Category Archives: Insight


MYANMAR'S COLOURFUL SUMMER FESTIVALSA GIRL DRESSED IN TRADITIONAL RAKHINE DRESS POURS WATER AT REVELERS DURING THINGYANBesides Myanmar’s scenic beauty and rich cultural heritage, another wonderful experience that tourists can get to enjoy here are its vibrant and colourful festivals. Below are three of the big festivals that are celebrated with great excitement by the people of Myanmar during the summer season

Thingyan marks the beginning of Myanmar’s New YearThingyan marks the beginning of Myanmar’s New Year and it is celebrated with great excitement by the residents of this country. In earlier times, the dates of this festival were calculated as per the traditional Myanmar lunisolar calendar but these days it celebrated on the fixed Roman calendar dates. This is a four day festival which begins on April 13 and continues till April 16. These four days are considered as the most important holidays in Myanmar. During Thingyan people enjoy themselves by throwing water at each other and dancing to music.

Buddhism is the most popular religion in Myanmar and thus Buddhist festivals are celebrated with great enthusiasm here. The Bo Tree Watering Festival is celebrated in the Buddhist month of Kason which corresponds with the month of May as per the Roman calendar. Buddhists regard Kason to be a very important month and especially the full moon day falling in this month has great significance. This is because this is the day when Gautama Buddha was born. It is also considered the day when the first Bodhi tree arose from the ground to assure the people that Gautam Buddha is coming to enlighten them. Bodhi tree is greatly connected to Buddhism because this is the kind of tree under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. Therefore, on every full moon day of the Kason month Buddhist people march to the Bodhi tree or to the pagodas and pour scented water as a holy ritual



In the month of June, which corresponds with the Buddhist month Nayon, a very important Buddhist festival named Tipitaka takes place in Myanmar. This is the time of the year when monsoon is at its full swing in Myanmar and during this time scriptural examinations for monks and nuns are held. The knowledge of Buddha’s teachings is tested through both written as well as recitation exams so that the Word of Buddha can stay alive in its purest form. The people of Myanmar generously donate to ensure that all the candidates get all the needed amenities and can stay in comfort while focusing on their exams. The Tipitaka exams are held nationwide and are organized and administered by both the Government of Myanmarand religious associations.

Myanmar Homes


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 ]

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 ]

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]

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v14-3Besides Myanmar’s splendid natural beauty, another thing that catches the eyes of the first time visitors to Myanmar is the yellowish coloured patterns of different kinds painted on the faces of people. It is a common sight for the inhabitants of Myanmar but the foreigners are intrigued as nowhere else in the world can you get to see this phenomenon in such abundance. In Myanmar, you can easily see various people sporting squares, circles, or lines on their foreheads, noses, or cheeks. These patterns are made using a yellowish white cosmetic paste called “thanaka” which is made from the bark of a tree which is also named “thanaka”.

The cosmetic produced by grinding the bark of the thanaka tree on a flat and smooth stone which produces a milky yellow paste. Myanmar people apply this paste on their skin and as soon as it comes in contact with skin it quickly dries. Although men apply this cosmetic paste too, it is used more commonly and more frequently by women and children. There are various reasons for popularity of thanaka in Myanmar. It serves as a natural sunscreen which protects the skin from the harmful effects on the sunlight and it also helps to keep the skin cool. Thanaka is also used as a beauty product as it improves complexion, stops oiliness, and tightens pores. In a way, it also serves as a soft soothing perfume due to its mild but pleasant fragrance. Another important use of thanaka is as a medical product that has the ability to cure fungal infection, skin sores, acne, fever, epilepsy, measles, and even poisoning.

In rural Myanmar, most people work in fields and they mainly use thanka as a sunscreen for protection against sunburns and other damage caused by sun. People in urban areas whose work requires them to spend a long amount of time out in the open also use it for the same purpose. However, the nature of work in urban areas doesn’t require many people to face direct sunlight for long so they mainly use it for cosmetic purposes. Some people, mainly women, like the way thanaka patterns on their face make them look and they use it as kind of a style accessory.  Making leaf patterns on face using thanaka paste is quite popular among women living in urban areas of Myanmar. Myanmar people believe that the yellow colour of thanaka matches really well with their complexion.

