"The happiness is in a harmoniously disciplined life"
Burma (Myanmar) or Republic of the Union of Myanmar is an Asian country located in the Indochinese Peninsula. It shares borders with Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand and its coastline opens to the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, both of which are part of the Indian Ocean.
The name "Burma" used to designate an ethnic group present on the territory and then, by extension, the entire population of the country. Since 2010, its name has become Myanmar, but the vast majority of Francophones continue to use the old name.
It is therefore possible to find both names in the media even though the official name of the country is Myanmar.
Myanmar at a glance
Political capital: Naypyidaw
Administrative divisions: 7 regions and 7 states
Population: more than 51 million inhabitants
Main language: Burmese
Main religion: Theraavda Buddhism
Current Chairman: Htin Kyaw
Currency: Kyat (1 kyat = 100 pyas)
Conversion into euro: 1,000 kyats = 0,65 euro
Tourism: The tourism is not recommended in most areas of Myanmar (Burma) and mainly in the north of the country as well as along the borders due to the terrorist risk, the health risks from insect bites and the lack of hygiene are also of concern.
From the sea to the Himalayas
Myanmar is the largest country on the Indochinese Peninsula (also called Southeast Continental Asia). It extends from north to south and its greatest width does not exceed 960 km.
The coastal region, more or less 2,000 km long, includes a large number of islands. It is partially covered with mangroves (swamp forests) and is bordered by a vast central plain with the highest concentration of population and which is crossed by the country's largest river, the Irrawaddy. At the same time cradle of the Burmese civilization and important axis of transport, the Irrawaddy ends with a delta throwing in the sea of Andaman. It is home to abundant and diverse wildlife, including a colony of eponymous dolphins living offshore and in the estuaries of the peninsula.
The plain itself is bordered by mountain ranges serving as natural boundaries with India and Thailand: the Arakan Range which joins the Tibetan Plateau to form an arc extending to the Himalayas to the west is the highest mountain range of the peninsula to the north. The highest peak of Myanmar, the Hkakabo Razi, which rises to an altitude of 5,881 meters, is located in the massif of the Greater Himalayas, Dandalika Shan.
The mountainous regions are covered with humid forests up to 2,800 meters above sea level. These are replaced by semi-deciduous forests and finally coniferous forests, often covered with snow, which are themselves replaced by glaciers above 4,500 meters. The highest summits form an ice cap.
In addition to the fish inhabiting the Irrawaddy and other Myanmar rivers, the wildlife is widely represented, particularly in tropical forests where more than 1,000 species of birds and 400 reptiles and amphibians have been recorded. In the delta, the Asian elephant, the leopard and the Bengal tiger cohabit.
The massive exploitation of the country's natural resources, which is full of rubies, jade and diamonds, combined with the hunting, the teak wood and the expansion of farmland, threaten an increasingly fragile ecosystem. Many animal species are endangered as the sea turtle, the marine crocodile and especially the rhinoceros of Java. Formerly this rhinoceros species lived in the wild throughout Southeast Asia, India, China, and the islands of Java and Sumatra. Currently, it is estimated that its total population is reduced to about forty individuals in an Indonesian national park. The rhinoceros of Java is a victim of the value of its horn used in traditional Chinese medicine. Despite the surveillance of the last representatives of the species, the poachers still manage to kill them. Moreover, the non-renewal of their genetic heritage leads to a problem of consanguinity (endogamic depression).
A fuzzy origin
The settlement of Myanmar probably begins around 10,000 BCE, but it is very difficult to know the origin and way of life of its early inhabitants.
By the third millennium BC, the civilization of the Mons settled in the delta of the Irrawaddy.
According to some historians, the Mons are the founders of the Suvarnabhumi Kingdom mentioned in various Buddhist, Greek and Indonesian texts but its location is the subject of much controversy. The different theses concerning his situation have been advanced, notably the Indonesian island of Java, South India or the province of Suphanburi in Thailand.
The Burmese claim that this legendary kingdom was located in the southern region of Tenasserim and that the port of Thaton on the Andaman Sea was its capital.
