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Orientation. Identification. The name of the country of Burma (or Myanmar, as it is now officially known) is associated with the dominant ethnic group, the. Myanmar may be the name on its embassy, but many people in this country still refer to it by the colonial name, Burma. The word is a British adaptation of the. Myanmar officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and also known as Burma, is a The country's census counted the population to be 51 million people. . In , the military government officially changed the English translations of many names dating back to Burma's colonial period or earlier, including that.
King Mindon Min tried to modernise the kingdom, and in narrowly avoided annexation by ceding the Karenni States. The British, alarmed by the consolidation of French Indochinaannexed the remainder of the country in the Third Anglo-Burmese War in Konbaung kings extended Restored Toungoo's administrative reforms, and achieved unprecedented levels of internal control and external expansion. For the first time in history, the Burmese language and culture came to predominate the entire Irrawaddy valley.
British Burma — Main articles: British troops firing a mortar on the Mawchi road, July The eighteenth century saw Burmese rulers, whose country had not previously been of particular interest to European traders, seek to maintain their traditional influence in the western areas of AssamManipur and Arakan. Pressing them, however, was the British East India Companywhich was expanding its interests eastwards over the same territory.
Over the next sixty years, diplomacy, raids, treaties and compromises continued until, after three Anglo-Burmese Wars —Britain proclaimed control over most of Burma. With the fall of Mandalay, all of Burma came under British rule, being annexed on 1 January Throughout the colonial era, many Indians arrived as soldiers, civil servants, construction workers and traders and, along with the Anglo-Burmese community, dominated commercial and civil life in Burma. Rangoon became the capital of British Burma and an important port between Calcutta and Singapore.
Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralysed Yangon Rangoon on occasion all the way until the s.
Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement. U Wisaraan activist monk, died in prison after a day hunger strike to protest against a rule that forbade him to wear his Buddhist robes while imprisoned.
He resigned from the Legislative Assembly and was arrested for sedition. By Marchwithin months after they entered the war, Japanese troops had advanced on Rangoon and the British administration had collapsed. Wingate's British Chindits were formed into long-range penetration groups trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines.
The battles were intense with much of Burma laid waste by the fighting. Overall, the Japanese lost somemen in Burma. Only 1, prisoners were taken. Under Japanese occupation,tocivilians died.
But in Julypolitical rivals  assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members. Unlike most other former British colonies and overseas territories, Burma did not become a member of the Commonwealth.
A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities and multi-party elections were held in —and The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreementwhich combined Burma Proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burmaand the Frontier Areaswhich had been administered separately by the British. Between andMyanmar was ruled by a revolutionary council headed by the general.
Almost all aspects of society business, media, production were nationalised or brought under government control under the Burmese Way to Socialism which combined Soviet-style nationalisation and central planning.
A new constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was adopted in Untilthe country was ruled as a one-party systemwith the General and other military officers resigning and ruling through the Burma Socialist Programme Party BSPP. There were sporadic protests against military rule during the Ne Win years and these were almost always violently suppressed. On 7 Julythe government broke up demonstrations at Rangoon Universitykilling 15 students. Student protests in, and were quickly suppressed by overwhelming force.
The largest companies and financial institutions are state-owned, with the private sector limited mainly to small-scale trading. In recent years, however, more imported goods, especially from China, have appeared in local markets A Burmese woman at a lacquer factory. The main cities and many smaller towns have one or more central markets that sell a wide variety of domestic and imported goods, including clothing and cloth, tobacco, food, baskets, jewelry, toiletries, and electronic goods.
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There are also specialized markets, such as the iron bazaar in Rangoon's Chinatown. Industrial production focuses on goods for local consumption, although a handful of factories produce for exportation.
Local industries include textiles and footwear, wood processing, mining, the production of construction materials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer manufacturing. Although the country has substantial gem, oil, and natural gas reserves, extraction and processing capabilities are limited. There is a small tourist industry.
There has been a dramatic growth in the number of hotels built since the introduction of economic reforms. Travel restrictions and poor infrastructure have concentrated the tourist industry in a few areas. Legal exports include timber, rice, beans and pulses, fish, garments, precious stones, and rice. Legal imports include construction materials, plant equipment, and consumer goods. The difference in the value of imports and exports is covered in large part by revenue from narcotics and other illegal exports.
