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Tuesday 25th June
Myanmar Information - Page 2
Myanmar has been inhabited since around 2,500 BC. People from India (the Mon) and from the Himalyas (the Burmans) moved into Myanmar and fought for control of the country for hundreds of years. The Burmans led by King Anawratha, a devout convert to Buddhism, built the first pagoda near Bagan. His successors built so many that by the twelfth century Bagan was called the "city of four million pagodas".

In 1287 the Mongols led by Kublai Khan invaded Myanmar and conquered Bagan. The Mons and other peoples took the chance to set up their own kingdoms and wars between these states continued for the next two hundred years.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish trading posts in Myanmar in the early sixteenth century. During the seventeenth century they were joined by the Dutch, French and British. Towards the end of the eighteenth century the king conquered northern Myanmar, taking his country's borders up to British-controlled Bengal. Border disputes led to the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-6). Victory in this and in the second Anglo-Burmese War (1852) won Britain territories. In 1886 Britain captured Mandalay and made Myanmar a province of British India.

In 1937 Myanmar became a separate colony, independent of India. After Japan's entry into the Second World War, the Japanese invaded Myanmar in 1941 and the British were driven back to India. Following years of jungle fighting the Japanese surrendered in Yangon in 1945. After the war, Britain eventually agreed to grant independence to Burma, despite the assassination of Aung San, leader of the interim government, and six ministers. Independence was granted in January 1948.

Independence proved difficult, with rebellions by a number of groups and severe economic problems. In 1962 the army took over. The military government resigned from the army in 1971 but retained power. Unrest continued and in 1988 the army took over again. In 1990 the Union of Burma changed its name to the Union of Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San and cofounder of the National League of Democracy was placed under house arrest.

Until the Second World War and the political unrest which followed Myanmar was a productive agricultural country.

Many of the people live in the countryside and agriculture accounts for a significant percentage of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Crops include rice, pulses, beans, sesame, groundnuts and sugarcane. Fish are provided by the fishing industry.

Before the Second World War oil was an important export. Although the industry declined oil and gas resources are now an important part of the country's extractive industries. Other natural resources include timber, tin, lead, tungsten, copper, limestone and precious stones.

Industrial development consists of pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, timber-related manufacturing, cement, construction materials and food processing.

Tourism was discouraged for many years but then efforts were made to increase the number of visitors. (2008)

The arts in Myanmar have been influenced by both Indian and Chinese traditions, with Buddhism the most important influence of all.

Buddhist temples and sculptures are the largest examples of art on display, but carved wooden chests holding scriptures and red lacquerware alms bowls carried by monks are other examples of the link between art and religion.

The most popular entertainment in Myanmar is the "pwe" - a celebration which includes music, theatre and dance. These events are offered as celebrations for the Nats.

Classical theatre offers religious and historical plays with stories from epics such as the Ramayana. The movements in classical dance are based on the movements of the puppet theatre and in traditional Siamese dances.

All types of theatre involve songs and music. Traditional instruments include gongs, xylophones, cymbals and bamboo flutes.

The puppet theatre was once the main form of entertainment in Myanmar; the plots usually derived from Buddhist stories or the Ramayana.

Embroidery, weaving and lacquerware are important traditional arts in Myanmar. The base of lacquerware is wood or woven bamboo which is then coated with layers of lacquer and clay, each dried and smoothed before the next is applied. Silversmithing was also a traditional craft.

Myanmar boxing is a popular sport dating back many centuries and often accompanied by traditional music. Boxers can use any part of their bodies to attack their opponent. Whoever draws blood is the winner - scratching and biting are against the rules.

Chinlon, a ball game with up to six players in a team, is the national sport. The aim is to keep a rattan ball in the air for as long as possible, passing it from player to player.

Football is the most popular modern sport.

Myanmar has many festivals. The biggest festival is the New Year celebration, in March/April, marked by throwing water over everyone to wash away the old year. Buddha Day celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.

Independence Day marks the day Myanmar left the Commonwealth. Union Day, Resistance Day and Worker's Day are some of the other holidays celebrated.

Hindu, Islamic and Christian holidays are also celebrated by the relevant communities.

News from Myanmar is available from Newslink

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