If the situation and the chronology of the kingdom is not clearly established, it seems certain that môn kingdom called Thaton did exist in the plains around the 6th century BC and that the Pyus create several city-states in the center from the country. A legend tells that two Thaton princesses founded the town of Pegou in the 6th century AD. The Mons then had three capitals, Thaton, Pegou in Myanmar, and the Thai city of Nakhon Pathom.
They took advantage of the collapse of the Fou-nan dynasty in the south of the peninsula to found several independent city-states of Dvaravati culture from the Bangkok region of Thailand.
The Kingdom of Pagan
By the 11th century, the different Mons kingdoms that did not enjoy a unification did not succeed in resisting the Burmese attacks of the Kingdom of Pagan in the present Myanmar and the Khmer in Thailand.
The kingdom of Pagan is transformed into empire by regrouping different villages around the capital Pagan (currently Bagan). In the 11th century, King Anawratha converted to Theravada Buddhism during a pilgrimage to Ceylon. He imposes it on the Burmese as a state religion.
Anawratha extends his kingdom to the entire Irrawaddy basin by shaving the town of Thaton and then attacking the Kingdom of Dali in Yunnan Province, China, in order to steal a Buddha's tooth. He then built the Shwezigon Pagoda which can be admired in Nyaung U, near Pagan, to house his precious relic.
Pagan thus became a regional capital of Buddhism and the kings are considered as defenders of religion.
Until the end of the 13th century, the whole of the Indochinese peninsula was divided between the Kingdom of Pagan in the west and the Khmer Empire in the east, which prospered through trade by sea and land.
The collapse of Pagan
Throughout this period, the kings of Pagan granted lands to the Buddhist monasteries which are exempt from taxation. Thus the kingdom weakened considerably and could not contain the Mongol invasions that seized the capital in 1287. Without real sovereign, the kingdom collapses and the different regions are again isolated.
Several kingdoms took the opportunity to emerge, the Mons were present again in the south of the country, in Martaban and Pegou while the center was occupied by the Burmese Shans originating in Yannan. They founded the Kingdom of Myinsaing which then gave birth to the kingdoms of Pinya and Sagaing established on both sides of the Irrawaddy.
In 1364 the two kingdoms were annihilated by the Shans established in Mogaung in the north of the country and the Kingdom of Ava was founded on the ruins of the central part of the country. The new king chose to establish his capital on a small river island between the Irrawaddy, one of its tributaries and an artificially excavated channel connecting the two rivers.
Myanmar then experienced an eventful period, marked by numerous wars with the neighboring kingdoms, the Thais and the Chinese. He resisted the assaults until 1527, when the Prince of Mohnyin allied with the other Shan princes and annihilated the kingdom of Ava.
The Second Burmese Empire
In order to escape the war, a part of the population had sought refuge in Taungû, which had already proclaimed itself independent in 1510. The city was then chosen as the capital of a new kingdom which would soon become the Second Burmese Empire founded By King Mingyinyo and his successors.
The Taungu dynasty enlarges its territory by annexing the Irrawaddy delta and the Mon kingdom of Pégou. Enjoying a privileged location for trade, Pegu becomes the capital of an empire that continues its expansion to Laos. The ancient Burma reached its peak and dominated most of the Indochinese peninsula until the early 17th century.
The Third Burmese Empire
Very weakened by internal revolts but also by attempts of incursion of the Portuguese, Taungu dynasty gradually loses territories and must fall back on Ava. When in 1752 the town of Pegu revolted against Ava, the kingdom finally collapsed leaving the place to the Konbaung dynasty. It founded the third Burmese empire, which continues to expand and reaches the present limits of Myanmar. The country's economy is booming, thanks in particular to trade with China and the modernization of the country. The Burmese accept the establishment of several European counters on their territory but the British, worried about the power of the kingdom, break this fragile peace at the beginning of the 19th century, which led to the three Anglo-Burmese wars between 1824 and 1885.
Annexation by the United Kingdom
On January 1st 1886, Burma was officially annexed by the United Kingdom and became a province of British India. Many revolt movements broke out in the country but were severely repressed by the British army. The order will not finally be restored in the country until 1900.
