Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

Myanmar's Neighbours Past and Present

Myanmar's most mysterious neighbours:  the peoples of the Andaman Islands

The Andaman Islands are closer to Yangon than Mandalay.  They are today part of India.  But their indigenous peoples are perhaps the most isolated anywhere in the world.

There are today only several hundred native Andamanese people left.  They speak languages that are unrelated to any other.  

Genetically, they are closer to Asians than anyone else.  Interestingly, the few whose DNA have been tested are of the Y Haplogroup D-M174, which is found also in Tibet, Yunnan and Japan....

1600s - 19th century
Origin of the Kokang

Kokang (now a ""Self-Administered Zone"") has a particularly interesting history. In the mid-1600s, the Ming dynasty in China was falling fast to the invading Manchus. The last Ming emperor (the Yongli Emperor, better remembered as the Prince of Gui) fled first to Yunnan and eventually across the border to Ava (Inwa). The new Manchu ""Qing"" dynasty would rule until 1912.In the train of the last emperor were tens of thousands (perhaps more) of Ming loyalists. One of these was a...

4th Century
China's Warring States

Around the time that Alexander the Great was preparing to conquer the known world, in the 4th century BC, Hui Wen, the king of Qin, was also expanding his domains, laying the basis for an empire that would grow and expand to the present day. This was during China’s ‘Warring States’ period. The country had not yet been unified and Hui Wen’s kingdom was only one of several feudal states that were constantly fighting one another for supremacy. Qin was...

8th Century - 13th Century
Once upon a Time in Dali Kingdom

For much of its early history, Burma’s neighbor to the northeast was not China, but the independent kingdom of Yunnan, with Dali as its capital. And from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries this kingdom was a power in its own right, at times allying itself with the Tibetan empire to its west, at times with China’s Tang and Song dynasties. Its mounted armies ventured deep into what is today Burma and may have been behind the founding of its...

The History of Bengal

What we do know is that, from about 3,000 years ago, a society speaking the earliest Aryan languages and worshipping the Vedic gods began to spread eastward along the Ganges, in to what is now the state of Uttar Pradesh and then to Bihar. It was clearly a hierarchical society, with a priesthood near the top and a belief in ritual purity and pollution. The Aryans and Aryan society of the northwest was pure, whilst the new peoples discovered towards...

4th Century - 19th Century
The history of Assam

In ancient times, western Assam, including the area around Gauhati, was known as Kamarupa, the land “Where love regained his form”. The story goes something like this. The god Daksha had a daughter who married another god, Shiva. Daksha hated Shiva and disapproved of the marriage. One day Daksha hosted a great sacrifice, and invited everyone but Shiva. His daughter attended, but was so distraught with her father’s treatment of her husband that she killed herself. Shiva then became mad...

11BC - 12BC
Sanxingdui people

Sanxingdui (in modern-day Sichuan) was a 'lost civilization', non-Chinese, that was "rediscovered" in the 1980s and 1990s. It was a bronze-age civilization whose remarkable artifacts date back to approximately the 11th and 12th centuries BC (3,200 years ago). It was almost certainly connected to the later bronze age cultures of Yunnan and Myanmar. The ancestors of many of today's people in Myanmar may well have been linked to this still mysterious civilization, as I discuss in my last book. This...

"Northeast East India" is almost a mirror image of Myanmar

When most people in Myanmar think of "India" they naturally think of the country's centuries old connections across the Bay of Bengal, to South India (where Buddhism in Myanmar likely originated), Bengal, and places further afield. They rarely think of the 40 million people of "Northeast East India" (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Sikkhim) which is some ways is almost a mirror image of Myanmar, with its central Brahmaputra valley, its surrounding uplands, its history of...

The Naxi from Lijiang

The Naxi, who for centuries had their own independent kingdom at Lijiang (just to the east of Kachin state) speak a language closely related to both Burmese and Yi. They also have an amazing writing system of their own. As you can see, the words for 'eye', 'food' and 'goral' or 'goat' are very similar to Burmese. Their kingdom came gradually under Chinese influence. But it was only really integrated into China in the 1950s.

Ladakhi ladies

Ladhaki (and Balti) languages are very similar to Tibetan.  They are the westernmost speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages and so are linguistic cousins of the Burmese.

