Varia: papers from a seminar

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Nov 19 18:09:56 UTC 2006

Ethnicity and Nation-Building in Myanmar

Sonu Trivedi
Research Scholar, Southeast Asian and South-West PacificStudies Division

The proposed paper on Ethnicity and Nation Building in Myanmar will begin
with an understanding of the concept like ethnic groups, nation states and
the process of nation building. The next section will deal with some of
the significant salient patterns of ethnic conflict in the post colonial
states of Southeast Asia. These are: Centre-Periphery pattern; Pariah
entrepreneurial minorities; Balanced pluralism; and Irredentist struggle.
The third section will provide an overview of Historic and Ethnic
Background of various communities in Myanmar. Historically, remarkable
ethnic diversity existed in Myanmar. Some of the prominent ethnic groups
are: Burmans, Karens, Shans, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Mon and Rakhine. There
are several sub-divisions within these ethnic groups. Intermingled in
different communities across the country, there are also Chinese, Tamils
and other minorities of Indian origin. Language is another confusing
denominator for ethnic identity. Over 100 languages have been identified
in Myanmar. The rapid spread of Burmese over the last century has largely
alienated other ethnic communities from the mainstream. Due to the
existence of complex ethnic groups, Myanmar has often been called an
anthropologists paradise.

The fourth section will provide an insight into the colonial legacy and
its impact on the ethnicity. Although, charecterised by ethnic diversity,
there existed in many areas a tradition of adaptation and mutual
accommodation between the ethnic races. On the eve of British annexation
there survived in many areas strong regional and ethnic traditions of
independence. And it was these that British rule and the very manner of
the British annexation were to amplify. Whatever unity did exist was

The fifth section will look into the impact of ethnicity on the process of
nation-building. Since independence, governments in Yangoon have not,
however been concerned with the anthropological niceties. Rather, the
priority has been to establish the idea of a common Burmese identity
shared by all the inhabitants of modern Burma. Rulers have followed
straight forward policy of Burmanisation of the minorities. The Government
has tried to impose it on ethnic minorities such as Arakanese, Chins,
Kachins, Karens, Kayahs, Mons and the Shans. Cultural domination of the
majority of Burmans came through the imposition of Burmese as the official
language of the nation and the declaration of Buddhism as the State
religion. This resulted in a simmering sense of frustration and the
articulation of regional identities among the ethnic minorities. Evidence
of this can be seen in the growing violence and the insurgency movements.

Finally the concluding section looks into the efforts made by government
in accommodating ethnic pluralism. It also provides some prescriptions for
the government to be followed in the future.

See also:

1. Ethnic Conflicts in South Asia with Special Reference of Nepal

Research Scholar, South Asian Studies

2. Conflict Resolution: A case study of Afghanistan

Ajit Kumar Singh Research Scholar, Central Asian Studies

3. Secessionist Movement in Sri Lanka: Role of the State

Smita & Gulbin Sultana Research Scholar, South Asian Studies


Rajeshwar Dyal Research Scholar, Southeast Asian and South-West
PacificStudies Division

Mahesh Ranjan Debata
Research Scholar, Central Asian Studies

6. Language and Identity in Tajikistan

Athar Zafar Research Scholar, Central Asian Studies Division


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