When urban women use thanaka, they usually put a makeup foundation on their skin and then apply thanaka on top of that. This helps them keep their skin dry and non- oily and also has a cooling effect which makes it easier to bear the summer heat. While going outside their homes, people use thanaka sparingly but during night time, on weekends and other off-days people of both genders use it quite freely. Besides having good effects on the texture and complexion of the skin, thanaka also helps in having a good sleep as it feels soothing and has a very pleasant fragrance. Thanaka has been in use in Myanmar for more than 2000 years and even after all this time its use still remains as popular as ever.

Traditionally thanaka is sold as blocks which range in 10-20 centimetres in length. Thanaka trees grow abundantly in central Myanmar which is mostly a dry zone.  There are different varieties of the tree which vary slightly in quality and all of them can grow without a lot of water. The varieties that grow on dry, rocky soil, blended with sand and laterite are considered to be the best as they produce hard, thin bark that is both durable and fragrant. The most popular thanaka barks come from the trees that grow in the Shinmataung area and they can cost up to 9,000 kyat in the Yangon market. Though, a thanaka tree’s trunk usually reaches a good 2 inches diameter within 10 years, high quality thanaka bark is believed to come from trees that are at least 35 years old. Thanaka trees also grow in Thailand and some areas of India but their use is not as popular in any other country as it is Myanmar.

These days, many commercial preparations of thanaka are available in the market which eliminates the need of having to prepare the paste on your own. Such products are available as creams, pastes and powders which are mostly exported and are extremely popular among Myanmar people living in other countries. Use of such products is also gaining popularity in Thai spas and many of them have started using commercial thanaka preparations in their treatments. The use of such products is becoming popular among the local people living in the urban areas as well. However, most people still prefer the traditional method of preparing their own thanaka paste as it gives them assurance of getting the real product and also enables them to control the quality as per their preference.


Myanmar is a country with rich cultural and ethnic heritage making it one of the most colorful countries in the world. Apart from having diverse and rich arts, literature, and music this country is quite rich in terms of the people who inhabit it as well. The best way to describe Myanmar would be as a multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural society. In total there are over 135 different ethnic groups in Burma all of them have their own history, culture and language. These ethnic groups can be divided into major and minor ethnic groups. The major ethnic groups make up about two thirds of Myanmar’s population and the minority ethnic groups make up the remaining one third. As mentioned above, while there are over a hundred ethnic groups in the country, there are eight major ethnic groups in the country. Below are the eight major ethnic groups that make up most of the population of Myanmar:

  • Bamar:

  • mm8The Bamar people make up the biggest ethnic group in Myanmar and they compose around 68 percent of the country’s total population. This ethnicity resides mainly near the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers in the central plains and is of Sino-Tibetan origin. , or Burman, people are the majority ethnic group of Burma. They speak the Burmese language which is also the official language of Myanmar. This ethnicity is not completely a homogeneous entity and is divided into various sub-groups. Most of the Bamar people are Theravada Buddhists and their culture strongly reflects as well as influences the present day national customs of Myanmar.

  •  Kayin:


    Around 7 million Kayin people live in Myanmar which makes them one of the biggest ethnic groups in the country. They are also known as Karen people and are mostly hill tribes that mostly inhabit the mountainous region that lies in the Southern and South Eastern part of Myanmar. The Kayin state shares a border with Thailand and many Kayin people also live in Thailand. There is diversity in the religious practices followed within this group as some are Buddhists while others follow Animism or Christianity.

  • Mon: 

mm10Mon people form another large ethnic group in Myanmar comprising of a population around 8 million. The Mon people mostly inhabit in Mon State which is located in the Southern part of Myanmar. They are considered to be one of the first to settle not only in Myanmar but also in the Southeast Asia region. Theravada Buddhism is the oldest school of religion in both Burma and Thailand and Mon people were the ones responsible for spreading it. The Mon culture is ancient and also very rich and influential. This culture has had a deep impact on the culture of Myanmar as a whole and the Mon script was even incorporated into the unified Burmese language.

