August 19, 2016

The Burma Research Society

Dr. Saw Mra Aung


The Executive members of the Burma Research Society
The Executive members of the Burma Research Society

The Burma Research Society, which lasted from 1910 and 1980, has entered its 116th anniversary this year. As its existence came to cease 36 years ago, the people of Myanmar, except a few Myanmar ardent readers and researchers, might forget it. Although many religio-political organizations emerged in Myanmar at the time of its foundation, it had been standing as a purely academic association from its inception up to its termination. In its hey-day, its reputation could stand comparison to other two renowned academic associations- the Asia Society founded in US in 1957 and the Siamese Society in Thailand in 1904.  Especially, the Journal of Burma Research Society, its main periodical, whose contributors were the intellectual giants of Myanmar in those days and western scholars who specialized in Myanmar, lent more brilliance to its reputation. Copies of the JBRS are still assets to many world famous well-stocked libraries. No doubt, the Burma Research Society and the Journal of the Burma Research Society reflected the then high educational status of Myanmar.
It was J.S. Furnivall who first conceived the idea of establishing the Burma Research Society. It is said that he got a copy of the Journal of the Siam Society in 1908 by the courtesy of U Tun Nyein, a then Reader and Wun-thauk, who had received it from a former staff of his,  U Aung Thein alias Nai Thein, who was at that time serving as an assistant secretary in the Siam Society. Once he saw the journal, he was taken with it. Its appearance and contents convinced him that an academic journal like it should be published in Myanmar. He, therefore, got down immediately to the business of meeting those interested in the publication of such a journal in Myanmar, explaining its contents and the benefits to be accrued from it and seeking support and advice from them. He telegrammed those whom he could not meet personally. Thus he got replies from 238 interested persons all over the world on 18 November, 1909.

The Emblem of the Burma Research Society
The Emblem of the Burma Research Society

On 19 February 1910, a committee was formed at Bernard Free Library in Yangon. It was decided during that meeting that it was to be called the Burma Research Society. Meanwhile, ten executive members were selected, the five nominees for the executives to be invited confirmed and the dates of following meetings also fixed. The eminent personalities present at this meeting included the Hon. Mr. G.F. Arnold, Esq, the Hon. Mr. H.L. Eales, J.G. Rutledge, Esq, Dr. G.R.T Ross, U May Aung, U Tun Nyein, C. Duroiselle, Esq. etc. The ten selected executives were(1) M. Hunter, Esq. M.A.,(2) Dr. G.R.T. Ross, M.A., Ph. D,(3) A.D. Keith, Esq., B.A., M.R.A.S, (4)W.G. Wedder spoon, Esq., M.A., (5) J. Stuart., Esq., (6)Rev. D. Gilmore, M.A., (7)Rev. J.F. Smith, B.A., (8)Major W.G. Pridmore, I.M.S., (9)Rt. Rev. Bishop Cardot and (10)J.T. Best, Esq., M.A. The five nominees for the executives to be invited were (1) Maung Kin, Bar-at-Law,(2) Maung Ne Dun, (3)Prince of Pyinmana, (4)U Po Sa, K.S.M and (5)Captain Ba Khet, I.M.S.
Then, three meetings were held at the Bernard Free Library – on 5 March 1910, on 9 July 1910 and on 1st August 1910. Subcommittee meetings were also held twice at Yangon College –on 28 January 1911 and on 27 March 1911. Finally, the Burma Research Society could be established officially at the Bernard Free Library on 29 March, 1911( But it is generally considered to be founded in 1910) with the aims of studying  and encouraging  Arts, Science, History and Literature in relation to Myanmar and  promoting intercourse between the members of different communities with a common interest. It was also decided by the newly-founded society that the principal work of the society was to publish a research journal once or twice a year and that meetings were to be held quarterly, at which papers were to be read and an annual research conference where various scholars read original research papers concerning Myanmar was to be held once a year. As the society had no fixed head-office, its location could not be identified. Its office had to be affiliated with libraries like the Bernard Free Library, the Central Universities’ Library, etc.
The journal the Burma Research Society published was generally called the Journal of the Burma Research Society, which was, however, more commonly known as J.B.R.S in abbreviation. But it is noticed that the name of the journal changed three times:  Burma Research Society’s Journal in the nascent state of the society, the Journal of the Burma Research Society up to 1941 and   Journal of the Burma Research Society from 1948 up to 1980, the year of the termination of the society. Although the society generally published this journal twice a year, it sometimes had to do so thrice a year when the situation demanded. When the Second World War broke out, the publication of the journal had to make a temporary halt. Only when it came to 1948, it resumed this job. In the beginning, the journal gave priority to the articles and papers written in English so that the ethnics, culture, literature of Myanmar would be acquainted with the peoples from English-speaking countries. But, later, some articles and papers in Myanmar, Mon, Kayin, Shan, etc were included in the journal. The journal carried different topics such as literature, culture, history, anthropology, archaeology, economics, agriculture, religion, psychology, geography, etc. They were written in the forms of articles, research papers, reviews, comments, theses and translation with the aid of illustrations, photographs, maps and statistics. As the contributors were heads , professors, lecturers, etc  from academic faculties and scholars from various fields, the works of the best brains of Myanmar and other countries were contained in the journal.  It was sometimes brought out in two or three separate volumes in the same year. Before the publication, research talks and seminars were held. The articles and research papers read out at those talks and seminars were included in the journal. But, there was times when some articles and papers sent from other contributors were also described in it after editing them. In addition to publishing the Journals of the Burma Research Society, the society edited books to be published by its members and other associations with a view to bringing benefits to the public. Besides, one of its special tasks was to record Myanmar classical songs and poems like Ratu, Rakan, An-chin, Luta, Mawkwun, ai-chin, Thar-chin, Pat-pyo, Bwet, Kyo, etc  in tapes to preserve Myanmar culture and music.