Under British colonial rule, Burma was the world's leading exporter of rice, and rice remains the major legal export. Logging was also important in the colonial economy, but excessive harvesting and poor forestry management have resulted in a sharp drop in the availability of teak. China, Thailand, and India are their main markets for timber, but most wood is exported illegally. Burma is famous for rubies and jade, but sincea lack of capital and expertise has hindered that industry.
As with timber, most ruby and jade exports go through illegal channels. Burma is the world's largest supplier of illegal opiates opium and heroinand the export of amphetamines has increased. Money from the illegal narcotics trade plays a crucial role in the national economy and in keeping the regime solvent. Much of the production of illegal narcotics, however, is in the hands of ethnic rebels in Shan State. Recent peace accords between the government and some rebel groups have given the regime access to income from narcotics.
Thailand and India are Burma's primary sources of legal and illegal imported goods. Small amounts are also imported from other neighboring countries such as India, Malaysia, and Singapore. There is little specialization in the agricultural sector. Small-scale commercial trading is done by both men and women, with men being primarily responsible for the transportation of goods. Ethnic Indians and Chinese are an important segment in commercial trading, but many Burmese and others are involved in commercial activities.
Few tasks or professions are the monopoly of a single ethnic group. There are various forms of traditional craft specialization. This includes making lacquer ware, stone working, fine wood carving, and working with metal. Modern technical professions such as medicine and engineering are related to one's level of education and specialized training. Those in the higher levels of commerce and administration generally come from the families of prominent members of the regime, and connections with the regime are important factors in amassing wealth and power.
Social Stratification Classes and Castes. Not only is poverty widespread, there is marked inequality. Essentially, the society is divided into a tiny elite, a fairly small middle class, and a large number of very poor people.
While there are traditional elites within most of the ethnic groups and new elites in some groups whose wealth comes from smuggling, the national elite is overwhelmingly Burmese. In recent years income from the narcotics trade has been an important source of wealth for members of the elite. Although some segments of the middle class have prospered from the economic reforms of the late s, most have not done well and remain poor.
The military has ruled the country since In the face of growing opposition to the government and its socialist policies, Ne Win and President San Yu resigned in Julyand widespread civil unrest followed. Elections were held for the member People's Assembly in The People's Assembly was never convened, and many of its leaders were arrested or forced into exile. The military began drafting a new constitution inbut this task has not been completed. The council includes a chairman and twenty other members.
The government formed by the council consists of a prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, and thirty-seven ministers.
Leadership and Political Officials. Political leadership revolves around political intrigues and struggles for power within the military. From untilGeneral Ne Win was the dominant political figure, with other officers and their associates jockeying for positions underneath him.
General Than Swe's hold on power since has been far less absolute. She is currently under house arrest in Rangoon.
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The majority of the small inner circle around Aung San Suu Kyi are former military officers and associates or followers of Aung San.
Both the regime and its leading opponents therefore form a small political elite. There is an ethnic dimension to political office holding and leadership. The and governments A young child at an initiation ceremony in Mandalay. Those policies sparked ethnic insurgencies led by ethnic elites, and the situation deteriorated when the regime passed a law in that created three tiers of citizenship rights based largely on ethnicity. At the bottom was a category of "other races" that included naturalized immigrants, mainly from India and China, whose ancestors arrived during the colonial period.
Those assigned to this tier cannot run for political office or hold senior government posts. The regime signed peace accords with most of the insurgent groups, but national leadership has remained in the hands of the Burmese. Social Problems and Control. The authoritarian military regime has been harsh in its treatment of ethnic minorities and rules by decree, without a constitution or legislature. The regime systematically violates human rights and suppresses all forms of opposition.
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The judiciary is not independent of the military regime, which appoints justices to the supreme court. These justices then appoint lower court judges with the approval of the regime. Prison conditions are harsh and life-threatening. The regime reinforces its rule with a pervasive security apparatus led by a military intelligence organization known as the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence DDSI. The regime engages in surveillance of government employees and private citizens, harassment of political activists, intimidation, arrest, detention, and physical abuse.
