Myanmar people history

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Myanmar people's history

It maybe started at Chai-ta-rwa of Kyaukse district and Khrok kharuin of Minbu District were the first homes of the Burman have been built. It seems that they took the eleven kharuin from the Mon and the six kharuin from the Ponton and and Cakraw. This extended to Monywa in the north west and up to Tagaung in the north.

The social life that we are about to discuss is confined to these areas which roughly form the dry zone of the central plains, getting less than fifty inches of rainfall a year. These areas as a whole were known as Tattadesa or the Parched Land, with its centre at Bagan. Later the area was divided into two portions which were known as Sunaparanta on the north of the Irrawaddy and Tambadipa to the south.

Kyanzittha's Shwezigon Inscription mentions the men of 'four castes', but there is no reason to believe that caste was recognized in Burma even at that time. It only means "the people in general."

The ruling people were known as man. We shall, however, dwell more upon the common people here with special reference to the slave community because inscriptions of the period tell us more about them than anyone else.


Of the common people, we propose to deal with the different nationalities living within the Parched Land. The most important of them were the Burmese. A Mon inscription of 1101/2 mentions them as Minna. The word mranma occurred first in an inscription of 1190. The spelling changed to Mrammain at about 1332. Mranma prall, which was of course Tattadesa, was first mentioned in 1235. Next we have the Pyu who were probably the Chinese P'iao and Mon Tircul. They lived on the northern and southern tips of the the central area and it seems that they mixed so freely with the other that they disappeared rapidly during the Bagan period because of integration.

Khyan and Yaw occurred in the inscriptions of our period, more in a geographic than ethnic sense. There must have also been people from Arakan among them because we find mention of the Rakhuin among both the slave and the donors. The southern portion must have been populated first by the Cakraw who were enlisted for military service. Tonsu was also used in the ethnic sense in the inscriptions. Rmen or Tanluirl were able to exercise quite a considerable influence in the first half of the Bagan dynasty. Krwam or Cambodian population was also quite numerous, among whom Na Pu Tat was noted for bravery during the reign of Natorimya. Lawa lived perhaps in SaMoti kharuin, to the east of the Sarithway canal in Kyaukse District. Syam were also found to be very much mixed up as the word is frequently mentioned among the slave names. Chinese slaves were mentioned in 1266, taruk might mean Mongols. Kula or Indians were most frequently recorded in the inscriptions. One type of architecture was called after them, the Kula Von or brick monastery. Perhaps they were more numerous at shipping ports, like Yhanpuiw. Among the slaves, Indians formed the second majority next to the Burmese.


Their professions roughly fall into five categories. Firstly, there are the agriculturists including cowherds; secondly, the food suppliers including cooks; thirdly, the craftsmen; fourthly the musicians and finally the miscellaneous.
Of the agriculturists, farmers topped the list. Then there were such people who guarded the fields and gardens, the planters of paddy, and gardeners. Next come those who looked after cattle and poultry and for convenience sake we include here herders of other animals as well. They were cowherds, buffaloes herds, goat-herds, elephant-keepers and duck breeder.

Queen Saw in 1299 proudly mentioned a expert cowherd called Na Lyon, among slaves dedicated to a pagoda. They also handled the five delicacies of fresh milk, sour and butter, the milk cows, must have been specially reared for such delicacies.

The food suppliers comprised of workers such as cooks, butchers and milkmen. At that time they employed separate people for cooking rice and other for curry. Perhaps these were attached to big monastic establishments where preparing rice alone required an army of cooks. To supply meat there were butchers, keeper of the animals, and hunters. Net men, supplied fish and for sweets there were milkmen and honey man. Chewing betel was a regular practice and perhaps demanded specialized service.

The third category includes craftsmen

who were responsible for the beautiful Bagan architecture which we admire very much today, and who also made articles for everyday use, and weavers. They were carpenters and masons as builders, woodcarvers, painters, wood turners, canopy makers as decorators; brick makers to supply bricks; blacksmiths to supply things made of iron and image makers to supply the images of the Lord. Umbrella makers, to manufacture golden umbrellas, one is in the Calcutta Museum showing a Burmese one cast in bronze from 1293) to spread over pagodas or images. These builders, and suppliers of building materials and decorators must have had a very busy time during the period under survey which is often called the period of temple-builders. There were also goldsmiths, to make jewelry as well as the spires of temples and pagodas, where precious metal and stones were used. For pots and pans, there were potters, jug makers and tray makers. For making clothes, there were spinners, loincloth makers, and weavers.

In the fourth category were musicians; musician with xylophone
musician with xylophone women playing harp    
drummer with 2 side drums lady singer for entertainment

these were players of various musical instruments among which the drum seemed to be the most popular. Singing and dancing accompanied by the drum seemed to be one of the favorite, since there were more people employed as drummers than any other musicians. For singing alone they had the singers, and for dancing the dancers. Other musicians were persons to blow horns, side drummers; cymbal players; bell players; trumpeters, harpists; and violinists.