During the British period, the country's economy prospered thanks to the rice trade facilitated by the construction of the Suez Canal. The population does not benefit from this new wealth. Most of the workforce comes from India and the Burmese without work and being too poor to pay their loans are expelled from their land. Moreover, English becomes the official language and the schools belonging to the monasteries can no longer convey the indigenous culture which is transmitted only through the folklore and the religion.
The nationalist movements
In 1930, the peasants revolted and the nationalist organization Thakin (Dobama Asiayone) took the opportunity to rally them to their cause. The strikes were organized requiring the British to detach the country from India and grant it a new constitution.
At the beginning of the Second World War, the Japanese-backed nationalists created a special unit formed by the Japanese army, the group known as the "Thirty comrades".
When Japan declared war on Great Britain in 1941, the Burma Independence Army fought alongside the Japanese army. The Burma campaign began in January 1942 between the Allied forces and the Axis forces.
After gaining ground until 1943 and granting independence to the State of Burma in 1942, Japan was finally defeated and had to leave the country in July 1945 after the capture of Rangoon. A few months earlier, the Burmese government had turned against Japan and joined the Allied troops.
Union of the Socialist Republic of Burma
In 1947, Burma is officially independent and it is U Nu, the former member of Thakin who is appointed Prime Minister. It forms a democratic government and remains in power until 1962 when it is overthrown by a military coup fomented by General Ne Win.
The country became a military dictatorship and took the name of "Union of the Socialist Republic of Burma" in 1974. The population lives dark hours marked by the repression and the poverty.
In 1988, the rebellion rumbled, the people demanded the restoration of democracy and General Ne Win was obliged to resign to calm the spirits. But this resignation is only a lure because it is General Sein Lwin, his henchman, who succeeds him. He immediately declared martial law and ordered his men to shoot the demonstrators, which increased their anger. Sein Lwin resigned in his turn and General Saw Maung took the opportunity to carry out a putsch, repress the demonstrations in blood and reestablish a new military dictatorship known as the "Council of State for Peace and Development".
Aung San Suu Kyi
These tragic events cost the lives of more than 10,000 people. The following year, Burma was renamed Myanmar, a name not used by many countries, including the United States as a sign of opposition to the political regime.
In order to oppose the military junta, Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the nationalist general Aung San who negotiated the country's independence and Burma's ambassador to India, founded a new party, the National League for Democracy. Following the strikes encouraged by his party, Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned and then placed under house arrest in 1989.
Despite the League's clear victory in the 1990 elections, the military junta denied him the right to sit. In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi released in 1995 cannot leave the country under penalty of being unable to return and can no longer see his family remained in Great Britain. Her husband died in 1997 without having seen his wife again.
In 2000, she was again arrested and placed under the house arrest to "protect the State against destructive elements" despite the protests and threats of sanctions by the international community and the Secretary of the United Nations. His imprisonment is however renewed from year to year without any other form of trial or judgment. The military junta wants to remove it from the elections.
Aung San Suu Kyi is finally released in November 2010 and runs for the 2012 elections that she easily wins. He thus gets a seat in Parliament. The military junta is dissolved.
Unable to present herself in the presidential election because of her marriage to a foreigner, who is one of her close relatives, Htin Kyaw, who becomes the first democratically elected president in 2015, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Special Adviser to the State and spokesman for the Presidency?
Since March 30th, 2016, the President of the Republic of Burma is Htin Kyaw, belonging to the party of the National League for Democracy and close adviser of Aung San Suu Kyi.
In spite of a return to democracy, the executive power and the legislative power of the parliamentary republic is actually assured by one and the same person, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Since 2005, the capital of the country is Naypyidaw (formerly Pyinmana) instead of Rangoon. This decision of the military junta still in power is probably based on the desire to protect the administrative capital of the country from any possible attack by the sea.
This new city is immense but very sparsely populated to the point that it deserves the nickname of ghost town. Only the various ministries and administrative buildings, the replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the shopping malls and some leisure sites such as a zoo, a golf course or stadiums were built. However, these infrastructures have little or no use at all.
The Country of the Precious Stones
Until the 1930s, Burma was a very rich country, especially thanks to the export of its rice.
Although Myanmar is now little industrialized, it is profiting economically from its natural resources, precious and semiprecious stones. It is in the vicinity of Mogok, in full mountainous region, that the most beautiful rubies of the world have been discovered. The workers working in the mines, however, face extremely difficult living and working conditions.
