It’s no easy task to describe a country as rich and ancient as Myanmar in just a few words, considering all of its idiosyncrasies and diversity.
To make it a little simpler we’ll just go through the abecedarium and find 26 aspects of the Burmese way of life, hopefully without overloading you with too much information (you can always google to know a bit more afterwards!).
Are you ready? Go!
Aung San Suu Kyi – the most known Burmese politician, diplomat, author, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She is the leader of the National League for Democracy and the first and incumbent State Counsellor, a position akin to a prime minister.
Betel – a vine belonging to the Piperaceae family, which includes pepper and kava. Betel leaf is mostly consumed in Asia, and elsewhere in the world by some Asian emigrants, as betel quid or in paan, with Areca nut and/or tobacco.
Chinlone – the traditional, national sport of Myanmar. It is non-competitive, with typically six people playing together as one team. The ball used is normally made from handwoven rattan, which sounds like a basket when hit.
Durian – regarded by many people in Southeast Asia as the “king of fruits”, there are 30 recognised Durio species, at least nine of which produce edible fruit. Durio zibethinus is the only species available in the international market: other species are sold in their local regions.
Elephant (white) – white (albino) elephants have been revered symbols of power and good fortune in Myanmar. There are reportedly 9 such elephants in the country, kept in Yangon and Nay Pyi Daw.
Festivals – Myanmar is renowned for the Burmese people’s festive spirit, and each year, there are festivals that happen all across the country. The most popular are Thingyan (water), Taunggyi Tazaungdaing (lights), Kyaikhtiyo Thadingyut (golden rock), Taungbyone Nat (spirit) and Kachin Manaw (pole).
Gadaw – a Burmese tradition in which a person, always of lower social standing, pays respect or homage to a person of higher standing by kneeling before them and paying obeisance with joined hands, and bowing. This is done in order to show gratitude and reverence and an opportunity to ask for forgiveness, often involving gift-giving.
Hkakabo Razi – Myanmar’s highest mountain, and with its height of 5,881 metres the probable highest mountain in South East Asia. It is located in the northern Myanmar state of Kachin in an outlying subrange of the Greater Himalayan mountain system near the border tri-point with India and China.
Irrawaddy – a river that flows from north to south through Myanmar, officially known as Ayeyarwady. It is the country’s largest river and most important commercial waterway.
Jade – an ornamental mineral, mostly known for its green varieties with a long history in Burma, where it is considered highly symbolic of luck and power. The deposits are of very high quality and 70% of the world’s supply of high-quality jadeite comes from Burma.
Kyat – the currency of Myanmar. It is often abbreviated as “K” or “Ks”, which is placed before or after the numerical value, depending on author preference. The term kyat derives from the ancient Burmese unit kyattha, equal to 16.3 grams of silver.
Longyi – a sheet of cloth widely worn in Burma. It is approximately 2 metres long and 80 centimetres wide. The cloth is often sewn into a cylindrical shape. It is worn around the waist, running to the feet. It is held in place by folding fabric over without a knot. It is sometimes folded up to the knee for comfort.
Mohinga – a rice noodle and fish soup from Myanmar and is an essential part of Burmese cuisine. It is considered by many to be the national dish of Myanmar. It is readily available in most parts of the country.
Nats – spirits worshipped in Myanmar in conjunction with Buddhism. They are divided between the 37 Great Nats and all the rest. Almost all of the 37 Great Nats were human beings who met violent deaths. They may thus also be called nat sein.
Orwell – George Orwell spent five years in the 1920s as an Imperial India Police force officer in Burma. He wrote the novel Burmese Days in 1934 about British colonialism, described as ‘a portrait of the dark side of the British Raj’. He was widely regarded as having ‘let the side down’ for his critique of colonialism.
Pali – a Middle Indo-Aryan language native to the Indian subcontinent. It is widely studied because it is the language of the Pāli Canon or Tipiṭaka, and is the sacred language of some religious texts of Hinduism and all texts of Theravāda Buddhism.
Queen Supayalat – which the British corrupted to “Soup Plate”, was the last queen of Burma, reigning between 1878 and 1885. She is infamous for engineering a massacre of 80-100 members of the royal family, to prevent her husband the King’s overthrow from power.
Revolution (Saffran) – a term used to describe a series of economic and political protests and demonstrations that took place during August, September and October 2007 in Myanmar. The protests were triggered by the decision of the national military government to remove subsidies on the sales prices of fuel.
Shwedagon (Pagoda) – a gilded stupa located in Yangon, Myanmar. The 326-foot-tall pagoda is situated on Singuttara Hill, to the west of Kandawgyi Lake, and dominates the Yangon skyline.
Thanaka – a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark. It is a distinctive feature of Myanmar (formerly Burma) seen commonly applied to the face and sometimes the arms of women and girls and to a lesser extent men and boys.
U-bein (bridge) – believed to be the longest and oldest teakwood bridge in the world. Located in the old ancient capital of Amarapura (just on the outskirts of Mandalay), it stretches out for 1.2 kilometres which is a pretty impressive feat seeing as it was built over 150 years ago.
Viaduct (Goteik) – a railway trestle in Nawnghkio, western Shan State, Myanmar. The bridge is between the two towns of Pyin Oo Lwin (the summer capital of the former British colonial administrators of Burma), and Lashio (the principal town of northern Shan State).
Wildlife – Burma is home to elephants and tigers as well as a fascinating array of animals: flying foxes (the fruit-eating bats); gibbons (the long-armed apes); tapir (pig-like jungle dwellers); the Burmese python, one of the longest snakes on earth, growing up to 19 feet long(!); the sun-bear or honey-bear; dugong, the marine mammal and the world’s smallest hoofed animal, the lesser mouse-deer.
Xylophone – The Burmese xylophone is known as a ‘pattala’ and was used in the music of the royal court in pre-colonial Burma. It consists of 24 bamboo slats suspended over a boat-shaped resonating chamber and played with two padded mallets.
Yama Zatdaw – the Burmese version of the Ramayana and unofficially its national epic. There are nine known pieces of the Yama Zatdaw in Myanmar. The Burmese name for the story itself is Yamayana, while zatdaw refers to the acted play or being part of jataka tales of Theravada Buddhism.
Zodiac – the traditional Burmese system of astronomy and astrology. While it is still an important component of the Burmese calendar, today, the zodiac is closely identified with Burmese astrology, called Bedin.
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- “Dictionnaire insolite de la Birmanie”, de Marion Sabrié