"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.
"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.
"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 crema.
The Village System and Burmese Society: Problems Involved in the Enforcement Process of the Upper Burma Village Regulation of 1887
Many historians who have written about the administrative changes implemented in Upper Burma at the end of the nineteenth century have focused on the village system and the Upper Burma Village Regulation of 1887. They emphasize the transformation of the precolonial local administration, particularly the abolition of the position of myothugyi as an outcome of the introduction of the village system. However, their descriptions pay little attention to local society, simply regarding it as a passive subject affected by colonialism. Thus, in order to elucidate the relation between the colonial administrative policy and local society, this article re examines the village system and illustrates how the system developed at the district level, by focusing on the early arguments. After investigating the arguments of the central government and district officials on the village system, the article highlights the significance of additional regulatory rules introduced in 1890, and the case of the Shwebo District to reinforce the article’s arguments.
Appraisal of Burma/Myanmar’s Roundabout Roadmaps
The peace process Burma/Myanmar has got a momentum since 2011, and both government and non-State actors including Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), political parties, and civil society groups put endeavor to make the process move on. This article is a comparative study of the seven-step Roadmap of National League for Democracy (NLD) and the seven-step Roadmap of previous military junta State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). While the military junta tactfully reached six out of its seven-step Roadmap and strictly holds on to the 2008 Constitution. It guaranteed the Tatmadaw (Army) a fixed position both in politics and defense. In contrast, the civilian government and ethnic groups are struggling to sign a union agreement— the 21st century Panglong Conference Agreement. This article argues that amending the constitution in accordance with the union agreement and the subsequent approval of the amended constitution may cause tension and pressure to be dealt with by the government, the Tatmadaw and ethnic groups. If the stakeholders are capable to get the union agreement to amend the constitution, there will be a wider chance to build a democratic federal union as planned in the NLD’s seven-step road map.
The Story of Nan Saw Kyi
The author, granddaughter of Daw Nan Saw Kyi, subject of this issue’s Scholarly Curiosity, narrates the story of a courageous, independent minded and resourceful woman who began her social and political activism early on. In 1938, together with some friends, she founded the Red Cross Association in her native town. Daw Nan Saw Kyi’s skills, dedication, perseverance as well as endurance were severely tested during the horrific fighting that raged around Mogaung in 1944 and 1945, when together with others she extended whatever aid was available to masses of streaming refugees and wounded fighters and soldiers, casualties of the slaughter that pitted British, Japanese and Burmese armies against each other. Daw Nan Saw Kyi’s involvement was only the preliminary stage of a life time of activism on behalf of various communal needs, informed by her deeply held Buddhist beliefs.
“King Maṅ: Co Mwan’s exile in Bengal – Legend, History and Context” with Jacques Leider
Manḥ Co Mvan is the name of an Arakanese king known as the founder, in 1430, of the city of Mrauk U (Mrok Uḥ). Mrauk U was the capital of Arakan until 1785, when the kingdom was conquered by the Burmese. It became the seat of a Burmese governor, but lost its status after 1825 following the occupation of Arakan by troops of the East India Company. Accounts about and stories related to this important king, his biography and his rule vary in the sources. Still, some stories have been more successful than others. Since the colonial period they have been considered as historical or at least partly historical facts. This article reviews one of these stories in particular, namely the king’s alleged stay in exile for an extended period of time. As far as our knowledge about the troubled political context of the early fifteenth century goes, the king might indeed have left his country for some time looking for support to regain his throne. Nonetheless, there are no sources to prove this point. We deconstruct the master narrative that has been built on the exile story by investigating the historical context and the literary devices used to embed the story in a traditional framework, which show that beyond the issue of historical facticity, there is a compelling interest to study the way the story has been both rationalized and mythologized to satisfy different audiences.