Myanmar Stories and Tips

The Burmese Human Landscape

Kawthaung Photo, Kawthaung, Myanmar

Burmese People

Myanmar is an ethnically diverse country, much more so than neighbor Thailand. More than a hundred ethnic groups and languages exist there; but Kawthaung is within the Tanintharyi Division and near the Mon State, thus, most of its population is Bamar with a significant Mon presence. Malays, Chinese and Indians are significant minorities and have an important role in the local commerce and industry. Understanding the basic groups present and their most visible customs would help to improve the quality of a visit to the place.

Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism is an important part of the Burmese culture; Buddhism arrived there around two thousand years ago from Sri Lanka; it became mixed with Hinduism and animism. Some Mahayana Buddhism practices arrived from northern India. The early Pyu and Mon kingdoms were Buddhist, while the Bamar people were animists. King Anawrahta of Bagan adopted Buddhism as the kingdom system in 1056AC and went to war with the Mon Kingdom in the south of the country for the Buddhist Canon and monks. Since then, Buddhism was kept as the main social order.

Burmese have worked hard and the country became known as the Land of Pagodas; its landscape is dominated by pagodas and stupas displaying special characteristics, like tin roofs and square, layered towers .

A colorful point for those arriving from Thailand, is that Burmese Buddhist monks wear purple robes while Thai ones prefer orange; the monks can be seen during the mornings in the markets collecting food offerings from the vendors.

Islam

Islam reached Burma at the beginning of the second millennium; it is present mainly along the seaboard and in Yangon. The colonial period brought many Muslim and Hindu Indians to Yangon and transformed Islam into a significant minority.

Chinese Communities

The large Chinese minority can be seen in the ubiquitous Chinese shrines; in an attempt to boost trade, the British allowed their settlement all over the country. Nowadays, there is a new immigration of Chinese, especially to the northern areas of the country.

Christianity

Christianity arrived at Burma only in the nineteenth century; it has been widely adopted by the Chin, Karen, and Kachin people, but less so in the south. Amazingly, Myanmar hosts the second largest Baptist Church in the world, after the United States; the Catholic Church and the Assemblies of God also enjoy a significant presence.

Burmese Culture

Thanaka

Burmese men and women use a special make-up, which is prepared with ground thanaka bark and is put on the face so that it creates attractive white patterns; those are almost personal in nature, many of them feature circular themes. Apparently, the main reason for its use is protection from the sun.

Longyi

Longyi is the name of the sarong worn by both men and women in Myanmar; men make a prominent knot on its front, while women wrap it around themselves. Few other things are so distinctive of Myanmar.

Cheroot

Cheroot is a cigar with both ends clipped during its manufacture, thus they are inexpensive and popular in countries like Myanmar. They are roughly twice the width of regular cigarettes, are longer than them, have a distinctive green color and produce an especially foul smoke. They became popular with the British during colonial times and appear thus often in literature describing the area and period. This is one of the most distinctive activities of the denizens, especially in the coffee shops.

Food

Myanmar lets the taste buds rest after a while in Thailand; its cuisine uses much less spices; some foods - like the samosa - do not use chili at all. The staple food is white rice, though Indian breads like the roti, the naan and the paratha are widely available. The best known Burmese dish is mohinga, a rich fish soup with rice noodles, while the most popular drink is unspiced chai.

Chinlone

As in Thailand, Chinlone is a popular game. It includes a hollow rattan ball, which is kicked with the feet and the knees, the head may also be used, but hands are forbidden of touching the ball. It includes a variable number of players arranged in a circle; the ball is moved around with no apparent order.

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