  • Chin:

mm10sThe Chin people are of Tibeto-Burman origin and assumed to have come to Myanmar in the late 9
th century AD and it is believed that they moved westward for some time before settling in the present Chin State around 1300 AD. They are divided into many different sub-groups and their present population is estimated to be about 1.5 million. The Chin State lies in the north-western part of Myanmar which is adjacent to India. Many Chin people also live in Indian states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Assam. Most Chin people moved westward and they probably settled in the present Chin State around 1300-1400 AD.

  • Kachin:


The population of Kachin people living in Myanmar is estimated to be around 1 to 1.5 million. They majorly inhabit the north-eastern part of Myanmar and many people belonging to this ethnic group also reside in parts of India and China. They are further divided into different ethnic sub groups and some of the tribes included in this ethnic group are Hkahkus, Gauris, Lashis, Marus, Atsis and Nungs, and Jinghpaw. Kachin people are traditionally hill dwellers who practice rotational cultivation of hill rice. Traditionally they were animists but Christianity spread during the British rule and now a vast majority of them are Christians.

  • Kayah:

mm13The Kayah people can in a way considered to be a subset of the Kayin (Karen) people. They are also known as Karenni which is translated as Red Karen. They get this name because their preferred color of clothing is red. They are believed to have migrated from China around late 6th Century AD and thus they are one of the oldest people to have settled in Myanmar. At present their population is estimated to be around 300,000. The Kayah State is situated in eastern Myanmar and lies between Karen and Shan states.

  • Rakhine:


The Rakhine people constitute the largest ethnic group residing in Rakhine State which lies in western Myanmar and spreads along the Bay of Bengal. There are no clear census figures available about their population but they are estimated to form around 5 percent of Burma’s population. Some Rakhine people also reside in the neighboring country of Bangladesh and it is estimated that their dialect is spoken by approximately 35,000 people there. Many Rakhine descendants reside in Tripura state in India where they are known as Mog. Their presence in Tripura dates back to the rise of the Rakhine Kingdom which was then known as Arakanese kingdom and during that time Tripura was ruled by Rakhine kings. They are majorly Theravada Buddhists which is one of the four main Buddhist ethnic groups of Myanmar.

  • Shan:

mm15There are an estimated 5 -6 million Shan people living in Myanmar currently. Most of them reside in the Shan state but some also reside in parts of Mandalay Region, Kachin State, Kayin State, and in adjacent regions of China, Laos and Thailand. Most Shan people are Theravada Buddhists, though there are some other ethnic groups living in Shan state that practice Christianity. Tai Yai, Tai Lue, Tai Khuen, and Tai Neua are the major groups of Shan people. Other Shan ethnic groups include Tai Ahom, Tai Mao, Tai Khamti, Tai Man, Tai Leng, Tai Ting, Tai Taɯ, Tai Nui, Tai Phake, Tai Saʔ, Tai Loi, Tai Dam, and Tai Don.


Myanmar is a country with a very rich cultural heritage. Numerous wonderful traditional arts have flourished in this beautiful nation in the past and many of those are still in existence and practiced widely. The beauty of this culture has been enhanced manifold by its willingness to assimilate and adapt to different cultures and arts during its long and colorful history. Among the various arts and crafts that are practiced in Myanmar, there are ten arts which have a special place in the culture of this country. These traditional arts have been passed on from one generation to the next for the past many centuries and they have managed to survive even till today. These ten special arts are referred to poetically as Myanmar’s ten flowers and they are as follows:

Panbe – Art of the Blacksmith:

  • This is the art of forging iron in a furnace and using specialized tools for creating various kinds of items from it. In English language, this art is known as the art of the blacksmith.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-6
  • In Myanmar this art emerged in the 11th century A.D., which is also known as the early Bagan period.
  • By the mid Bagan Inwa and Yadanapon period, this art had improved and enhanced considerably.
  • In the Yadanapon period, Myanmar’s Panbe art had become quite famous and even today it is quite famous in South East Asia for its special artistry.

Panbu – Art of Making Designs in Wood:

  • Panbu is a branch of sculpture wherein figures and designs are made using wood and ivory.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-7
  • The origins of this art in Myanmar can be traced back even before the Bagan era began. Significant strides of improvement were made during the Bagan period and this art continued improving as the time progressed.
  • Most of the figures and designs made using
    the Panbu art are related to Buddhism.
    Many practicing artists survive even today and wooden sculptures can easily be found in shops.
  • People interested in seeing the wood sculptures of older periods may visit Shwezigone Pagoda at Nyaung-U; Shwe-inpin Monastery, Mandalay; and Bargayar Monastery, Inwa.

