions to watch overseas broadcasts. Security in Yangon has been tighter than ever since May 7, when bombs exploded minutes apart at two shopping malls and a trade show. By official count, 23 people were killed and more than 160 were injured. The government has blamed the blasts on pro-democracy activists, the CIA and the Thai government. No suspects have been arrested. *

Perhaps because of the Buddhist tradition of patience, or perhaps because resistance seems futile, the people of Myanmar wait quietly, work to feed their families and wish for the regime to collapse. Some hope reincarnation will free them from their hardships. “In my next life,” said a 47-year-old worker, “I want to come back in another country.”

Life Under Myanmar’s Military Regime

Hannah Beech wrote in Time, “Today, despite Suu Kyi’s release and the influx of foreign investment that has brought the occasional Hummer and day spa to Rangoon, Burma is still a country preserved in amber. Tropical totalitarianism is deceptive. In North Korea, the broad, desolate avenues and drably dressed citizens make for a perfect tableau of authoritarianism. Burma’s sprays of bougainvillea, its gilded pagodas and the sway of schoolgirls dressed in the sarongs called longyis all create a false sense of contentment. But life in Burma is not easy. Roughly 40 percent of the national budget is spent on the army, while just around 1 percent each is reserved for health and education. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010 =]

“The new capital in Naypyidaw, which means “abode of the kings,” was built with billions of dollars, even as nearly a third of Burmese live below the poverty line. For farmers, a hand-to-mouth existence is made worse by routine land seizures and orders to work without pay for the military. Even in Rangoon, power outages are as common as junta informants; both leave the populace in the dark. In a sign of just how removed the generals are from their subjects, confidential U.S. embassy cables released by WikiLeaks refer to the junta lavishing money on a nuclear program with alleged help from North Korea, while junta supremo Than Shwe pondered spending $1 billion on Manchester United at the behest of his soccer-loving grandson. =

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “I asked Aung San Suu Kyi whether the country had changed during her last period of house arrest. The first thing she noticed after getting out, she said, was “the hand phones and the cameras” of the supporters who gathered in front of her villa and in front of N.L.D. headquarters. Internet cafés and satellite dishes—purchased on the black market and tolerated by the regime—were everywhere. “I’m the only one without a satellite dish, precisely because they’re illegal,” she told me, with a laugh. The dictatorship understands that keeping its citizens in the dark is no longer possible, she believes, and this gives her hope. “Journals and magazines have come up in the last seven years that carry articles on politics, economics, history, the struggle for independence. Some of these articles are censored, and prevented from appearing, but even the fact that they submit these articles for publication means there’s been a change. The self-censorship is decreasing.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

Being Followed in Myanmar

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker that Myanmar used to be a place “where you never uttered a name on a phone line and, in some cases, carried a wig to help shake off the intelligence officers in a crowd.”

Hannah Beech wrote in Time, “The special branch had chased us across the city for hours, through the haunted, betel-nut-stained streets of old Rangoon, past street-side tailors hunched over ancient sewing machines and open-air bookstalls selling worm-eaten copies of Orwell and Kipling. Unable to shake the latest batch of state security men following us by foot, we jumped into a wheezing taxi of mid-20th century vintage. The young driver’s eyes widened at the foreigners who hurled themselves in the back and ordered the car to move — fast. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010 =]

“And the public’s desire for freedom, of course, is why security agents were hunting us, snapping pictures with telephoto lenses fit for Hollywood paparazzi. Earlier that day, a total of at least a dozen special-branch officers trailed us, calling in our movements on their cell phones. It took the taxi driver only a couple of minutes to figure out we had a tail. Pointing back at a car practically on our bumper, he grinned and gunned the engine. For more than half an hour, our high-speed chase wound through the streets of Burma’s moldering former capital, past the carcasses of Victorian-era government buildings abandoned when the junta mysteriously moved the seat of power to a remote redoubt five years ago. We circumnavigated the massive golden spire of Shwedagon pagoda, Burma’s holiest site, and careened by the hulk of Insein prison, where Suu Kyi was once jailed and where some of the country’s 2,200 political prisoners still languish. =

“Dusk was falling. Screeching through an open-air market, the taxi finally shook our pursuers. Gratefully, we bid our driver goodbye. He reached into his pocket again, offering me Suu Kyi’s picture as a gift. I was touched, but it was his talisman to cherish. I could leave Burma. He needed the Lady to keep him safe.”

Myanmar Joins the Modern World

Joshua Hammer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “I first visited Myanmar during a post-college backpacking trip through Asia in 1980. On a hot and humid night, I took a taxi from the airport through total darkness to downtown Yangon, a slum of decaying British-colonial buildings and vintage automobiles rumbling down potholed roads. Even limited television broadcasts in Myanmar were still a year away. The country felt like a vast time warp, entirely shut off from Western influence. [Source: Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian magazine, March 2011 <>]

“Thirty years later, when I returned to the country—traveling on a tourist visa—I found that Myanmar has joined the modern world. Chinese businessmen and other Asian investors have poured money into hotels, restaurants and other real estate. Down the road from my faux-colonial hotel, the Savoy, I passed sushi bars, trattorias and a Starbucks knockoff where young Burmese fire text messages to one another over bran muffins and latte macchiatos. Despite efforts by the regime to restrict Internet use (and shut it down completely in times of crisis), young people crowd the city’s many cybercafés, trading information over Facebook, watching YouTube and reading about their country on a host of political Web sites. Satellite dishes have sprouted like mushrooms from the rooftop of nearly every apartment building; for customers unable or unwilling to pay fees, the dishes can be bought in the markets of Yangon and Mandalay and installed with a small bribe. “As long as you watch in your own home, nobody bothers you,” I was told by my translator, a 40-year-old former student activist I’ll call Win Win, an avid watcher of the Democratic Voice of Burma, a satellite TV channel produced by Burmese exiles in Norway, as well as the BBC and Voice of America. Win Win and his friends pass around pirated DVDs of documentaries such as Burma VJ, an Academy Award-nominated account of the 2007 protests, and CDs of subversive rock music recorded in secret studios in Myanmar. <>

“After a few days in Yangon, I flew to Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, to see a live performance by J-Me, one of the country’s most popular rap musicians and the star attraction at a promotional event for Now, a fashion and culture magazine. Five hundred young Burmese, many wearing “I Love Now” T-shirts, packed a Mandalay hotel ballroom festooned with yellow bunting and illuminated by strobe lights. Hotel employees were handing out copies of the Myanmar Times, a largely apolitical English-language weekly filled with bland headlines: “Prominent Monk Helps Upgrade Toilets at Monasteries,” “Election Turnout Higher Than in 1990.”

Street Life in the Land of Shadows

Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic: “Welcome to the Hotel California,” calls out a voice from the shadows in perfect English. Three young men sit on plastic stools in the street, laughing at the greeting. The DVD vendor, a skinny 29-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and a pink button-down shirt, leaps up with a smile. Though his schooling ended in fourth grade, he speaks English in an eruption of phrases gleaned from Hollywood movies and 1950s grammar books. Meeting an American, he says, makes him feel “over the moon, on cloud nine, pleased as punch.” [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, August 2011 <>]

“The three “bosom buddies”—Tom, Dick, and Harry, as they call themselves—meet almost every evening to practice their English idioms. Tonight, over cups of milky tea, they will banter for hours, showing off new expressions like nuggets of gold. Now, in the dark, the three friends hesitate for a minute, puzzling over the lyrics of an old Eagles hit. “Hey, maybe you can help,” Tom says. “What do they mean when they say, ‘We are all just prisoners here of our own device?'” <>

“Myanmar is a land of shadows, a place where even the most innocent question can seem loaded with hidden intent. For most of the past half century this largely Buddhist nation of some 50 million has been shaped by the power—and paranoia—of its military leaders. The tatmadaw, as the national military is known, was the only institution capable of imposing its authority on a fractured country in the wake of independence from Britain. It did so, in part, by pulling Myanmar into a fearful isolation, from which it is only starting to emerge. <>

“This isolation, deepened by two decades of Western economic sanctions, may have preserved the nostalgic image of Myanmar as a country frozen in time, with its mist-shrouded lakes, ancient temples, and blend of traditional cultures largely unspoiled by the modern world. But it also helped accelerate the decline of what was once referred to as “the jewel of Asia.” Myanmar’s health and education systems have been gutted, while the military—with some 400,000 soldiers—drains nearly a quarter of the national budget. Most notoriously, the tatmadaw’s brutal suppression of ethnic insurgencies and civil opposition has made Myanmar a pariah nation, a distinction it now seems eager to shed

Urban Life in Myanmar

The cities in Myanmar are somewhat like the ones in India.

There has been something of a construction boom in downtown Rangoon as investors from Hong Kong and Singapore have financed new hotels and office buildings. Otherwise relatively few buildings have been built since colonial times. Paint and plaster is peeling, despite cosmetic whitewashing.

