A Guide for the First Time Visitor of Burma
Burma, once called Myanmar, was renamed in 1989, following democratic reforms carried out by their government. Burmese culture has developed over the last 2,000 years and there are many different ethnic groups that call Burma home. There are about 135 ethnic groups in Burma, which creates a diverse population throughout the country’s regions. Burmese people are the largest ethnic group in Myanmar (Burma). They make up about two-thirds of the population, which is over 56 million people. Burma is a country that’s been closed off from the world for decades, and as a result, the people of Burma are often misrepresented and misunderstood, so I want to provide you with some information about them and their culture.
In this post, we’re going to discuss 5 cool facts about Burmese people in Burma. Things, such as:
- The Burmese Language.
- The Burmese Peoples’ Concept of Having 2 Souls.
- More on The Burmese Concept of the Soul.
- The Burmese Concept of Ghosts.
- More About the Burmese Concept of Ghosts.
- The Burmese Concept of Time.
- The Burmese Concept of Love & Marriage.
- The Thingyan Festival.
- The Buddhist Monks and Buddhist Nuns.
- The Traditional Dances.
So without further ado, let’s begin…
The Burmese Language
Burmese is the Burmese language of Myanmar (Burma). Burmese is an official language of Burma, and it’s also spoken in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. As Burmese people share borders with many countries, Burmese developed its own unique form of speech over time and spread across the globe. Burmese is a member of the Burmese-Lolo branch within Sino-Tibetan language family, and it’s primarily spoken in central and upper Myanmar.
The Burmese language can be split into 2 different dialects: ‘Standard Burmese‘ or Myanma-lèsek, which is used in politics, education and the media; and ‘Rural Burmese‘ or Myanma-sawé, which is used by Burmese people in everyday life.
Burmese is a tonal language that uses Burmese script as its writing system. Burmese script looks like symbols and it’s not alphabet-based. Burmese script was developed from the Mon script, which Burmese people created in the 10th century. Burmese is a digraphic language that has 63 letters in its Burmese alphabet, and they include:
a, b, ch, d, e, gya, hnya, ja, jay, ka, kha, khay, leh, mjeymje, ngwehmyanma (eng), nga (sing.), nya (plu.), pa, pha, ssa 3 , sa 3 , sha 3 , taw & thar. Burmese has its own Burmese numerals that are used in Burmese language, and they include:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9. Burmese also has its own Burmese punctuation marks that include:
a comma (,) a full stop or period (.) a question mark (?), a Burmese question mark (?) & an exclamation mark (!). Burmese is the primary language of Burmese people, but they also speak English as a second language. The Burmese script is written from left to right.
Here is a great resource I found for learning more about the Burmese language: https://omniglot.com/writing/burmese.htm
The Burmese Concept of Having 2 Souls
The Burmese word for the ‘soul’ that’s used in Burmese dialect is, ‘Baw Ma Yout‘. It means ‘the other self or spirit‘, and it’s believed to be housed in the chest, which is exactly where Burmese people place their hands when they pray. Burmese people believe that if you harm one soul, it affects the other soul too; and Burmese people think of themselves as having 2 souls. Burmese people say ‘Mone Baw Ma Yout‘ (I hurt my spirit) when they’re feeling sad and stressed out about something.
What it means to have two souls, is that Burmese people think of themselves as a group. Burmese people will go to great lengths to protect their own, and they’ll do whatever it takes to keep their loved ones safe. It’s why Burmese culture has remained so strong throughout the years–they’ve survived through centuries of wars, famines and many other existential threats. Burmese people will fight to protect their own, and Burmese culture is very much centered around its people.
More on The Burmese Concept of the Soul
Burmese people believe that Burmese people have 2 souls (or 5, depending on how you’re counting them) – a ‘thin’ soul & a ‘thick’ soul.
There’s no physical difference between the Burmese thin and thick souls. Burmese people all have both thin & thick souls, and it’s been that way since Burmese people came into existence. The Burmese thin soul is the ‘spirit’, and Burmese people believe that this soul leaves their bodies when they go to sleep at night; and comes back into their bodies when they wake up in the morning. Burmese people believe that their thin souls are what make Burmese dreams ‘lucid’.
The Burmese thick soul is known as ‘kye-inn’, and Burmese people think of this soul more like an alter ego; it can be ‘good’ or ‘evil’. The kye-inn soul is the soul that Burmese people are born with, and it’s what makes up a Burmese person’s ‘character’. If a Burmese man or woman has good character, then their soul becomes more ‘good’; but if they have bad character, then their soul becomes more ‘evil’.
Burmese people believe that the soul is more of a form than an actual soul. The soul is made up of a light energy, and the soul’s size determines whether or not that soul can fit into Burmese people’s bodies; each person has one soul that fits inside their body perfectly.
The Burmese Concept of Ghosts
The Burmese people believe in ghosts, known as ‘Pya-Nyeint‘, more than spirits. Burmese people will never disrespect the dead, especially if they’re Burmese soldiers that died in battle.
Burmese stories often revolve around death and ghosts, with some Burmese people believing that their loved ones visit them after death to guide them to the next life. Burmese people often leave rice & water beside an image of a Burmese monk, hoping that the Burmese ghost will take it with them to wherever they are.
Burmese people believe that ghosts can be violent, but they don’t think of them as evil. Ghosts are just another part of Burmese culture, and Burmese people accept the existence of ghosts.
