Abstracts by Author

Chie Ikeya

Volume 10
"The 'Traditional' High Status of Women in Burma: A Historical Reconsideration" pp.51-81

This article traces the genealogy of a persistent cultural stereotype that has long defined and constituted academic and popular knowledge about Burma and, more broadly, Southeast Asia: the “traditional” high status of women. Although Southeast Asia scholars today generally concur that claims about the high status of women in the region are oversimplified and problematic, postcolonial scholars of Burma largely have perpetuated the discourse of gender equality, which has deterred any attempt to complicate conceptualizations of gender relations and hierarchies in historical Burma.

This study investigates the process whereby the “traditional” autonomy of Burmese women was constructed in opposition to the likewise “traditional” subordinate status of women in South Asia and in contestation of the superiority of European culture and society. It argues that this “tradition” is a product of the multivalent representational practice by colonizing and colonized women and men in unequal relations of power who coauthored essentially and powerfully gendered discourses of colonialism, modernization, and nationalism. This article concludes by suggesting possible ways to move beyond the practice of enshrining persistent and monolithic cultural stereotypes as essential components of Southeast Asian history and to engender scholarship of the region firmly located within, not isolated from, specific and complex historical contexts.

Volume 14
"The Scientific and Hygienic Housewife-and-Mother: Education, Consumption and the Discourse of Domesticity" pp.59-89

This article examines the development of a discourse on modern domesticity in colonial Burma that not only emphasized the role of a woman in safeguarding the health and welfare of her family and nation, but also associated housewifery and motherhood with “domestic science,” medicine, and hygienic behavior. The article shows that two cultural and didactic institutions, one formal and the other informal, served to disseminate this discourse on modern domesticity: “secular” government-funded co-educational schools and the popular press. It reveals that the emergence of the ideal of the scientific and hygienic housewife-and-mother was not simply an effect of a unilateral and hegemonic process of imperialism. Rather, it is best understood as a phenomenon informed simultaneously and conjointly by “Western” and cosmopolitan notions of scientific progress, bodily discipline and hygiene, bourgeois femininity, and health technologies, and the rise of consumer culture, aided by the spread of illustrated printed material, especially advertisements.

Ralph Isaacs

Volume 13
"Rockets and Ashes: Pongyibyan as Depicted in Nineteenth-and Twentieth Century European Sources" pp. 107-136

This article describes the Burmese festival of pongyibyan, the ceremonies at the cremation of a senior monk, mainly by collating written accounts and photographs by Europeans who witnesses pongyibyan in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Certain rites of the pongyibyan ceremony offer interesting parallels to accounts of the Buddha’s own funeral found in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. This article cites descriptions of the preparation of the monk’s corpse by evisceration, embalming, lacquering, wrapping in cloth and gilding, including descriptions of both the simple inner coffin and elaborate outer coffin, and the mortuary chapel (neibankyaung) where the body lay in state awaiting cremation. The article depicts the architectural and symbolic significance of the tall funeral pyres with figures of mythical beings and the role of the sat-hsaya, the craftsman in bamboo and cut paper who built them as well offering a description of the lonswethi, the tug-of-war for merit. Numerous foreign observers reported the Burmese passion for rocketry. At least three types of rockets (don) were used at pongyibyan for kindling the funeral pyre. Rockets commonly caused injury or death to spectators, and were discouraged by the British colonial government.

Helen James

Volume 5
The Fall of Ayutthaya: A Reassessment" pp.75-108

Conventional views of the 1760–1767 Burmese attacks on Ayutthaya contend that the Burmese were taking advantage of an opportunity to attack a politically and economically weak kingdom. This article adduces evidence from the Burmese chronicles, from accounts by contemporary foreign observers, and from economic history to argue that Burma’s campaigns against Ayutthaya were part of an epic struggle between the two polities that began in the 1500s and continued until the Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–1826. Control of trade was one of the central factors motivating this centuries-long conflict. It was the very strength and wealth of the Siamese kingdom, not its alleged weakness, that motivated the Burmese invaders, who hoped to strike a blow that would knock Ayutthaya out of contention as the trading hub of mainland Southeast Asia.

Volume 7
"Adoniram Judson and the Creation of a Missionary Discourse in Pre-Colonial Burma" pp.1-28

In the following paper I argue that Adoniram Judson, the first American Baptist Missionary to Burma, was strongly empathetic with his adopted country. His work as interpreter-translator during the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826 and his visits to Ava both immediately before and after the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826), although coached in the language of Christian mission, exhibited characteristics markedly different from the perspective of Ann Judson’s memoir and from those of certain missionary narratives subsequent to his own. I propose to examine aspects of three texts: Ann Judson’s An Account of the American Baptist Mission to the Burman Empire; Henry Gouger’s Personal Narrative of Two Years Imprisonment in Burmah; and Adoniram Judson’s deposition to John Crawfurd. I shall also refer to J. Snodgrass’ Narrative of the Burmese War (1824-1826) and Henry Trant’s Two Years in Ava for other perspectives of some events.

Yin Ker

Volume 10
"Modern Burmese Painting According to Bagyi Aung Soe" pp.83-157

Rangoon-based artist Bagyi Aung Soe (1924–1990) has been regarded by fellow artists as a pioneer of modern art in Burma. Influenced by precepts practiced at Rabindranath Tagore’s Úântiniketan, he elaborated an original painting approach and style synthesizing diverse artistic approaches, which neither adhered exclusively to the European or Burmese artistic tradition nor regurgitated twentieth-century Western artistic innovations. Despite his renown within Burma, his idiom remains little understood both within and beyond Burma because of a lack of awareness of his motivations and their context. This article attempts to elucidate Bagyi Aung Soe’s interpretation of modernity in Burmese painting, and with reference to his works and writings, examine the modernity of his art.

Alexey Kirichenko

Volume 13
"From Ava to Mandalay: Toward Charting the Development of Burmese Yazawin Traditions" pp. 1-75

Since the emergence of modern historiography of Burma (Myanmar), Burmese yazawin, or chronicles of kings, have been key scholarly sources. The most well-known of these chronicles are considered reliable after circa 1500 and provide a timeline of events for almost all research on precolonial Myanmar history. Despite this, we still have a quite vague understanding of textual genealogy and conditions in which these sources were produced, the foundations upon which they were constructed and the messages they carried. This article analyzes the corpus of Burmese yazawins and those narrative sources linked to yazawins that were instrumental in their compilation. It addresses the issues of typology and geneaology of yazawins, as well as the reconstruction of their development in terms of scope, structure, and conceptual focus. It challenges some historiographic stereotypes with regard to yazawins as a whole and the nature of individual sources in particular, and identifies a number of distinct yazawin traditions. The role of elites of royal cities of Ava, Taungngu, and Pagan in the production of yazawins is explored. Development of yazawin traditions is analyzed both as a kind of established textual activity with its own dynamics and as a function of changes in the organization of power and textual culture. Finally, the author suggests a number of tasks to be addressed in future research. All in all, the paper is conceived as a contribution towards the textology and hermeneutics of Burmese narrative sources and ideas in Myanmar in general.