Lastly, there were professionals of various types. These were midwife; launderers; boat men; carriers; oil producers; water carriers; canal diggers; wood cutters; cartmen; harness makers; salt makers; salted fish makers; barbers; manicurists; stewards, locksmiths; coiffeurs; and armourers. Keepers of the granary, were also important people. The educated poor hired their services as clerks. The wide range of professions show us that the town community or village community was self-sufficient.

As has already been stated, we know more about the slaves than anybody else. Kywan is a Burmese word for them and it implies, nowadays, menial service by a person to another. But to a Burman of the medieval times, the connotation of the word must have been different. We have evidence to show that people in those days voluntarily turned themselves into slaves of religious establishments. Even kings had their children dedicated. If a king could turn his own children, or children he regarded as his own, do this, it is obvious that to become one for the pagoda in those days did not imply that the person would go down in the social scale.

The majority of slaves were hereditary.

Hence meaning from son to grandson in succession. A community would come into being and every child born thereafter into that community was considered a slave. Eventually, slave villages came into existence the whole village of slaves, the village of them at a monastery, the rice cooking village, meaning that the villagers were owned by the nearby monastery and that they served it as cooks. The famous Ku-byauk-gyi inscription of prince Rajakumar mentions three villages of that type Sakmunalon, Rainy, and Henbuiw.

Owners naturally regarded them as pan of their estates that could be handed down from father to son, or could be bought and sold or used in settling debts which often led to disputes and law suits concerning their ownership. Perhaps to avoid such disputes at a later date, judges were called upon in some cases to witness the transfer of ownership which was duly registered, signed and sealed. Amity kywan - the inherited one, is a term used by Na U Lyon to describe eleven of them whom he inherited from his aunt Yaptaw San Khyat Ma, a concubine of Canso I. But there are also records which explicitly state that they were not part of the inherited property. In such cases it can be deduced that certain ones were acquired through buying or settling a debt, or winning a law suit. If buying or selling of them was possible, it could be assumed that there was some form of recognized slave trade.

There are instances where donors,

in making dedications to religious establishments, very often mentioned the prices they paid for the slaves. A slave cost approximately thirty ticals of silver, or twenty viss of copper, or twenty baskets of paddy, while fifty slaves were ex-changed for an elephant, forty for an exceptionally good horse, one for a boat, or ten areca-nut palms. A slave could redeem himself for as little as five viss of copper. On the other hand, the price for redeeming an insolvent debtor who became a slave would be enormous. A piysna, who prepared palm leaves for writing, called NA Tail San went bankrupt in 1227. He and his family became slaves of a minister called Anantasu. There are also probably instances of war captives and certain followers of a rebel prince being turned into slaves. These slaves could become free again either by redemption or by simply running away.

Even though a modest sum of five viss of copper was the fee of liberty as mentioned above, some did run away. But this did not happen frequently and we can find no evidence that they were ever tracked down and given capital punishment. Most of the slaves were probably too contented with their lot and many of them were perhaps too attached to their native place to run away. Besides, the slave owners were merciful and benevolent. Slaves were never taken away from their native place but instead they were allowed to follow their own trade or profession with the added comfort that a master would keep them for better or worse. Usually they were attached to a land in their locality or, in the case of professionals, people of the same vocation were grouped together. Cowherds stayed with their cows in the pasture lands. It was only the ownership which changed. Nevertheless there were some black sheep amongst the slaves. Towards the end of the dynasty, in 1266, a whole group of Indian slaves at Yhanpuiw was recorded to have absconded. Yhanpuiw was a port and was within easy reach of the sea. This proximity to the sea could, with an uneasy political situation at that time, have tempted them to escape.
Benevolence, as a characteristic of the slave owners, is an outstand-ing feature of Pagan slavery. A donor in 1198 dedicated to a pagoda 567.5 pay of land and 228 slaves, the majority of whom were labourers who served the pagoda with the produce of the land, and the rest were slaves who were skilled artists. Among these was the leader of the group who acted as general supervisor, a firewood cutter, a granary keeper, a dancer or singer and a drummer—all of whom served the pagoda with their own skills. For their service and their welfare, the donor was meticulously careful to leave special provisions for them.Out of 567.5 pay of land, ten were alloted to the supervisor, five to the woodcutter, five to the granary keeper, five to the singer and three to the drummer.