Urban population: 34 percent of total population (2010). Rate of urbanization: 2.9 percent annual rate of change (2010-15 est.), Major cities – population: Yangon (capital) 4.259 million; Mandalay 1.009 million; Nay Pyi Taw 992,000 (2009). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Largest Cities in Myanmar, with population over 100,000 (all figures are estimates for 2002): 1) Yangon, 4,016,000; 2) Mandalay, 1,057,600; 3) Mawlamyine, 367,500; 3) Bago, 228,100; 4) Pathein, 219700; 5) Monywa, 165500; 6 ) Akyab, 164400; 7 Taunggyi, 157100; 8) Meiktila, 154,900; 9) Mergui, 146,500; 10) Lashio, 128,500; 11) Pyay, 126,300; 12) Henzada, 125,000; 13) Myingyan, 123,700; 14) Dawei, 115,600; 15 ) Pakokku, 113,200; 16) Thaton, 103,200; 17) Maymyo, 102400.

According to Countries and Their Cultures: The ethnic composition of Rangoon and Mandalay is over-whelmingly Burmese, although these cities are also where most of the Indian population lives. Architecture reflects the country’s Buddhist and colonial heritage. Buddhist temples are the most important architectural features throughout the country. The Buddhist temple serves as a religious school, a community center, a guest house, a place where the government and other agencies post information, a site for sports activities, a center for welfare services for those who are poor and ill, a morgue, and a center for music and dance. It also carries out economic services such as providing loans and renting lands and homes. Temples are also important in urban areas. While most temples in central Burma are Burmese in style, the temples of Shan State tend to have a distinctive look that is referred to as the Shan style. Temples tend to be surrounded by small shops that sell sacred and secular items. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures everyculture.com ]

Urban Life in Yangon

Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic: “It’s the magic hour in Yangon, when the last rays of sunlight, softer, cooler now, bathe the crumbling downtown in a golden glow, beckoning residents out into the streets. Giggling children race to buy fresh sugarcane juice. Women with cheeks daubed with a paste made of bark—the alluring Burmese sunblock—haggle with a fishmonger. In the street, bare-chested teenage boys in a circle play a rowdy game of chinlon, a sort of acrobatic Hacky Sack, while potbellied men in T-shirts and longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, sit on the sidewalk chewing red wads of betel nut.” [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, August 2011 <>]

“The carnival-like atmosphere doesn’t last. Night falls fast in the tropics, and the power shortages that plague Myanmar give the sudden transition a spooky edge. A decaying colonial-era government building goes black. The alleyway next door emits the bluish glow of television sets powered by portable generators. Under the trees the vendors are invisible, but candles illuminate their wares: circles of silvery fish, clusters of purple banana flowers, stacks of betel leaves. And lined up in a blue wooden case, pirated DVDs of American movies and music.”

Rural Life in Myanmar

Rural population: 66 percent of total population (2010) live mostly in 46,000 small villages scattered across the country. In the 1970s, Paul Theroux wrote in “The Great Railway Bazaar” that the highlands of Burma can be surprisingly cold, yet people still go barefoot, and wear thin clothes.

Women carry machetes balanced on their head. The main meal is often a plate of rice. Slingshots are now banned in Burma because students used them in 1988 demonstrations to shoot jingles , darts made from nails or sharpened bicycle spokes. [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

Describing his stop in an Irrawaddy river town, Kira Salak wrote in National Geographic: “The children look skinny…I take out a bag of candy from my backpack and hold it out to the children. “I come in peace,” I say. An adult approaches and encourages them to snatch a piece of candy. Before long, my bag is empty. Myitkangyi is a primitive village. It has no electricity or running water, no motorized vehicles, no telephones or paved roads. Everyone lives in thatch huts on stilts, and the only ground transportation is by oxcart. Like most villages along the river, it is self-sufficient, with its own blacksmith, carpenter, and wheelwright. I pitch my tent on a sandbank across from the village, and adults wander over to sit on their haunches and study me for hours. When I eat dinner in the boat, word goes out. Soon a large crowd has gathered, sighing in unison as I open a can of Coke, exclaiming if I drop something.” [Source: Kira Salak, National Geographic, May 2006]

Source from : http://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Myanmar/sub5_5c/entry-3066.html

Mythical landscape of Myanmar

Even before the days of British colonialism and the ‘exotic east’ writings of luminaries like Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and George Orwell, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) had long been a place of mystery and allure. With its legendary kingdoms, gorgeous landscapes, diverse people and fine examples of architectural and archaeological marvels, how could it not? These days, having re-joined the global community after 50 years of infamy at the hands of a ruling military junta, the Golden Land finds itself jumping onto an ever increasing number of traveler’s bucket lists. Given this, we were pleased to hear from Myanmar travel insider Bennett Stevens of Luminous Journeys. If this still largely untravelled destination doesn’t intrigue you already, what follows may well change that…

Yangon

Oddly anglicized to ‘Rangoon’ under British rule, Yangon is one of the great unsung cities of the world, and certainly the friendliest! The ‘Garden City of the East” is most famously known as the home of Myanmar’s holy of holy’s – the 2,500 year old Shwedagon Pagoda. At 325-feet in height & covered in 60 tons of gold, Shwedagon’s shimmering glory dominates the city skyline. Although Yangon is much more than Shwedagon. There are a host of fine exotic hotels and restaurants, a burgeoning arts scene, rare antiques shops, fascinating markets, and even the night life is surging with new energy, Yangon is truly an urban experience quite unlike anywhere else.

 

Bagan

The vast Buddhist temple-scape of Bagan, a legacy of devotion and monuments to power built by the Pagan Kings over several centuries, is not only a place of surreal wonder, but is without a doubt one of the greatest archaeological sites on earth. The 2,220 surviving temples (13,000 at its apex) can for the most part be explored quite freely. Modes of transport around the 40 square mile temple zone, include bus, car, bicycle, foot and hot air balloon!

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Mandalay

Don’t believe what your read on certain travel review sites. Sure, the city is a dusty trading hub, but there is much more to it than meets the average tourist’s eye. On his photo tours, National Geographic‘s Steve McCurry spends more time here than anyplace else. The Mandalay Array, as Luminous Journeys has dubbed it, is culturally and photographically rich indeed. Highlights include Myanmar’s 2nd holiest shrine, the Maha Muni gilded Buddha, the picturesque U Bein Bridge (the largest teak structure on earth), the massive, never completed temple of Mingun, the 600 monasteries and nunneries of the Holy Hills of Sagaing, and a whole lot more. Mandalay – as dusty as it may be – should not be overlooked.

Lake Inle

One of the most popular and beautiful places to visit in Myanmar, Lake Inle is best known for its unique fishermen, who row their dugout canoes standing with a single leg wrapped around a single oar. Despite the rise in tourism and the changing waterscape of expanding ‘floating gardens’, (the lake provides 70% of Myanmar’s tomatoes), Inle, with its wonderful water bungalow hotels and welcoming people, still maintains its palpable, yet indescribable magic.

“The Golden Rock” of Kyaiktiyo

Located about f ive hours by road from Yangon, The Golden Rock is Myanmar’s 3rd holiest shrine, behind Shwedagon Pagoda and the Maha Muni Buddha. The true history of this gilded wonder resting precariously on the precipice of a mountain outcrop, is as shrouded in mystery as Myanmar itself. Legend has it that what keeps it from tumbling a thousand feet into the gorge below, is a single hair of the Buddha!

The Lost City of Mrauk U

Mrauk U was the seat of power of the Arakan Empire that ruled vast coastal regions of western Myanmar and into India as far as the Ganges River. At its height the city was as wealthy, diverse and influential in the East as Amsterdam was contemporaneously in the West. The Arakan kings thought enough of their own well being to enlist Japanese Samurai as personal body guards! Mrauk U today, with its great temple fortresses serving as little more than exotic backdrops for a collection of small rural villages, has a surreal feel to it, especially when shrouded in morning mist. That the only access is by river adds even more of an adventure feel of visiting this lost dynastic capital.

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Kyaing Tong & the Golden Triangle

While well trodden Thailand has seen its tribal areas become over-touristed, this is far from the case in Myanmar. It is still quite possible to visit villages who very rarely, if ever, see foreigners, and some tribes are unique to Myanmar. It should be noted that during high season these days, the easier to reach villages will be expecting you! So, if you are looking to get seriously authentic, plan well, and make sure you have a guide who understands what you’re after.

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Hpa An

Hpa An is the photogenic capital of Kayin State on the Thanlwin River. About a 7-hour drive southeast from Yangon, the town is surrounded by Karst mountains and is great place for short, scenic treks. Outside of town there are seas of green rice paddies backed by Karst rock formations. Mt. Zwegabin is the most prominent “rock”, and can be climbed in a couple of fairly strenuous hours, but the views are a spectacular reward. The biggest draw of Hpa An for many, are the limestone caves in that serve as amazing natural Buddhist temple shrines.

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Putao & the Eastern Himalaya

The Myanmar Himalaya is virtually virgin territory, at least as far as foreign visitors go. The region is one of most  bio-unique in the world, with an average of 30 to 40 new species of flora and fauna discovered each year. Putao is the gateway to Himalayan trekking for true adventure types, and is reachable only by air. For the luxury minded, river rafting, short treks and bike jaunts are all available from the beautiful Malikha Lodge. Nothing like a delicious cocktail and a massage after a long day exploring.