Pantain – Art of Goldsmith and Silversmith:

  • This is the art which is known in English as the art of goldsmith and silversmith.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-8
  • In older times, silver was used in Myanmar for making various kinds of utensils while gold was used for making ornaments.
  • Pantain artists have been creating silverware for the past one thousand two hundred years, and the quality of the utensils even in those old times was truly exceptional.
  • The people of Myanmar can be truly proud of
    their rich heritage and superior workmanship in this area.

Pantin – Art of Making Utensils from Metals

  • Pantin is the art of taking metals such as copper, bronze, or brass and changing them into useful utensils.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-9
  • This art emerged in Myanmar before Bagan period and was improved upon during the Bagan and Inwa periods.
  • The bells used in pagodas, gongs, and cowbells made using the Pantin art are popular souvenirs which foreign tourists like to take back with them.

Pantaut – Art of Creating Designs and Figures from Stucco:

  • A Pantaut artisan is someone who is skilled in using stucco to create floral designs and figures such as lions and dragons.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-10
  • The people of Myanmar started practicing this art even before the Bagan period and kept improving on it in the Bagan, Inwa, Amarapura, and Yadanapon eras.
  • Me Nu’s brick monastery at Inwa is a stellar example of Myanmar’s exceptional Pantaut workmanship.

Panyan – Art of Bricklaying and Masonry:

  • Panyan is the art of bricklaying and masonry.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-11
  • This one art that Myanmar can be really proud of as the buildings built in this country during the Bagan era are considered much superior amongst all historical periods.
  • The buildings built during this period are astounding due to their solidity, magnificence, enormity, and elaborate adornments.
  • The masonry of mid Amarapura period is also considered quite exquisite in its own.

Pantamault – Art of Stone Sculpting:

  • This is the art of sculpting with stone and Myanmar’s history is rich with stellar examples of Pantamault art.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-12
  • Traditionally the artisans in this country make images of Buddha, pillars, flag poles, tables, and animal figures such as elephants and deer.
  • Even today this art form is very popular and widely practiced throughout Myanmar.
  • The city of Mandalay holds the most Pantamault studios but workshops are held in Yangon and many other cities as well.

Panpoot – Art of Turning Wood in Lathe:

  • The history of Panpoot art in Myanmar can be traced backto8th centuryA.D.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-13
  • This art involves crafting wooden utensils by turning wood in lathe.
  • Umbrella shafts, table legs, bed legs, posts for railings and pavilions, food containers, bowls, and boxes are some of the common items made using this craft.
  • The art of turning designs on the lathe gives a unique and interesting shape and design to the items which are well liked by people all over the world.

Panchi – Art of Painting:

  • Panchi is the art of painting and Myanmar’s history is rich with gorgeous illustrations of this splendid art form.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-14
  • The Myanmar’s Panchi artists traditionally paint sceneries, objects, figures of humans and animals, and even cartoons.
  • The Konbaung period of Myanmar history has presented the world with the most number of paintings. The paintings made during this era were also more colorful and lively as compared to other periods.

Panyun – Art of Making Lacquerware:

  • This is the art of making lacquerware using bamboo, wood, and a special kind of varnish.MM-JUN-JUL-2015-15
  • The traditional style followed by Panyun artists was derived from the stories about Buddha’s life.
  • In Myanmar’s history, the emergence of this art can be traced back to 11th Century A.D.
  • Bagan is considered as the home of this craft and many of the Panyun lacquerware is considered invaluable due to its artistry and historical significance.

Besides the above mentioned “Ten Flowers” Myanmar also has a rich history of many other arts which include pottery, tapestry, mosaic, lapidary, silk weaving, wall painting, and gold foil making.



Burmese tribe
Burmese tribe

In the heart of Southeast Asia lies Myanmar, a country of incredible beauty and diversity. It deems to be an ideal country for cultural exploration, with generations-old traditions often surviving intact due to the isolation of many of its regions. The country is characterised by the unique landforms of mountains, high valleys and plateaus which mould much of the land. This landscape is home to many Burmese tribes of different religions, traditions and cultures.