The movements and communications of citizens are monitored, homes are searched without warrants, and people are forcibly relocated without compensation. There is no provision for judicial determination of the legality of detention. Before being charged, detainees rarely have access to legal counsel or their families.
Political detainees have no opportunity to obtain bail, and some are held incommunicado for long periods. After being charged, detainees rarely have counsel. In ethnic minority areas, human rights abuses are widespread, including extrajudicial killings and rape.
The regime justifies its actions as being necessary to maintain order and national unity. Although the regime officially recognizes the NLD, political rights are limited. There is virtually no right of assembly or association. Intimidation of NLD supporters forced the party to close its offices throughout the country.
Opponents of the regime have disappeared and been arrested. Detainees often face torture, beatings, and other forms of abuse. There is little academic or religious freedom. Under the constitution, the regime required religious organizations to register with it.
Religious meetings are monitored, and religious publications are subject to censorship and control. Buddhist monastic orders are under the authority of the state-sponsored State Clergy Coordination Committee. The regime has attempted to promote Buddhism and suppress other religions in ethnic minority areas. Workers' rights are restricted, unions are banned, and forced labor for public works and to produce food and other goods and perform other services for the military is common.
Military personnel routinely confiscate livestock, fuel, food supplies, alcoholic drinks, and money from civilians. Sincethe military the Tatmadaw has been the dominant political and economic force, with a large proportion of the population serving in the armed forces since the s.
Inthere were an estimatedmen and women in the military; another 73, were in the People's Police Force and 35, served in the People's Militia. Reflecting the country's poverty and international isolation, the military is poorly armed and trained. Direct spending on the military declined from about 33 percent in the early s to about 21 percent inrepresenting less than 4 percent of the gross domestic product.
This decline in personnel and expenditure was reversed in Bythe military had grown to overand military spending had increased greatly. At present, military spending by the government is greater than nonmilitary spending. Military officers and their families play an important role in economic affairs outside the formal activities of the military.
This is true both in the formal economy through government economic entities and in the black market, especially narcotics smuggling. The military's formal role includes intimidation of the population and waging war against ethnic insurgents. Both men and women do agricultural work, but individual tasks are often gender-specific. Men prepare the land for planting and sow seeds, and women transplant rice seedlings. Harvesting is done by both men and women. Men thresh the rice.
Most domestic work is done by women. During ceremonies, however, men are involved in food preparation.
A variety of traditional handicrafts are made within the household or by specialists. Items of metal, wood, or stone generally are made by men, and weaving usually is done by women.
Pottery, basketry, plaiting, making lacquerware, and making umbrellas can be done by men or women. Small-scale market selling and itinerant trading are conducted by both sexes. Transportation of goods or people by animal, carts, boat, or motor vehicle is done mainly by men. Religious specialists and traditional curers generally are male, but sometimes they are female.
Spirit mediums can be male or female. Traditional theatrical and musical performances involve both genders. Women work mainly in teaching and nursing. The Relative Status of Women and Men. Traditional society was known for the relatively high status of women.
If a couple divorces, for example, common goods are divided equally and the wife retains her dowry as well as the proceeds from her commercial activities. However, military rule has undermined the status of women, especially at the higher levels of government and commerce. Women, however, play a significant role in the political opposition to the regime. The higher levels Mingalla Market, Mandalay. Men and women engage equally in small marketplace selling and trading.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship Marriage. Individuals usually find their own marriage partners. Arrangements for the marriage may be made by the parents of sometimes an intermediary is employed.
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When a man asks a woman's parents for their consent, it is common practice for him to bring a gift for the woman. Wedding ceremonies are relatively simple except among wealthy families. After speeches by the parents, members of the families and guests share pickled tea. Far more common is the practice of wealthy and powerful men having an informal second wife. Divorce is relatively common and usually involves the couple ceasing to live together and dividing their property. A newly married couple may live with the parents of one partner often the parents of the wife but soon establish their own household.
The nuclear family is the primary domestic unit, but it may include extended family members such as unmarried siblings, widowed parents, or more distant unmarried or widowed relatives. The husband is nominally the head of the household, but the wife has considerable authority.
