Tag Archives: Burma

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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‘Homecomings: The Belated Return of Japan’s Lost Soldiers’: Portraits of lives transformed by war

By Stephen Mansfield

It’s staggering to think that, at the end of the Pacific War, almost 7 million Japanese servicemen and civilians were awaiting repatriation in various parts of Asia.

That figure makes sense in light of the considerable size of the Japanese empire, which then stretched from New Guinea to the Solomon Islands, from Burma to Manchuria and Hong Kong.

Reintegration into everyday life proved far easier for those Japanese soldiers who returned immediately from overseas. Prisoners of war who were detained for years in Siberian and Chinese camps, however, or stragglers who held out in the jungles on Pacific islands, would find that many of their remembered landscapes, particularly where bombed-out cities were concerned, had been erased.

Yoshikuni Igarashi divides his scrupulously researched book on this topic into three sections: First is the mass media’s representation of returning soldiers and the efforts of writers from their ranks to refute these characterizations; second is a portrait of those who returned alive from Soviet internment camps and a chronicle of their subsequent lives; and the last chapters examine the belated return of soldiers from the South Pacific in the 1970s. Read more

Source: The Japan Times

 

Excerpts: Women at War by Vera Hildebrand

women-at-warSINGAPORE – THE RANIS PREPARE FOR WAR

In the fall of 1943, young women began to enlist in the Rani of Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army in Singapore and in Rangoon. The RJR needed a base camp in Singapore, a facility that would provide secure lodging for the female soldiers as well as sufficient space outdoors for military training.To the Japanese military authorities, female infantry was a preposterous waste of money and when they learned of Bose’s idea, they protested. Regarding the RJR, the Japanese officers found it completely incomprehensible that Bose would allocate precious ordnance and rations to women.

One way the Japanese sought to prevent the creation of the Regiment was their unwillingness to allocate real estate in Singapore for the training of women for combat. The Japanese administration refused every abandoned property that Captain Lakshmi found and proposed as possible housing for the RJR. In the end, the Ranis did receive quarters, weapons, uniforms and training, but the cost of the RJR was borne entirely by donations from Indians living in Burma, Singapore and Malaya to the Azad Hind government, while the Japanese government financed only the male forces of the INA.

The chairman of the Singapore branch of the Indian Independence League, Attavar Yellappa, a barrister, consequently took upon himself the task of finding a home for the Regiment. He persuaded some of his wealthy Nattukottai Chettiar banker clients to fund the refurbishment of a dilapidated building, formerly serving as a refugee camp and currently belonging to the IIL. The property was enclosed with a high fence to shield the female soldiers from the curious eyes of Singapore citizens, and several new barracks were erected.The standing buildings were fitted with new plumbing, and bathing facilities were installed. After three weeks of around-the-clock activity, the Singapore Central Camp, the Ranis’ first training centre, was almost ready for the first contingent of volunteers to move in on the birth anniversary of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.

In his inaugural speech at the RJR training camp on Waterloo Street in Singapore on 22 October 1943, Bose welcomed‘the first one hundred and fifty women’ who had moved in the evening before.

The opening of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment Training Camp is an important and significant function; it is a very important landmark in the progress of our movement in East Asia.To realize its importance, you should bear in mind that ours is not a merely political movement.We are, on the other hand, engaged in the great task of regenerating our Nation. We are, in fact, ushering in a New Life for the Indian Nation, and it is necessary that our New Life should be built on sound foundations. Remember that ours is not a propaganda stunt; we are in fact witnessing the re-birth of India. And it is only in the fitness of things that there should be a stir of New Life among our womenfolk.

Bose went on:

Since 1928, I have been taking interest in women’s organizations in India and I found that, given the opportunity, our sisters could rise to any occasion. … If one type of courage is necessary for passive resistance, another and more active courage is necessary for revolutionary efforts, and in this too, I found that our sisters were not wanting. … Unfortunately, Jhansi Rani was defeated; it was not her defeat; it was the defeat of India.

