{ } A Myan­mar Tapestry of Tra­di­tions, Cul­tures and Lan­guages

Asian Geographic - - On Assignment -

or Burma? The con­fu­sion be­gins here. Myan­mar is recog­nised in most coun­tries and in the United Na­tions (UN), but not in the United King­dom. As Myan­mar’s for­mer colo­nial rulers, the UK has re­fused to ac­knowl­edge the rul­ing le­git­i­macy of the Myan­mar mil­i­tary regime. Hence, they still say ‘Burma’.



The Dawei tribe is a ma­jor sub-group of the Ba­mar in the coastal part of south­ern Myan­mar, now known as Taninthayi Di­vi­sion. Dawei is now the cap­i­tal city of the Taninthayi Di­vi­sion. The ma­jor­ity of the Dawei are de­voted Bud­dhists. The word ‘dawei’, in fact, means to ‘sit cross-legged’, as Bud­dha did. The Dawei peo­ple speak Tavoyan, a di­alect with many loan words from Malay and Thai. At present, there are ap­prox­i­mately 400,000 na­tive speak­ers of Tavoyan.


The Kadu tribe were Mon­goloids who lived in the Hi­malayan val­leys. Ac­cord­ing to his­to­ri­ans, the Kadu is a bro­ken tribe be­cause no sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of their peo­ple are found in one place. In 1947, a His­tory pro­fes­sor at Yangon Univer­sity dis­cov­ered 691 peo­ple who spoke the Kadu lan­guage in lower Myan­mar. The Kadu lan­guage con­nects ancient In­dian lan­guages like Prakrit (Parli) and San­skrit. English re­searchers have com­mented that its struc­ture is sim­i­lar to that of the Yid­dish of Europe, which is a mix of Ger­man and He­brew.


The Yaw tribe is said to have dis­ap­peared around the start of the 20th cen­tury. By 1901, only 18 peo­ple claimed their Yaw her­itage. Re­searchers as­sumed that the re­main­ing Yaw peo­ple had merged with the Burmese, and are now prac­ti­cally in­dis­tin­guish­able from the lat­ter. Lit­tle is known about this sub-group.


Known as the sea gyp­sies or sea no­mads of Myan­mar, the Moken tribe of be­tween 2,000 to 3,000 mem­bers live on wooden boats called ka­bangs. They are likely to have em­i­grated from China to re­gions in Myan­mar and Thai­land about 4,000 years ago. These reclu­sive tribes­peo­ple speak mu­tu­ally un­in­tel­li­gi­ble Malay-based di­alects. De­spite hav­ing been given a writ­ten script by vis­it­ing mis­sion­ar­ies, this group of sea­far­ers gen­er­ally do not write Burmese.


Beik is an ancient Pyu city; its name is trans­lated as ‘Vishnu the Pre­server’.the peo­ple were ac­com­plished ma­sons, black­smiths and pot­ters, and spoke in the Pyu lan­guage, which is re­lated to Old Burmese. San­skrit and Pali were the court lan­guages, used along­side the Pyu script.

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