The agriculture is nevertheless the main sector of activity in the country and the production of rice (25 million tons), the sugar cane (7.3 million tons) and, in smaller quantities of maize, groundnuts, cotton and tobacco accounts for half of GDP.
Burma is also an important opium-producing country (the second after Afghanistan), which is cultivated by the poorest ethnic minorities in the country.
At the energy level, Burma operates a small oil field ashore, while the field Yadena gas plant located in the Andaman Sea is jointly operated by Total and Chevron Company. This marine deposit supplies Burma but also part of Thailand.
The tourism is at present much undeveloped but could become an important player in the economy of Burma in the coming years.
An ethnic mosaic
The total population of Myanmar has far exceeded the 51,000,000 inhabitants. The fertility rate is 2.16 children per woman but the country has an extremely high infant mortality rate of 43.55 ‰ and a life expectancy not exceeding 67 years, which explains a small annual increase in the population and a few people over 65 (less than 6% of the population).
There are 135 different ethnic groups in Myanmar but only seven "national races" are recognized by the government: the majority of Burmese with 68% of the population, Shans (9%), Karens (7%), Arakanese %), Chin (3%), Indians (2%) and Mons (2%).
The Muslim ethnic minority Rohingya is discriminated against and its population is no longer recognized as Burmese since 1962, under the Ne Win dictatorship. Having become stateless, the Rohingyas have no political, economic or social rights. They cannot stand for election, become traders or civil servants, be treated, married or have children. They are also subjected to many Islamophobic or racist acts and are robbed of their meager goods. Many Rohingyas have taken refuge in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand.
The international community, including the European Union, has called for an end to the crackdown and believes that Aung San Suu Kyi's government should act more swiftly.
Burmese is the official language of the country, it is taught at school and is spoken by about 65% of the inhabitants. Besides Burmese, there are hundreds of other languages and spoken dialects such as shan, karen or mon.
the city dwellers also speak English, which is the second language of instruction. However, Mandarin becomes an important language because of the rapprochement of Burma and China both economically and culturally.
88% of the people of Myanmar are Buddhists but the worship of spirits (nats) is also very present, mainly in the countryside and in Burmese families. It is for this reason that it is frequent to see an altar installed in the houses in order to venerate these divinities.
The worship of the nats predates the appearance of Buddhism in the country. When King Anawratha converted to Theravada Buddhism, he authorized the presence of the statuettes of the 37 official states in temples and shrines, which makes Burmese Buddhism unique.
6% of the population is Christian and 4% is Islamist. These two religious minorities are being bullied and persecuted.
Burmese cuisine is the result of a mixture of endemic, Indian, Chinese and Thai influences but is less spicy than in many other Asian countries.
The dishes are made with curry of mutton or chicken meat as well as fish and seafood, accompanied by rice, beans, tomatoes, onions, tea leaves and noodles.
The unsweetened green tea is the favorite beverage of the Burmese who also enjoy the local beers, the fruit wines or the palm wine.
The wooden puppet shows and Thai and Mon-inspired music are part of Burmese culture.
Some border regions with China and Thailand, as well as Shan State, Rakhine, Kachin and Chin are not recommended to tourists due to tensions between different ethnic groups and the presence of antipersonnel mines. It is imperative not to get away from the busy roads.
It is also recommended not to photograph the monks, the police officers or the soldiers and to accept no parcel or letter from strangers, mainly at the airports or the railway stations.
Only four border crossing points are allowed to cross the borders and the exit from the country without authorization is punishable by imprisonment.
It is important to respect the customs of the local population and to have proper dress to visit places of worship.
The tourists must have unfolded, untrimmed and unstained bills (dollars or euros) for their expenses. The credit cards are accepted only in some cities and for limited amounts.
There are many health risks: the insect bites are responsible for the Zika virus, dengue fever, chikungunya, malaria and Japanese encephalitis. There are also many cases of rabies and haemorrhagic diarrhea.
The ancient capitals of the Burmese kingdoms offer visitors a rich architectural heritage. Many Buddhist places of worship dazzle with their magnificence, including the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon and the Pagoda Hill in Mawlamyin.