Geography, Peoples, Languages and Culture of Myanmar
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia bordered by India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, and China. Myanmar is a member of the East Asia Summit, ASEAN, Non-Aligned Movement, and BIMSTEC, but not a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Myanmar is rich in jade and gems, natural gas, oil, and other mineral resources.
Myanmar is the 40th largest country in the world and covers 261,228 square miles (676,578 square kilometers). This size is similar to the Texas or Britain and France combined. 15% of the country is good for agriculture and most arable land is in the central lowlands which are ringed by steep, rugged highlands. Approximately, half of the country is covered by tropical forests.
The Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) River is the major river in Myanmar and navigable for 900 miles. She is Burma’s longest and most important river; within a short distance of its banks, a succession of Burma’s capitals was built. Other major rivers include the Salween (Thanlwin), the Chindwinn, and the Sittaung.
The three ethnic groups—the Burmese, the Mon, and the Pyu—have made the greatest contribution to the development of the arts and culture of Burma. They all settled in the central plains along the middle and lower till the Irrawaddy and the Salween.
At the time after the fifth century, the Burmese people had moved down to the South of the Irrawaddy and settled along the river. This area, now known as Kyaukse, became the Burmese heartland where irrigated rice was first extensively cultivated. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the Burmese established the ancient city, Bagan, the capital of the Pagan Kingdom which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, 70% of the population is ethnic Burmese.
Myanmar has more than 100 indigenous languages spoken within its borders, but Burmese is the common and official language. Since many of them are known within small tribes around the country, they may have been lost after a few generations.
Burmese is written in a script consisting of circular and semi-circular letters adapted from the Mon script, which was developed from a southern Indian script in the 5th century. The Burmese language incorporates widespread usage of honorifics and is also age-oriented. As, Burmese society has traditionally stressed the importance of education, secular schooling often takes place in monasteries. And, secondary and tertiary education takes place at government schools.
The majority of culture is primarily Buddhist and Bamar. Actually, Bamar culture has been influenced by the cultures of neighboring countries, especially in language, cuisine, music, and dance. And, the arts, particularly literature, had been influenced by the Theravada Buddhism.
A novitiation ceremony, known as shin-byu, is the most popular and important coming of age events for a boy, during which he enters the monastery for a short time. Actually, Burmese culture is most evident in villages where local festivals are held throughout the year, and the most important events are usually pagoda festivals.