One of the most interesting and unique of these is the practice of the facial tattoo. Legend has it that generations ago, tribes in the Chin province of Myanmar began to tattoo the faces of young women. Why they would do that, you ask? Surprising as it may seem, it turns out they actually had a pretty good reason. Like in many cultures, it used to be the case for the Chin that royalty could marry whoever they wanted. And, of course, a neighboring prince could marry whomever he wanted to, simply by showing up and taking his next wife on his whim. For the Chin people, this meant repeatedly having their hearts broken as their daughters were stolen away by marauders.

Obviously, they couldn’t expect to fight against this injustice and win. So they had to get creative. Chin parents began tattooing their young daughters’ faces. Now what prince would want them as wives? Over the years, what was intended originally to make the women undesirable began to have the opposite effect. Eventually, the full facial tattoos became signs of beauty rather than the opposite.

Burmese women with traditional tatoo
Burmese women with traditional tatoo

And so female face tattooing became a thoroughgoing tradition, deeply entrenched in local culture. Of course the tattoos have not been necessary to ward off any unwed princes for some time now, so you will be glad to hear that the practice has been banned for several decades. But as the photos display, many of the older generation of Chin women still bear the amazing markings.

Another story is that the Chin women practice the facial tattoos because of religion, tradition, culture and fashion. According to their faith, the facial tattoo is directly connected to animism – the traditional Chin religion. They believe that the Monuoi, (the judge who decides fate after death), gives the ones who have facial tattoos permission to enter Heaven. The tattoos therefore represent much more than just a pattern, they give the women spiritual safeguarding even after the passing life.

With facial tattooing only seen in this part of the world, the women of Chin state are determined to keep their religion and beliefs alive. With these beliefs as a base, there is much more colour and culture to be discovered behind the tattooed faces. There is something artistic, ancient and special about the Chin tattoo.

With patterns made up of squares, lines and dots, the face is covered with ink that will stay on them forever. The art educates and enhances culture and tradition and demonstrates unique ways of living that many travellers search the world to find.

Renowned for their extreme application of this art, the Chin people, who are one of the largest ethnic groups in Myanmar, have stirred the interest of tourists, photographers and anthropologists from all over the world.



The Union of Myanmar, which comprises a total land area of 676 533 sq km situates between 9°53′ and 28°25’N latitude and 92°10′ and 101°10’E longitude. Myanmar is bordering Bangladesh and India in the West and China, Thailand and Laos in the East. It is rimmed by mountain ranges in the north, east and west forming a giant horseshoe. Enclosed within the mountain barriers are the flat lands of Ayeyarwaddy, Chindwin and Sittaung River valleys with an extensive network of feeder streams, where most of the country’s agricultural land and population are concentrated.

Approximately 75 percent of the country lies within the tropics and the remainder lies in the subtropical and temperate zones. The annual rainfall is 900 mm in the dry zone and over 5,000 mm in the coastal region and other parts of the country. The average temperature is below 10°C in the hilly region and over 40°C at the central dry zone in the middle of Myanmar. The great variation in rainfall, temperature, soil and topography result with various forest types, such as evergreen, semi-evergreen and mixed deciduous forests. Bamboo which is a preferred food of elephants is abundant in these forests.

The elephant is not only of great cultural and historical significance in Myanmar, but also of major economic importance in the country’s timber industry. Elephant skidding plays a vital role in the timber operations of Myanmar for the foreseeable future, particularly in the many mountainous and swamp areas of Myanmar’s forests.

Elephants are legally protected in Myanmar by the Elephant Preservation Act (1879) and Amended Act II of 1883. The killing and capture of wild elephants without license are prohibited. Myanmar is home to almost 10,000 elephants; from the white elephants in Naypyidaw to their wild counterparts roaming Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park; elephants play an important role in the rich history and culture of Myanmar.


For example, if you are lucky enough to be born on a Wednesday, your Myanmar horoscope sign is the elephant? It’s the bull tusker if you were born in the morning and the mysterious, tuskless female if you were born in the afternoon.