More About the Burmese Concept of Ghosts
Burmese ghosts & spirits take on the same image as they did when they were living: Burmese people who die while very young or very old, are said to become spirits; and everybody else becomes a ghost. Ghosts & spirits can be both good & evil, with some ghosts actually attacking other Burmese people.
Burmese people believe that some ghosts look like animals, and they’re not always just pitch-black & scary looking. Sometimes, a soul can look like an animal in order to scare bad people into becoming more good.
The Burmese Concept of Time
Burmese people view time in a linear way that’s dictated by the Buddhist calendar. They think of time as beginning when 4 Buddhas appeared on Earth. These are: Kakusandha, Konagamana, Kassapa, & Gautama (the historical Buddha). Burmese people celebrate 4 Buddhist holidays that mark the appearance of these 4 Buddhas:
Kakusandha’s Appearance Day: Burmese New Year or Burmese New Year.
Konagamana’s Appearance Day: Burmese New Year (sky watching festival).
Kassapa’s Appearance Day: Burmese Water Festival or Burmese New Year.
Gautama Buddha’s Appearance Day: Burmese Full Moon Day, and also known as the day of enlightenment in Burmese culture.
What these four Buddhas represent, is the connection of Burmese history & culture. History, such as Buddhist mythology, and culture, such as Burmese festivals.
The Burmese Concept of Love & Marriage
Burmese people believe in arranged marriages, and it’s not a romantic way of starting a relationship. Burmese couples don’t get to choose if they fall in love with each other; their parents choose for them.
Burmese people believe that love & marriage are two different things, and it also ties back into the concept of having 2 souls; which is why they don’t believe in falling in love with your spouse (marrying one soul).
Burmese couples get to know each other first before getting married – and to Burmese people, there’s no difference between knowing somebody and loving them. Burmese marriages are built on trust, commitment, & respect; and Burmese husbands and wives take their relationships seriously.
Married Burmese couples belong to each other, and each other, alone – they don’t fall in love with anybody else; Burmese people do not have affairs with other Burmese people, and they’ll keep their families together at all costs.
The Thingyan Festival
The Burmese New Year is called ‘Thingyan‘ in Burmese. It’s the Burmese New Year festival, and it starts on April 13th of each year (according to Burmese lunar calendar). Thingyan lasts throughout the month of April, and Burmese people take part in different water-themed activities throughout the Burmese New Year festival.
The Burmese concept of water is different from how it’s considered in other cultures, because Burmese people believe that water has the power to purify & cleanse your soul. Burmese Buddhists make merit (donate money) by giving drops of water to Burmese monks, and Burmese people cleanse their bodies during Thingyan by throwing water on each other.
It’s also typical for Burmese women to wear white clothes during the Burmese New Year festival, & Burmese men typically carry a bamboo pole (for slapping people) & wear sarongs with Burmese longyi (traditional Burmese outfit).
The Buddhist Monks and Buddhist Nuns
The Buddhist Monks and Buddhist Nuns of Burma are very well respected members in Burmese society. People often give money to the Buddhist Monks & Buddhist Nuns, and they’ll put gold leaf on sacred statues (practice of bribing).
It’s not unusual for people to visit their local Buddhist monastery, offering food to the Buddhist Monks & Buddhist Nuns, in the morning.
– Burmese people believe that giving food to a Buddhist Monk or accepting their food is good luck.
– Buddha taught that life must go on, and humans are given happiness through different ways; such as family, work (money), or spiritual enlightenment. He also taught about the impermanence of life & the world.
– Burmese houses have a special shelf with food, drinks (alcoholic beverages), and cigarettes for the Buddhist Monks to enjoy all day long throughout their visit.
– It’s common for Buddhist Monks and Buddhist Nuns to walk around in neighborhoods seeking alms.
– Burmese people believe that giving alms to Buddhist Monks is an act of merit earning (the highest form of charity in Buddhism).
The Traditional Burmese Dances
Throughout the world, traditional dances are often seen as a symbol of a culture; in the United States, children learn dances for different events such as weddings, birthday parties, or even national holidays. The traditional Burmese dances are no exception. In fact, Burmese children begin learning traditional dances at a very young age.
Burmese traditional dance is about more than just having fun, Burmese people see their traditional dances as expressions of their culture and history. Many of the traditional dances are interpretations of Burmese folktales, and are often times Burmese stories told through movements.
Burmese people, both young & old, show their appreciation for Burmese traditional dances through different types of performances and competitions.
One dance, known as the ‘Saw Thun Kham‘, is a traditional dance about why Burmese people wear longyi, which is traditional clothing (a type of shirt) for both men and women.
Another traditional Burmese dance, known as ‘Swayambun‘ or ‘Marionette Dance‘, symbolizes Buddhist Monks and their control over humans through the power of karma.
Final Thoughts on These Cool Facts About the Burmese People
Now that we’ve learned a bit about the beautiful people of Burma, let’s take a moment to reflect on Burmese culture. Burmese people are deeply religious and superstitious, yet Burmese traditions help them understand and appreciate their history & culture.
With all this exciting history and culture, it’s no wonder that we listed Myanmar (Burma) as one of the ten places to visit in Southeast Asia.
We’ve learned about Burmese festivals, Burmese traditional dances, Burmese monks & nuns (Buddhist Monks), the Burmese people’s belief in water, Burmese longyi (traditional Burmese outfit), giving alms to Buddhist Monks and the significance of Burmese people wearing Burmese longyi.
I hope you enjoyed these cool facts about the Burmese People!
Until next time…