Abstracts by Author
"Sariputta and Moggallana in the Golden Land: The Relics of the Buddha's Chief Disciples at the Kaba Aye Pagoda" pp.101-128
In this article, the author reconstructs and documents the story of the relics of the Buddha's chief disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana, at the Kaba Aye Pagoda in Burma. Using previously unpublished archival materials, including first-hand archaeological reports and internal museum documents, as well as contemporary newspaper accounts, the author details the discovery of the relics by British military officers in 19th-century India, the subsequent removal of the relics to England where they were placed on museum exhibition, and their eventual reenshrinement in Burma and India 100 years later.
"Sitting on the Fence? Politics and Ethics of Research into Cross-border Aid on the Thailand-Myanmar/Burma Border"
This article analyzes the politics and ethics of anthropological research in a situation shaped by decades of conflict and violence, as well as a polarized and emotional debate. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research with a cross-border aid organization on the Thailand-Myanmar/Burma border, the author identifies issues of wider concern to researchers working in sensitive and politicized research contexts. In particular, the article illustrates the difficulties of academic neutrality in a context shaped by a history of conflict, violence and disputed claims to socio-political legitimacy. It highlights the political and ethical complexities of “participant-insider” research. It focuses attention on how academic research is not only contingent upon, but can influence evolving socio-political relationships, positionings and perceptions. Finally, it discusses the importance of recognizing and taking into account objections to academics’ work – objections for which researchers are often underprepared, which remain largely absent from academic writings, but which raise important issues to do with intellectual and ethical debts to research participants.
Wil O. Dijk
"The Voc in Burma: 1634–1680" pp.1-109
This article is intended to show that the archives of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) at the General State Archives (ARA), The Hague, The Netherlands, are a rich source of information on seventeenth century Burma. Because this unearthed data is mostly about commerce, this paper deals with the VOC’s trade with Burma. What has come to light is that the Dutch factories in Burma were an important and integral part of the VOC’s network of trade, seeing that the profits helped to fund the purchase of Indian textiles that were the backbone of much of the Dutch inter-Asian trade. The Dutch, moreover, sold Burmese export products profitably from Persia to Japan and Holland. In the end, the VOC’s establishment in Burma became the victim of a general change in Dutch fortunes when forces in both Europe and the Far East began working against the Dutch East India Company.
Maria Serena I. Diokno
“An Annotated Bibliography of Articles on the Burmese Peasantry from the Journal of the Burma Research Society, 1911–1970" pp.1-16
This compilation covers fifty articles and twenty-six township records published in the Journal of the Burma Research Society between 1911 and 1970. The selected articles all shed light on the economic life of the peasantry and have been divided as follows: Part I) Translations of relevant sources or commentaries on the peasantry, Part II) Geographic and other background information necessary for understanding peasant life, and Part III) Analyses or descriptions of the traditional, colonial, and early modern economy, of which the peasants were an important part. The articles are arranged by theme and date of publications within each section and sub-section.
"Bitter Pills: Colonialism, Medicine and Nationalism in Burma, 1870–1940" pp.21-58
This article examines medicine as a field of knowledge deeply implicated in the emergence of new ways of articulating national difference. Specifically, it aims to shed light on the symbiosis between perceptions of political space and sovereignty, and conceptualizations of human anatomy. The article offers an analysis of the presentation, dissemination, and institutionalization of western medicine by colonial researchers, missionaries, educators and policy-makers in Burma, and correlates these generally ethnocentric perceptions with European presumptions about indigenous medicine. Reflecting upon the place of medicine as a strategic handmaiden to both military expeditions and missionar
"The Idealization Of A Lost Paradise Narratives Of Nostalgia And Traumatic Return Migration Among Indian Repatriates From Burma Since The 1960s"
Drawing on recent interviews of Indian returnees from Burma, this article sheds light on a well-known yet understudied moment of Burma’s postcolonial history, the forced repatriation of Indian communities during the 1960s. The research has gathered first-hand narratives about the traumatic experiences shared by Indian repatriated families, from their much debated decision to leave Burma, to the perceived humiliation of departure and the dramatic (re)migration to India. The article builds on the scholarship on exile and nostalgia, which claims that repatriation processes often lead to a retrospective idealization by the returnees of what has been left behind. Interviews have indeed revealed how nostalgic memories of a “golden past” and a “paradise lost” in Burma have been shaped among the first generation of Indian repatriates ever since their resettlement in India. In contrast with the classic diaspora literature, which postulates that diasporic groups tend to idealize their homeland, Indians in Burma have tended to rather romanticize their Burmese host- land. They cherish the “golden days” they once lived in Burma, whilst expressing highly condescending feelings about their new Indian “homeland” where resettlement and re-integration to the Indian national space have proved harsher than expected.
Alex Ruiz Falques
The Role of Pali Grammar In Burmese Buddhism
This paper approaches Pali grammatical text from the point of view of scholastic literature, and thus argues that what we call grammar includes branches of philosophy that have been considered absent in Theravada Buddhism. As is well known, Burmese Buddhist scholars have been strong in Pali grammar since the Pagan period. A large number of Pali works written in Burma deal with grammatical or philological issues. Most of these texts have not been studied in the West. For this reason modern scholars have thought that these treatises were merely ancillary books. A deep reading of these texts however reveals that they contain much more than grammatical rules. They contain philosophical discussions that stem from the great Indian debates on logic, epistemology and the authority of scriptures, among other topics.