9-malikha-lodge_Courtesy-Malikha-Lodge_Luminous-Journeys

 

The Beaches – Ngapali & Ngwe Saung

Ngapali is more than Myanmar’s most visited beach. Yes, it’s a lovely tropical beach on the Bay of Bengal, with requisite white sands, swaying palms, sashay masseuses and beachfront bungalows, but what really puts it over the top, is the spectacular seafood. Most of Myanmar’s sea gastronomy chefs are gathered here, all vying to win the affections of your taste bud arrays. Next you should head to Ngwe Saung. What this up and coming budget to luxury resort area has over Ngapali, is that it’s nine miles longer, has more locals than foreigners and is within driving distance of Yangon.

Sourced from : http://www.globalgrasshopper.com/destinations/asia/10-beautiful-places-visit-myanmar/

 

Pa-oh village, Myanmar

Unique Pa-oh People’s clothes

Black and navy blue are typical colors of Pa-oh people. Pa-oh men’s traditional outfit includes a turban, a white shirt, black or navy jacket and long black trousers. Women tradition outfit comprises five pieces; a blouse, a jacket, a longyi, that covers the knees, a turban and two hair pins. All of them pin a Pa-oh flag badge on to their jacket which represents the Zawgyi and Dragon. Read more Myanmar holidays.

Pa-oh women in their traditional clothes
Pa-oh women in their traditional clothes

The Fire Rocket Festival

The locals call fire rocket festival “Pway Lu-Phaing”. “Pway” means festival, “Lue” means donation and “Phaing” means to remove ours sins”. This festival takes place during the months of April to July.

As an agricultural country, Pa-oh people believe that celebrating this festival brings good rains during the planting season. It is believed that rockets help the clouds make rain. For one week, the unity of the big community is clearly shown as different villages gathering together. This is the most important festival of Pa-oh villagers. You can say that when you see how big the festival is: the largest rockets can contain the amount of gunpowder up to 20 kilograms. Only after being carried around the local temple is the rocket fired.

Interesting marriage custom

Like many other traditional Asian cultures, marriages in Pa-oh depends a lot in the parents. However, while lots of Asian cultures have changed in this modern life, Pa-oh people still follow the tradition. First of all, on behalf of their son, the man’s parents visit the young woman’s house to ask her parents. It takes 4 or 5 days for the woman family to make a decision. At the marriage ceremony, guests tie cotton threads around the wrists of both the bridegroom and bride. Do you want to join and ‘tie it up’ for them?

Pa-oh people enjoying meal at a weeding ceremony
Pa-oh people enjoying meal at a weeding ceremony

Inspiration from daily life

Apart from festivals and ceremonies, every day is the same at Pa-oh village. They wear the traditional dress and work on the field all day. Morning starts with hustle bustle of womenfolk preparing to go to work. Early morning, while the men chant their daily meditation before the family shrine, women cook and prepare food. The food for lunch is slung across their shoulders.  They do weeding and harrowing whole day long. This simple life still bring them happiness, which inspires visitors to stay positive.

Pa-oh people wear traditional dress even when they are working
Pa-oh people wear traditional dress even when they are working

No magnificent buildings, no crowded roads, no too many profitable services, Pa-oh village still attracts tourists from all over the world with its simplicity. Should you have a chance to be there, you will soon love the land, the people and their life.

Pa-oh people always feel happy even with an extremely simple life
Pa-oh people always feel happy even with an extremely simple life

Sourced from here

THE FASCINATING “LONG NECK” PEOPLE OF MYANMAR

The Kayan Lahwi hill tribe of Myanmar has always attracted curiosity from people world over for their unique characteristic of wearing brass coils around their neck, which tends to elongate their neck. They are also, popularly known as the “long neck” people or “giraffe” tribe. While wearing the ring around their neck stems from different interpretations of myths and mythologies- some bizarre and some fascinating, the practice of wearing these brass rings has become sacrosanct to their identity. Women of the tribe start wearing the brass coils around their neck as young as when they are 2 years old and as they continue to grow up, the coils are replaced by a longer one and more turns are added. They seldom remove it, however, the women of the younger generation have recently protested against the practice to continue their education and to fight against the exploitation of their culture and the restrictions that came with it. Some people and studies support the claim that the coil gives an illusion of an elongated neck but does not actually elongate it. If the neck was actually elongated, it is not possible for a person to survive. However, they have been recorded on the Guinness Book of World Records to having the longest neck at 40cms. Apart from the coil around their neck, their traditional outfit and ornaments on their petite stature is also very striking. A lot of focus is given to their ring wearing practice but this hill tribe village also draws attention to itself through its subsistence rice farmers, its warm and friendly people, its women still wearing traditional outfits and ornaments, their rituals and traditions, their skills such as weaving, basket making, wood carving and their handicrafts and other handmade produce – clothing, head gear, musical instruments, betel nut boxes and animal bells, which they also sell to tourists as souvenirs.  The staple diet of the Karen people is fish and rice, which they source for themselves through farming and fishing. Karen language is written in Burmese script and is among the Sino- Tibetan languages and has a subject-object-verb order. They practice Buddhism and Christianity but the Christian Karens faced more oppression in Myanmar because of their religious faith in a predominantly Buddhist country. The Karen people of Myanmar live isolated in the northern hills of Thailand in refugee camps and their home is a popular tourist destination. So much so that their source of income from tourist visits is meagre for them to sustain a livelihood, separate from the earlier military regime of Myanmar. They have suffered oppression incessantly at the hands of the military regime in Burma by way of denial of citizenship, political representation, status and basic human rights. They may have a better life in the refugee camps in Thailand but some of them still carry a hope of returning to their homeland someday, of getting a status and of a life that helps them overcome the struggle of living in a modern world and the day to day challenges of making ends meet. Despite their legal status, the atrocities and hardships that they have been through and the challenges that they face living in an archaic boundary, these people are friendly, accepting, respectful, warm and welcoming.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Kayan Lahwi hill tribe of Myanmar has always attracted curiosity from people world over for their unique characteristic of wearing brass coils around their neck, which tends to elongate their neck. They are also, popularly known as the “long neck” people or “giraffe” tribe. While wearing the ring around their neck stems from different interpretations of myths and mythologies- some bizarre and some fascinating, the practice of wearing these brass rings has become sacrosanct to their identity.

Women of the tribe start wearing the brass coils around their neck as young as when they are 2 years old and as they continue to grow up, the coils are replaced by a longer one and more turns are added. They seldom remove it, however, the women of the younger generation have recently protested against the practice to continue their education and to fight against the exploitation of their culture and the restrictions that came with it.

Photo By Steve Evans Lic By CC BY 2.0
Photo By Steve Evans Lic By CC BY 2.0

Some people and studies support the claim that the coil gives an illusion of an elongated neck but does not actually elongate it. If the neck was actually elongated, it is not possible for a person to survive. However, they have been recorded on the Guinness Book of World Records to having the longest neck at 40cms. Apart from the coil around their neck, their traditional outfit and ornaments on their petite stature is also very striking.

A lot of focus is given to their ring wearing practice but this hill tribe village also draws attention to itself through its subsistence rice farmers, its warm and friendly people, its women still wearing traditional outfits and ornaments, their rituals and traditions, their skills such as weaving, basket making, wood carving and their handicrafts and other handmade produce – clothing, head gear, musical instruments, betel nut boxes and animal bells, which they also sell to tourists as souvenirs.

The staple diet of the Karen people is fish and rice, which they source for themselves through farming and fishing. Karen language is written in Burmese script and is among the Sino- Tibetan languages and has a subject-object-verb order. They practice Buddhism and Christianity but the Christian Karens faced more oppression in Myanmar because of their religious faith in a predominantly Buddhist country.

The Karen people of Myanmar live isolated in the northern hills of Thailand in refugee camps and their home is a popular tourist destination. So much so that their source of income from tourist visits is meagre for them to sustain a livelihood, separate from the earlier military regime of Myanmar. They have suffered oppression incessantly at the hands of the military regime in Burma by way of denial of citizenship, political representation, status and basic human rights. They may have a better life in the refugee camps in Thailand but some of them still carry a hope of returning to their homeland someday, of getting a status and of a life that helps them overcome the struggle of living in a modern world and the day to day challenges of making ends meet.

Despite their legal status, the atrocities and hardships that they have been through and the challenges that they face living in an archaic boundary, these people are friendly, accepting, respectful, warm and welcoming.

5 colorful markets of Yangon

Bogyoke Aung San Market

A preserved food stall at Bogyoke Aung San Market. Pic: Kirk Siang/flickr
A preserved food stall at Bogyoke Aung San Market. Pic: Kirk Siang/flickr

This 70-year-old market, also known as Scott Market, sprawls over a couple of levels along Bogyoke Aung San Road. It’s probably the best known tourist market and a pleasant shopping experience. A trip here is a great chance to shop for handicrafts, food, and jewelry while chatting with locals. You can also haggle for the best prices if you spot something you like. There are some 2,000 shops here selling anything from souvenirs to their famed lacquerware, Shan shoulder bags, puppets, slippers and gems.

