- By Maung Hlaing
Chief Editor (Retd.)
“Children’s literature is of high value, as it is created to help bring up innocent children in such a way as to become happy and lovely people.”
“Children’s literature is more difficult to create because there are more limitations such as the quality of the characters, the familiarity of the environment and the reading level.”
These remarks were made by ex-President U Htin Kyaw at the opening ceremony of the Children’s Literature Festival held at the Myanmar International Convention Centre -2 (MICC-2) on 5 November, 2016. He said so simply because he himself is a writer and he was born of Sayagyi Min Thu Wun who pioneered the children’s literature.
Although we cannot definitely say the dawn of children’s literature of Myanmar, six periods could roughly be defined–from Myanmar prehistoric time to Late Konboung period; Colony period (1886-1948); Parliament Democracy period (1948-1962); Lanzin Party, or Socialist Revolution period (1962-1988); State Law and Order Restoration Council/State Peace and Development Council period (1988-2010); and Transformation period towards democracy (2011- to date).
Scholars say that in the prehistoric time, children’s literature was descended from story-telling. It is because children love listening to story-telling. When we were very very small, before we had even learned to read, we loved to listen to the tales or stories Grandpa or Grandma told us. Hundreds of times we were transported to the Benares and King Bramahdat who is well acquainted with children. And we the children were familiar with the story of “Mae Htwe Lay and the Serpent”, a Myanmar traditional folk-tale. We had pity on Mae Htwe Lay who was simple and honest. At the same time, we had an antipathy to her cruel elders.
Not only in Myanmar but also in nations of the world, adults have told stories to their children since the prehistoric times. Fairy tales, folk-tales, myths, epics, ballads and fables have existed since then. Early people handed down their folk literature orally from generation to generation. In the Innwa (Ava) Dynasty, literature for children came out thanks to the emergence of (rhyming) homily (qHk;rpm). Most of the homilies were written by monk writers who wanted children to become good citizens.
After the British annexation of Myanmar in 1886, the entire Myanmar became its colony and we saw the British Colony period. In Mawlamyine (Moulmein) which was accustomed to the British Administration, missionary schools were thriving. A Book for children–Burmese Pictorial Reader” compiled by Maung Na Kaw was printed at A.B.M printing press in 1865. It was said to be a first and foremost reader for children in Myanmar.
Similarly, Thudamasari Precedents, or Judgements printed and published in Sittway (Rakhine State) in 1866 could also be considered to be a book for children. It contained folk-tales for children. Moreover, “Hitaw Padetha” printed and published in Yangon in 1870 was put on the list of children’s literature. Later, it was in the 1870’s that the translated works for children began to flourish. In 1873, the world-famous “Aesop’s Fables” were translated by W.Shwe Too Sandy. Although the themes were based on alien origins they could attract both young readers and adults.
Regarding the history of children’s literature in Myanmar, we cannot ignore the significant role played by “The World of Books” (*E¦avmupmapmif) that emerged in 1920’s. It served as a bridge between the olden day’s sty les and the modern ones.
“The World of Books” carried traditional folktales and translated works for children. Most of the works educated the children to know how to obey the elders. It introduced translation competitions to children’s literature which were known as “Prize Translation”. Even U Thant (Former Sceretaty-General of UNO) translated a poem of French origin “The Crow and the Fox” into Myanmar under the pen-name of “Thilawa”. Likweise, Thakin Ba Thaung paved the way for children’s literature based on nationalism and patriotism through the children’s corner of the World of Books.
The movements of literature for children gradually gained momentum when the pioneers such as Maung Wun, Sun Thawdar, Anyatra, Wathawa, Mya Wut Yee, Shwe ka-nyit, Mingalar, Welu Thumana took part in the movemets.
According to the records, “The Burma Boy” (jrefrmjynfom;pm apmif) which came out in 1924 could be called the first and foremost magazine for children and became an important milestone in the movement of children’s literature in Myanmar. The publisher was an English named Mr. Kinch (of the Scouts) who established the Burma Art Club in Rangoon High School in 1918 taught painting to Myanmar students. Successful artists U Ba Nyan, U Ba Zaw and famous cartoonist U Hein Soon were his students. “The Burma Boy” contained The Editor’s Notes, stories, materials on general knowledge including agriculture and livestock breeding, physical exercises and sports and etc. with attractive illustrations. However, the magazine was Brought to an end when Mr. Kinch was transferred to the Shan State in 1927.
