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....

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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The peoples between Burma and China (and two interesting stories from history)

The borders of Myanmar and China are new. They go back to the time of the British conquest of Upper Burma in 1885-90. Two thousand years ago, China's Han dynasty established an outpost near where Muse is today. But at that time almost no Han Chinese people lived in Yunnan and Chinese control of Yunnan was temporary. Yunnan was ruled by its own kingdoms (like Nanchao) or other outsiders (like the Mongols). It was only in the 1600s that Beijing's...

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"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...

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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....

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Naxi Kingdom

Just across the border from Kachin State is the first bend of the Yangtze River. Many of the people of this area speak Naxi language. 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....

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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...

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The great world explorer from Myanmar-Yunnan Border

One of the greatest explorers in world history was a Panthay Muslim from the Burma-Yunnan border. 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 Zheng He. Each voyage involved a fleet of...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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Queen of Hlihin

The photograph shows 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.

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A Shared History of India and Burma Independence

India became independent from the British Empire on 15 August 1947. The country was partitioned and the new state of Pakistan was created at the same time. India and Burma immediately established diplomatic ties, but as Burma was then not yet an independent republic outside the Commonwealth, the country was represented in New Delhi by a High Commissioner (U Win). Burma's road to independence was intimately tied with India's. Modern Burmese politics began with the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1917 and...

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Burma’s great friend, Pandit Nehru

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru died in 27 May 1964. He was always a great friend of Burma and visited many times from the 1930s onwards. This is a photograph of him with General Aung San, taken on New Year's Day 1947 at Delhi's Safdarjung airport. General Aung San was on his way to London for talks on Burmese independence. Pandit Nehru realized General Aung San's tropical outfit would not be suitable for London, which was then experiencing one of its coldest...

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Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon ("My husband went to Rangoon")

This is one of the most famous songs in India - "Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon" ("My husband went to Rangoon").  It's from the 1949 hit movie "Patanga" Rangoon for many Indians was a place of prosperity, a place to reinvent your life and be free.  One Indian family now in the United States told me it was their "first America".   In this song, the wife talks only of missing her husband.  The husband tells her that he is living...

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Why relations with China is important

Getting relations with China right are critical for the country's economic future and for the success of the ongoing peace talks. Myanmar is today next door to the greatest industrial revolution of the 21st century - the lives of ordinary people will be shaped more by how it handles (or mishandles) this position than by almost anything else. Every major turn in Chinese history has had an enormous impact on Myanmar, from the Mongol conquests to the fall of the...

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