- Archaeological and historical evidence has proved that Myanmar’s pre-history dates back 50 million years and history to the 1
st century A.D. Paleontologists who in the past as well as recently made a field study in the Pondaung area of Myanmar further confirmed the archaeological date by means of the fossils of Primate they discovered in situ. Historical sites in the country abound in ancient monuments above ground and artifacts underground which indicate that civilisation of not later than the first century A.D. had flourished there.
- The Myanmars have the tradition of recording the important events in their lifetime on different materials such as stone, metal, wood, plaster, terra cotta, palm leaf, papier mache etc by inscribing, chiselling, carving, embossing, or writing. Such records form the earliest written history in their own right, or source materials for historical research. Though most of them have been lost or destroyed due to ravages of time, elements and vandalism, many have been preserved by the Departments of Archaeology, History and National Archives and Museums.
The Origin of Myanmar Historiography
- It is found that Myanmar historiography originated in the time of the ancient Pyu kingdoms (1st century to the 9th century A.D.). History in those days was written like a chronicle highlighting the great events of the court life and recording the occurances of great disasters and natural phenomena. In every period of Myanmar history we find contemporary chronicles compiled by individual scholars who were either Buddhist monks, Brahmin priests or laymen from all walks of life. Chronicles are of two literary forms — prose and verse. Historical dates pertaining to the birth, accession to the throne, achievements and death of a king, battles and religious dedications were carefully recorded.
The prolific period of historical writings.
- The most prolific period of Myanmar historiography began with the Inwa Period (14th to the 16th century A.D.). This period is regarded as the golden age in Myanmar literary history, during which historical writing flourished side by side with other literary subjects and forms. It is interesting to note that in this period the Buddhist monks dominated the literary field. Myanmar historical writings so far were local and periodic in scope for they covered a particular dynasty or a particular historic period of the historiographer’s choice and interest. They differed from one another in facts, interpretation and style.
Beginning of a national history
- However a consolidated national history was first compiled by a scholar named U Kala in the reign of King Taninganwe (A.D. 1714-1733) of the Nyaung Yan dynasty. He collected, edited and compiled all chronicles and historical writings into three volumes namely Maha Yazawun Gyi (Great Chronicle), Yazawun Latt (Middle Chronicle) and Yazawun Choke (Brief Chronicle). His work came to be known as U Kala’s Maha Yazawun Gyi. Later in the reign of King Bodawpaya (A.D. 1782-1819) of the Konbaung dynasty another national history was compiled at the behest of the king by a Minister named Twin Thin Mingyi Maha Sithu. He collaborated all chronicles with stone inscriptions and compiled a new chronicle which came to be called Twin Thin’s New Chronicle.
The first Myanmar Historical Commission
- The writing of history by a board of scholars was begun in the reign of King Bagyidaw (A.D. 1819-1837). In A.D. 1829 the king appointed thirteen scholars comprising monks, Brahmin priests and laymen of high scholarly standing to form a board and commissioned it to compile a national history. The board consulted the previous chronicles tapped all available archaeological, historical, inscriptional and literary sources, collaborated their findings and compiled 38 volumes after nearly four years of scholarly labour. Because their work was carried out in the Crystal Chamber of the Palace, it came to be known as the Hman Nan Yazawun Daw Gyi (The Great Glass Palace Chronicle). This history covers the period from the time of Creation of the World to the two years after the death of King Bodawpaya (i.e. A.D. 1821). Some portions of these volumes have been translated into English, French and Japanese.
The Second Myanmar Historical Commission
- The remaining part of Myanmar history was written by another board of historical commission comprising five members appointed in 1867 by King Mindon (A.D. 1853-1878) of the Later Konbaung Period. The five members were Ministers, librarian, high ranking officials and a clerk. They consulted the learned monks, Brahmin priests and layman scholars, tapped historical sources, collaborated their data with inscriptions and royal archives and compiled their work which runs into 10 volumes, covering a period from 1821 to 1854 the year of Mindon’s coronation. This work is known as Dutiya Maha Yazawun Daw Gyi (The Second Great Chronicle).
Completion of the Chronicle
- The writing of Myanmar history from Mindon’s reign to the end of the Myanmar monarchy in 1885 was carried out by one U Maung Maung Tin, K.S.M., A.T.M. retired Wundauk (gazetted Officer of sub-divisional rank in British colonial times). He completed his work in 1922. It was entitled Konbaung Set Maha Yazawun Daw Gyi (The Great Chronicle of Konbaung Dynasty), covering a period from King Mindon’s reign to the death of the last Myanmar king Thibaw.
