World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5

By Paul Bernabeo | Go to book overview

Cultural Expression

Literature

More than one hundred languages are spoken in Myanmar, including Burmese, Kachin, and Chin, which belong to the Tibeto-Burman linguistic family; Shan, which belongs to the Tai family; and Mon, Wa, and Palaung, which are members of the Austro-Asiatic family

Reflecting history and the dominance of Burmese-speaking peoples in the country, Burmese is the official language of Myanmar; around 70 percent of the people in Myanmar speak Burmese. Burmese speakers predominate in areas ranging from the northern mountains to the southernmost Tanintharyi region. Some ethnic minorities also speak Burmese, as in parts of the Rakhine (formerly Arakan) and Shan states. Ethnic Burmese peoples came to dominate the region in the eleventh century CE, and Burmese kings and their ministers promoted Burmese, rather than such relatively widespread languages as Mon, as the official language. Another reason for the early spread of Burmese was that, unlike other languages in the region (with the notable exception of Mon). Burmese was a written language; its script was based on Indian sources.


EARLY LITERATURE

Burmese literature can be traced back to around 1100 CE. Early texts survive as stone inscriptions, palm leaf manuscripts, and pcirabciiks (books folded like an accordion). From the thirteenth century until printing was introduced in the nineteenth century, most Burmese literature was composed first on parabaiks and was then duplicated and distributed on palm leaf manuscripts.

Until modern times, Buddhist monasteries were often the only source of education for the lay elite as well as for monks and novices. The works of some early monastic scholars survive, including those of Shin Maha Thila Wuntha (1453–1518) and Shin Maha Rahtathara (1468–1530). Court lìgures also became well-known writers, particularly poets. Distinguished poets included King Natshin Naun (1578–1615), Queen Ma Myagalay (1809–1845), and Princess Hline Hteit Khaun Tin (1833–1875). Some military leaders also became famous for their poetry, including Nawaday (1498–1588) and Seinta Kyaw Thu (1736–1771). Literature composed by ordinary citizens was rare, but some work has been preserved from the so-called [country poets] of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.


THE EARLY POETS

Based on their particular interests and social backgrounds, the various writers of the Burmese kingdoms treated different subjects in diverse forms. Monks often wrote pijo, epic poems that draw on Jatakas (stories of the Buddha in his previous incarnations), to give religious instruction to readers and listeners. In the so-called Egyin and Mawgun poetic styles, some courtiers eulogized their kings, who rewarded them with decorations, promotions, and titles. Padetha Yaza (1681–1754). a minister appointed to care for the peasantry, used his poems to depict the grassroots life of his time. Some courtiers, such as U Ponnya (1174–1229) and U Pho Hlaing (1191–1245), produced literary works of great merit, at times risking royal disfavor. King Natshin Naun is credited with the initiative of expressing personal emotions in his poems, while U Kala (1678–1738) and Twinthin Taikwun Mahasithu (1726–1806) wrote pioneering accounts of Burmese history.


MODERN LITERATURE

The modern period of Burmese literature began in 1886 with the fall of Mandalay, the capital of the last Burmese kingdom, to the British. Since then, the country has experienced contrasting periods of history, including British colonial rule (1886–1942). Japanese occupation (1942–1945), restored British rule (1945–1948), independence (1948), and socialist and military rule (since 1962). Developments and subject matter in Burmese literature rellect these often chaotic times and changes.

In 1904, Burmese fiction began with an adaptation by James Hla Kyaw (1866–1919) of The Count of Monte Cristo by French novelist Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870). Following this work, original Burmese fiction gained in popularity owing to the efforts of several writers, including Thein Pe Myint (1914–1978) who wrote novels and stories with political themes. Leading women writers, such as Khin Hnin Yu (1925–2003), Nu Nu Yi

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World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Country Locator for Volume 5 Myanmar and Thailand i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Geography and Climate 580
  • The Land of Myanmar and Thailand 582
  • Geology of Myanmar and Thailand 590
  • Climate of Myanmar and Thailand 594
  • Flora and Fauna of Thailand and Myanmar 598
  • History and Movement of Peoples 602
  • Sukhothai and Ayutthaya 604
  • Later Burmese Kingdoms 608
  • British Intervention in Burma 610
  • Peoples of Myanmar and Thailand 612
  • Myanmar (Burma) 614
  • Government 618
  • Modern History 620
  • War and Independence 623
  • Independent Burma 626
  • Modern Myanmar 628
  • Cultural Expression 630
  • Art and Architecture 632
  • Music and Performing Arts 636
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 638
  • Food and Drink 640
  • Daily Life 642
  • Family and Society 644
  • Welfare 646
  • Yangon (Rangoon) 648
  • Naypyidaw 650
  • Mandalay 651
  • Moulmein 652
  • Pegu 653
  • Economy 654
  • Thailand 662
  • Government 666
  • Modern History 668
  • Siam in Transition 670
  • The Age of Reform 672
  • War and Military Rule 674
  • Modern Thailand 676
  • Cultural Expression 678
  • Art and Architecture 680
  • Decorative Arts 683
  • Music and Performing Arts 684
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 687
  • Food and Drink 688
  • Daily Life 690
  • Family and Society 693
  • Health, Welfare, and Housing 695
  • Education 697
  • Bangkok 698
  • Chiang Mai 703
  • Nakhon Ratchasima 704
  • Udon Thani 705
  • Economy 706
  • Further Research 716
  • Index 718
  • World and Its Peoples 722
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