Queen Saw, mother of Singhapati and Tryaphya,

dedicated to a pagoda in 1241 260 pay of land, 2 gardens and 178 slaves. So bountiful was she that she left detailed instructions regarding the food supply for the slaves who were not even connected with the land. Again, the wife of Prince Gaagasura, in making a dedication of 511.5 pay of land in 1242, stated that 15 pay were for the slaves. Queen Saw, mother of Rajasura, dedicated slaves to a monastery in 1291 and said that when these slaves became sick or old, the monks must give them proper treatment and care. This is the best security that a man could desire against old age and infirmity and many of the Pagan slaves had that security. Very often we find that rahan, pancaf and bhikkunr among the list of slaves. The only reason we could think of their presence ih the lists of slaves is that they were born of slave parents. The Buddhist Order recognises no class distinction, nevertheless slaves must obtain the consent of their masters before they could become monks or nuns. These slaves must have had the permission of their masters before they joined the Order, probably with the understanding that if and when they left the Order they should revert to slavery again. It is conceivable that their names were included in the lists of slaves so that, should there be any disclaimer after leaving the Order, one of these lists might be used as an evidence against him. Apart from that, the inclusion of their names on the lists seems to have no meaning at all. In one case it is specifically mentioned that a minister called Garigabijafi allowed two adults and twenty children of his slaves to become monks and novices.
There were also equally magnaq noun slave owners who set their slaves free out of sheer kindness. Some owners not only set their slaves free but also gave them land so that they might not be in a paradoxical plight of gaining freedom yet being without work.

When allowing their slaves to go free

the owners used this regular phrase "mrak nu riy kran hi ra 1a ciy," meaning that the slaves could go wherever there is "tender grass and and clear water." In one particular case the slaves of a pagoda were each given the right to decide for themselves when to leave the pagoda service. They could have sought freedom whenever they wanted. But with ample funds provided by the rich donor and only one image to look after, they decided perhaps to remain slaves for ever. They must have been either quite contented with their lot or devoted to their duties.
Their duties seem to be onerous. In 1197 Jeyyasethiy dedicated 141 slaves to a pagoda and monastery in order that "sathput watching wat ma prat cim so Ma- in order that rice food and oil lamps shall be served without intermission." Slaves whose exclusive duty was to cook rice or food at a monastery were known as sarhput khyak kyon or wat khyak kywan. Minister Anantasura in 1223 clearly defined their duties as follows:
To go on for ever doing the necessary repairs (at the establishment): to sweep the compound: to go on serving the Lord and the

Law without intermission with rice food, oil lamps, betel: to goon serving the patient reverend monks with the flowers of rice food on behalf of the loving couple.

Minister Mahasman in 1225 gave another definition:
These slaves are to fetch the water for the monks to wash their feet. hands and bodies, and water to drink. They are (also) to cook the rice food and to sweep and remove the refuse.

In 1269 a donor dedicated a Iaksma - carpenter, and a panphay - blacksmith,

to a ruined monastery to carry out necessary repairs. Another donor dedicated eleven slaves in the same year to his religious establishment so that they would be useful when necessity for repairs arose. The nature of duties might vary slightly among the slaves who wem attached to the pagoda, to the Law, to the Order, and to the sitha (Ordination Hall). Some of the slaves were the personal attendants to the heads of monasteries. Besides the slaves of religious establishments, there were domestic slaves who would be called variously Tm kywan, im thor) kywan, and Tm niy. Slaves at the court were known as either kywan taw or mat m far saß.Another interesting phenomenon about the slaves in the inscriptions is the terms used to describe them. In giving a list of slaves, wherever it is necessary, a short descriptive account accompanied their names, e.g. Im thou for the head of the family; kamay for a widow; ya as a prefix for a woman of Mon extract; pucu for young people; nuiw or cuiw for sucklings; carat for literates and samt apluiw day for a young unmarried daughter.

There are certain terms used as prefixes to the names of both sexes but, unfortunately, we have not been able to identify them yet. These are mhura, mrakra, phut, uiw and phu khi.

With regard to literacy amongst slaves,

three inscriptions dated 1227, 1235 and 1249 throw much light on the subject. They mention the expression carat more than any other in the inscriptions. The first inscription enumerates seventy-eight slaves, among whom nine were literate (five boys and four girls). In the second one there

 are 116 slaves, of whom eight were literate (only boys). In the third there were 140 slaves, of whom

seventeen were literate (thirteen boys and four girls). Therefore, according to statistics, approximately 10% of the slaves were literate. Among the free people the percentage would be higher still. It is interesting to note that there were girls among the literate, of which they formed a quarter. The slave community was considerable and there were slave villagers with their own administrative officers as sukrt - headman, to control the village; kumthath - to supervise cultivation; and sankrf and sanlyad as village elders. The mentioning of a slave wife is conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps taking a slave wife was unpopular though the society, as stated, allowed polygamy. To sum up: slaves, especial ly pagoda slaves, it seems were not regarded as social outcasts in that period as they are in present times.

Author Mr. Than Tun


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