Myanmar Culture

By | September 24, 2021


Despite the ethnic diversity of the groups that make up its population, Myanmar retains an almost intact folklore characterized by a certain unity, given by Buddhist spirituality. In worldly life, one of the most characteristic features is hospitality, which can also be referred, like many family traditions, to the Buddhist faith. The position of the woman is completely singular: substantially free, she presents herself as a unique case in the context of the Asian world. Marriage is not considered a religious rite, but a civil one, and is accompanied, among other things, by the throwing of stones on the roof and walls of the house of the couple on the first night of the wedding. Among the most widespread popular festivals, we must mention that of the offer of the cloth for the togas of the bonzes and that of the boys (held in April), which results in playful jumps of water. The feasts of the gods are also important nat (spirits of nature), which constitute the remnant of animistic beliefs and take place (in the center of Taunggyi) through three days and three nights of dances. Funeral ceremonies are characteristic, especially those of notables: the wagon with the corpse is dragged by friends of the deceased and often stops along the road to allow the participants in the ceremony to consume refreshments; white is the color of mourning. According to animalerts, traditional costumes, especially female ones, are still widely used; the clothes have delicate colors and are very elegant; men’s clothing recalls women’s clothing. The use (once widespread among men) of tattoos (a sign of virility), applied with subcutaneous puncture, is disappearing; survives, common to both sexes, the use of piercing the earlobes and gradually enlarging the holes with pieces of bamboo (the ceremony involves a family celebration). Smoking is widespread, even among boys and women: the Burmese cigarette is sometimes 30 cm long and has a diameter of 4 cm. Among the typical dishes: a pasta similar to that of anchovies, made with crabs, fried fish, garlic and various herbs; among the singularities of the kitchen, the use of inserting chicken eyes in sauces and foods. Still widely used, especially in rural regions, is traditional medicine.


Ancient languages ​​of Myanmar were the mon and the pāli, both epigraphically attested from the sec. VI-VII, spread like several others in Indochina. Less ancient, and perhaps not earlier than the century. XII, is the literary use of Burmese. The origins of Burmese literature are quite late: only with the Ava dynasty (1364-1555), when the homonymous city joined Pagan as the political and cultural center of the country, we can speak of a real literary production. Ava’s culture was above all an aristocratic, court culture, imbued with a Buddhist spirit, and literature had stately characteristics both in content and genres, and in the composure of style and refinement of language. Poetry was very rich in forms: i pyo, inspired by jataka; the yadu, lyrical and elegiac odes; the mawgun, praiseworthy hatreds that celebrated the sovereigns; and the egyin, ballads of historical-celebratory content that were performed for the birth of royal princes. All poems respected rigid metric forms, being generally composed of stanzas of three or four lines of four syllables in regular rhymes. Principal authors include Adunyo, Shin Htwe Nyo, Shin Aggathamaddi and Shin Thilawuntha. Alongside poetry, an important literature in prose developed, especially historiographical, which includes his masterpiece in the late Maha Yazawingyi (The Great Chronicle) by U Kala. Among the authors of the sec. XVI-XVII should be mentioned Natshinnaung, Shin Thanko and, a little later, Padethayaza, to whom we owe the innovation of the tya-bwe or taya-gyin, bucolic songs about life in the countryside and working in the fields. Another poetic genre that spread widely in this era was angyin, of which there remains a work of the poetess Yawe Shin Htwe on the 55 hairstyles of the head of the court ladies. A growing variety of literary forms is found in the subsequent Konbaung period (1752-1875), with myittaza (epistles), yagan (heroic- comic poems) and a series of operas from the luda ai cho, ai bawle, in which some poetesses especially excelled. Famous pyos were also composed by Twinthin Taikwun and Monywe Sayadaw. Following the establishment of British rule, Burmese literature of the second half of the nineteenth century began to suffer from European influence. The novel (wuttu) was the most popular genre of the new prose fiction. The first work was published in 1900 and was an adaptation of the Count of Monte Cristo, edited by Hla Gyaw who, with the writer U Lat, was one of the first authors to instill nationalistic sentiment. After the first novels, novellism flourished, which, with the short story, found its most suitable location in the periodical press.

Representative of this genus was Thakin Kodo Hmain. Around 1930, the Khitsan literary movement (Experiments of a new era) established itself in the environment of the University of Rangoon, which promoted, against all rhetoric, the fashion of an incisive and lapidary style, similar to that of the ancient epigraphy of Pagan. This return to the purest literary tradition of the country was intended in an eminently nationalistic key. Among the main exponents of the group are U Sein Tin, Thein Pe, author of the novel Tet Phongyi (The modern monk), on the customs of the Buddhist clergy, and Khin Khin Lay, author of Mein ma ba wa (Life of a woman). After the stagnation caused by the Japanese occupation, the regained independence in 1948 gave new developments to the Burmese fiction, which counts its most representative figures in Min Aung and Tet Toe. In 1954 the writer Journal Kyaw Ma Ma Lay (1917-1982), author of numerous novels, short stories and essays, published the novel Mon Ywe Mahu (Not what she hates), the story of a Burmese woman whose drama stems from having married a man of extremely Westernized morals. This and other novels are important not only for their literary merits but also because they have bravely faced the problems of contemporary Burmese reality and have shown younger writers the way forward to make literature also an instrument of national education and training.. Other reference figures in Burmese literature of the twentieth century were the poet Saya Tin Moe (1933-2007), long censored at home, and Maung Swan Yi.

Myanmar Culture