Theingyi Zay (Market), Latha township

One of Yangon’s most colorful quarters, and indeed one of the most unique markets in Asia, the Theingyi Zay should be on your itinerary in Yangon. It’s not just the food that stands out, but also the local architecture and charming locals you meet. The market was first built in 1905 and is the biggest local market in the city. Roughly 1,100 shops and stalls make up the traditional wet and dry market that sells anything from fishery products to dry commodities and textiles. Rice, fish paste, clothing, cosmetics, raw herbal medicines, beeswax and toys can be found in the shops inside the existing building as well as the blocks and streets around.

Anawrahta Road Night Market

Skewered meat for sale at the Anawrahta Road Night Market. Pic: Cho Shane/flickr
Skewered meat for sale at the Anawrahta Road Night Market. Pic: Cho Shane/flickr

This central night market is one of the busiest in the city and uniquely atmospheric due to poor lighting that could range from a dim fluorescent lights to a few candles. While you might not exactly be able to see clearly what you’re buying, it’s a fun place to shop. The market starts before sunset as people return home. Fish, chicken and pork are sold right on the roadside, by colorful piles of vegetables, fruit and flowers.

Chinatown

The Chinatown district in Yangon lies west of Sule Pagoda in the downtown part of the city. It takes in 18th Street through to 24th and is streaming with traffic, pedestrians, shops and markets. Roadside stalls serve snacks that sizzle and bubble and are as popular with tourists as they are with the locals. There are gold and jewelry stores, cyber cafes, restaurants, temples and fruit vendors. The narrow streets leading off the main roads are a warren featuring baskets, paper goods, crafts, flowers and even songbirds.

Thiri Mingalar Market

Stacks of fresh produce at Thiri Mingalar Market. Pic: Where Would You Go
Stacks of fresh produce at Thiri Mingalar Market. Pic: Where Would You Go

Lying just outside the sprawling madness of central Yangon is Thiri Mingalar Market featuring an array of fresh produce from around the country. Chaotic, smelly and lively, you might stumble across mounds of cabbages, racks of bananas, trays of watermelons or piles of flowers. Crowds of trucks, tuk tuks, bicycles, laborers and shoppers create an energetic bustle arond Thiri Mingala. It’s a must see for tourists, and a great place to capture some colorful photographs.

Sourced from link

Akha Tribes

Sourced from wikipedia

The Akha are an ethnic group known to be originated in China and Tibet. Most of the remaining Akha people are now distributed in small villages among the mountains of China, Laos, Myanmar and northern Thailand, where they are one of the six main hill tribes. In Myanmar, most of the Akhas are found in the Shan State. They usually make their villages in the hill regions.

In an Akha village, the dwellings are made with the traditional thatched roofs. The Akha generally live in bamboo houses raised on low wooden stilts in hilly areas, where they subsist through a slash and burn rotation method of agriculture. They are expert farmers and hunters. There is controversy as to whether they are responsible for deforestation or actually preserve the environment, and over development projects which some regard as taking away the Akha’s land.

In more touristed areas, the Akha will often supplement their income through the sale of handicrafts and woven clothing made using traditional skills.

Facial Tattoos of Myanmar’s Chin Tribe

Facial-Tattoos-of-Myanmar’s-Chin-Tribe_main

The Chin tribes of Myanmar, near the Bangladesh border and Mrauk U, are most notable for the intricate ink detail covering their faces. These are a people of facial tattoos, and I journeyed to this corner of Asia in an attempt to discover why exactly they undergo such a process, which seems extreme in Western culture. (Watch the video below to hear their answers firsthand).

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A Chin woman with distinctive facial tattoos.

I traveled to the remote tribal villages of the Chin State, which would normally require an arduous seven-hour overland journey from Bagan to Mindat — with very poor accommodation options along the way. However, an easier route into the tattooed world of Chin women exists, if you consider using the ancient kingdom of Mrauk U in Rakhine State as a base. It’s about 3.5 hours up river from Mrauk U and its eerie, endless and spectacular temples. Here, the population are primarily Chin, being located near the border with Southern Chin State. This experience can be done as a day trip, so travelers would be returning in the late afternoon to the comfort of the Princess Resort.

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Traditional sailboat on the Kaladan River.

To get to Mrauk U, you can fly from Yangon to Sittwe, an area that is 40 percent Muslim — then take a four- hour boat ride up the Kaladan River.

 

I woke up early and drove to the Lay Myo River, where I took a small local boat upriver towards my destination. As we floated along, I gazed at villages of fishermen and farmers and many traditional sail boats, most of them Muslim people living in Myanmar since British colonial days.

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A friendly Chin woman that invited us into her home.

We eventually reached the first Chin tribal village, where my guide was well-known, having sponsored the son of one family though school, who later became a teacher. Thanks to this bond, we were readily welcomed into the family home where we discovered no less than four women with tattooed faces. They told me how they were tattooed when they were just nine years old, and how it was an ancient custom to do so, in order to prevent invaders from stealing away the local women (dinner and a movie aren’t the norm here for some odd reason).

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Facial tattooing took a full day to complete.

The tattooing took over a day to complete and was extremely painful, especially the tender eyelid area. Each area of Chin state has a distinct tattoo pattern, so it is actually possible to discern where a woman comes from by the pattern on her face. It is this kind of ancillary information that makes so much of what we think we understand about Myanmar’s hill tribes almost irrelevant. This is life. This is their reality.

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This Chin family readily welcomed me into their home.

The practice is no longer permitted by the Burmese authorities, nor is the younger generation interested in partaking in the custom. Therefore, this part of Chin culture will soon be gone, yet I was able to witness the last living generation to embrace this custom. I left feeling very fortunate indeed.

 

 

The Hill Tribes of Myanmar

Hill-tribes_woman‘Myanmar’ is the new name of Burma. In 1989, the political leaders of the country changed it (in “Burmese”, the national language of the country, Burma is spelled as ‘Myanmar’). Located in the South East Asia, Burma is also known as the land of Pagodas. There are many Buddhist shrines spanning the mainland. Burma is naturally alienated by mountains on its three sides.

Bagan, the capital city of Burma is perhaps the most affluent places of the country. It is loaded with over 2000 Stupas and pagodas. After the devastating earthquake in 1975, the restorations of the historical structures have not been completed till date.

The Burmans comprise the two third of the total population in Myanmar. It is said that about a thousand years ago, the precursors of the Burmans came down, from the mountains of southern China, to Myanmar. They started living with the people previously dwelling in the land harmoniously.

Apart from the Burmans, there are also other ethnic tribes in Myanmar. The Chin, the Kachin, the Shan, the Karen and the Mon are the other groups of ethnic tribes who live in the hilly regions of the land. Most of them do not subscribe to the Central Government of Myanmar (erstwhile Burma). However, the total population of the country also encompasses other ethic groups such as Indians, Bangladeshis and Chinese.

About Myanmar – Its History & Culutre

Orientation

Identification.The name of the country of Burma (or Myanmar, as it is now officially known) is associated with the dominant ethnic group, the Burmese. Because of the current regime’s lack of legitimacy and poor human rights record, it is common practice outside the country not to use the name Myanmar. The country fell under British colonial rule during the nineteenth century. When it became independent as the Union of Burma in 1948, the country almost immediately entered a state of civil war as ethnic minorities fought against the Burmese-dominated central government. Insurgencies by some ethnic groups continue. In 1962, the military leader Ne Win seized power. His regime sought to isolate the nation and institute nationalist policies under the label “the Burmese Road to Socialism.” In 1972, the name of the country was changed to the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. After civil unrest in 1988, the military government changed the name to the Union of Myanmar.

Efforts to create a broadly shared sense of national identity have been only partly successful because of the regime’s lack of legitimacy and tendency to rely on coercion and threats to secure the allegiance of non-Burmese groups. The low level of education and poor communications infrastructure also limit the spread of a national culture.

burma culture

Location and Geography.The state has an area of 261,789 square miles (678,034 square kilometers). It is bordered by Bangladesh to the west, India and China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east. The southern portion faces the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. The middle portion centers on the Irrawaddy River, with a large delta area at its mouth and the area above the delta featuring floodplains. Most of the population and agricultural lands are found along the Irrawaddy, which is navigable for about one-thousand miles. The western, northern, and eastern regions have mountains and high valleys and plateaus. The western region has the Arakan, Chin, and Naga hills. The most important geographic feature to the east is the Shan Plateau. The Burmese live primarily in the central lowlands, while the other ethnic groups live mainly in the highlands. Under British rule, the political capital was moved from Mandalay in the center to Rangoon on the eastern edge of the Irrawaddy delta in 1885. That city was built in 1755 and named Dagon. Rangoon remained the capital after independence (its name was changed later to Yangon) and continues to be politically and economically the most important city. Both Rangoon and Mandalay lie within the area occupied primarily by Burmese peoples, although both cities have a significant Indian population as a legacy of British rule.

