About Myanmar

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Myanmar, widely known to many as Burma is the largest South East Asian country. Myanmar occupies a land area of about 676000 square kilometers which has a continuous coastline along Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. Myanmar shares its borders with Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Laos and Cambodia. Its capital city is Naypyidaw and its largest  city is Yangon or commonly referred to as Rangoon.

Myanmar can be divided into several distinct zones, namely the northern mountain ranges, the Shan plateau in the east, the central dry zone, the river valleys, the Irrawaddy(or Ayeyarwaddy) delta and the long Tenasserim (Taninthayi) strip in the south.

The western and northern mountain ranges form the outer spurs of the Himalayas which offers view of snow covered peaks that provides challenges which trekkers seek. The Irrawaddy is the longest river, beginning in the Himalayas and flowing for some 1300 miles. As well as being a major means of transport, the Irrawaddy annual flooding during the rainy season makes its rich banks and delta area the most fertile in Myanmar for paddy farming.

The river valley effectively divides Myanmar into two areas, the east and west. The eastern area is more densely populated and is connected to the capital and other major towns by road and railway networks. In contrast, the western areas have to be reached by riverboat as there are still no bridges across the river, except for the Ava Bridge near Mandalay.

  • Historical Milestones
  • Early History
  • The First Myanmar Empire
  • The Second Myanmar Empire
  • The Third Myanmar Empire
  • British Rule
  • People

The Burmese are very proud of their history, which dates back to the founding of Bagan in the 9th century A.D. The Burmese Empire was once quite substantial, spreading as far as Assam and Manipur in the west, and as far as Cambodia in the east. The Burmese kings traditionally conceived of themselves and their empire as the centre of the universe and they ruled with absolute power. Later, however, in their dealings with the advancing British, this was to eventually prove their downfall as they did not have enough knowledge or experience of the outside world.

Early history is shrouded in myth and legend. However, experts believe that the Irrawaddy valley was inhabited 5000 years ago by the Mon who entered from the region now known as Thailand and Cambodia and began to cultivate the land. At roughly the same time, a loosely knit group of tribes known as the Pyu migrated from their Tibetan home and settled in the upper Irrawaddy valley. Excavations show that a great civilization centred around the city of Prome(Pyi) . However , the Pyu were defeated by the Mon in the 8th century and the Myanmar, who had previously been subject to them, came into prominence.

The Myanmar established their kingdom at Bagan but it was two centuries later, under the rule of King Anawrahta in the 11trh century, that the first Burmese Empire was founded. During his reign, the Mon in the south were conquered and most of Myanmar was united, except for the Shan hills and parts of Arakan and Tenasserim. He also brought the Tripitaka to Bagan, thus introducing Buddhism to the Myanmar who were previously animists. However , when the kingdom fell to the Mongols in 1287 it disintegrated into small states with the Mon buildings a new state in Bago, the Shan at Innwa and the Burmans at Toungoo.

The second Myanmar Empire was founded by King Bayinnaung between 1551 and 1581. He both regained territories lost by his predecessors and added to them Chiangmai, Ayuthia(Now Thailand) and Tenasserim. The capital was moved to Bago which became an important port for trade with neighbouring countries. Later, in the 17th century , the capital was moved to Ava when the British, Dutch and French trading companies were established in Myanmar. However, with help from the French, the Mon captured Ava in 1752 and from there tried to control all of the country.

It was only after eight years of warfare that the Mon were finally defeated by King Alaungpaya who united the country and formed the third Myanmar Empire. His son and successor, Hsinbyushin, successfully invaded neighbouring Siam and destroyed Ayuthia in 1767. It was this conquest which brought the Siamese influence to Myanmar arts, dance and music. Hsinbyushi’s brother, Bodawpaya, later won Arakan and did much to improve communicatons, education and the legal system in Myanmar. The Konbaung Dynasty which this family founded was the last dynasty to rule Myanmar before the British took it over as a colony.

The British annexed Myanmar in three stages, during the three Anglo Myanmar wars of 1824, 1852 and 1886. In the first they gained the Arakan and Tenasserim territories; in the second lower Myanmar was conquered; while the third resulted in the control of Mandalay and upper Myanmar. The Royal family were then exiled to India.
It was only in the first part of the 20th century that nationalist leaders came into prominence. The most famous was Myanmar’s national hero, Aung San, Starting his political carrer as a young student at Yangon University, he developed and led the Thakin Movement, thakin(meaning – master) being a term the Myanmar had to use when addressing the British. Members of the movement deliberated wore traditional dress, especially jackets made of brown cotton called pin ni.

Myanmar has been described as an anthropologist’s dream by some writers as it possesses such a great a diversity of ethnic groups with distinct dress, customs and traditions. According to the 1983 Census, the distribution of these groups was as follows:

Myanmar 69%
Shan 8.5%
Karen 6.2%
Arakanese 4.5%
Other indigenous races 6.5%
Mixed Myanmar and foreign races 1.3%
Chinese 0.7%
Indians and Pakistanis 1.4%
Foreigners 1.9%

Myanmar occupies a large land area of over 676000 square kilometers. It lies between latitude 10 and 28 degrees north and longitude 92 and 101 degrees east. Borders are shared with Bangladesh and India in the north-west, China in the north-east , and Laos and Thailand in the south-east. Towards the south and south-west are the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

Myanmar can be divided into distinct zones, namely the northern mountain ranges, the Shan plateau in the east, the central dry zone, the river valleys, the Irrawaddy(or Ayeyarwaddy) delta and the long Tenasserim (Taninthayi)strip in the south.

The western and northern mountain ranges are very high and form the outer spurs of the Himalayas. There is snow in the most remote parts, though most Burmese have never been to these areas. However, visitors (mainly trekkers from the mountaineering association) say that the rhododendron and firs found here are a particularly beautiful sight.

The Shan plaeau in the east rises about 3000 feet above sea level. The Salween(or Thanlwin) river, which has its source in Tibet, flows down the plateau through very narrow and unnavigable gorges. However, the Irrawaddy is the longest river, beginning in the Himalayas and flowing for some 1300 miles. As well as being a major means of transport, the Irrawaddy’s annual flodding during the rainy season makes its rich banks and delta area the most fertile in Myanmar for paddy farming.

The river valley effectively divides Myanmar into two areas, the east and west. The eastern area is more densely populated and is connected to the capital and other major towns by road and railway networks. In contrast, the western areas have to be reached by riverboat as there are still no bridges across the river, except for the Ava Bridge near Mandalay.

The Dry zone is a semi-desert area, roughly in the centre of the country, where thorny trees, shrubs and cacti are the main vegetation. It is in this area that Mandalay and Bagan are located. These two kingdoms of the past are now Myanmar’s most visited cities after the capital.

The Irrawaddy delta is made up of many creeks and streams with banks of alluvial soils suitable for growing rice, the staple of the Burmese diet. Many fish and shrimps are also available in this area and the delta is famous for various types of dried fish, fish and shrimp sauces, and pastes. Here, a typical meal is one of rice, fish paste dip and fresh vegetables (boiled or raw) from the farmer’s vegetable patch. Similarly, in the areas where cooking oil is produced, a simple meal would consist of rice mixed with oil and lightly salted.

The Tenasserim strip that lies towards the south is largely cut off from other parts of the country. In this region there is a long mountain range stretching north to south and a narrow coastal strip. While the land offers tin mines and quarries, the chief economic activity here in recent years has been trade between Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. However, to reach the most southerly parts, transport has to be by sea or air.

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