Lost Footsteps
Lost Footsteps

Yangon, Global City (1853-1962)

Historic Events

The Jewish community of Myanmar

One of Myanmar's least known minority communities are the Myanmar Jews. There have likely been Jews in Myanmar for many hundreds of years, perhaps since ancient times. The first Jew known to Myanmar history was Solomon Gabirol, who served as an officer in the army of King Alaungpaya (c.1755). Jonas Goldenberg, a Moldavian Jew, made a fortune in logging as a business partner of the Mandalay court under King Mindon.  Many Jews who arrived in the 19th century were Baghdadi...

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The Goan community of Myanmar

Rangoon was once home to a sizeable community of Goans (from then Portuguese Goa). The building in the picture was one of the biggest Goan businesses in the city: E.M de Souza's chemists (pharmacy) at 465 Dalhousie Street (Mahabandoola). The building now belongs to Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications. Sadly, the portico is gone.

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Jubilee Hall

Jubilee Hall was a place of immense historic significance, as the site many public events including the 1947 AFPFL convention, and as the place where Gen. Aung San and his assassinated colleagues lay in state. It was also where Sir John Gielgud, certainly one of the greatest actors ever to have lived, played Hamlet in 1946. Its demolition in 1995 was an act of vandalism, like the destruction of the palace of the Kengtung sawbwa around the same time.

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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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Scotland's deep ties to Myanmar

The majority of the top companies in Yangon (then Rangoon) in the late 19th and early 20th century were Scottish. Golf and whiskey in Myanmar are of course legacies of this connection. Thousands of Scots lived and worked in this city over several generations and may have constitued as much as 80% of the total "European" population in colonial times.  At the Edinburgh Festival several years ago I gave a talk that was attended by a couple of hundred people,...

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Somewhere at the bottom of the Yangon River: the "Koning David" ship

Somewhere at the bottom of the Yangon River: The "Koning David" a Dutch "East Indiaman" (ship) that had sailed from the Cape of Good Hope to Batavia and then to Pegu before sinking just off the coast of what is today Yangon in April 1661. The ship belonged to the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (Dutch East India Company) and its captain was Kornelis Rob of Amsterdam. The enterprising Dutch then had a fairly substantial business operation in Myanmar (Burma), with offices...

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Burmese in winter clothes.

HE Sao Boonwaat of Kengtung and colleague in Bonn February 1962. Sao Boonwaat was newly arrived as Burma ambassador and about to present his credentials to the President of West Germany.

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General Aung San's Last Speech

On July 13, 1947, U Aung San gave his last speech from the balcony of City Hall to supporters in Fytche Square (now Maha Bandula Park). He was assassinated six days later. (Most of the buildings in the background were demolished after WW2 bomb damage and have been replaced by the Centrepoint and AGD bank buildings.) In his speech, he urged Burmese to be more disciplined in the face of challenges ahead. The country, less than two years from the...

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A view of the Secretariat from Neruda’s old apartment on Dalhousie Street

The 1927 building (partially renovated in 2013) was home in the late 1920s to the great Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda. It's where he had his torrid affair with "Josie Bliss". There are two places in downtown Yangon linked to winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: this building and the Guardian Magazine building (where Rabindranath Tagore visited in 1924). "I lived in Burma, amid cupolas, of powerful metal, and thickets where the tiger burned its rings of...

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Old photos of the Pegu Club

The main staircase and dinning room at the Pegu Club in 2015 and a photo of the club in the 1910s. Rudyard Kipling stayed at Pegu Club for a night in 1889 (on his way from Calcutta to San Francisco). Over dinner he heard the stories which led him to write ""The Road to Mandalay"". The Pegu Club is located on Prome Road (Pyi Road) opposite the Taw Win Centre. (Not sure of the photo credit for the first two...

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