It was in 1935 when a periodical called “Tet Khit” came out to encourage Myanmar citizens to learn current international affairs. The magazine enabled the young readers to have political outlook. Especially, it inspired Myanmar children to have nationalistic and religious fervour.
In the Parliament Democracy period, Dr.Htin Aung worte the Book “Selection From Burmese Folk Tales” which was published by the Oxford University Press in 1948. The book was written in English to make the world know the essence of Myanmar traditional folk-tales.
In 1955, “The Children’s Journal” (cav;*sme,f) conducted by Saya Zawana came out. The journal was contributed by Sayagyi Min Thu Wun, Zawana, Ko Gyi Nanda-meik, Tet Toe, Htun Nay Nwe, Khin Myo Chit, Nu Yin, Ngwe Tar Yi and so on. It carried tales and translated works of international myths and tales.
During the period of Burma Socialist Programme Party, periodicals for children were produced and carried new styles of writing. In 1964, “The Shay Saung Lu-nge Journal” (a&SUaqmifvli,f*sme,f) and “The Doe Kyaung-thar Sar-saung” (‘dkYausmif;om;pmapmif) were produced by Myawady Press, under the Ministry of Information came out for children. “Shwe Thway” journal was born of Sarpay Beikman, which was under the Printing and Publishing Corporation (now Printing and Publishing Department), Ministry of Information on 4-1-1969. “Shwe Thway” came out in accordance with the objectives of “Getting to know one’s own and others” cultures; Promoting concern for the disadvantaged and the handicapped; and Making children enjoy themselves in reading.” The journal has carried folk tales, modern short stories, short articles for general knowledge, children’s chuckles and poems with attractive colourful illustrations since the time when it was conceived. Most of the works are based on educational themes and they were illustrated by well-known artists and cartoonists such as U Ba Kyi, U Than Kywe, U Sein (Maung Sein), U Pe Thein, U Kyaw San (Ka-Hsa) U Tin Aye, U Than Nwe and young artists and cartoonists, who are now playing a leading role in the publishing world today.
When I joined the Sarpay Beikman in 1980, I became an editor of Shwe Thway which was ten years old and the journal was transformed into a bilingual one. The leading translators were Sayagyi U Win Pe (Mya Zin), U Ko Ko (Motley Ko-Ko), U Aung Chan Tha (C.T.Aung), Mr. Paul Aung Khin (P. Aung Khin) and U Paw Htin (Jimmy Paw Htin). Later, Guardian U Kyaw Min (Min Kyaw Min) and U Khin Maung Aye (KMA) became translators for Shwe Thway. Now, the author of this article and U Khin Maung Lay (KML) who worked as Executive Editor of Shwe Thway for a long time are engaged as translators.
Except Saya Mya Zin, all the leading translators and artists and cartoonists have done their best and now they have earned their rest in peace. Those (Maung Hsu Shin, Daw Ohn Kyi, U San Lwin, Gayet Ni and etc) who gave birth to Shwe Thway Journal are no longer in Sarpay Beikman. However they have left the banner that will be relayed to new generations.
Times have collapsed. Things are changing at an alarming rate. Shwe Thway may changed its formats and contents in line with the times and systems to attract the young readers. However, the essence of educating the young readers and inspiring them to have an access to all kinds of books will never never be changed. Shwe Thway will continue to instil a hobby or habit of reading into children.
From 16 to 20 September in 1965, a symposium on children’s literature was held in the hall of Sarpay Beikman. After 1965, there were another two paper reading sessions–one was on “Literature for children” (in 1973) and another one was on “Folk Tales” (in 1987). Although we should celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Literature for Children in 2015, we failed to do so.
In our country today, the government itself is dedicated to achieving headway in children’s literature. Publishing of books and journals and other periodicals designed and illustrated for children is gaining momentum. Children’s Literature Festivals and Book Fairs jointly organized by the Ministry of Information and regional governments concerned, are successfully held in cities of states and regions all over the nation.
A child anywhere is a child and is always innocent. They are the potential torch bearers who will shoulder our duties we are carrying out today. What we should do our best is to prepare them for a happy and bright future by providing revelatory literature. They need literature that will pave the way for international peace, mutual understanding and friendship among children who will make the world anew.
We should not ignore the fact that failure to nurture the development of children’s literature could ruin not only the future of the children but also that of the country.
In commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of Shwe Thway Journal that fell on 5 January, 2019!
1.The Global New Light of Myanmar, 6-11-2016
2.The Global New Light of Myanmar, 28-1-2017
3.uav;vli,fpmay? ‘kwd,wGJ? pmayAdrmef? 1973