Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

British Burma (1826-1942)

When a Burmese princess almost became the Queen of Sikkim

HH Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal was the Chogyal or king of Sikkim. He and HRH Princess Ma Lat planned to marry in Rangoon in February 1915. He died though just weeks before in mysterious circumstances. Sikkim was then a protectorate of the British Indian Empire. It was a kingdom that had been ruled by the Namgyal family since 1642. The kings were called chogyal meaning dhammaraja (or righteous king).The people of Sikkim were Buddhist and the Sikkimese language is very similar...

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Shan Chiefs at 1911 Delhi Durbar

Shan chiefs and other notables were at the Delhi Coronation Durbar of King George V and Queen Mary as the Emperor and Empress of India. The Durbar was one of the grandest spectacles ever of its kind anywhere in the world and was attended by every ruling prince and nobleman in India. This may have been the last event where the Burmese dressed in proper court attire. Those who came from Burma included the Sawbwas of Yawnghwe, Hsenwi, Kentung, and...

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Burmese at German Zoo

In 1913 about fifty Burmese men and women and a Buddhist monk were exhibited at the Hagenbeck Zoo near Berlin. The 1910s were a time when many humans were exhibited in zoos around Europe. Carl Hagenbeck was a pioneer in this field. After exhibiting exotic animals with his father for many years, he founded the Hagenbeck Zoo in 1907. It was the first zoo were animals not caged and instead shown in a 'natural' surrounding, with deep ditches to separate...

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Easter Rising

24 April 1916 is the anniversary of the Easter Rising. Though the uprising failed, the Easter Rising in Dublinin 1916 had a profound effect on the whole of the British Empire, not least on Burma, then a province of India. 1916 was a turning point in Burma's history: King Thibaw died that year, sealing the fate of the Konbaung monarchy and the royal establishment that had ruled the country for generations.At the same time, modern nationalist politics was born, inspired...

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Burmese who fought in World War One

The role of Burmese people in the First World War is almost entirely forgotten. Thousands of Burmese volunteered to serve in Mesopotamia as drivers, sappers, and part of the labour corps.  Chin volunteers served as part of the labour corps on the Western Front (in France). The 70th Burma Rifles and the 85th Burman Rifles were raised in 1917-1918 and saw action against the Ottoman Empire in both Mesopotamia and Palestine.  These regiments included men from various ethnic backgrounds, including...

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Demonstration against Imperial Germany

A demonstration against Imperial Germany in front of the Central Fire Station (Sule Pagoda Road), with Kaiser Wilhelm hanging in effigy. This was probably in the months just before Kaiser Wilhelm's abdication in November 1918. A regiment of Burma Rifles, several companies of Sappers and Miners, Mechanical Transport companies, and Labour Corps from Burma served during WW1 in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and France. The troops recruited from Burma were primarily ethnic Burmese, Kachin, Karen, and Chin.

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The 1918-20 Spanish Influenza in Burma

In later years of 1910s, Burma was in a period of intense political change and debate. WW1 ended in 1918 and later that year and the British government promised limited self-rule to India. Burma was then of course a province of British India, but London had decided to exclude it from the coming constitutional reforms. The Burmese were incensed. By 1920 a new nationalist movement was growing in strength, inspired in part by the Indian National Congress under Mahatma Gandhi...

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Karen lady at Ellis Island

"Miss Say Paw", a young Karen woman at Ellis Island c. 1918. She was briefly detained by immigration officials at Ellis Island (New York) before traveling on to Detroit, Michigan, where she attended high school for four years, before returning to teach in Burma.

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Pantanaw National Day 1929

16 November 1920 is the Myanmar's first "National Day", which marked the student boycott of 1920 against the Rangoon University Act of that year. This is a photograph of "National Day" at the National school in Pantanaw 1929. 23 year old U Nu is on the far right. 20 year old U Thant is standing third from the right. Both were Pantanaw schoolmasters and close friends. The Rangoon University Act was intended to establish a very exclusive Cambridge-Oxford style residential...

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Myanmar’s film industry

Myanmar has one of the oldest film industries in all of Asia, dating back nearly a hundred years. The very first film was the rousing 1920 documentary of the funeral of U Tun Shein (the YMBA leader and nationalist lawyer) and in the years that followed cinema played a critical role in the awakening of Burmese nationalism. Here is an article in today's LA Times on the state of the Myanmar film industry today, and a still from the iconic...

