Journal of Burma Studies - Volume 14
Over the half-century from 1890 to 1940, the death rate in Burma’s prisons was cut by more than half. This article first seeks to explain that reduction by examining the shifting incidence of the main diseases found in the province’s jails in this period-dysentery and diarrhea, smallpox, cholera, plague, malaria, pneumonia, tuberculosis-and the measures taken by the prison administration to contain them. It then critically examines the argument advanced in the 1920s, for example, that a prolonged term in a Burmese prison was likely to improve the inmate’s physical condition-that he would generally leave prison fitter, heavier and in better health. Finally, the article seeks to explain why the incidence of disease and the rate of mortality among the inmate population were apparently of such concern to the prison administration of colonial Burma.
"Bitter Pills: Colonialism Medicine and Nationalism in Burma, 1870-1940"
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 missionary ambitions, it considers proposals for medical education and medical rights in Burma by Burmese advocates of educational and labour reform and the specific place of medicine in the training of Karen nationalist leader Dr. San C. Po and Burmese nationalist U Thein Maung.
"The Scientific and Hygienic Housewife-and-Mother: Education, Consumption and the Discourse of Domesticity"
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.
"Inoculators, the Indigenous Obstacle to Vaccination in Colonial Burma"
Colonial records on smallpox vaccination point to inoculations and inoculators as among the most serious obstacles to the progress of vaccination. However, despite their apparent importance, those identified as inoculators by the colonial medical officers remained an unclear, evasive and almost phantom-like group. This article examines how British colonial medical men wrote about a group who probably never existed in Burma outside of the colonial imagination. By locating the vaccinator’s enemy in a social practice and not in a particular group of practitioners, I seek to uncover the secret of inoculation’s resilience in the face of decades of aggressive vaccination campaigns. The inoculator was the bogeyman of colonial vaccination reports, requiring the historian to ask a different set of questions about indigenous resistance to colonial medicine and to look at the colonial records in a different way.
"Syphilis and the Kachin Regeneration Campaign, 1937-38"
This article discusses the introduction of a policy known as the Kachin Regeneration Campaign in the Kachin Hills from 1937 to 1938. Initiated by a belief that the Kachin people were on the verge of dying out because of an epidemic of syphilis, the campaign reveals much about the realities of Kachin dissociation from the late colonial regime, contrasting sharply with the conventional historical narrative of Kachin compliance with imperial control. A significant part of the Regeneration Campaign’s agenda was a less publicly acknowledged awareness that former Kachin soldiers were becoming a potentially volatile interest group and that there was increasing discontent across the Kachin Hills with regard to the administration, the military and the missions. The article uses the concept of a sick role to describe the approach of the Regeneration Campaign to Kachin society and discusses how the rhetoric of the campaign became embedded in the sermons of the local Christian missions, justifying changes to women’s roles and more recently impacting upon early responses to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region.
"Healing, Rebellion, and the Law: Ethnologies of Medicine in Colonial Burma, 1928-1932"
Asia’s encounter with Western medicine and the emergence of public health regimes might be regarded as one chapter within the larger framework of colonialism and its discursive practices. Medicine contributed to the ordering of colonized Asia by providing particular vocabularies and frameworks through which cultures and communities could be identified, categorized, and transformed into accessible knowledge. Notions of the body, race, cleanliness, sickness, “the patient” and healing were continuously shaped and negotiated within the context of this encounter, involving sites of healing, communities, and a wide range of socio-political contexts. This study considers the way in which “indigenous medicine” was delineated by two instruments of the colonial administration in British Burma: a committee appointed to integrate the study of local practices into the educational system and a special tribunal, which was formed to process detainees in the wake of one of the largest rebellions in colonial Burma’s history. It suggests that the shadow of Burma’s administrative connection to India might have corresponded to the manner in which healing culture was conceptualized. Due to changing political circumstances surrounding the question of Burma’s separation from India, the image of traditional medicine shifted to represent a distinct form of Burmese criminality and resistance.
"The Alchemist and His Ball"
Alchemy plays an important part in Burmese Buddhism as one means, among several, of gaining access to salvation. The practice of alchemy figures centrally in a specific religious orientation, the path of the superman (weikza lan) that offers a way to reach nirvana through seeking near-immortality. Within this ideological frame, defined by the ultimate horizon of deliverance, alchemy makes it possible—by means of understandings, technical manipulations, and the forces with which it deals—for the practitioner to act upon his person through the intermediary of a material double, the ball which serves as the object of alchemical activity, allowing him in this way to become the master of his own being and gain some control over his fate. Alchemy appears to be a form, religiously defined and socially meaningful, of self-making.
"Notes on Burmese Manuscripts: Text and Images"
While recent cataloguing work in Myanmar, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Thailand has served to greatly enhance our knowledge of Burmese, Sanskrit and Pali texts transmitted in Burmese manuscripts, we still lack adequate descriptive and critical studies of manuscript-related practices and mentalities in pre-modern Burma. The present note is concerned with the development of manuscript ornamentation. It examines the varieties of Burmese manuscript textual supports and their histories, the scope of genres that received decoration, and the technologies associated with ornamentation.
"The Seven Weeks: A 19th-Century Burmese Palm-Leaf Manuscript"
This paper describes in detail aspects of a rarely viewed palm-leaf manuscript illustrating classical Burmese cosmology. This manuscript, BC.9641A-025-031, dating from Burmese Era 1256 (CE1894), is a part of the Burma Art Collection at Northern Illinois University. This study analyzes only eight leaves, of which the focal image is reproduced as the cover illustration of the latest Journal of Burma Studies (14). The visual analysis based in part on our translation of the texts incorporated within the various illustrations provides a key to understanding the iconography of the Seven Sites, or the Seven Weeks Preceding the Buddha’s Enlightenment; as combined with the symbolic geography of the Sixteen Sacred Lands. Although the present work concentrates only on the events around the Enlightenment, the complete manuscript comprises a 110 page folio (some 55 folded leafs), including depictions of Mount Sumeru and the Three Realms, the Lake Anotatta and the Four Rivers, and the cross section of the Four Islands and the Buddhapada.