White elephants are a powerful national symbol in Myanmar. They represent divinely sanctified rule and are highly prized by many, who believe the country will be more peaceful and prosperous in the presence of these special creatures. Currently there are eight white elephants in Naypyidaw and Yangon, including two very vivacious and playful calves born from two White elephant mothers, one born as a white elephant, and another born as an ordinary black calf, a pure example of recessive characteristics of white (albinism) genes carried by white mothers.

Myanmar is one of the few countries in the world to continue to use elephants in the logging industry. This work allows elephants to live in their natural forest habitat, freely interact with wild populations and to bond with their mahouts, known as “sin oozies” or elephant headriders. In a mahout family, becoming a mahout means knowledge transfer from father to son. Some mahout families have worked with elephants for generations and their traditional knowledge, for example of herbs from the forest to treat wounds, is vital to caring for elephants.

Using elephants rather than machines to remove trees allows the removal of selected logs without damaging the rest of the forest. Elephants have the strength to drag or push heavy logs. They combine this power with remarkable delicacy and sure-footedness as they pad quietly through the forest in the steep terrain of Upper Myanmar. Elephant-assisted logging is a form of ecologically responsible and sustainable forest management, allowing for the preservation of the forests and the valuable biodiversity within them.

A multi-disciplinary research group based at the University of Sheffield has been studying the Myanmar timber elephants since 2012. Their research aims to determine factors affecting health, fertility and mortality rates in the captive population and devising strategies to improve them.


One of the founding scientists of this research group is Khyne U Mar, a Myanmar-born veterinarian with more than 20 years of working experience with timber elephants. She says “I very am proud to study elephants in my native country. Elephants have a long history of interaction with humans in this country and I want to see elephants and humans coexisting peacefully long into the future.” Elephants may appear to be very strong to us, weighing up to 5 tonnes and standing up to 3.2 metres tall, however, they are vulnerable to infectious diseases, illnesses and injuries. Dr Khyne U Mar continues, “My research into elephant diseases including parasites and tuberculosis will improve their health. One of my key aims is to ensure that elephant care is of the best possible standard.”

Whilst the number of Asian elephants in the world is dwindling, Myanmar is focused on maintaining population numbers and promoting its elephant conservation. Dr Khyne U Mar says, “The low rates of survival and reproduction necessitate capture of wild elephants to maintain the working population. The health of the captive population is therefore tightly linked to the endangered wild population. Maintaining a sustainable population of logging elephants is a primary aim of my research. I am establishing a nursing camp to ensure that healthy calves are born and that they survive the difficult first few months of life”.

             -Hunnah Mummby And Khyne U Mar

With research, conservation and protection, the future could be bright for Myanmar’s giant forest dwellers. For more information about Dr Khyne U Mar’s work and the Myanmar Timber Elephant Project see Twitter @MyanmarElephant and the website



Myanmar has a history marked by periods of varied fortune and discreditable incidents. Since its independence from the British Rule in 1948, the country has remained isolated from the rest of the world. The reasons are reprehensible. On a daily basis, news column on the International Section has a very brittle opinion regarding the conditions prevailing in Myanmar.

The news often talks about the country being plagued by political instability, economic mismanagement, military intervention and raging ethnic tensions. Yet it has stood the test of time and its burdened hardships.
The people of Myanmar have time and again personified the spirit for Tolerance and Non- violence. The country has produced the greatest awe inspiring leader of the modern era, named Daw (Madam) Aung San Suu Kyi. Influenced by both Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and more specifically by Buddhist concepts, Aung San Suu Kyi undoubtedly is the figure this country needs to look upto.

Myanmar is a land with scores of cultural diversity. The country has around 20 major ethnic groups, along with greater number of dialects and languages. Some would vision diversity in culture as a tool to economic advancement; however Myanmar has experienced nothing but raging ethnic tensions.

The nation is headed by a civilian president and two vice presidents. The military remains an institution unto itself, and the head of the armed forces retains the right to invoke extraordinary powers including the ability to suspend civil liberties and abrogate parliamentary authority.

The country needs an image makeover. It needs the world to focus on more vital aspects that govern the spirit of Myanmar. Myanmar as we know it also a nation famous for its bounty scenic beauty. The international forum should be forced to focus on the 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) of coastline and some of the finest stretches of beach in Asia.


