Burma/Myanmar


Figure 1.--Here a missionary kid in Myanmar is playing chinlong with his mates. Burma is a predominately Buddhist country, but both Chistianity and Islam have grown in recent years. Chinlong is a local sport. Notice the ratan ball. Balls like this are also used in Thai sports in addirion to rubber. Rubber now grown in Southeast Asia was introduced by the British during the colonial era.

Burma on the Bay of Bengal east of India and Bangladesh is one of the principal Southeatern Asian countries. It was one of powers that competed for dominance in the region. The country is dominated by the Irrawaddy River,one of the world's great river systems. The Irrawaddy rises in the eastern Himilayas in the north. The Irrawaddy and its tributaries created a huge area suitable for rice agriculture. This was the basis of the economy, but the country is also rich in natural resources including oil and minerals. The Burmese moved south into the Irawwaddy Valley from Tibet (about the 8th century AD). Anawratha introduced Hinayana Buddhism (11th century). Buddhism continues to be the principal religion to this day. The population is also composed of several minority ethnic groups. Two of the most important are the Chinese and Karen. The Karen comprise about 7 percent of Burma's population. Other etnic groups include the Chins, Mons, Nagas, and Shans. One interesting tribal group is the Moken, a seafaring people. The country was annexed piecemeal by the British (19th century). It was a major battleground of World War II. The country along with India was granted independence (1948). It is, however, one of several European colonies which have declined economically since independence. Burma with its productive agricultural base is potentially one of the richest countries in the region. In contrast to neigboring Thailand, Burmese authorities at independence decided to pursue socialist and isolationis policies. The result was rather than improving the economy, the econmy declined. The country is currently ruled by a brutal military regime which has supressed a popular democracy movement. As a result of coruption and incompetence, the military has reduced most Burmese to poverty.

Geography

Burma on the Bay of Bengal east of India and Bangladesh is one of the principal Southeatern Asian countries. The country the northernmost country of Southeast Asia and thanks to it possesion of part of the Malay Peninsula extend further soith than most of Southeast Asia. Its shape has been described as that of a kite with a long tail--the tail being the Malay Peninsula. The country is bordered by both China and India--the two most populace countries on earth. China lies to the north and northeast and India to the northwest. The other border states include Laos to the east, Thailand to the southeast, the Andaman Sea/Bay of Bengal to the south and southwest, and Bangladesh to the west. The distance from north to south is nearly 1,275 miles (2,050 km). The width at the widest part is approximately 580 miles (930 km). The country is dominated by the Irrawaddy River, one of the world's great river systems which rises in the eastern Himilayas in the north. The Irrawaddy and its tributaries bringing both ater and mineral-rich south down from the Himilayas, creating a vast area suitable for agriculture, especially rice culture. This was and continues to be the basis of the economy, but the country is also rich in natural resources including oil and minerals.

History

Burma on the Bay of Bengal east of India and Bangladesh is one of the principal Southeatern Asian countries. It was one of powers that competed for dominance in the region. The country is dominated by the Irrawaddy River rising in the eastern Hmilayas in the north. The Irrawaddy and its tributaries created a huge area suitable for rice agriculture. The Burmese moved south into the Irawwaddy Valley from Tibet (about the 8th century AD). Anawratha established Burmese dominance (11th bcentury). He also inroduced Hinayana Buddhism (11th century). Buddhism continues to be the principal religion to this day. The Mongols under Kublai Khan conquered Burma ending the dynasty (1287). The Shans rose to power as Mongol vassals and rules for three centuries. Burmese overthrough the Shan (1546) and Burmese dynasties seized control and riled until the arrival of the British. The British after establishing the Raj In neighboring India, colonized Burma piecemeal (19th century). This occured as a result of the Burma Wars. This began as a result of conflict between the Arakan Kingdome in western Burma and British-held Chittagong to the north. Burmese fiorces defeated the Kingdom of Arakan (1784-85). Burmese forces invaded India (1823). The British responded with a seaborne expedition of mostly Indian troops that took Rangoon with little resisance (1824). The Treaty of Yandabo formally ended the First Anglo-Burmese War (1826). It was a major battleground of World War II. The country was seized by the Japanese at the onset of the Asia/Pacific War (1942). This cut the Burma Road, seveing China's connection with the Allies. It became a major World War II battlefield and was finally retaken by the Allies (1944-45). Britain found it difficult to reimpose its authotity after the War. Burma achieved its independence (1948). Like many newly independent countries at the time, there was a general rejection of democracy and free market capitalis. Burma adopted many Soviet approaches ibxluding state socialism. The result is that Burma has gradually become one of the world's poorest countries. Burma under British rules was on of the most prosperous areas of Southeast Asia. Military rule including repression, mismanagement, and coruption have tuned the country into one of the poorest in the region. The country was ruled by General Ne Win engineered a coup (1962). Ne Win stepped down (1988). A civilian democracy movement called for an end to military rule. The military supressed the movement with considerable violence. Casualy estimates vary. The military nenamed the country Mynamar (1998). The military allowed democratic elections (1990). The National League for Democracy (NLD) won a resounding victory with over 80 percent of the legislative seats. The military refused, however, to cede power. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi has spent many years in detention. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1991). The economy has continued to decline. International observers rate the military regime as one of the most corrupt in the world. Buddhist monks led protests (2007). The country continues to be ruled by a brutal military regime which has supressed a popular democracyb movement. As a result of coruption and incompetence, the military has reduced most Burmese to poverty.