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When the first single-engine plane crash landed near Sandoway

In early 1920 Australians John McIntosh and Ray Parer piloted the first single-engine plane to ever fly from London (Hounslow Heath) to Darwin. This photograph shows the plane shortly after it crash-landed along the way near Sandoway (Thandwe) in April that year. It was soon repaired and stopped at the Rangoon racecourse (Kyaikkasan) before heading on to Singapore, Java and Australia. All later commercial flights including BOAC from London to Sydney until the 1960s regularly transited through Rangoon (and usually...

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The Prince of Wales in Mandalay

26th Street ("B Road") Mandalay, January 1922. The Prince of Wales (future King Edward VIII) was then visiting together with his cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten as part of their tour of India and Burma.

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Burma's First Ever General Elections

In November 1922, Burma held its first ever general elections. On 21 November 1922 elections to the new Legislative Council were held across "Ministerial Burma" (approximately the same as today's Regions plus Rakhine State). Out of 103 seats, 21 were directly appointed by the Governor and 24 were 'reserved' for minorities: Karens, Indians, Europeans and Anglo-Indians/Burmans and for business groups. The rest were elected in 'general' constituencies. The main political organization of the time, the General Council of Burmese Associations...

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Myanmar Elections since 1922

Myanmar has had sixteen general elections in its history.   The first were held in November 1922.  Burma was then part of British India.  The elections were under the so-called “Dyarchy” constitution which came into effect the following year and which gave Burma and other Indian provinces a very limited degree of self-government.  The elections were for a new “Legislative Assembly”.  The elections were limited to “Ministerial Burma” (approximately the same as today’s ‘regions’ plus Rakhine state). Only people over 25...

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Before UMFCCI

Before UMFCCI: Burmese business delegation in London, boarding a Handley Page W8 biplane airliner of the British Home Air Service for a flight to Birmingham, 1 August 1923. This was at the very start of the period of "Dyarchy" government, when Burma was still a province of India, but when it also began to take some very small moves towards representative government, with its first elections (1922), first legislature (in the old Secretariat), and first Burmese ministers. Business in the...

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World-renowned people who lived in Myanmar

In March 1923, Eric Blair (later better known by his pen name George Orwell) arrived in Mandalay for training at the Burma Provincial Police Training School. He would go on to hate British imperialism and write one of the most incisive books ever written on colonial life. Myanmar should be proud of all those people who have called this country home, regardless of nationality, and have made a contribution to the world. George Orwell is one, but there are many...

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The birthplace of Myanmar democracy

This building inside the Secretariat complex was built in 1923 for the new Legislative Council. From 1937-42, during the premierships of Dr Ba Maw, U Saw and U Pu, it served as the ""House of Representatives"". In 1947 the building was used for the Constituent Assembly which drafted the country's first democratic constitution. It then became the location of parliament (the lower house) from 1948-58 and 1960-62. General Aung San, U Tin Tut, U Nu, U Ba Swe, U Kyaw...

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A little Burma in England: the "British Empire Exhibition" of 1924-5

The "British Empire Exhibition" of 1924-5 was the largest exhibition ever staged anywhere in the world, attracting over 27 million visitors to Wembley (near London). The exhibition covered hundreds of acres and included "Palaces" dedicated to Engineering, the Arts, and Industry, as well as "Pavilions" showcasing the different countries in the empire. Australia, Canada and India had the biggest pavilions, followed by Burma, New Zealand, Malaya, and South Africa. The Burma Pavilion was partly designed by U Tin who later...

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Duwa Nga Lang La, the (Kachin) Hkahku Chief of the Upper Triangle Area c. 1925.

Duwa Nga Lang La was invited to Rangoon in 1925 by the then Governor Sir Harcourt Butler. The Kachin Hills were at the time only under indirect British Indian administration, after having put up a fierce resistance to the new colonial overlords.In Rangoon, the Duwa asked the British for a motor car as a gift. The British laughed, knowing that a car would be of no use in the Upper Triangle, with no roads or petrol, but thought they'd indulge...

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Nobel Prize Winning Poet Pablo Neruda's Burmese Love Affair

In 1927, the Chilean poet and future Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda arrived in Rangoon. He was 23 and had just been appointed the new Chilean Consul in Burma. It was not a very important job and he was paid very little. He lived for 18 months in an apartment at the corner of Dalhousie and Brooking Streets.  During his time there he had a torrid love affair with a Burmese woman (who used the English name "Josie Bliss"). When (according...