Orientation

Identification.The name of the country of Burma (or Myanmar, as it is now officially known) is associated with the dominant ethnic group, the Burmese. Because of the current regime’s lack of legitimacy and poor human rights record, it is common practice outside the country not to use the name Myanmar. The country fell under British colonial rule during the nineteenth century. When it became independent as the Union of Burma in 1948, the country almost immediately entered a state of civil war as ethnic minorities fought against the Burmese-dominated central government. Insurgencies by some ethnic groups continue. In 1962, the military leader Ne Win seized power. His regime sought to isolate the nation and institute nationalist policies under the label “the Burmese Road to Socialism.” In 1972, the name of the country was changed to the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. After civil unrest in 1988, the military government changed the name to the Union of Myanmar.

Efforts to create a broadly shared sense of national identity have been only partly successful because of the regime’s lack of legitimacy and tendency to rely on coercion and threats to secure the allegiance of non-Burmese groups. The low level of education and poor communications infrastructure also limit the spread of a national culture.

Location and Geography.The state has an area of 261,789 square miles (678,034 square kilometers). It is bordered by Bangladesh to the west, India and China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east. The southern portion faces the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. The middle portion centers on the Irrawaddy River, with a large delta area at its mouth and the area above the delta featuring floodplains. Most of the population and agricultural lands are found along the Irrawaddy, which is navigable for about one-thousand miles. The western, northern, and eastern regions have mountains and high valleys and plateaus. The western region has the Arakan, Chin, and Naga hills. The most important geographic feature to the east is the Shan Plateau. The Burmese live primarily in the central lowlands, while the other ethnic groups live mainly in the highlands. Under British rule, the political capital was moved from Mandalay in the center to Rangoon on the eastern edge of the Irrawaddy delta in 1885. That city was built in 1755 and named Dagon. Rangoon remained the capital after independence (its name was changed later to Yangon) and continues to be politically and economically the most important city. Both Rangoon and Mandalay lie within the area occupied primarily by Burmese peoples, although both cities have a significant Indian population as a legacy of British rule.

Demography.The official population figure in 1995 was 44.74 million, but it may range from 41.7 million to 47 million. Linguists have identified 110 distinct ethnolinguistic groups, and the government recognizes 135 ethnic groups (referred to as races). The Burmese account for about 68 percent of the population. Other major ethnic groups include the Shan (about four million), Karen (about three million), Arakanese or Rakhine (about two million), Chinese (over one million), Chin (over one million), Wa (about one million), Mon (about one million), Indians and Bengalis (about one million), Jingpho (about less than one million), and Palaung (less than one million). With the exception of the Chinese, Indian, and Belgalis, each minority group occupies a relatively distinct area.

Linguistic Affiliation.Burmese is a Tibeto-Burman language whose alphabet is derived from south Indian scripts. The largest ethnic group that speaks Burmese is the Myanma; there is a smaller Burmese-speaking ethnic group known as Baramagyi (or Barua). A few regional dialects of Burmese are associated with subgroups. Closely related Southern Burmish languages include Arakanese, Intha, and Taungyo (or Tavoyan). Burmese is the national language. It is spoken as a second language by most educated members of other ethnic groups, but some of those groups have little contact with the national language. Many educated urban residents speak English as a second language, but English is not widely spoken among the population as a whole. The teaching of English in schools was banned from 1966 to 1980. Shan is as an important second language for many ethnic groups in Shan State, while Jingpho is spoken as a second language by many smaller ethnic groups in Kachin State.

Symbolism.Since 1962, the government has used an array of slogans urging discipline and support for the regime and the military. The promotion of nationalist sentiments through the media, public events, and the display of related images is especially marked on holidays. Among architectural sites with national symbolism, two of the most important are the archaeological site of the old capital of Pagan andShwedagon Pagodain Rangoon.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation.The earliest civilizations associated with what is now Burma were the Mon (also called Taliang) in the south and the Pyu in central Burma which flourished during the first half of the first millennium. The Mon were strongly influenced by Indian culture through trade and the Buddhist religion. The Pyu went into decline in the 800s. Around that time, the ancestors of the Burmese, known as Mranma, settled to the south of Mandalay. With the former Pyu city of Pagan (known as Arimadanapura) as his capital, the Burmese ruler Anaw-rahta (ruled 1044–1077) founded the first Burmese kingdom. His conquest of Thaton resulted in the spread of Theravada Buddhism and the adoption of many aspects of Indian-inspired Mon art and architecture. The lowland area along the Irrawaddy River under the control of Pagan often is referred to as “Burma Proper,” since it is the heartland of the region that has been most securely under Burmese rule. In the late 1200s, Pagan declined and the Burmese lost control over much of the territory. Over the next few centuries, the Burmese slowly regained control over portions of lowland Burma from their new capital of Pegu. However, the Mon remained independent until 1539 and the Arakanese until 1784, while most of the upland territory occupied by the Shan was outside their control or only loosely under Burmese domination. The capital was moved to Ava during the reign of King Tha-lun (1629–1648).burma culture 2

During the reign of Ling Alaung-hpaya (1752–1760), a new dynasty was founded known as the Kon-baung, and the Burmese began a new period of military expansion. The Mon were conquered again, Burmese migration into Mon territory was instituted, and many Mon were resettled in the western Irrawaddy delta. Burmese migrants were sent to the east to serve as a barrier against the Shan. Efforts at expansion beyond the lowland area met with little success.

In the early nineteenth century, incursions into border areas to the west brought Burmese rulers into conflict with the British in India, leading to the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1824. At the end of the war in 1826, the Burmese were forced to give up claims to territories in eastern India and a portion of southern Burma that included territories associated largely with non-Burmese ethnic groups. Continued poor relations resulted in the loss of the province of Pegu. This territory became known as Lower Burma. Although foreign relations improved under the reign of King Min-don (1853–1878), unstable conditions following his death and Prince Thibaw’s overtures to the French led the British to invade Upper Burma again in 1885. In the face of local resistance that lasted until 1890, the British established colonial rule over not only the lowland territory but the Shan states as well. Over the next few decades, the British tried to bring the other highland areas under their control, but some territories remained free throughout the colonial period.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the British implemented reforms aimed at granting eventual self-rule. The proindependence forces were not unified, and there was infighting between factions. In addition to sporadic anti-British violence, nationalist sentiments took on a Burmese ethnic tone that resulted in violent outbursts against local Indians and Chinese. Burma was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. The British returned toward the end of the war, but the colony quickly moved toward independence. An independent Union of Burma was declared in 1948 under Prime Minister U Nu. It was a fragile new nation beset by political infighting and civil war involving ethnic minorities and communists backed by China.

National Identity.Before colonial rule, Burma consisted essentially of the central lowland areas and a few conquered peoples, with highland peoples only nominally under Burmese control. The British brought most of the highlands peoples loosely under their control but allowed highland minorities to retain a good deal of their own identity. This situation changed after independence as the Burmese-dominated central government attempted to assert control over the highland peoples. Despite continued resistance to the central government, those in the lowland areas and the larger settlements in the highlands have come to share more of a common national culture. The spread of Burmese language usage is an important factor in this regard.

Ethnic Relations.The majority of the people speak Tibeto-Burman languages. Tibeto-Burman speakers in Burma can be divided into six distinct groups. The Burmish constitute the largest of these groups by population. Nungish speakers live in upland areas in Kachin State. The main Baric-speaking group is the Jingpho in Kachin State. The Kuki-Naga-speaking peoples include a large number of ethnic groups in the mountains along the border with India and Bangladesh. The Luish group includes the Kado, who live near the border with the Indian state of Manipur. The Karen groups live in the hills along the border with Thailand and the southern lowlands. The Lolo-speaking groups tend to be the most recent immigrants to Burma; they live in the highlands of Shan and Kachin states.

There are also large numbers of speakers of Austro-Tai languages. The largest Daic-speaking group is the Shan, who constitute the majority in Shan State. Smaller, related groups include the Tai Khun, Lue, Tai Nua, and Khamti. Other Austro-Tai speakers include the Austronesian-speaking Moken and small groups of Hmong and Mien in Shan State.

Under the British, ethnic minorities generally were able to retain some autonomy. Negotiations for independence after World War II brought suspicions among the political leaders of several ethnic minorities that their status would be undermined. Immediately after independence in 1948, serious divisions emerged between Burmese and non-Burmese political leaders, who favored a less unified state. Between 1948 and 1962, armed conflicts broke out between some of these minority groups and the central government. Although some groups signed peace accords with the central government in the late 1980s and early 1990s, others are still engaged in armed conflict. The Wa have signed a peace agreement but have retained a great deal of autonomy and control of much of the drug trade in northern Burma.

Military operations in ethnic minority areas and government policies of forced resettlement and forced labor have dislocated many ethnic groups, and have caused large numbers of refugees to flee to neighboring countries. At present there are around three hundred thousand refugees in Thailand, Bangladesh, and India, mostly from ethnic minorities.