Economics

Burma along with with Thailand, Cambodia and southern Vietnam share some of the richest agricultural land in the world. , Rice is believed to have been domesticated in the Yangtze River valley in China (10,000–8,000 BP). Slowly rice culture expanded south to India and Southeast Asia. And nowhere were conditions so favorable for growing rice than Southeast Asia, including Burma. The soil climate, and plentiul water was perfect for bountiful harvests. The earliest trade routes between India and China because of the towering Himaalyas passed through Burma--the earliest appearance of the Burma Road (100 BC). The Mon Kingdom which rose in southern Burma was an important Bay of Bengal trading center. Burma's was essentially a subsistence economy. [Adas] Most of the population was involved in raising rice because of the high yields. Most of the rest of the population was involved in other forms of agriculture. Thhere was no formal monetary system until the reign of King Mindon Min (mid-19 century). Land was legally the possession of the Burmese crown. Burma became involved in the Indian Ocean trade as sea going commerce expanded. The arrival of Europeans brought significant change (16th century). The crown continued to control the economy, but new trading opportunities develped. The crown controlled oil wells, gem mining and teak production. The teak was not just or furniture buolding at the time--it was atrategic mateial, used gor building and repairing ships. Logged teak was a valuable export. It was prized by European shipbuilders, because of its strength and durability. Teak was the most imprtant Burmese export (18th century and into the 19th century), until iron and steel replaced wood. Britain waged wars with the Burmese (beginning in the 1820s). Britain colobized Burma and it became among its wealthiest colonies. Teak continued to be valuable and its agricultural sector produced huge quantities of rice, much of it going to nearby Bengal. It was one of the colonies coveted by Japan as part of its Souther Resource Zone. Japan seized Burma a few months after Pearl Harbor (April-May 1942). It was incorporated into the Japanese Greater East Asia Co-Prospeity Sphere. The promossed prosperity did not materialize. Promises of indepedence were illisionary. Rice production fell as a result of Japanese mismanagement and outright seizures along with increasing brutality. Food shortages developed. American naval victories meant that rice and other material could not be shipped back to Japan. Burma with its highly productive agricultural base was potentially one of the richest countries in the region. The population was educated. The bright expectations of independence after the War were, however, not achieved. In contrast to neigboring Thailand, Burmese authorities at independence decided to pursue socialist and isolationis policies. The result was rather than improving the economy, the economy declined below colonial levels. The country is currently ruled by a brutal military regime which has supressed a popular democracy movement. As a result of coruption and incompetence, the military has reduced most Burmese to poverty.

Garments

We do not yet much information on Burmese garments. We note some beautiful, destinctive traditional garments at the turn of the 20th century. Burma seems to be a country where traditional garments continue to be worn to some extent. We are not entirely suyre why this is. Burmese nationalism may be a factor along with the country's economic failure. We see traditional garments at school, but this is probably because of required uniforms. We can not yet assess garments to any extent because our Burma archive is so limited. In many countries where traditional garments are still worn, we commonly see children wearing western grments because of their practicality. Some of the small mumber of images we have archived show adulkts wearing traditional garments, but many children wearing western garments. And this includes men. In several Asian countries we see women contunuing tio wear traditional garments while many men wear western garments. This does not seem to be the case in Burma.

Activities

The most importnt activity for children is of course school. Burma when it became independent from Britain was already on its way to developing an excellent public school system. The systen, however, declined after independence. The economic failure of Brma was a a major factor here. The country was unable to adequately finance public education. We have some limited information on Burmese schools. We do not know much about sport in Burma. We notice that Burma sends a handful of atlketels to the Olumpic summer games, but has never wim a medal. This is rather unusual for a country Burma's size. The most popular sport is football. Burma has done well in Asian competition. It was an Asian powerhouse (1960s-ealy 70s), but in recent has not performed well. This suggests a declining domestic standard. The ciountry's economic failure is most likely at the heart of the decline. We notice a popular related game--chinlong (figure 1).

