From Burma to Myanmar: Restoration of Burman Imperial Identity
From Burma to Myanmar: Restoration of Burman Imperial Identity
By Pon Nya Mon
Friday, July 13, 2012

The country’s name has become a hot issue again in Burma. Due to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi having used ‘Burma’ to refer to Myanmar in her recent trip to Europe, the country’s Union Election Commission has warned her to respect the military drafted Constitution and to not use ‘Burma’ to refer the country. In her response, she has said that she was practicing her democratic rights and could call it as she wanted.

The former military regime changed the country’s name in English from Burma to Myanmar in 1989. The regime claimed that the new name would provide more representation to the country’s diverse ethnic groups because the former name, ‘Burma,’ was given by the British colonial rulers to refer solely to the Burman ethnic group.

However, some western countries, including the United States, still do not recognize the new name. Most non-Burman ethnic groups still perceive the new name as a specific reference to the Burman ethnic group because the name “Myanmar” was also the name of the Burman ethnic group during the Pagan Era. The word “Myanma” was used in Mon stone scripts in the 11th Century as a word for referring to the Burman ethnic group and was spelled as “Mirma.” In fact, Burma and Myanmar have the same meaning in the Burmese language. They are used interchangeably to refer to the Burman ethnic group where Bama (Burma) is used in spoken language and Myanma (Myanmar) is used in written language (Burma: Wikipedia).
Moreover, in the Mon language, the name of the country, Burma or Myanmar, is the same as the name of the Burman ethnic group.  The Mon call the Burman ethnic group ‘Gakao Bamae’ and the name of the country “Dein Bamae.”  The word ‘Gakao’ means nationality, ‘Dein’ means country; ‘Bamae’ means Burman, Bamar, or Myanmar. Therefore, they perceive the present official name of the country, Myanmar, as representing the country of ethnic Burman, not the country of all ethnics in the country.  That is why the name indirectly implies to the Mon that they have been occupied or colonized by the Burman.

In fact, the regime did not only change the country’s name, but also changed names of many cities including Rangoon and Moulmein (capital of Mon State) because they were given by the British colonial rulers.  The regime changed Rangoon to Yangon and Moulmein to Mawlamyine.  In fact, the original name of Rangoon was Lagon, not Yangon. It is a Mon name. After Burman leader U Aung Zeya took over Rangoon in 1755, he changed the name from Lagon to Yangon which means “End of Enemy”. However, when the Burmese military regime changed the name of the city in 1989, the regime did not change it back to the original Mon name.  The regime changed it to the name ‘Yangon’ that was given by Burman leader, U Aung Zeya.  Thus, the intention of changing the name of the country and names of other cities was to restore Burman imperial identity rather than attempting to make the country’s name to be more representative of ethnic groups. In other words, since Myanmar was used to refer to the Burman ethnic group during the Burman Imperial Era, by changing the country’s name the Burmese regime attempted to restore a Burman imperial identity that had been taken away by many years of British rule and attempted to impose their identity as the country’s national identity.

After Burma gained independence from the British in 1948, successive Burmese governments have been attempting to restore Burman imperial images or identity in many different ways. One is praising Burman kings: Anoratha, Baying Naung and Alaung Paya (U Aung Zeya), who built the First, Second and Third Burman Empires. The Burmese military regime built the statues of these three kings in Naypyidaw, the new capital of the country. The government treats these Burman kings as national heroes.  By imposing Burman imperial identities as a national identity, the government is silently building a Fourth Burman Empire. Therefore, if Burma wants to build a genuine democratic federal union country, the national identity of the country, such as country’s name, national flag, and national heroes, should be neutral. They cannot be represented by only one ethnic group.

Feedback From
Sun, Jul 15, 2012 at 7:17 AM
Name of sender: Lyih Dein
Email of sender: ldein@yahoo.com
COMMENTS: Dr Pon Nya Mon was 200% right in this article by revealing the facts, the intention, the hidden agendas and the attempts of Myanmar rulers to rebuild the fourth Burman empire. But they must be quick before the country falls into the hands of Beijing Dynasty. Due to repetitive insults, dishonesties and insincerities being done to us again and again, this time they are on their own, no Mon Damein Baran can save their S from the new Mongol Khan again. Good Luck! Talking about the old Mon town Yangon, the word Lagon is a written form but in spoken form we say Dagon, meaning to “lie across” referring to the Soinghuttara Mt, where the well-known Shwedagon Pagoda was built. Dagon does exist as a suburb though but most Yangoners don’t really know what’s the real meaning of it. There are a number of Rangoon’s suburbs that came from Burman’s corruptions of Mon words, such as Kamaryot (Kamarrot, Lake of Jewel) Pauktaw (Bob Htaw, Golden Hamsa) so on and so forth. For fear of the outside world finding out the truth, as well as an attempt to conceal a sacred sites of captive Mon king Manuhau at Pagan, the sacred sites is now allegedly banned from public access. Myanmar rulers also embarrassed themselves when a claim for palace treasures kept at London museum to return to its country of origin, Myanmar. Britain simply response; Yes the treasures came from Burma but it belonged to the Mons. All in all, there is nothing more coward and stupid than hiding the facts in the 21sth century, when information and facts are made available within a blink of an eye by the internet. But they, the rulers of Myanmar, still do—still lie to its citizens and the world about Burma’s facts.
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