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Burmese Culture | Inside Burma Tours
Burma's story has been great, tumultuous, dramatic and always extremely intricate. Understood of Burma's old origins, cultural heritage and recent policy changes will not only mean that you get more out of your journey, but will also make your stay aware of the country's contemporary, diverse cultural, sociopolitical climat.
It is believed that the population has been living in the area now under Burma occupation since 75,000 BC, but the first settlement we know about was founded at least 13,000 years ago. By 1500 BC, Burmese were some of the first in the world to start producing bronce, growing brown seed raisins and animal domestication - and 2,500 years ago the area had become an important trading hub between the Middle East, India and China.
Pyu were the first documentary evidence of Burma today and were first mentioned in the Irrawaddy River in the second millennium BC. After emigrating southwards from today's Yunnan in China, these Tibeto-Burman-speaking individuals built 12 wallet-covered metropolitan areas that we know of, among them five large metropolitan states and many smaller ones throughout the whole of Burma.
Pyu had a wealthy civilization strongly affected by their location on the trading line between India and China. Its civilization was largely tranquil and prospered in Burma for most of a millenium. The long ascent had a significant impact on the later civilizations in the area, and its heritage is still visible in Burma's civilization today.
In the 6th and 6th centuries, the Mon tribe had also started to move from the Haribhunjaya and Dvaravati Kingdom (both in present-day Thailand) to Lower Burma. Pyu civilization eventually crumbled in the 9th centuries when Bamar robbers from the Kingdom of Nanzhao (now Yunnan) spearheaded recurrent Burmese invaders and established the walled city of Pagan (now known as Bagan) at the junction of the Chindwin and Irrawaddy Rivers.
It became the foundation of the pagan empire that was to reign in Burma for about four hundred years. Although Pyu colonies remained in Oberburma for the next three hundred years, they were finally consumed by the pagan empire. For two hundred years Pagan had progressively expanded before entering its golden era, which began when the great King Anawrahta ascended the king's crown in 1044.
The pagan empire, which encompassed a range of far-reaching socio-economic and spiritual reform, united the areas that would later become what is now Burma for the first ever in the country's entirety. This reform entailed the establishment of Theravada Buddhism in Northern Burma, an important historical trend in the state.
In the 12th and 12th c. the pagan empire was almost equal in size and might to the Khmer empire. Most of the kingdom's riches between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries were directed to the building of over 10,000 Buddha Schools on the Bagan Plain, many of which have survived to this date and are undeniably Burma's most spectacular area.
At the beginning of the thirteenth and easterly centuries, the pagan kingdom was attacked by the Shans, while the Mongolians had captured Yunnan (the former home of the Burmese) and targeted new willows. They plundered Pagan in 1287, ending the 250-year gold era of the Roman Empire and exposing Burma to a long era of partition dominated by small empires and wars.
After the collapse of the pagan empire, Burma broke up into smaller empires organized around four large missions: the Pagan Empire and the Pagan Empire: Oberburma, Unterburma, the Shan-States and Arakan. Between 1287 and 1563, the Shans ruled much of Burma's north and east, while Arakan existed longest and maintained an autonomous state in the Rakhine area of Burma from 1287 to 1785.
During the Toungoo dynasty, most of Burma and almost all of present-day Thailand and Laos became the biggest empire in the country's Southeast Asian past by 1580. While this overstretched realm quickly crumbled, it was partly rebuilt by 1650 - this year in a much more confined area that encompasses most of what is now Burma (with the exception of Arakan and the extreme south).
Tongoo dynasty was replaced by the Konbaung dynasty, which established a great kingdom after the first Toungoo empire. Unfortunately, however, the Konbaung kingdom was struck by conflicts, among them countless battles with Siam (today's Thailand) in the East and China in the north. This, in turn, annoyed British India and resulted in the catastrophic two-year dispute that became known as the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26).
As the victors of the war, the British adopted all of Burma's achievements in the West and Tenasserim. In 1852, during the Second Anglo-Burmese War, they readily conquered further Burma and in 1885, during the Third Anglo-Burmese War, they captured the remainder of the land and sent the last Myanmar monarch, Thibaw, into banishment into Indian rule.
Burma was formally made a provincial state of India by the Brits in 1886, who founded a capitol in Rangoon (now Yangon). Britain's domination of Burma led to drastic changes in Burma's societies and economies. People from Burma were almost entirely barred from the growing prosperity of their land, which was mainly held by the Brits, then Anglo-Burmese and Indians.
Although the reform began at the beginning of the twentieth-century that would provide more independence for Burma and more public administration for the country's population, the rate of transformation was sluggish. In the 1920s there was a series of college strike and protest, which led to more serious upheaval until the early 30s and finally to an uprising against the Colonies.
The British formally parted Burma from India in 1937, granting the nation a new Constitution, a fully elective meeting and a Burma Premier. That was not generally embraced by the people of Burma, some of whom were afraid that this was a step towards excluding them from the reform taking place in India.
In the early days of World War II, it seemed that the Burmese could use an agreement with Japan to free themselves from the British. Around this period, Aung San, the revolutionist who is regarded by most as the parent of Burma today, formed the Burmese Communist Party (CPB) and agreed to assist Japan in the formation and education of the Burmese Independence Army.
1942 the Japans entered Burma and declared the state to be an autonomous state in 1943. Soon it became clear, however, that Japan's promise of impartiality was a deception. Disappointed by the Japanes, under whose control up to a quarter of a million Myanmar citizens were murdered, Aung San and other Myanmar Communists and Socialists agreed to alter tactics and called for a provisional coalition with the Britons and the Soviet Union against their alleged joint enemy: Nazism.
The Burma National Army (formerly Burma Independent Army, educated by the Japanese and headed by Aung San) successfully revolted against the Japanese in 1945, expelled them from the land and formally became allied. Aung San was able to bargain Burma's sovereignty over Britain after the Japanese surrendered in 1947 - before the end of the year.
Aung San also concluded the Panglong Accord with Shan, Chin and Kachin, indigenous minorities, a months after this Aung San-Clement Attlee deal in London, which guarantees their right to be politically autonomous if they were dissatisfied with the Burma experience after ten years. Then Aung San's Antifascist People's Liberation League won a landslide of 172 out of 225 people.
There was an autonomous Burma just around the bend, and things were going uphill. Just six month after his encounter with Attlee, Aung San and six of his helpers were murdered - supposedly by order of U Saw (Burma's premier from 1939 to 1942, who exiled most of World War II in Uganda).
On January 4, 1948, Burma became formally self-sufficient in the midnight under the command of Aung San's protégé: the mountain peoples took up arms oppression, the Communists abandoned the regime and went on the offensives, the Muslims in the state of Rakhine expressed their dissatisfaction, the formerly tranquil Mon rebel nation, and battles erupted throughout the state.
In the early 1950s, the regime took gradual domination of the land - but just as the civilian riots subsided, the political system began to collapse. He stayed in the administration until 1958, when he volunteered to hand over authority to General Ne Win and an interim army administration.
In the absence of the democratically accountable civil administration, Ne Win was able to dramatically improve domestic stabilization in just 15 brief month, and when U Nu came back to office in the 1960 election, great strides towards Burma's peacemaking had been made. The Revolutionary Council of 17 was formed, most of the personal belongings were seized and transferred to the state, and the massive nationalization led to many losing their job and many daily necessities becoming available only on the sidelines.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Ne Win's underestimated policy led to a decline in Burma's standard of living. As a result, the situation in Burma has deteriorated. Burma's economic collapse as a result of this abrupt move was later underlined by the country's inclusion in the UN's Least Developed Countries designation the following December. In the midst of this state incompetency, resistance against the army regime was not surprising.
Dissatisfaction increased on August 8, 1988, during the so-called 8888 insurrection, but the friendly protest was suppressed by the regime, causing an estimate of 3,000 dead and ten thousand refugees. These included giving up the socialist system for a more capitalistic system, beautifying the Yangon roads, renaming the land from Burma to Myanmar and putting celebrity opponents - including Aung San's subsidiary Aung San Suu Kyi - under houseincrust.
In the 1990 election, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won 60% of the poll. Despite two brief layoffs in the mid-1990s and early 1990s, Aung San Suu Kyi was under overall domestic detention for over two decades: from 1989 to 2010.
Meanwhile, in the 1990', the Burmese army juntas made an unwise effort to establish Burma as a traveler' s paradise. A NLD-run touristic blackout, proclaimed by Aung San Suu Kyi and accepted by the vast majority ofthe West, meant that "Visit Myanmar Year 1996" was less than a complete hit.
Strengthened Western sanctioning led the regime to look for trading with India, China and Thailand, and in 2003 the new PM, Khin Nyunt, proclaimed the junta's seven-step "roadmap for disciplining democracy". Burma's army regime experienced a string of protest in 2007 triggered by the abolition of propellant support, leading to an increase in propellant and propellant oil and natural gas costs.
Buddha civilians were at the head of the crowd, causing the protesters to mislead the communists into calling it the "saffron revolution" (although Burma's friars are wearing chestnut brown clothes and not saffron). Forcibly suppressed the protest, but the number of deaths varies widely, with numbers between 80 and thouands.
The second most deadly hurricane in Burma, Hurricane Nargis, tore through Burma on May 3, 2008, killed over 130,000 lives, left two million displaced and caused an estimated $2.4 billion in casualties. If that wasn't enough, the army regime was delaying the arrival of UN aircraft carrying aid in the shape of medicines, groceries and other aid items.
The Burmese authorities have initiated a number of far-reaching and auspicious policy, economical and administration reform measures since 2011. They include the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 200 other detainees, the creation of the National Human Rights Commission, new labor legislation for trade union ism and strike action, easing of media restrictions and rules on commercial practice.
My country also greeted the first Foreign Secretary in more than fifty years (Hillary Clinton) and the first US presidential trip (Barack Obama) in 2011. The NLD took part in by-elections in 2012, gaining 41 out of 44 controversial places, with Suu Kyi herself gaining a place in the lower chamber of the Burmese parliament.
Mr Aung San Suu Kyi has expressed her wish to stand for the 2015 parliamentary election, but the country's present state prohibits her from becoming prime minister. In spite of this recent advance, Burma faces many external challenge and critique today because of its failure to address the ongoing conflicts between minority communities in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states.
There are many comments that the first reforms have come to a standstill and it is yet to be seen whether Burma will be able to maintain its uptrend.