Category Archives: Burmese literature

PEN Myanmar: Pushing free expression reform and revitalizing literature

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What is a project that you have been working on in recent months?

PEN Myanmar always strives to find a balance between revitalizing Myanmar literature, and defending and promoting freedom of expression. All of our projects fall into these two categories. In 2016, for example, we released seven statements urging the new government – specifically the News Media Council, the parliaments and the military – to respect the media freedom and to ensure free expression as a fundamental human right. Responding openly to the assassination of U Ko Ni, the senior advisor of NLD, in January of this year was another big call for justice made by PEN Myanmar.

On top of that, we have been working on a media development legal reform to the News Media Law 2014 and sent our comments and recommendation to the Citizen Fundamental Rights, Democracy and Human Rights Committee under the Upper House (the House of Nationality). The Committee is reviewing our comments and will pass it to the Bill Committee. PEN Myanmar will be involved throughout the amending process as one of the stakeholder. Also, our Publishers Circle has been working on the repeal of the Printing and Publishing Enterprises Law.

Moreover, PEN Myanmar legal review committee is working on amending country’s other repressive laws and tools that undermine free expression, which includes advocating for the abolishment, editing or amending with public consensus of the following:  the Telecommunications Law, the Electronic Transaction Act, the Privacy Law and encouraging the formation of the Right to Information law.

A free expression environment that fosters informed dialogue, protects open debate, and promotes government transparency and accountability is a crucial foundation for democratic reform. In mid-November 2016, PEN Myanmar got together with experts from partner organizations to reflect on the state of free expression in Myanmar midway through the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s first year. As a result, we produced The Freedom of Expression “scorecard” aimed to assess the progress – or lack thereof – by the new government in the key areas of free speech, media freedom, information access, and freedom of assembly. The scorecard report was released on 3 December at PEN Myanmar Annual General Conference. The one year report will be released in early May, 2017. This will be the yearly activity and PEN Myanmar will extend its networks and invite more media organizations to make the assessment report more inclusive.

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Modern Burmese Literature — Its Background in the Independence Movement

FLASHBACK

A look at the history of modern Burmese literature from The Atlantic‘s February 1958 issue.

It was only in the 1920’s, when agitation for independence led to a national awakening, that Burmese classical literature came into the curricula of the schools and Rangoon University, and serious writing in Burmese was supported by the cultural leaders of the country.

We find the earliest examples of literature in the Burmese language in hundreds of inscriptions carved on stone which still survive from the kingdom of Pagan dating back to the eleventh century. Next we have books written on dried palm leaves, such as the Maniratanapum, a fifteenth-century collection of ancient traditions, or Bhikkhu Ratthasara’s Hatthipala Pyo, a long poem based on Jataka stories of the lives of the Buddha.

Nawadegyi and Natshinnaung were our great poets of the Toungoo dynasties, and the pandit Binnyadala has left us an exciting prose chronicle of the long struggle between the Burmese King of Ava and the Mon King of Pegu. Much of our history comes down to us from the Egyins, historical ballads that were sung at the cradle ceremony of a new-born prince or princess. Dramatic literature flourished at the courts of Ava and Shwebo, in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, with the themes for poetic plays drawn first from the Jatakas and later, through contact with Siam, from Hindu sources such as the Ramayana.

Our last dynasty had its court at Mandalay (1857-1885) and here were gathered poets, dramatists, and writers of chronicle. Their works were inscribed on heavy paper folios, folded in pleats, called parabaiks, and often were very beautifully illustrated in vivid color. (See Training Elephants, Plate 38 in the art section.) With the British annexation of Burma in 1885 came new forces which were completely to change the patterns of Burmese writing: the printing press and the influence of Western education and literature. Our classical dramas in court style gave way to plays for a less refined audience, and these, in turn, to popular novels based on Western models.

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