- According to the list mentioned in the history of Pitaka literature, there was a total of 40 chronicles in prose and verse, compiled by monk and lay scholars in different periods of Myanmar history.
- The British colonial period (1826-1948) was overwhelmed by British history and Myanmar history books written by British authors. But some Myanmar historical writings by Myanmar patriots emerged as a rejoinder to the bias and prejudices of the British historians.
- In the post-independence period, the writing of Myanmar history was taken up not only as an academic pursuit but also as in the national interest. While individual works were being produced by both mature and professional historians, the Government in 1955 formed a Myanmar Historical Commission comprising prominent academicians and University Professors to compile a systematic and scientific history of Myanmar from the earliest traceable date to the present. Under it were formed Sub-commissions, each assigned to a separate period of Myanmar history. The Commission was placed directly under the charge of the Prime Minister’s Office. Under the Myanmar Socialist Government (1962-1988) the Commission was converted to a Directorate of Myanmar Historical Research under the Ministry of Culture. Then in 1985 it was transferred to the Ministry of Education and its name was changed as the Universities’ Historical Research Centre. In spite of the vicissitude of its career the Commission has produced many research works in the form of books, journals, research papers, and articles in English as well as Myanmar. Since 1995 the year the Yangon University celebrated its Diamond Jubilee, the Universities’ Historical Research Centre (as it is called by its new name) has been holding international seminars every year on historical themes under the joint sponsorship with Japan Foundation, or Chularlonkorn University. The recent seminar held in January this year 1998 presented research papers on the theme “Southeast Asian Seaports and Maritime Trade”, prepared by learned scholars from ASEAN countries, Australia, U.K., India and U.S.A.
The Myanmar Historical Commission
- True to the tradition of Myanmar historical writing and with a view to compiling historical facts about the country up-to-date the State Law and Order Restoration Council Government formed in 1989 a Committee for the compilation of authentic data of Myanmar history. Later in 1993 it was changed to the Myanmar Historical Commission comprising retired professors of history, and of other related disciplines and retired ambassadors, with a staff of compilers, research officers, archivists and librarians. The Commission so far has published six volumes dealing with Myanmar modern political history from 1947 to the present day. Many more volumes are being compiled for publication.
Myanmar historical vision
- In the teaching and writing of general history and Myanmar history particularly, the Myanmar vision was parochial under the Myanmar monarchy, nationalistic under the British colonial rule and patriotic in the post-independence period. As history had been utilized by the British rulers as a means of promoting the British Imperial Idea and justifying their rule in colonial countries, Myanmar history teachers and writers were circumscribed by many limitations. Firstly they were trained by the Western school of thought. Secondly they learnt more of Western history particularly British history than the history of their own country or those of their neighbours. Thirdly they have little or no knowledge of Eastern history or those of their neighbours, particularly of Southeast Asia. Fourthly even if they ever learnt Eastern history they learnt it from books written by Western scholars. Fifthly their own history text books were written mostly by the British and European authors. Finally in the past there was no contact with their counterparts in the neighbouring countries. Source materials in neighbouring countries remained beyond reach due to lack of information media and the language barrier.
The Task of The ASEAN-Japan Multinational Cultural Mission M.C.M.
- Now Myanmar has become a fullfledged member of ASEAN and she is taking her share of responsibility in all activities of the Association. Before she joined it Myanmar had (and still has) cultural relations with foreign countries on a bilateral basis. Particularly with Japan, Myanmar had a programme of cultural exchange and educational assistance and research. In August 1988 an international symposium on the ancient city of Bagan was held at Bagan under the joint sponsorship of the Myanmar Archaeology Department and Sophia University of Japan.
- In Article 8 of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation which is one of the 8 major ASEAN documents, the member countries are committed to “provide assistance to one another in the form of training and research facilities in the social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative fields.”
- So it is in line with the spirit and commitment of the ASEAN as well as of its dialogue parter countries to cooperate in the field of historical research and training.
- The M.C.M. which is a great project to be launched jointly by ASEAN COCI (Committee on Information and Culture) and Japan in equal partnership should include in its field of implementation, a programme for research and writing and teaching of regional history such as South-east Asian history, East Asian history in all aspects.
- It is high time that Asian consciousness and regional understanding be cultivated through the media of history and culture particularly for the new generations who will be the leaders of their respective countries in the 21st century.
Professor Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt