October 20, 2016

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By What Name should Our Country be Known?

What should we call our country, is it Myanmar or Burma? My opinion is: “It doesn’t matter whether the colour of the cat is black or white, as long as it catches the rats it’s OK”. Thus, whether it is called Myanmar or Burma, it wouldn’t be a problem. For over half of my age I had been a Burmese from Burma. When it’s changed to Myanmar, I didn’t mind to be called a Myanmar, but the problem was I had to do a lot of explaining whenever I went abroad to attend seminars or conferences. In fact most of us were accustomed to and also comfortable with the name Burma, which had been the name of our country for centuries. Most people from abroad also knew and recognized our country as Burma and the people as Burmese or Burman. Thus I would like to call my country “Burma”.
Only over two decades ago it was changed to Myanmar. It was changed without the general consents of the people, that is, it wasn’t by holding a referendum or by a constitution, but the change was first declared in a circular and then regularized later in the constitution many years later. At that time, not only the name of the country was changed, but also the names of some cities, towns and roads too were changed. Though changing the names just like that was easy, many complications ensued.
The first problem was to change the names of the government departments, which involved the changing of the signboards, letterheads already printed on numerous official forms and receipts and even the currencies, postal and revenue stamps had to be reprinted, which caused much inconveniences and unnecessary expenses.
Here, I would like to mention one such inconvenience, which the Burma Five Star Line (BFSL) had to face as the result of the name changes. As the ships of the BFSL travel all over the world their names, the name of the home port and the initials of the company name had to be written, on the ships’ hull and funnel, in English. When the circular ordering the changes to be made came out, all the ships including those out at sea were given instructions to carry out immediately. Thus, the ships had to urgently repaint the name BFSL as MFSL (Myanmar Five Star Line), the name MV Bassein, for example had to be changed to MV Pathein and the home port Rangoon had to be changed to Yangon, while still underway at sea. As most of the ships of the BFSL were given the names of the cities, most had to undergo changes. When they entered the foreign ports they encountered many problems and there were much explanations to do and wrangling with the port authorities as the latter parties were not yet been notified of the changes.
Of course there are a few countries, which changed their names. For example, Campuchea for Cambodia (later switched back to Cambodia), Korea for Manchuria, Malaysia for Malaya, Sri Lanka for Ceylon, Taiwan for Formosa, Thailand for Siam, and Zimbabwe for Rhodesia, and etc. Different countries that changed their names might have their own reasons and I have no intention to go into detail discussions. As for our country, there may be one, but I’m in no position to know the real reason behind the changing of the name.
At this juncture, I would like to draw the readers’ attention as to how we came to be known as Bamars. According to some historical records found on the Internet, during the 9th century AD, the Mongolians invaded our country and put an end to the Pyu City states. Among them was a tribe called the Barama. When the main Mongolian forces returned to their country, they left the Baramas behind to administer their occupied regions. With the passage of time, the Pyus’ identity faded away as the results of the intermarriages with the Baramas and a new race known as Bamars emerged. Those Bamars were supposed to have founded the Bagan dynasty. This piece of information may be contradictory to some other records, because different scholars have different opinions or theories on this matter. However, I chose to accept this theory as it makes the most plausible explanation of the emergence of the Bamar race.
Some historical records mentioned the name Miranma, also known as Barama, as a tribe that accompanied the Mongolian army, and thus there was a possibility that the name Myanmar also could have been derived from that name. However, I couldn’t find any mention of the name Myanmar in the old records of those periods. I found that almost all the chronicles of those periods recorded the name Bamar only.
Thus it can be deduced that our country had been known as the Bamar Naing Ngan since the Bagan period. Thus when the British annexed our country they called her Burma, in their accent. Different people have their own peculiar way of pronouncing the word Bamar. Indians call us Bramar (ဗရမာ), the Japanese Birumar (ဘိရုမာ), the Thai word for us is Phama (ဖမ), and Birmanie, Birmania or Birmin by some Europeans. All these examples indicate that the name Burma is appropriate when written or spoken in English and Bamar Naing Ngan (ဗမာႏုိင္ငံ) when expressed in Burmese, the official language.
Here, it would need more clarification as to the naming of a country. Almost all countries chose the name of the majority race as the name for their country though there may be multitude of ethnic races. If we don’t want to call our country Burma, because it appeared to represent the Bamar race, which race will we choose to represent our country’s name? It would only be proper to respect the wisdoms of the founders of our country who had chosen the name Bamar Naing Ngan since her birth, many centuries ago.
Thus in conclusion please allow me to repeat what I had mentioned at the beginning: “It doesn’t matter whether the colour of the cat is black or white, as long as it catches the rats it should be alright for everyone”. In the same trend, whether the country is called Myanmar or Burma, as long as it is peaceful and prosperous it would benefit the citizens. It shouldn’t be a big issue or let it become an obstacle in our strive towards a peaceful and prosperous nation, which we could rightfully claim as the Shwe Naing Ngan, the Golden Land. As for me, I prefer Burma, the traditionally accepted name, to Myanmar.

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