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August 05, 2020

Ethnic Nationalities and Cultural heritage of Myanmar

  • Min Than Naing (Mudon)

There are more than 135 different ethnic races in Myanmar, each with its own unique history, culture and language. The minority ethnic nationalities are Bamar, Kachin, Chin, Kayin, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan respectively. The “major national ethnic races” are grouped primarily according to region rather than linguistic or ethnic affiliation.

Location and Geography
Myanmar has an area of 261,789 square miles (678,034 square kilometers) and is bordered by Bangladesh to the west, India and China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east. The southern portion faces the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. The middle portion centers on the Ayeyarwady River where majority of the population and agricultural lands are thrived along the river. The western, northern, and eastern regions have mountains and high valleys and plateaus.

A Land of Ethnic Affinity
Research has established the theory that the native place of the Tibeto-Myanmar group was somewhere in the Eastern portion of the Central Asian Tableland. From there this group sent out its off shoots, century after century, along the valleys and mountain ranges into Indo-China and Myanmar.
In the course of their long and difficult journey they diverged into two ways the one taking the western route and the other the eastern route. The parting point was at the foot of “a crescent of mountains” in the extreme north of Myanmar” “which forms the watershed between the Salween and the Bhramaputra, from the southern edge of which spring the sister streams, the N’maikha and the Malikha, which combine to form the Ayeyawady”. That crescent of mountains is practically an inpassable barrier preventing a t line penetration into straight Myanmar.
Therefore the Tibeto-Myanmar immigrants had either to come out east and follow the Salween River to continue their outward movement, or to turn west and take a circuit towards Assam and the Bhramaputra and from there to proceed pursuing their southerly course. They took both alternatives some following the east-turn and others the west-turn route. The present distributions of the Tibeto-Myanmar and the linguistic study have proved it.

History and Ethnic Relations
Myanmar is a multiethnic, multilingual, and multicultural society with strong family ties and usually thinks in terms of the community rather than the individual. Generally, a traditional Myanmar family includes grandparents, aunts and uncles as well as distant cousins. Close friends can also be considered as part of the family, and it is common for friends to introduce each other as brothers or sisters.
Family is possibly the most important pillar of Myanmar culture. In a typical family, the father is considered the spiritual head of the household. He always hands his monthly salary over to the mother, who manages family expenses. Traditionally, children are taught to love and take care of their grandparents when they are old. They also believe that supporting their parents and grandparents in their old age is an important way to show their gratitude for raising them. Myanmar people generally do not leave the parents household until they get married, although this attitude is beginning to see some change. Throughout the country, marriage is a strongly respected institution and marriages are love-based. Children usually live with their parents until they marry, but often continue to obey and listen to their parents’ advice even after marriage.

Common Characteristics and Literature
Other common characteristics include a high level of hierarchy as well as respect for elders including teachers and parents. Myanmar literature has been greatly influenced by Buddhism, notably the Jataka Stories and and its literature is rich several forms of poetry unique to Myanmar literature.

Myanmar Dancing and Music
Myanmar dances can be divided into dramatic, folk and village, and Nat dances, each having distinct characteristics and features. Myanmar dance has unique qualities that distinguish it from other countries.
Moreover various types of Myanmar music use an array of traditional musical instruments, assembled in an orchestra known as ‘hsaing waing’ and traditional folk music is characterized by sudden shifts in rhythm and melody as well as change in texture and timbre.

Myanmar Beliefs and Customs
Although there are many religions present in Myanmar, more than 80% of people are believe in Buddhism. In Buddhism, there are five main precepts that should be practiced daily by believers: not to kill, steal, commit adultery, lie and take narcotic drugs.
The ultimate aim in life according to Buddhist belief is to escape the cycle of rebirth and reach Nirvana. Besides Buddhism, astrology, palmistry and clairvoyance still play a major part in the lives of Myanmar people, especially during the decision making for marriage, business, naming babies and other important issues.

Traditional Myanmar House
The traditional house is made largely of bamboo and flattened pieces of bamboo made into large plaited sections are used to make the walls. Also, the floors are made of bamboo planks or wood and the frame of the house is made of wood, with hard and durable wood being used for the house posts. Roof coverings are made of a variety of materials, including thatch made from broad-leafed grass or palm fronds. Roofs may be covered with tiles, wooden shingles, or zinc sheets. The front of the house usually has a veranda that is raised a few feet off the ground. The center of the house is the living area for the family. Behind it is a covered cooking area where rice is stored. Especially in urban areas, these houses are being replaced by more generic ones made from cement.

Constitutional Guarantees
According to the 2008 constitution’s Article 22, the Union shall assist: (a) to develop language, literature, fine arts and culture of the national races; (b) to promote solidarity, mutual amity and respect and mutual assistance among the national races; (c) to promote socio-economic development, through education, health, economy, transport, communication, and so forth, of less-developed national races.

Ethnic Literature and Culture Development
Due to literature, there is progress in political, social and economic sectors by knowing more about life and the world through aesthetic literary works. That is why literature plays a vital role in making progress in the country.
Although every ethnic tribe in the country has its own literature and cultural heritage, it is of vital importance to promote ethnic languages and culture as much as we can. Some ethnic races have their own languages, yet they need support to develop their literature and custom. Myanmar is an ethnically diverse nation of various ethnic races; therefore, all are duty-bound to preserve their own language, literature, culture and customs.

Translated by
Win Ko Ko Aung

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