Women are responsible for most domestic chores. Property generally is divided equally among the children after the parents die. Descent is reckoned bilaterally. Traditionally, there were no family names. Young children receive a great deal of attention. Newborns are placed in very carefully made cradles. A mother keeps her baby with her when she leaves the house. Burmese women carry babies on the hip, while most hill-dwelling peoples hold them in a sling on the back.
Young children are pampered, given considerable freedom of movement, and allowed to handle virtually anything that catches their attention. Weaning usually takes place when a child is two to three years old. Relative or friends may nurse an infant. Adults take a great deal of interest in children, including those who are not their own.
Child Rearing and Education. Young children undergo several rites of passage. When a child is a A child carrying baskets on a shoulder pole. Traditionally, all boys of eight to ten years of age attended school in a Buddhist monastery. Children in rural areas grow up surrounded by the implements that they will use when they grow up and watch adults performing domestic, agricultural, and artisanal tasks.
In the past, all boys eight to ten years of age would begin attending school in a nearby Buddhist monastery, where they would learn about Buddhism and be taught to read and write.
Those schools gradually gave way to public schools, but many young men continue to receive some education in monasteries. Under that system, few women were educated; their education took place mainly at home as they learned how to perform domestic tasks. Modern education began under King Mindon —who built a school for an Anglican missionary. Under the British, secular education spread and the country achieved a relatively high level of education.
Sincethe educational infrastructure has deteriorated. Today two-thirds to three-quarters of children drop out of elementary school before the fifth grade. The curriculum is scrutinized by the military regime, and it often is forbidden to teach in languages other than Burmese. There are forty-five universities and colleges and technical and vocational schools.
There has been a steady erosion of higher education since After the civil unrest induring which many students were involved in antigovernment activities, there were widespread closures of universities and colleges. Since that time there has been a repeated cycle of opening and closing the universities and colleges that has made serious study virtually impossible.
The universities and colleges were closed inand only a few were reopened in Etiquette It is considered improper to lose one's temper or show much emotion in public, but the Burmese are a very friendly and outgoing people. The Burmese and other Buddhists follow the Buddhist custom of not touching a person on the head, since spiritually this is considered the highest part of the body. Patting a child on the head not only is improper but is thought to be dangerous to the child's well-being.
A person should not point the feet at anyone. Footwear is removed upon entering temple complexes for religious reasons, and it is polite to remove footwear when entering a house.
Almost 90 percent of the people are Buddhists, and the proportion is higher among the Burmese majority. Burmese follow the Theravada form of Buddhism, which is also known as Hinayana Buddhism and the doctrine of the elders or the small vehicle. In Theravada Buddhism, it is up to each individual to seek salvation and achieve nirvana. Buddhism is believed to have been introduced to Burma by missionaries sent by the Indian emperor Ashoka in the third century B.
Buddhism is followed by many of the non-Burmese ethnic groups. While all these groups follow Theravada Buddhism, there are some differences between the in beliefs and practices and those of the Burmese. Buddhist beliefs and practices include animistic elements that reflect belief systems predating the introduction of Buddhism. Among the Burmese, this includes the worship of nats, which maybe associated with houses, in individuals, and natural features.
An estimated 3 percent of the population, mainly in more isolated areas, who adhere solely to animistic religious beliefs.
Another 4 percent of the population is Christian 3 percent Baptist and 1 percent Catholic4 percent is Muslim, 4 percent is Hindu, and 1 percent is animist.
Christian missionaries began working in the country in the nineteenth century. They had relatively little success among Buddhists but made numerous converts among some of the minority groups. Between ages of ten and sixteen, most young Burmese men and some young women become Buddhist novices and go to live in a monastery.
While most young men remain at the monastery for only a short time before returning to the secular life, some become fully ordained monks. A person who wants to become a monk is expected to be free of debt and certain diseases, have the permission of his parents or spouse, agree to follow the disciplinary rules of the monkhood, and not become involved in secular life.
While monks are expected to lead a life of aestheticism, they perform important functions in the community, especially as counselors. A variety of religious practitioners are associated with the animistic beliefs of most Buddhists, including spirit dancers who become possessed by spirits and may engage in healing and fortune-telling.
There are also astrologers, other types of healers, tattoists with occult knowledge, and magicians.