The Cover of the Journal of the Burma Research Society
The Cover of the Journal of the Burma Research Society

At its founding, it had 213 members. The members then fell into four categories: Ordinary members, life members, corresponding members and honourary members.  But since 1954, the members had been in five categories: ordinary members, student members, library members, corresponding members and honourary members. Honourary members were very small in number. In 1930, only Sir Reginal Cradock and Mattwe Hunter were honourary members. But in 1980, the number of the honourary members increased to eight: U Chit Thaung, U Lu Pe Win, U Aung Maung, U Khin Zaw, U Thein Han, U Wun, U Myo Min and Dr. Tha Hla. Head of the State was appointed Patron of the society. In 1910, Vice Governor-general Sir Herbert Thirkel White was Patron. There were a total of 36 Presidents and 27 Secretaries between 1910 and 1980. The first President was Herbert L. Eales, I.C.S and the first Secretary Duroiselle, M.R. A.S. The last President was U Htin Gyi and the last Secretary Dr. Zin Aung. The librarians were G.H. Luce(1923-24), G.H Luce and Pe Maung Tin(1925), Pe Maung Tin and F.J. Maggi(1926-28), G.H. Luce and Pe Maung Tin(1929), G.H Luce (1930-35), U Khin Zaw(1936-37), U Ba(1938-39), U Hla Aung(1940-41), U Thein Han(1948-61) and U Thaw Kaung(1962-80). The emblem of the society was a lotus flower suspended over a stack of books placed on a receptacle. Above the lotus was the motto “သိစပ္ျမင္ႏွံ႔ ” (Be Knowledgeable, Discernable and Informative) and below another  motto
“လမ္းရုိးေဟာင္းတြင္ဆင္႔ကာထြင္” (The New be Innovated Based on the Old). But this emblem first came into use only from 1959. The editors of the J.B.R.S were U May Aung, Maung Tin, Taylor, Maung Ba Kyar, G.H. Luce, Pe Maung Tin, B.R. Pearl, G. Appleton, U Wun, U Myo Min, U Ko Ko Lay, Dr. Than Tun, U Tin Aye, U Tin Hla, U Hla Aung and Nai Pan Hla.
Aside from the J.B.R.S, this society edited and re-published some other ancient Myanmar treatises in order that the people could know, value and preserve ancient Myanmar literary genres. It edited and published a total of 46 treatises between 1926 and 1941. During the Second World War, it published 11 books in English in India under the name of Burma Pamphlets: Burma Back-ground, Burma Setting , Buddhism in Burma , Burma Rice, The Forests of Burma, The Hill Peoples of Burma, The Burma-An Appreciation, The Karens of Burma, Burma Facts and Fingers, The Burma Petroleum Industry and The Birds of Burma.  When the Second World War ended, it edited and published three Mon texts and 16 Myanmar treatises. When this society entered its fiftieth anniversary, it celebrated its golden jubilee conference in Yangon for six days from the 28th December 1959 to the 2nd January 1960. At this conference, some scholars from Thailand, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, England, etc. read out 20 research-papers. At the conference, J.S. Furnivall delivered the inaugural speech and Dr. Hla Myint, the then Rector of Yangon University, the greeting speech at the end of the conference. The society published No. 1 Golden Jubilee Commemorative Journal and No. 2 Golden Jubilee Commemorative Journal after the conference e. The former included 21 research papers read out at the conference while the latter, 34 already-published papers and articles.  That same year, it , funded by the Asian Foundation, re-published the Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma translated by U Pe Maung Tin and G.H. Luce, which was first published by the Oxford University Press in 1923 and the Pali Literature of Burma written by Mabel Haynes Bodes , which was first published in 1909 in 1965 and re-edited and republished the Gavampati by Rev. Mr. Halliday.
In brief, it is found that the Burma Research Society in its 70-year long course contributed many copies of the Journal of Burma Research Society and other rare ancient Myanmar treatises not only  to the academic field of Myanmar but also to that of the international community. By all accounts, the educational standard of Myanmar and Yangon University of those days earned international recognition to some degree due in part to the contributions of this society, most of whose members were those of faculties of Yangon University. With the support of academic researchers and personages in power of those days, this society managed to get through the two World Wars and to continue lighting the torch of wisdom which sent forth its undiminished radiances even to the West through Asia. But, to our sorrow, while the seventieth anniversary celebration of the Yangon Institute of Economics was being held on 29 December, 1980, Chairman of the Myanmar Socialist Linzin Party, the then Patron of the society, remarked that this society should no longer continue to exist. Thenceforth, this academically prestigious association was put into relegation and sank gradually into oblivion. Today, Myanmar is back on the right track to genuine democracy with the guidance of charismatic public leader Daw Aung San Su Kyi. Only if human and natural resources can be utilized sensibly, can Myanmar be democratized successfully.   Therefore, it is suggested here by the author that it is high time an academic association which can help upgrade the educational standard of Myanmar like the Burma Research Society be established very immediately !

၁။ ဦးသန္းထိုက္(သူေတသန)၊
ျမန္မာႏူိင္ငံသုေတသနအသင္း ၁၀၁ ႏွစ္ျပည့္အထိမ္းအမွတ္စာတမ္း၊ သင္းစာေပ၊ကမာရြတ္ၿမိဳ႕နယ္၊ ၂၀၁၁ခုႏွစ္။
၂။ ေမာင္ေဇယ်ာ၊  ဖာနီဗယ္ႏွင္႔ ျမန္မာျပည္၊ Myanmar Knowledge Society, ဗိုလ္တစ္ေထာင္ၿမိဳ႕နယ္၊ ရန္ကုန္၊၂၀၁၆။


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