Journal of Burma Studies

Volume 20.1, Abstracts

Tracking (un)Popular Music in Contemporary Myanmar

Jane M. Ferguson

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. 

A Lacquered History of the Kings of Pagan from an Illustrated Glass Palace Chronicle 

Sylvia Fraser-Lu

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. 

“Burmanization” and the Impact of J.S. Furnivall’s Views on National Identity in Late-Colonial Burma 

Carol Ann Boshier

J.S. Furnivall’s interventions in connection with extending the franchise under the Burma Reform Scheme while serving in the ICS, helped to create political identities that might be said to have reinforced the territory’s ethnic divisions. This confirms his agency in generating political identities that were distinct from the market-based identities that he later labeled the plural society. As a result, these actions and his personal efforts to establish a trans-ethnic national identity based on the dominance of Burmanization, have obscured rather than elucidated understandings of Burma and its problems since Independence. 

A Buddha Image for Exorcism

Richard M. Cooler

Buddhist iconography reflects extraordinary conservatism so that the appearance of images exhibiting unconventional features attracts immediate attention. This article examines, and documents a recently discovered image whose unusual features become intelligible when viewed in the context of Buddhist exorcism as practiced by weikza congregations. An identification of the image as exorcist is facilitated by dating its casting to the reign of King Bowdawpaya (aka Badon Min, reigned 1782–1819), a period of Buddhist heterodoxy when cabalistic squares (in) were widely used. The image is further identified as an exorcist Healing Buddha by setting it within the two hundred year iconic development of Burmese images that hold the myrobalan, a medicinal fruit whose use is believed to assist in expelling evil from the human body. An examination of contemporary weikza practices shows the additional iconographic anomalies to embody weikza concerns: in containing the occult letters sa, da, ba, wa appearing at nine locations on the body and the robe, the offering of two myrobalan fruit with contrasting gestures, the unorthodox wearing of the monk’s robe, the wide striated belt, the deliberate grinding away of the image, and a “relic” enclosed within the body.

A peripheral observation in this study concerns how closely nineteenth century visual representations of weikza saints such as Bo Bo Aung are homologus to those of the standing Healing Buddha.

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