Before independence, Indians were a dominant presence in urban-centered commercial activities. With the outbreak of World War II, a large number of Indians left for India before the Japanese occupation. Through the 1950s, Indians continued to leave in the face of ethnic antagonism and antibusiness policies. The Indians remaining in Burma have been treated with suspicion but have avoided overt opposition to the regime.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

About 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Rangoon has a population of 4 million, and Mandalay has almost 1 million residents. The ethnic composition of Rangoon and Mandalay is over-whelmingly Burmese, although these cities are also where most of the Indian population lives.

Architecture reflects the country’s Buddhist and colonial heritage. Buddhist temples are the most important architectural features throughout the country. The Buddhist temple serves as a religious school, a community center, a guest house, a place where the government and other agencies post information, a site for sports activities, a center for welfare services for those who are poor and ill, a morgue, and a center for music and dance. It also carries out economic services such as providing loans and renting lands and homes. Temples are also important in urban areas. While most temples in central Burma are Burmese in style, the temples of Shan State tend to have a distinctive look that is referred to as the Shan style. Temples tend to be surrounded by small shops that sell sacred and secular items.

The traditional house is made largely of bamboo. Flattened pieces of bamboo made into large plaited sections are used to make the walls. The floors are made of bamboo planks or wood. The frame of the house is made of wood, with hard and durable wood being used for the house posts. Roof coverings are made of a variety of materials, includingthatchmade from broad-leafed grass or palm fronds. Roofs may be covered with tiles, wooden shingles, or zinc sheets. The front of the house usually has a veranda that is raised a few feet off the ground. This is the public area where guests are entertained. The center of the house is the living area for the family. Behind it is a covered cooking area where rice is stored. Especially in urban areas, these houses are being replaced by more generic ones made from cement.

Some ethnic minorities have distinctive styles of houses. Many Palaung traditionally lived in multiple-family houses. Today, these structures are very rare, and most Palaung live in single-family houses.

Food and Economy

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Food in Daily Life.Rice is the staple food except among those in highland areas where rice is difficult to grow. In those areas, rice, millet, sorghum, and corn are the staples. Rice is accompanied by a raw salad of leaves, fruit, or vegetables; a soup; and curries of fish, meat, prawns, or eggs. In addition to turmeric and chili, curries are seasoned with fermented fish or shrimp paste. A variety of cultivated vegetables and wild greens are eaten as well as bamboo shoots. Meals often are accompanied by lentils, pickled relishes, andbalachaung(made from fried dry prawns). There are a variety of rice-noodle dishes. After a meal, it is common to eat fresh fruit.

Burmese traditionally eat a morning meal and an evening meal that is taken before dark. The meals are served in a large platter or on a low table, with members of the household sitting on mats. Food is eaten with the fingers, although sometimes utensils are used. It is common to drink water and eat fruit after the main meal. Throughout the day people eat betel and smoke tobacco. Burmese not only drink tea made from dried tea leaves but also eat pickled tea as a snack. Other snacks include chappatis, fried insects, and Chinese pastries.

Tea shops are found in every city, town, and large village. These establishments are important locales for social gathering. Street stalls sell a variety of foods in the cities and towns. Relatively few restaurants serve Burmese food. The majority serve Indian or Chinese food, and English food is served in many hotels and guest houses.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions.Feasting and sharing food are an important feature of traditional agricultural and religious rites. Often special foods are prepared for those occasions.Htamane,which is served during the rice harvest festival February, is made of glutinous rice mixed with sesame seeds, peanuts, shredded ginger, and coconut. Alcoholic beverages are drunk during some secular festivities but are not drunk during most religious festivals. In urbanized areas, commercial beer and other forms of alcohol are consumed, while in more remote rural areas, locally made alcohol is more common. Alcoholic drinks are made from fermented palm juice and a distilled rice-based solution. Fermented grain-based alcoholic drinks are more commonly consumed among highland groups.

Basic Economy.The economy is dominated by agriculture, which accounts for over 59 percent of the gross domestic product and employs about two-thirds of the labor force. Rice is the main product. Production declined after independence but increased during the late 1970s and early 1980s because of the introduction of high-yielding varieties, fertilizer, and irrigation. Since that time, production has barely kept pace with population growth, and Burma, once the world’s leading exporter of rice, is barely able to meet subsistence needs of its own population. It continues to export some rice to earn foreign exchange. The production of narcotics from poppies and other sources is widespread in the northern highlands, and Burma is the world’s leading supplier of opiates.

Land Tenure and Property.In areas under Burmese rule, land traditionally was held on the basis of service to the court and could be leased or sold and passed on to one’s heirs; it also could be taken away by the court. In more remote areas, land ownership tended to be related to continual cultivation and occupancy. Under the British, private ownership became widespread in the central areas and a system of land taxation was introduced in which failure to pay property taxes could result in the loss of land. Before World War II, in the southern delta area absentee ownership of productive land was widespread. In the central area, agricultural land tended to be in the hands of small-scale owner-producers. Shortly after independence, the government passed a landnationalizationact that was intended to turn land owned by wealthy landlords over to those who worked the land. However, that act was not implemented. A second act passed in 1954 met with only partial success.

The revolutionary government that seized power in 1962 nationalized the larger commercial and manufacturing establishments, including those of Indian traders. This created a large black market economy as people attempted to circumvent government control of commerce. The revolutionary government attempted to remove the landlord class and turned all land over to peasant producers while retaining ultimate ownership for itself. In practice, agricultural tenancy was not eliminated, and producers had the added burden of state intervention. After 1988, the government allowed a greater role for the private sector and foreign investment. While these reforms have allowed greater private ownership, considerable insecurity remains among those who own property.

Commercial Activities.Since 1992, the military regimes have emphasized self-sufficiency and tried to limit imports. The largest companies and financial institutions are state-owned, with the private sector limited mainly to small-scale trading. In recent years, however, more imported goods, especially from China, have appeared in local markets and there has been growth in the private sector. The main cities and many smaller towns have one or more central markets that sell a wide variety of domestic and imported goods, including clothing and cloth, tobacco, food, baskets, jewelry, toiletries, and electronic goods. There are also specialized markets, such as the iron bazaar in Rangoon’s Chinatown.

Major Industries.Industrial production focuses on goods for local consumption, although a handful of factories produce for exportation. Local industries include textiles and footwear, wood processing, mining, the production of construction materials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer manufacturing. Although the country has substantial gem, oil, and natural gas reserves, extraction and processing capabilities are limited. There is a small tourist industry. There has been a dramatic growth in the number of hotels built since the introduction of economic reforms. Travel restrictions and poor infrastructure have concentrated the tourist industry in a few areas.

Trade.Legal exports include timber, rice, beans and pulses, fish, garments, precious stones, and rice. Legal imports include construction materials, plant equipment, and consumer goods. The difference in the value of imports and exports is covered in large part by revenue from narcotics and other illegal exports. Under British colonial rule, Burma was the world’s leading exporter of rice, and rice remains the major legal export. Logging was also important in the colonial economy, but excessive harvesting and poor forestry management have resulted in a sharp drop in the availability of teak. China, Thailand, and India are their main markets for timber, but most wood is exported illegally. Burma is famous for rubies and jade, but since 1962, a lack of capital and expertise has hindered that industry. As with timber, most ruby and jade exports go through illegal channels.

Burma is the world’s largest supplier of illegal opiates (opium and heroin), and the export of amphetamines has increased. Money from the illegal narcotics trade plays a crucial role in the national economy and in keeping the regime solvent. Much of the production of illegal narcotics, however, is in the hands of ethnic rebels in Shan State. Recent peace accords between the government and some rebel groups have given the regime access to income from narcotics.

Thailand and India are Burma’s primary sources of legal and illegal imported goods. Small amounts are also imported from other neighboring countries such as India, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Division of Labor.There is little specialization in the agricultural sector. Small-scale commercial trading is done by both men and women, with men being primarily responsible for the transportation of goods. Ethnic Indians and Chinese are an important segment in commercial trading, but many Burmese and others are involved in commercial activities. Few tasks or professions are the monopoly of a single ethnic group. There are various forms of traditional craft specialization. This includes making lacquer ware, stone working, fine wood carving, and working with metal. Modern technical professions such as medicine and engineering are related to one’s level of education and specialized training. Those in the higher levels of commerce and administration generally come from the families of prominent members of the regime, and connections with the regime are important factors in amassing wealth and power.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes.Not only is poverty widespread, there is marked inequality. Essentially, the society is divided into a tiny elite, a fairly small middle class, and a large number of very poor people. While there are traditional elites within most of the ethnic groups and new elites in some groups whose wealth comes from smuggling, the national elite is overwhelmingly Burmese. In recent years income from the narcotics trade has been an important source of wealth for members of the elite. Although some segments of the middle class have prospered from the economic reforms of the late 1980s, most have not done well and remain poor.

Political Life

Government.The military has ruled the country since 1962. In the face of growing opposition to the government and its socialist policies, Ne Win and President San Yu resigned in July 1988, and widespread civil unrest followed. General Saw Muang formed a new military regime known as theState Law and Order Restoration Council(SLORC) and abolished much of the socialist system. Elections were held for the 485-member People’s Assembly in 1990. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won 396 seats, while the military-backed party won only 10. The People’s Assembly was never convened, and many of its leaders were arrested or forced into exile. The military began drafting a new constitution in 1992, but this task has not been completed. The regime changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997. The council includes a chairman and twenty other members. The government formed by the council consists of a prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, and thirty-seven ministers.