She died but her spirit can never die. India can once again produce Jhansi Ranis and march on to victory.

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Book Reviews: Dissident Memoirs of Ma Thida and U Kyaw Win

 

In times like these, when Burma is undergoing major changes, there is no shortage of essay collections in which Western academics and other observers try to make sense of a seemingly bewildering situation. But the quality of those writings varies and few, if any, reflect the views and sentiments of the Burmese themselves.

It is therefore refreshing to read these two books, one written by a prominent Burmese author, born and raised when General Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Program Party were in power—and who spent the years 1989 to 2008 in prison for her political beliefs—and the other by an older Burmese exile who for many years was instrumental in organizing resistance abroad against the dictatorship. Read more

 

 

Burma takes pride in its first female Pulitzer Prize winner

Ethnic Kachin journalist Esther Htusan, who works for the Associated Press (AP), is also thought to be the first Burmese journalist to earn the accolade.

Htusan received the award in public service along with three other journalists – Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, and Martha Mendoza – for their work in exposing serious labor abuses being practiced in the Southeast Asian fishing industry, which in turn prompted industry-wide reforms and won the freedom of some 2,000 slaves.

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A fresh evaluation of the Burmese narrative through the female perspective: Interview with Nilanjana Sengupta

by Zafar Anjum

Nilanjana SenguptaThe Female Voice of Myanmar: Khin Myo Chit to Aung San Suu Kyi by Nilanjana Sengupta (Cambridge University Press, India) is a scholarly treatise on Myanmar. The book will be released in late September in Singapore. Sengupta is a Visiting Scholar at Asia Research Institute (National University of Singapore).

There aren’t many Indian writers who write on Myanmar, so this is an important work of scholarship. The publisher describes the book as a “commentary on the evolving state of Myanmar and female thought from colonial times to the present, seen through the eyes of four Burmese female activist-writers”.

The book presents a female perspective on the history and political evolution of Myanmar. Through an exploration of the literary works of four carefully selected women activists— four major voices in the book: Khin Myo Chit, Ludu Daw Amar, Ma Thida, Aung San Suu Kyi—who have also been prolific writers of their times, the book seeks a fresh evaluation of the Burmese narrative.

Tell us about your interest in Myanmar? What got you started on this project that tracks the lives and thoughts of four strong female voices of Myanmar?

If I really dig long and hard, I think my interest in Burma stems from a childhood spent in Calcutta. Frequent references to Burma are to be found in old Bengali literature when under the British, Rangoon or the beautiful mountainous town of Maymyo (later renamed Pyin U Lwin) was an alternate home to Bengalis; when many Bengali families considered Bengal to be their janmosthan (place of birth) but Rangoon to be their karmosthan (place of work). I cannot forget the Burma of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Srikanta—a place where the hero comes of age and is forced to redress his moral and ethical perspective. Or the letters Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose wrote to his brother in 1925 when he was imprisoned in Mandalay, marvelling at the social status of Burmese women.

So if you ask about my interest in Burma, I would credit it to a strict mother who insisted I read Bengali literature at length before delving into anything Western!
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Being Burmese”: Anti-Muslim Violence and Burma’s Modern-Day Frontiers by Francis Wade

In early February, I managed to negotiate my way past barbed wire barricades into a majority Muslim neighborhood in Sittwe: a dry and dusty town that sits next to the Bay of Bengal on Burma’s western coast. Automatic rifles were propped against a small wooden table next to the barricades; one policeman manning the post explained that it was his job to ensure no Muslims left the neighborhood — those who tried would be apprehended and taken back to their homes. Read more

Fight to Save Orwell’s Burmese Inspiration

Orwell'shouseCobwebs cover its furniture and its rooms are long deserted, but a crumbling house in northern Myanmar is at the center of a conservation battle by locals who say it was once home to George Orwell.

The remote trading post of Katha on the banks of the Irrawaddy – and the house lived in by Orwell in the 1920s – were immortalized in the acclaimed British author’s first novel, “Burmese Days”. Read more