The world ought to talk about water throwing festival, which symbolizes the washing away of the previous year’s bad luck and sins. It should be recognized for its appetite for betel nut, production of rice, dressing culture and the talent it beholds in the game of soccer. Myanmar needs to remind itself of the time when it dominated soccer in Southeast by winning the Asian Games twice in the 1960s and 1970. That in order to flourish the Myanmar government ought to remove the flaws in the system .The government needs to overcome the lack of inaccessibility and vagueness in its laws. It needs to introspect the unfairness of its laws and the arbitrary manner in which they are applied. The inaccessibility of the laws not only makes any meaningful study of the country’s legal system difficult, but also compounds the problems that litigants within Myanmar, especially defendants in criminal trials, are regularly subjected to in the preparation of their cases.

Myanmar needs to give credence to internationally accepted norms such as the principle of proclamation/notification, the principle of exceptional threat, the principle of proportionality, the principle of non-discrimination and the principle of inalienability of certain fundamental rights.

All the leading international human rights treaties require that governments do not, under any circumstances, derogate from certain ‘core’ rights which are considered so basic that they should be respected even during the gravest emergency. Myanmar to establish itself as a pioneer nation, needs to respect the right to life; the prohibition of torture; the prohibition of slavery; the prohibition of imprisonment for non- payment of civil debt; the prohibition of retro active penal measures; the right to recognition of legal personality; and freedom of conscience and religion. Before I conclude I would like to pick up an old saying goes 1 day 1 yard. Bagan won’t move. (Do it a little every day, and you’ll achieve).

Signing off…Myanmar from strength to strength Vibhor Gupta, Advocate



Myanmar is a country endowed with vast natural resources in terms of abundance of fertile soil, rivers, flora and fauna and a vast array of minerals and hydrocarbon resources.However most economists will agree that more than the natural resources of the country, it’s the human resources or the people who will ultimately define the growth potential and eventual growth of the country.

It thus becomes imperative to check whether the government and private institutes have the required infrastructure for training.One of the biggest concern areas is the shortage of quality trainers especially in vocational and skill development sectors. It gets difficult to get good trainers, because technological changes are taking place at break neck speed, whereas the trainers are getting updated at snails speed.

As countries like Myanmar transition from agrarian to industrial economy, there is a need to set up Vocational Skill Development Centers across cities and towns with reasonable population of youth willing to learn and make a professional and profitable career.
It is also important that the Government of Myanmar, both Union and Regional Governments, provide support in areas of infrastructure development, sponsorship of Train the Trainer programs, monetary support to students and setting up of employment exchanges where qualifying students can apply for jobs.

In order to leverage the demographic dividend and create opportunities for the youth in terms of employment and rising income levels, development of vocational training and skill development is the most effective tool for Myanmar. As a part of the ASEAN community, Myanmar stands to gain significantly by not only employing skilled labour and exporting quality goods and services, but can also earn foreign exchange.

– Mr. Sourav Daspatnaik, Director, Global Protek & Board Member, National HRD Network




The opening of the Burmese economy will no doubt benefit the labour market. The market economy will provide the incentive for workers to improve their productive capacity in order to receive higher wages. Higher wages, or the ability to purchase more goods, should in turn foster business and job creation and economic growth. Observing the economy standing of most workers in newly developed economies makes it hard to dispute the advantages of the market economy.

However, in many less developed countries, Myanmar as a good example, the influx of foreign firms also serves to exploit the excess supply of unskilled workers. These firms, relying on the low-cost worker for labour-intensive production, have no incentive to teach these workers more than the rudimentary skills necessary to work on a crude production line. This translates into a long-run situation where the productive ability of the workers does not improve, thus placing the country in a low wage equilibrium trap. Cheap labour – the comparative advantage of a nation –turns out to be its worst enemy.

The benefits of opening the economy of Myanmar will depend on the extent to which market failures are recognized. Addressing the many issues that come up will take time and investors, international agencies, and the Burmese government must be cognizant of the often opposing factors which are unleashed. Political-economic skills must be fully harnessed to avoid instability, disruption, and a return to the violent past. It would be naive in the extreme to assume that historically massive capital inflows and changing labour markets will not create a mixed bag of cost and benefits. The challenge of Myanmar is to create a framework which benefits the economy and society.