Under Military Rule as Citizens Stive to Obtain
Collection Site: The grounds of Shwedagon Pagoda in what
used to be the capital, Yangon, formerly Rangoon.
Soil Collector: Joe (Kyaw Swa) is our soil collector from Myanmar.
was known as Burma until 1989, as the country’s name
was changed by the military government that took over in 1988.
Yangoon (formerly Rangoon) is the commercial capital and largest
city. The administrative capital is Naypyidaw.
has been under military rule since a coup in 1962. The main
opposition to that rule in the last decade has been the National
League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung
San Suu Kyi. She endured 19 months of house arrest and some
form of detention for 12 years before her release last year,
and has again been detained by the military regime. Her latest
detention instigated a global outcry.
excerpts from the September 24, 2007 issue of The New York
Times: “The largest street protests in two decades against
Myanmar’s military rulers gained momentum Sunday as
thousands of onlookers cheered huge columns of Buddhist monks
and shouted support for the detained pro-democracy leader
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Winding for a sixth day through rainy
streets, the protest swelled to 10,000 monks in the main city
of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, according to witnesses and other
accounts relayed from the closed country, including some clandestinely
shot videos. It came one day after a group of several hundred
monks paid respects to Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi at the gate of
her home, the first time she has been seen in public in more
than four years.
link between the clergy and the leader of the country’s
pro-democracy movement, the beginnings of large-scale public
participation in the marches and a call by some monks for
a wider protest raised the stakes for the government. Myanmar’s
military government has sealed off the country to foreign
journalists but information about the protests has been increasingly
flowing out…The state-controlled press has carried no
reports about the monks’ demonstrations.”
taken October 2007
origins of modern Myanmar are a mixture of Indo-Aryans and
the Mongolian invaders under Kublai Khan who penetrated the
region in the 13th century. Anawrahta (1044–1077) was
the first great unifier of Myanmar. (There are about 140 separate
tribes in Burma, with the Burmese being the majority.)
the British East India Company sent agents to Burma, but the
Burmese resisted efforts of British, Dutch, and Portuguese
traders to establish posts along the Bay of Bengal. Through
the Anglo-Burmese War in 1824–1826 and two subsequent
wars, the British East India Company expanded to the whole
of Burma. By 1886, Burma was annexed to India, then became
a separate colony in 1937.
World War II, Burma was a key battleground; the 800-mile Burma
Road was the Allies' vital supply line to China. The Japanese
invaded the country in Dec. 1941, and by May 1942, had occupied
most of it, cutting off the Burma Road. Allied forces liberated
most of Burma prior to the Japanese surrender in Aug. 1945.
became independent on Jan. 4, 1948. In 1962, left-wing general
Ne Win staged a coup, banned political opposition, suspended
the constitution, and introduced the “Burmese way of
socialism.” After 25 years of economic hardship and
repression, the Burmese people held massive demonstrations.
These were brutally quashed by the State Law and Order Council
(SLORC). In 1989, the military government officially changed
the name of the country to Myanmar.
1990 elections, the opposition National League for Democracy
(NLD) won in a landslide. But the military, or SLORC, refused
to recognize the election. The leader of the opposition, Aung
San Suu Kyi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which
focused world attention on SLORC's repressive policies.
has been in a state of collapse except for the junta-controlled
heroin trade. The universities have remained closed, and an
AIDS epidemic, unrecognized by the junta, has gripped the
to 2002, Suu Kyi was again placed under house arrest. In spring
2003, the government cracked down again on the democracy movement,
detaining Suu Kyi and shuttering NLD headquarters. The regime
opened a constitutional convention in May 2004, but many observers
doubted its legitimacy.
2004, the government arrested Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt
and charged him with corruption. He had angered the leadership
of the junta with his recent experiments on reform, first
by freeing Suu Kyi from house arrest and later for proposing
a seven-step “road map to democracy.”
of coordinated bomb attacks in May 2005 killed about a dozen
people and wounded more than 100 in Rangoon. The military
junta blamed the Karen National Union and the Shan State Army.
The ethnic rebel groups denied any involvement.
13, 2005, the military junta relocated the seat of government
from the capital Rangoon to a mountain compound called Pyinmanaa
in Naypyidaw. The junta explained, “Due to changed circumstances,
where Myanmar is trying to develop a modern nation, a more
centrally located government seat has become a necessity.”
1,000 delegates gathered in December to begin drafting a constitution,
which the junta said was a step toward democracy. The convention
adjourned in late January 2006 with little progress. In September
2007, representatives to the convention, which has met on
and off since 1993, released a draft constitution that ensures
that the military will continue to control the ministries
and legislature and have the right to declare a state of emergency.