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Rituals and Holy Places. Thingyan, the water festival, marks the advent of the new year in mid-April. Buddha images are washed, and monks are offered alms. It is also marked by dousing people with water and festive behavior such as dancing, singing, and theatrical performances. Kason in May celebrates Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and entrance into nirvana.
The day includes the ceremonial watering of banyan trees to commemorate the banyan tree under which Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment. A ceremony is held in July to mark the start of the three-month lenten period and commemorate Buddha's first sermon. It is at this time that young males become novices.
Lent is a period of spiritual retreat for monks, who remain in their monasteries. During this time people may not marry. Lent ends in October. Over a three-day period, candles, oil lamps, paper lanterns, and electric bulbs are lit to show how angels lit Buddha's return from heaven.
Many marriages are held at this time. A celebration is held in November to produce new garments for monks and Buddha images. People come to complete the production of the cloth within a single day. Death and the Afterlife.
Buddhists believe that those who die are reborn in a form that is in keeping with the merit they accumulated while alive. The cycle of death and rebirth is believed to continue as long as ignorance and craving remain.
The cycle can be broken only through personal wisdom and the elimination of desire. Funerals involve either burial or cremation. The ceremony includes a procession of monks and mourners who accompany the coffin to the cemetery or crematorium, with the monks chanting and performing rites.
Funerals for monks tend to be elaborate, while those who have died a violent death generally are quickly buried with very little ceremony, since their spirits are believed to linger as malevolent ghosts.
Medicine and Health Care The use of traditional forms of medicine remains important, especially among the ethnic minorities.
Few young people, however, receive training in these forms of medicine by an aging group of traditional healers and many traditional practices and the knowledge of traditional remedies are being lost.
Serious health problems are reaching crisis proportions, and nontraditional health care by the public and private sectors has deteriorated. Malaria, AIDS, and malnutrition and related diseases are a serious problem. Intravenous drug use formerly was a problem mainly in the northeast among ethnic minorities, but sincedrug used has spread to the lowlands and the urban areas inhabited by the Burmese majority. There are only hospitals and 12, doctors.
These facilities are in very poor condition, and funding for medical care and training is inadequate. These are occasions for the regime to promote nationalist sentiments, and some are accompanied by festive events. Far more important for most Burmese are the older celebrations associated with agriculture and the Buddhist religion. The Arts and Humanities Support for the Arts.
Until the s, the nobility was an important source of support for artists. After the fall of the monarchy, support came from newly rich merchants and British colonial officers. From the s to the s, there was relatively little support from the government or the public.
State schools for the fine arts were opened in A woman carrying grasses in Maymio, Burma. Women had high status in traditional society, which has been lessened today by the militaristic government.
Rangoon and Mandalay inand there was a revival of interest in traditional art forms. The military regime of encouraged art forms supportive of its nationalist and socialist agenda. Sincethere has been little government support. The focus of writing within Burmese society was, and to a large extent still is, focused on writing for theater performances pwe and producing texts relating to Buddhism. In addition, since the nineteenth century there is a fair amount of popular fiction.
There is also some British fiction from the colonial period that is set in Burma. Among the early British works of fiction concerned with the Burmese are two novels by H. The Soul of a People and Thibaw's Queen By far the best known British novel set in Burma is George Orwell's Burmese Daysa critical examination of British colonial rule. The graphic arts include temple sculpture in wood, stucco, stone, and wood; temple mural painting, usually in tempera; other forms of wood carving; ivory carving; work in bronze, iron, and other metals; jewelry; ceramics; glassware; lacquerware; textiles and costume; items made of palm and bamboo; and painting on paper or canvas.
Lacquerware entails the covering of an object made of bamboo or wood with a liquid made from tree sap. These objects include containers as well as tables, screens, and carved animal figures.
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The process preserves, strengthens, and waterproofs objects and has been developed into a decorative art form. Its origins are ancient. Pagan is the largest and most important center for lacquerware. The Government Lacquerware School was established by local artists in Pagan in The Shan also have a distinctive lacquerware tradition. Weaving is a highly developed traditional art form.
Among the Burmese, it reached its highest form in the production of lun-taya acheik cloth. The technique was brought from Manipur in the eighteenth century, but the complex motifs are distinctly Burmese.
This style of cloth is still woven near Mandalay for sale to elite Burmese. There are distinctive textile traditions among the ethnic minorities.