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Founder of the Karen National Union Saw Ba U Gyi

A photograph of founder of the Karen National Union Saw Ba U Gyi taken around the time he was called to the bar by the Middle Temple (in London) in 1929. Future Secretary-General U Thant's first experience at peace negotiations was not in New York at the UN but near Insein in 1949, when he traveled across the front lines at the request of U Nu to meet with Saw Ba U Gyi as well as his old Pantanaw friend...

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The Bahai community of Myanmar

Leaders of the Mandalay Bahai community in 1930. The Bahai are one of Myanmar's smallest and perhaps least known religious minorities. There are an estimated 80,000 Bahai in Myanmar. Bahai is a world-wide religion of about 5 million people (mainly in Asia, Africa and the America) that was founded in the mid-19th century. Baha’i faith believes in one God and believes that many founders of world religions, including the Buddha, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Mohammed, are all manifestations of God....

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Rare photograph of Pandit Nehru and daughter Indira Gandhi in Myanmar

Rare photograph of Pandit Nehru and daughter Indira Gandhi at the Akyab (now Sittwe) National High School, probably in the mid-1930s. Pandit Nehru was a frequent visitor to Burma (Myanmar) over the years, a staunch supporter of Burmese independence, and a friend and ally of both General Aung San and U Nu."

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Saopha of Hsenwi in London

The Burma Roundtable Conference paved the way for Burma's separation from India, the 1935 constitution, and the semi-elected governments of 1937-42. The Saopha of Hsenwi was there in an advisory role to the the Saophas of Hsipaw and Yawnghwe.The Burma delegation included about two dozen other prominent political figures, including U Chit Hlaing, U Tun Aung Gyaw, U Maung Gyee, Dr Thein Maung, Saw Sydney Loo-Nee, and Miss May Oung (Daw Mya Sein). The picture shows Sao Hom Hpa, the...

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Burmese women win the right to be represented at the London conference on their country's future

Miss May Oung (Daw Mya Sein) attended the 1931-2 Burma Round Table Conference in London. The Governor Sir Charles Innes had first selected 20 delegates from Burma - all men. But under pressure from various women organizations and others, and following a mass rally of Burmese women in Rangoon, he agreed to the inclusion of Miss May Oung. Educated at Rangoon and Oxford, Daw Mya Sein was then 27 years old. She was the daughter of the renowned Arakanese barrister...

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Shan Princess in London

In 1932, Princess Sao Ohn Nyunt spent several weeks in London, accompanying her cousin and brother-in-law the Saopha of Hsipaw, who was attending the Burma Round Table Conference. At a reception she met the artist Gerald Kelly who persuaded her to sit for a series of portraits.

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Burma Roundtable Conference

In November 1931, two dozen delegates from Burma began arriving in London to participate in the historic Burma Roundtable Conference that would determine the country's constitutional future. U Chit Hlaing, Daw Mya Sein, Tharawaddy U Pu, U Ba Pe, the Sawbwa of Yawnghwe, U Maung Gyee, and Saw Sydney Loo-Ni were amongst those who participated. On 13 January 1932, Burmese delegates arrive at St James Palace for the final session of the Burma Round Table Conference in London. The Prince...

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London - Rangoon direct on Imperial Airways 1935.

During the first couple of decades of commercial aviation flying from England to Australia always meant stopping in Rangoon.

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Famed aviator Amelia Earhart in Rangoon

On 19 June 1937, famed aviator Amelia Earhart arrived in Rangoon as part of her attempt to circle the world. Two weeks later she disappeared over the South Pacific. The mystery of her final flight has never been solved. She was the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic, set many aviation records, and was a best-selling author. This photograph was taken at Mingaladon airfield. She is being interviewed by the editor of the Rangoon Times.

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Burma was separated from India

This was arguably the most important single development in 20th century Burmese history. Independence from Britain would almost certainly have taken place one way or another after WW2. But if Burma had not been separated from India in 1937, the politics around independence in the late 1940s or 1950s would have been very different, and intertwined with questions regarding the creation of Pakistan.    The relatively easy partition of 1937 also led London and Delhi civil servants later to assume...

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