Religion

Buddhism continues to be the principal religion to this day. Myanmar has a population of about 55 million pople. Some of 90 percent of the population adhere to Theravada Buddhism. The remaining 10 percent are Christians (4 percent), Muslims (4 percent), and Hindus (1 percent). The Christains are mostly Baptists and Roman Catholics. There are also small numbers of adherents to Mahayana Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism and Animism. There are ehnic afinities associated with religion. Most Muslims are located in Rakhine State, along the western coast, and many are member of the Rohingya minority group. While Christianity and Islam have grown in importance in recent years, Buddhism remains the dominant religion. The Burmese view religion somewhat differently that Westerners. They see Buddhism as a path to follow rather than a faith in the Western sense. Buddhism was founded in India (about 500 BC). An Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama left the prestigious life to wander as begger seeking enligtenment. His meditation enanled him to eeach a state free from worldly desires. Theravada Buddhism holds four noble truths which include suffering. Buddhism teaches love and kindness for one another. It advocates avoiding extremes and performing good deeds. Buddhism like Hinduism believes in reincarnation and considers that the present actions will affect future lifes orreincarnations. Buddhism also advoctes protecting the environment as it sees nature as sacred. This seens incorprated from the animistic beliefs of pre-Buddist peoples. Myanmar has been ruled of repressive authoritarian military regimes (since 1962). has not existed, after the bloody suppression of the 8888 Pro-Democracy Protests. A militry Government suspended the 1974 Socialist constitution (1988). This meant that there has been no constitutional protection of religious freedom. The military authorities, however, have generally permitted most devotees of registered religious groups to worship as they choose as long as tere is no political connections. The government has imposed restrictions on certain religious activities and has been accused of abusing the right to freedom of religion. Yhe principl target has been the country's Muslim minority--the Rohingya . This has been the group expriencing the most severe legal, economic, educational, and social discrimination. The Government refuses to grant citizenship to Rohingyas because they insist the Rohingya were mot present in the country at the start of British colonial rule as mndatedin the country's citizenship law. The Rohingya assert that their presence in the area predates the British arrival by several centuries.

Ethnicity

Burma is a multi-ethnic country. The majority of the country Burmese or Bamar (nearly 70 percent). The two major minoritirs are the Shan (9 percent) and Kayin/Karen (7 percent). These are the only groups exceeding 5 percent of the population. Other important ethnic groups include the Rakhine, Chinese, Mons, Kachin, and over 100 smaller groups like the Nagas. One interesting tribal group is the Moken, a seafaring people. Etnicity was not a major issue during the British colonial era. People could move wihin the Raj and then into Burma when the British began to establish control there. After World War II, Britin granted independence to Burma (1948). The Burmese Government had he task of creating a Burmese nationality beyond the Burmese mahjority. The Government began recognizing groups they considered Burmese and non-Burmese. Groups identified as non-Burmese included Burmese Chinese, Panthsys (Chinese Muslims), Burmese Indians, Anglo-Burmese, and Gurka. The later two groups are a small part of the Burmese population, but may amont to nearly 2 million people outside the country. Britain as in India attempted to turn over power to a parlimentary democracy. The military dominated by thecethnic Burmese seized power in the guise of single-party socialist system (1962). General Ne Win was intent on fashioning a Burmese nationalism that united the many disparate ethnic groups under Burmese control amd leadership. The question of citizenship became a major issue in Burma. The Military Junta issued a Citizenship Law which set up different levels of citzenship abd in doing so institutionalized a social hierarchy. It was part of Burmafication/Myanmfication that included the country's name change to Myanmar. The law was part of a series of actions taken by the nationalist Burmese government meant to shore up Burmese ethnic power. The law created three levels of citizenship: 1) citizens, 2) Associate Citizens, 3) Naturalized Citizens, and Resident Aliens. The first level of citzenship applied to ethnic Burmans and members of most of the ethic minirirties (Shan, Karen, and a long list of smaller groups). Citizenship was granted to the ethnic group present in Myanmar prior to 1823 when the British seized the Arakan (far western Burma bordering on modern Bangladesh). Burmese with 'one grandparent' or pre-1823 ancestor, who was a citizen of another country' were assigned the lower status Assiociuate Citizens. Naturalized Citizens were defined as those who can “provide ‘conclusive evidence’ that he or his parents entered and resided in Burma before independence in 1948. Persons who have at least one parent who holds one of the three types of Burmese citizenship are also eligible.” Resident Aliens have no citizenship rights at all. As a result, they cannot hold public office, move freely about the country, or enroll in higher education. The most notable group excluded are the Muslim Rohingya in the Arakan who as a result have been rendering stateless. They numbered over a million, some 0.6 million of which have been rounded up and deported to Bangladesh in often brutal actions. The Burmese Governent claims they came to Burma during the British colonial era and thus are not Burmese. The Rohingya claim and are backed up with some archeological evidence that they have lived in the Arakan for centuries. It is not entirely clear why the Burmese Government has targeted the Rohingya. Islam may be the principal reason. The community's opposition to the Citizenship Law may be a related factor.

Sources

Adas, Michael. The Burma Delta. Economic Development and Social Change on an Asian Rice Frontier, 1852–1941 (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974).

Brown, Ian. Burma's Economy in the Twentieth Century.






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Created: 11:55 PM 1/6/2010
Last updated: 4:07 AM 6/10/2019