Jane M. Ferguson
Tracking (un)Popular Music in Contemporary Myanmar
The genre copy thachin or “copy song” pervades the popular music scene in Myanmar. These songs are akin to cover versions of existing international hits, but with new lyrics in the Burmese language, and performed by Burmese musicians. These songs can have incredible genre—crossing capabilities, from blues to rap, heavy metal to salsa. The current situation for popular music production in Myanmar is connected with the country’s history of military rule and years of censorship and economic difficulties. Advocates for the genre of copy thachin argue that borrowing international songs allowed local artists to learn about global popular music, and the numerous popular musicians and songwriters in Myanmar are testament to this. On the other hand, with the removal of the stringent censorship regime and the increasing contact with international consumer culture, groups of Myanmar music fans are increasingly critical of copy thachin, seeing the practice as derivative and an embarrassment. This article will explore the history of the genre, notions of authenticity, and discuss Myanmar’s changing relationship with the symbolic capital of its own culture industry and its relationship with international popular culture.
"Introduction to Wa Studies"
The article provides an overview of the rich materials available to study multiple aspects of the Wa. The author presents the setting that has been the traditional homeland of the Wa people, a variety of forms of evidence facilitating knowledge of their past and present, including a rich oral tradition to supplement the many texts written and published in the Wa language. The available materials also include archaeological remains in the form of rock art. An extended section on Chinese, Burmese and Shan sources is supplemented with European, mainly British writings, and missionary narratives and correspondence. The article also delves into recent scholarship devoted to the Wa, by ethnographers and linguists. A bibliographical note calls attention to available web sites where further material may be found.
"To be at One with Drums: Social Order and Headhunting among the Wa of China"
The article examines the practice of beating large drums, made of hollowed out tree trunks, among southeast Asian headhunting groups, the Naga of Assam, of Northeast India, and the so called "wild" Wa straddling the Burma-China frontier. The author looks as their kinship system, its political and religious prerogatives, agricultural practices, and village habitats. The Naga and Wa formed raiding groups when hunting heads, which in the case of the Wa generated group solidarity and functioning social units. Such cooperative endeavor generated supra village organizations acting as a small-scale sociocosmos. The evidence is based on ethnographic data compiled by the author in 1997 while domiciled among the Wa of the Lancang district, Yunnan province, and reports published by Chinese ethnographers who in the 1950s recorded the folklore of China’s different populations. The article examines the nature of the headhunting populations on China’s margin, the significance of the drums and the elaborate rituals and methods transforming material objects into sacred implements and the sophisticated mythology associated with head hunting practices. The latter’s relationship to animal sacrifice, community cohesion, familial status and other communal activities made head hunting an influential component of social life. Rituals of life regeneration are intimately interwoven with Wa myths of origin, for which monoxylous drum playing is crucial. The drums are associated with the figure of the snake, that in turn is linked to the social body that was said to have resulted from its dismemberment. Such rituals generate a sense of organic unity, important in the agonistic context of headhunting and lineage solidarity, stimulated by an ideology that moved such violent activities, as the author shows, outside the dialectal area. The drums’ hall was the true spiritual core of Wa villages.
"The World Emperor's Battle Against the Evil Forces"
In early postcolonial Burma, millenarian prophecies about the imminent arrival of Setkya Min, the world emperor, circulated. This exalted personage was expected to protect Buddhism, and usher in a golden age for Buddhism and Burma. In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the anthropologists Michael Mendelson and Melford E. Spiro encountered a perplexing phenomenon – a few so-called royal esoteric congregations whose leaders behaved as kings and were treated as such by their followers. These leaders were held to fulfill the prophecies and thus to be impersonations of the powerful figure Setkya Min, a weikza, a future Buddha, and a righteous king.
Mendelson and Spiro understood these congregations as being continuous with the anti-colonial and even the pre-millenarian rebellions. Until now, this interpretation has remained uncontested, probably due to lack of empirical evidence, since most scholars have assumed that these kinds of congregations ceased to exist long time ago. However, there still exists one such congregation in Burma, and was founded in the early 1950s. This article demonstrates how this congregation has waged a "battle" with supernatural means against what it perceived as the evil, anti-Buddhist forces to save Buddhism from extinction, and that it is just as anti-colonial and anti-Western as the anti-colonial rebellions. Moreover, the article argues that this congregation is similar to those studied by Mendelson and Spiro, and that these kinds of congregations should be understood as new Buddhist movements emerging in response to crises of authority and identity, to projects of modernization and nation-building, and to political turmoil in the postcolonial period. These congregations represented a quest for identity (individual, communal, and national), and are comparable to the other new religious movements that emerged in Southeast Asia in the postwar period.
"A Lacquered History of the Kings of Pagan from an Illustrated Glass Palace Chronicle"
A little known gem in the Spencer collection of Rare Books in the New York Public Library is a unique Burmese manuscript composed of fifteen pages made from heavily lacquered cloth. The pages of this manuscript have been cleverly joined together in the style of a Western book which is unusual for Burmese art. Compiled in 1906 by Hsaya Saing, a well-known master craftsman of the colonial period with a workshop in the Hmangyo Quarter Pagan, this manuscript based on The Glass Palace Chronicle is an illustrated account of a history of twenty-five of Pagan’s most eminent kings beginning with Popa Sawrahan (c. CE 613) and concluding with Zeyatheinka (Hti-lo-min) (r. 1210–34/35). The illustrations have been executed in the prevalent Burmese yun incised lacquer technique in a traditional palette of five colors. Although illustrated narratives are a well-known staple in Burmese art as far as wall paintings, wood-carving, and lacquer are concerned, depictions of such scenes tend to heavily rely on time-hallowed conventions largely derived from 8th- to 12th-century Pala art of eastern India. In this manuscript Indian conventions are followed when the subject matter is familiar. However, when unfamiliar subject matter presented itself, artisans rose to the challenge and created imaginative new settings in which to place an historic cast of characters resulting in some very original and appealing illustrations in the lacquer medium.