Tibeto-Burman is a family of languages spoken by over 50 million people.  The two biggest languages in the family are Tibetan and Burmese.  Jingpaw, Chin, Naga, and many languages in Nepal, Northeast India, and Southwest China are also part of this family.  The Tibeto-Burman languages closest to Burmese include Yi, Naxi, Lisu, Atsi, and Maru.


- 1950s
Naxi Kingdom

The Naxi kingdom was an independent kingdom until the 1950s. The Naxi and related Mosuo people number today about 400,000. They live in what is now the northwest of China's Yunnan province. The biggest Naxi town in Lijiang, which is about 200 miles northeast of Myitkyina, just on the other side of the Kachin hills. The Naxi language is very closely related to Burmese. It is a Tibeo-Burman language and part of the Burma-Lolo group. It is more similar to...

The first attempt at a China Myanmar Economic Corridor

In 122 BC, a special mission was dispatched by the emperor of China, a mission to find a rumoured southwest passage, one that was said to lead from his Middle Kingdom to the only recently discovered land of India and from India to the unfamiliar countries beyond.

A few years before, the explorer Zhang Qian had arrived back at the imperial court after a long and arduous journey along an already known northern route, reaching the limits of the known...

Panthay Muslims of Yunnan and Myanmar

One of the greatest explorers in world history was a Panthay Muslim from the Burma-Yunnan border. President Xi Jianping is this week touring Africa. In 1413, a great fleet of Chinese ships were arriving for the first time along the African coast (they would bring back with them, amongst other things, a giraffe for the Ming Emperor's menagerie). This was the fourth of seven monumental voyages (all in the early 15th century) commanded by the great admiral and imperial eunuch...

The Flight of the Ming Prince

From the west it was Mughals, moving in against the borders of a fast-shrinking Arakan. But to the north and east, it was an ever more vigorous China, pressing down hard, right into the heart of Burma. In China in 1646, after the fall of the Yangtze Valley and the eastern coast to the invading Manchu armies, the twenty-three-year-old prince of Gui, the last surviving grandson of the Wanli emperor, became the last and desperate hope of the Ming imperial...

6 May 1658 - 1692
The Indian Prince who fled to Mrauk-U

Shah Shuja, the Mughal viceroy of Bengal and Orissa in the middle years of the seventeenth century, was the second son of the emperor Shah Jehan and the empress Mumtaj Mahal. The Mughals were the new overlords of a vast Indian empire that stretched across nearly the entire subcontinent. Originally Central Asians, they claimed descent from Genghis Khan through Tamerlane, the great conquering warrior of Samarkand (and the Tamburlaine of Christopher Marlowe). The first Mughal emperor, Badur, had taken Delhi...

1765 - 22 December 1769
The Treaty of Kaungton

The Treaty of Kaungton was signed on 22 December 1769 and thus, ending the Sino-Burmese War (1765-22 December 1769). Burmese forces had sucessfully resisted four Qing (Manchu) invasions, including a massive 4th invasion of over 60,000, aimed at the annexation of Burma by the Emperor Qianlong. It was the Qing Empire's greatest defeat.The Qing armies included elite Bannermen - Manchus and Mongols as well as Han Chinese - brought down from the Russian border. The Burmese side was led by...

Tipu's Tiger

“Tipu’s Tiger”, now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The “Tiger” is a wooden mechanical device. When an organ in the back is turned the European soldier’s arms move and he makes a groaning noise. The device was made for the Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the powerful Mysore kingdom (in South India) from 1782 to 1799. The Tipu Sultan was a great enemy of the (British) East India Company, who fought three wars against him. When he...

1890 - 1891
Manipur under British

Yuwaraj Tikendrajit Singh of Manipur, under arrest by the British following the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891.

Tikendrajit Singh was Senapati (Burmese Thenapati) or army chief and overall strongman in Manipur from 1890 until his overthrow by the British a year later.

Manipur (Kathe or Cassay in Burmese) had been an independent kingdom with a royal family which came to power in the 1690s. In 1725 and again in 1749 the Manipuris under their Hindu king Garib Newaz overran much of...

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."

Queen of Hlihin

Our neighbours to the north: a queen of the Hlihin in what is today western Yunnan c.1945. The Hlihin were an independent people who speak a language related to Burmese; their homeland was absorbed into the Peoples Republic of China in the 1950s.