Leadership and Political Officials.Political leadership revolves around political intrigues and struggles for power within the military. From 1962 until 1988, General Ne Win was the dominant political figure, with other officers and their associates jockeying for positions underneath him. General Than Swe’s hold on power since 1988 has been far less absolute. The officers holding positions in SLORC/SPDC tend to be roughly the same age and have roughly similar backgrounds and values.

The National League for Democracy is led byAung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of theassassinatedindependence leader Aung San. She is currently under house arrest in Rangoon. The majority of the small inner circle around Aung San Suu Kyi are former military officers and associates or followers of Aung San. Both the regime and its leading opponents therefore form a small political elite.

There is an ethnic dimension to political office holding and leadership. The 1948 and 1962 governments were predominantly Burmese in composition and pursued pro-Burmese policies. Those policies sparked ethnic insurgencies led by ethnic elites, and the situation deteriorated when the regime passed a law in 1983 that created three tiers of citizenship rights based largely on ethnicity. At the bottom was a category of “other races” that included naturalized immigrants, mainly from India and China, whose ancestors arrived during the colonial period. Those assigned to this tier cannot run for political office or hold senior government posts. The 1988 regime signed peace accords with most of the insurgent groups, but national leadership has remained in the hands of the Burmese.

Social Problems and Control.The authoritarian military regime has been harsh in its treatment of ethnic minorities and rules by decree, without a constitution or legislature. The regime systematically violates human rights and suppresses all forms of opposition. The judiciary is not independent of the military regime, which appoints justices to the supreme court. These justices then appoint lower court judges with the approval of the regime. Prison conditions are harsh and life-threatening. The regime reinforces its rule with a pervasive security apparatus led by a military intelligence organization known as the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI). The regime engages in surveillance of government employees and private citizens, harassment of political activists, intimidation, arrest, detention, and physical abuse. The movements and communications of citizens are monitored, homes are searched without warrants, and people are forcibly relocated without compensation. There is no provision for judicial determination of the legality of detention. Before being charged, detainees rarely have access to legal counsel or their families. Political detainees have no opportunity to obtain bail, and some are held incommunicado for long periods. After being charged, detainees rarely have counsel. In ethnic minority areas, human rights abuses are widespread, including extrajudicial killings and rape. The regime justifies its actions as being necessary to maintain order and national unity.

Although the regime officially recognizes the NLD, political rights are limited. There is virtually no right of assembly or association. Intimidation of NLD supporters forced the party to close its offices throughout the country. Opponents of the regime have disappeared and been arrested. Detainees often face torture, beatings, and other forms of abuse. There is little academic or religious freedom. Under the 1974 constitution, the regime required religious organizations to register with it. Religious meetings are monitored, and religious publications are subject to censorship and control. Buddhist monastic orders are under the authority of the state-sponsored State Clergy Coordination Committee. The regime has attempted to promote Buddhism and suppress other religions in ethnic minority areas. Workers’ rights are restricted, unions are banned, and forced labor for public works and to produce food and other goods and perform other services for the military is common. Military personnel routinely confiscate livestock, fuel, food supplies, alcoholic drinks, and money from civilians.

Military Activity.Since 1962, the military (theTatmadaw) has been the dominant political and economic force, with a large proportion of the population serving in the armed forces since the 1960s. In 1985, there were an estimated 186,000 men and women in the military; another 73,000 were in the People’s Police Force and 35,000 served in the People’s Militia. Reflecting the country’s poverty and international isolation, the military is poorly armed and trained. Direct spending on the military declined from about 33 percent in the early 1970s to about 21 percent in 1987, representing less than 4 percent of the gross domestic product. This decline in personnel and expenditure was reversed in 1988. By 1997, the military had grown to over 350,000 and military spending had increased greatly. At present, military spending by the government is greater than nonmilitary spending. Military officers and their families play an important role in economic affairs outside the formal activities of the military. This is true both in the formal economy through government economic entities and in the black market, especially narcotics smuggling. The military’s formal role includes intimidation of the population and waging war against ethnic insurgents.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender.Both men and women do agricultural work, but individual tasks are often gender-specific. Men prepare the land for planting and sow seeds, and women transplant rice seedlings. Harvesting is done by both men and women. Men thresh the rice. Most domestic work is done by women. During ceremonies, however, men are involved in food preparation. A variety of traditional handicrafts are made within the household or by specialists. Items of metal, wood, or stone generally are made by men, and weaving usually is done by women. Pottery, basketry, plaiting, making lacquerware, and making umbrellas can be done by men or women. Small-scale market selling and itinerant trading are conducted by both sexes. Transportation of goods or people by animal, carts, boat, or motor vehicle is done mainly by men. Religious specialists and traditional curers generally are male, but sometimes they are female. Spirit mediums can be male or female. Traditional theatrical and musical performances involve both genders. Women work mainly in teaching and nursing.

The Relative Status of Women and Men.Traditional society was known for the relatively high status of women. If a couple divorces, for example, common goods are divided equally and the wife retains her dowry as well as the proceeds from her commercial activities. However, military rule has undermined the status of women, especially at the higher levels of government and commerce. Women, however, play a significant role in the political opposition to the regime. The higher levels of business are in the hands of men, but many medium-size and small businesses are run by women.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage.Individuals usually find their own marriage partners. Arrangements for the marriage may be made by the parents of sometimes an intermediary is employed. If the parents oppose the union, often the children elope and later the parents condone the marriage. When a man asks a woman’s parents for their consent, it is common practice for him to bring a gift for the woman. Wedding ceremonies are relatively simple except among wealthy families. After speeches by the parents, members of the families and guests share pickled tea. Polygyny is rare. Far more common is the practice of wealthy and powerful men having an informal second wife. Divorce is relatively common and usually involves the couple ceasing to live together and dividing their property.

Domestic Unit.A newly married couple may live with the parents of one partner (often the parents of the wife) but soon establish their own household. The nuclear family is the primary domestic unit, but it may include extended family members such as unmarried siblings, widowed parents, or more distant unmarried or widowed relatives. The husband is nominally the head of the household, but the wife has considerable authority. Women are responsible for most domestic chores.

Inheritance.Property generally is divided equally among the children after the parents die.

Kin Groups.Descent is reckoned bilaterally. Traditionally, there were no family names.

Socialization

Infant Care.Young children receive a great deal of attention. Newborns are placed in very carefully made cradles. A mother keeps her baby with her when she leaves the house. Burmese women carry babies on the hip, while most hill-dwelling peoples hold them in a sling on the back. Young children are pampered, given considerable freedom of movement, and allowed to handle virtually anything that catches their attention. Weaning usually takes place when a child is two to three years old. Relative or friends may nurse an infant. Adults take a great deal of interest in children, including those who are not their own.

Child Rearing and Education.Young children undergo several rites of passage. When a child is a few years old, a ceremony is held to give the child a name. Children in rural areas grow up surrounded by the implements that they will use when they grow up and watch adults performing domestic, agricultural, and artisanal tasks. In the past, all boys eight to ten years of age would begin attending school in a nearby Buddhist monastery, where they would learn about Buddhism and be taught to read and write. Those schools gradually gave way to public schools, but many young men continue to receive some education in monasteries. Under that system, few women were educated; their education took place mainly at home as they learned how to perform domestic tasks.

Modern education began under King Mindon (1853–1878), who built a school for an Anglican missionary. Under the British, secular education spread and the country achieved a relatively high level of education. Since 1962, the educational infrastructure has deteriorated. Today two-thirds to three-quarters of children drop out of elementary school before the fifth grade. The curriculum is scrutinized by the military regime, and it often is forbidden to teach in languages other than Burmese.

Higher Education.There are forty-five universities and colleges and 154 technical and vocational schools. There has been a steady erosion of higher education since 1962. After the civil unrest in 1988, during which many students were involved in antigovernment activities, there were widespread closures of universities and colleges. Since that time there has been a repeated cycle of opening and closing the universities and colleges that has made serious study virtually impossible. The universities and colleges were closed in 1996, and only a few were reopened in 2000.

Etiquette

It is considered improper to lose one’s temper or show much emotion in public, but the Burmese are a very friendly and outgoing people. The Burmese and other Buddhists follow the Buddhist custom of not touching a person on the head, since spiritually this is considered the highest part of the body. Patting a child on the head not only is improper but is thought to be dangerous to the child’s well-being. A person should not point the feet at anyone. Footwear is removed upon entering temple complexes for religious reasons, and it is polite to remove footwear when entering a house.

Religion

Religious Beliefs.Almost 90 percent of the people are Buddhists, and the proportion is higher among the Burmese majority. Burmese follow the Theravada form of Buddhism, which is also known as Hinayana Buddhism and the doctrine of the elders or the small vehicle. In Theravada Buddhism, it is up to each individual to seek salvation and achieve nirvana. Buddhism is believed to have been introduced to Burma by missionaries sent by the Indian emperorAshokain the third centuryB.C.E.