The document also limits the rights of political parties.
Opposition parties were excluded from the convention.
pro-democracy protests, prompted by a sharp increase in fuel
prices, erupted throughout the country in August 2007. Buddhist
monks joined the throngs of protesters when government troops
used force against demonstrators in early September. The monks
emerged as the leaders of the protest movement and gained
international sympathy and support. On September 26, the military
cracked down on the protesters, firing into crowds, raiding
pagodas, and arresting monks. At least nine people were killed.
The protests were the largest in the country in 20 years,
with as many as 100,000 people marching. In a statement, the
United Nations Security Council condemned the crackdown, saying
it "strongly deplores" the violence unleashed on
and Natural Resources
officially, Union of Myanmar, republic in Southeast Asia,
is bounded on the west by Bangladesh; on the west and northwest
by India; on the northeast by China’s Yunnan Province;
on the east by Laos and Thailand; and on the southwest by
the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The longest land border
is shared with China.
mountain complex and the valley of the Irrawaddy River system
are the country’s dominant topographical features. The
mountains of the northern margin rise to 5,881 m (19,295 ft)
atop Hkakabo Razi, the highest peak in Southeast Asia. The
fertile delta of the Irrawaddy River in the south contains
a network of intercommunicating canals and nine principal
river mouths. Forests cover 49 percent of Myanmar. The country’s
dense tropical forests contain extensive stands of timber
and oil-bearing trees, including commercially valuable teak
important resources of Myanmar are agricultural. There are
approximately 250 commercially useful kinds of trees, 50 of
which have been exploited. The most important forest resource
is teak. Important mineral resources are petroleum and natural
gas, along with tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead,
coal, and small amounts of marble and limestone. Myanmar is
an outstanding source of jade and natural rubies.
animals such as the tiger and leopard are common in Myanmar.
Among the larger native animals are the elephant, rhinoceros,
wild buffalo, wild boar, and several species of deer and antelope.
The country has 867 known varieties of birds, including parrots,
peafowl, pheasants, crows, herons, and paddybirds. Among typical
reptiles are crocodiles, geckos, cobras, pythons, and turtles.
Edible species of freshwater fish are plentiful.
of Myanmar has been heavily influenced by Buddhism, and in
recent times, by British colonial rule and westernization.
Burmese visual art was based on Buddhist or Hindu cosmology
and myths. The Mandalay style, developed in the late 1800s,
consists of an oval-shaped Buddha with realistic features.
Burmese literature, notably the Jataka Tales, has also been
greatly influenced by Buddhism. Later, British colonization
introduced fiction and poetry. Traditional Burmese orchestras
called saing waing, accompanied by classical singing –
still popular today – are influenced by classical legends,
as well as by religion, the glory of monarchs, the natural
beauty of the land, forests and the seasons, feminine beauty,
love, passion and longing. However, popular music, adopted
and homegrown, dominates the music of Burma today,
is also referred to as “The Land of Pagodas” with
thousands of stupas and temples, nearly 1,000 years old, in
the ancient capital of Bagan by the River Ayegarwaddy alone.
White, a photographer from Laguna Beach, California, has traveled
to Burma four times, and facilitated the collection of the
soil for Gary Simpson’s Common Ground 191 on the grounds
of Shwedagon Pagoda in what used to be the capital, Yangon,
formerly Rangoon. Barbara explains, “Burma is one of
my favorite places to go and photograph. And, I love the people.”
pagoda in Yangon
reached Burma one thousand years ago, where Hinduism and indigenous
animism were already established. Religion to the present
day is a mix of pure Buddhism of the Sri Lankan or Theravada
school with deep-rooted elements of animism, Hinduism and
Mahayana Buddhism from northern India.
reached Burma at approximately the same time, but never gained
a foothold outside the geographically isolated seaboard running
from Bangladesh southward. Christianity was brought to Burma
by European missionaries in the 1800s. The Assemblies of God
of Burma are the largest Christian denominations in the country,
which is also home to the second largest population of Baptists
in the world, after the United States.
cuisine, influenced by Indian, Chinese and Thai food, is characterized
by a mildly spicy taste. The most famous Burmese dish is mohinga,
rice noodles in a rich fish soup. Salads (thoke) are popular,
white rice is a staple of the diet, while Indian breads as
paratha and naan and noodles are also popular.
language is the official language of Myanmar, and is spoken
by 32 million people as a first language, and as a second
language by ethnic minorities in the country.
is a member of the Tibeto-Burman languages, a subfamily of
the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. The language uses the
Burmese script, derived from the Mon script. The word for
“Peace” in Burmese is “Nyein Chan Yay.”