Buddhism is followed by many of the non-Burmese ethnic groups. While all these groups follow Theravada Buddhism, there are some differences between the in beliefs and practices and those of the Burmese. Buddhist beliefs and practices include animistic elements that reflect belief systems predating the introduction of Buddhism. Among the Burmese, this includes the worship ofnats,which maybe associated with houses, in individuals, and natural features. An estimated 3 percent of the population, mainly in more isolated areas, who adhere solely to animistic religious beliefs.

Another 4 percent of the population is Christian (3 percent Baptist and 1 percent Catholic), 4 percent is Muslim, 4 percent is Hindu, and 1 percent is animist. Christian missionaries began working in the country in the nineteenth century. They had relatively little success among Buddhists but made numerous converts among some of the minority groups.

Religious Practitioners.Between ages of ten and sixteen, most young Burmese men and some young women become Buddhist novices and go to live in a monastery. While most young men remain at the monastery for only a short time before returning to the secular life, some become fully ordained monks. A person who wants to become a monk is expected to be free of debt and certain diseases, have the permission of his parents or spouse, agree to follow the disciplinary rules of the monkhood, and not become involved in secular life. While monks are expected to lead a life of aestheticism, they perform important functions in the community, especially as counselors. A variety of religious practitioners are associated with the animistic beliefs of most Buddhists, including spirit dancers who become possessed by spirits and may engage in healing and fortune-telling. There are also astrologers, other types of healers, tattoists with occult knowledge, and magicians.

Rituals and Holy Places.Thingyan, the water festival, marks the advent of the new year in mid-April. Buddha images are washed, and monks are offered alms. It is also marked by dousing people with water and festive behavior such as dancing, singing, and theatrical performances. Kason in May celebrates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and entrance into nirvana. The day includes the ceremonial watering of banyan trees to commemorate the banyan tree under which Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment. A ceremony is held in July to mark the start of the three-month lenten period and commemorate Buddha’s first sermon. It is at this time that young males become novices. Lent is a period of spiritual retreat for monks, who remain in their monasteries. During this time people may not marry. Lent ends in October. Over a three-day period, candles, oil lamps, paper lanterns, and electric bulbs are lit to show how angels lit Buddha’s return from heaven. Many marriages are held at this time. A celebration is held in November to produce new garments for monks and Buddha images. People come to complete the production of the cloth within a single day.

Death and the Afterlife.Buddhists believe that those who die are reborn in a form that is in keeping with the merit they accumulated while alive. The cycle of death and rebirth is believed to continue as long as ignorance and craving remain. The cycle can be broken only through personal wisdom and the elimination of desire. Funerals involve either burial or cremation. The ceremony includes a procession of monks and mourners who accompany the coffin to the cemetery or crematorium, with the monks chanting and performing rites. Funerals for monks tend to be elaborate, while those who have died a violent death generally are quickly buried with very little ceremony, since their spirits are believed to linger as malevolent ghosts.

Medicine and Health Care

The use of traditional forms of medicine remains important, especially among the ethnic minorities. Few young people, however, receive training in these forms of medicine by an aging group of traditional healers and many traditional practices and the knowledge of traditional remedies are being lost. Serious health problems are reaching crisis proportions, and nontraditional health care by the public and private sectors has deteriorated.

Malaria, AIDS, andmalnutritionand related diseases are a serious problem. Intravenous drug use formerly was a problem mainly in the northeast among ethnic minorities, but since 1988, drug used has spread to the lowlands and the urban areas inhabited by the Burmese majority. There are only 703 hospitals and 12,464 doctors. These facilities are in very poor condition, and funding for medical care and training is inadequate.

Secular Celebrations

The major state holidays are Independence Day (4 January), Union Day (12 February), Peasants’ Day (2 March), Resistance or Armed Forces Day (27 March), May Day or Workers’ Day (1 May), Martyr’s Day (19 July), and National Day (late November or early December). These are occasions for the regime to promote nationalist sentiments, and some are accompanied by festive events. Far more important for most Burmese are the older celebrations associated with agriculture and the Buddhist religion.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts.Until the 1880s, the nobility was an important source of support for artists. After the fall of the monarchy, support came from newly rich merchants and British colonial officers. From the 1920s to the 1940s, there was relatively little support from the government or the public. State schools for the fine arts were opened in Rangoon and Mandalay in 1953, and there was a revival of interest in traditional art forms. The military regime of 1962 encouraged art forms supportive of its nationalist and socialist agenda. Since 1988, there has been little government support.

Literature.The focus of writing within Burmese society was, and to a large extent still is, focused on writing for theater performances (pwe) and producing texts relating to Buddhism. In addition, since the nineteenth century there is a fair amount of popular fiction. There is also some British fiction from the colonial period that is set in Burma. Among the early British works of fiction concerned with the Burmese are two novels by H. Fielding:The Soul of a People(1898) andThibaw’s Queen(1899). By far the best known British novel set in Burma is George Orwell’sBurmese Days(1934), a critical examination of British colonial rule.

Graphic Arts.The graphic arts include temple sculpture in wood, stucco, stone, and wood; temple mural painting, usually in tempera; other forms of wood carving; ivory carving; work in bronze, iron, and other metals; jewelry; ceramics; glassware; lacquerware; textiles and costume; items made of palm and bamboo; and painting on paper or canvas.

Lacquerware entails the covering of an object made of bamboo or wood with a liquid made from tree sap. These objects include containers as well as tables, screens, and carved animal figures. The process preserves, strengthens, and waterproofs objects and has been developed into a decorative art form. Its origins are ancient. Pagan is the largest and most important center for lacquerware. The Government Lacquerware School was established by local artists in Pagan in 1924. The Shan also have a distinctive lacquerware tradition.

Weaving is a highly developed traditional art form. Among the Burmese, it reached its highest form in the production oflun-taya acheikcloth. The technique was brought from Manipur in the eighteenth century, but the complex motifs are distinctly Burmese. This style of cloth is still woven near Mandalay for sale to elite Burmese. There are distinctive textile traditions among the ethnic minorities.

Traditional painting on paper made from tree bark or bamboo pulp is known asparabaikpainting. The earliest known example dates back to the eighteenth century. Pigments were made of tempera, with gold and silver inks used for the costumes of nobles and deities. The paintings also formed folded pages in books. Initially these paintings depicted religious scenes, court scenes, orastrologicalcharts, medicines, tattoo designs, and sexual techniques, and the painters were itinerant artists employed by the court. In the nineteenth century, the court in Mandalay employed full-time artists, and a system ofapprenticeshipwas put in place. Among the new styles of painting that emerged after the fall of the monarchy were paintings of happy families sold to the newly rich. Traditional painting declined in the 1920s as local patrons and artists became more interested in European styles. A revival of interest in Burmese themes took place after the 1962 military takeover. The new regime held an annual painting exhibition to promote select painters. The exhibitions ended in 1988, but the military regime allowed the fine arts school to remain open. Most painters today are dependent on sales through a handful of private galleries that cater largely to resident expatriates. The themes of newer paintings continue to be Burmese, especially religious paintings and landscapes.

Performance Arts.Popular performances often combine music, dance, and drama in a pwe (“show”). These shows take place at fairs, religious festivals, weddings, funerals, and sporting events. They generally are held at night and can go on all night long. A pwe typically includes performances based on legends and Buddhist epics; comedy skits; singing, dancing, and music; and sometimes a puppet show. Traditional music and dance have been influenced by Thailand. Traditional instruments played in an ensemble include a circle of drums, a thirteen-stringed boat-shaped harp, a circle of gongs, a xylophonelike instrument, an oboelike instrument, a bamboo flute, a bass drum, small cymbals, and bamboo clappers. Today these traditional instruments are combined with Western ones, including a guitar. The Kon-baung court employed performers specializing in recitation, singing, dancing, and acting. Highly stylized dramatic performances were accompanied by music. There is also a tradition of popular public performances such as thenebhatkhin(a pageant depicting the birth of Buddha) and the more secularmyai-waing(an earth-circling performance) conducted by traveling actors and musicians. After 1885, entertainers performed for a new public, and more lively forms of entertainment were developed, including all-female dance troupes. Western-style stage plays were introduced at that same time. There was interest in newer forms of performance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Such performances ended with the outbreak of World War II. After of independence, there was a revival of interest in traditional dance, drama, and music. The 1950s saw a revival of traditional art forms and the emergence of a new form of modern melodrama calledpya-zat. These were modern plays that rarely dealt with traditional subjects. While secular performance arts now dominate popular entertainment, the military regime has continued to support more traditional performances and the fine arts schools still teach traditional forms of dance and drama, although the audiences consist largely of tourists, resident expatriates, and members of the ruling elite.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Training in the physical and social sciences at national institutions such as Yangon University and Yangon Technical University is very limited. Since 1962, the social sciences have been almost nonexistent. Some social science research continues to take place, but most of it focuses on the relatively distant past. Institutions involved in such work include the Myanmar Historical Commission, Cultural Institute, Department of Archaeology, and Religious Affairs Department.