The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Burmah
BURMAH, or the Kingdom of Ava, a state in the S. E. of Asia, beyond the Ganges, reaching from lat. 19° 25′ to 28° 15′ N., and from lon. 93° 2′ to 102° 10′ E.; area, about 200,000 sq. in.; pop. estimated at about 4,000,000. It is bounded N. by upper Assam and Thibet, E. by the Chinese province of Yun-nan, S. E. by Anam, S. by Laos and Pegu, and W. by Aracan, surrendered to the English by the treaty of 1826, and by Tiperah, Munipoor, and Assam, from which countries it is separated by high mountain ridges. Two thirds of the territory belongs to Burmah proper, the rest forming the territories of tributary states. Burmah has neither alluvial plains nor a seaboard, its southern frontier being 200 m. from the mouths of the Irrawaddy. The country in the north is mountainous, gradually declining southward. In the central parts are wide valleys formed by parallel branches of the Thibetan plateau. The two principal chains form the W. and E. limits of the empire. The mountains of Anapectomu, or Yomadong, which determine the W. boundary, penetrate into Pegu, and extend as far as Cape Negrais; the highest point is about 8,000 ft. The chain that extends on the E. side, separating the Irrawaddy and Salwen valleys, terminates at the gulf of Martaban; its highest point is about 12,000 ft., and is covered with perpetual snow. Four other parallel branches running south form three wide valleys. Two mountain passes traversing the Anapectomu range connect Burmah with Aracan. The northern connects Shembeghewn on the Irrawaddy, lat. 20° 40′, with Aeng in Aracun, 19° 53′, and hence is called the Aeng pass. The southern pass begins likewise at Shembeghewn, and leads to Talak in Aracan, lat. 20° 10′ N. The northern extremity of Burmah is separated by mountain ranges from the neighboring country. The lofty ranges called the Patkoi mountains, and the still higher Langtan chain, divide it from Assam and the countries along the upper Brahmapootra. In the high summits whence the Brahmapootra descends to the west are the sources of the Irrawaddy, the chief river of Burmah. The Khyen-Dwen rises in the Patkoi mountains, flows S. W. and S. under various names, receives several affluents, and discharges into the Irrawaddy after a course of about 600 m. The other rivers are the Salwen, E. of the Irrawaddy; the Sittoung, between the Irrawaddy and the Salwen; and the Aracan. All these rivers, following the course of the mountain chains, flow S. and fall into the gulfs of Bengal and Martaban. There are several lakes, the most important of which is the Kandungye, called also the Royal lake, 25 m. from Ava. It is about 30 m. long by 9 broad, and is fed by the Moo, one of the principal tributaries of the Irrawaddy. The valley of the Irrawaddy is hilly and uneven, and sometimes the hills form its banks. They are generally covered with forest trees of considerable size. Cultivation here is confined to the narrow flat tracts which here and there separate the hills from the river. The plains in the south are fertile, and produce large crops of rice. The valleys in the centre and north are well watered and teem with rich pasturage.—Burmah has been deprived of its most fertile territory, but that which remains is productive. Agriculture and horticulture are defective. Of garden vegetables, the onion and the capsicum are most generally cultivated; there are also yams, sweet potatoes, melons, cucumbers, and egg plants. The young shoots of bamboo, wild asparagus, and the succulent roots of various aquatic plants, supply the place of garden fruits. Mangoes, pineapples, oranges, custard apples, the jack (a species of breadfruit), the papaw, cocoanut, fig, and plantain are the chief fruits. The principal crops are rice, maize, millet, wheat, various pulses, palms, sugar cane, tobacco, cotton, and indigo. The art of making sugar is scarcely known. Coarse sugar is obtained from the juice of the Palmyra palm, of which numerous groves are found, especially south of the capital. Indigo is so badly managed as to be almost unfit for exportation. Rice in the south and maize and millet in the north are the standard crops. Sesamum is raised for cattle. On the northern hills the tea plant is cultivated; but the natives, instead of steeping it, eat the leaf prepared with oil and garlic. Cotton is raised chiefly in the dry lands of the upper provinces; silk is produced in some districts. The principal trees are the teak and hopæa, which furnish valuable timber. In Amarapura are extensive forests of fir. On the upper Salwen is found the oil tree, one of which will produce 80 or 40 gallons of oil a year. Other trees are the cocoa palm, betel, palmyra nissa, bamboo, and mango, which attains the height of 100 ft., and bears a delicious fruit.—The forests abound in wild animals. They are the elephant, the one-horned rhinoceros, the tiger, leopard, wild and civet cats, wild hog, several species of deer, some of which are nearly as large as the ox, and the wild ox and buffalo, which are found in large herds. It is said that none of the ferocious members of the canine tribe are to be found in Burmah or in any countries of tropical Asia E. of Bengal. In the lower provinces elephants are very numerous, and often do great damage to the rice fields. Hares and various kinds of monkeys are found. Of birds, the wild cock is common; and there are also varieties of pheasants, partridges, and quails. Peacocks, parrots, and pigeons are very numerous in the forests of the lower provinces. Fish are plentiful in the Irrawaddy. There are many lizards and serpents. Leeches of large size are numerous. The domestic animals are the ox, the horse, and the buffalo. The elephant also is used as a draught animal. A few goats, sheep, and asses are found. Horses are used exclusively for riding, and are rarely more than 13 hands high. The ox is the beast of draught and burden in the north, the buffalo in the south.—Burmah has great natural mineral wealth, but it is little developed. There are gold mines at Bhamo, near the Chinese frontier, and auriferous sand is found in several of the rivers. Silver is obtained at Bortwen, on the confines of China, in some parts of the interior, and in the mountains bordering on Siam. The celebrated ruby mines of Burmah are 60 or 70 m. N. E. of the capital. Sapphires of large size are also found in the same place. The topaz, amethyst, and varieties of the chrysoberyl and spinelle are found in the beds of some rivulets. These are all perquisites of the crown. Iron ore is found at Poukpa, but owing to the ignorance of the workmen 30 or 40 per cent. is lost in the process of smelting. Copper, tin, lead, and antimony are known to exist in the eastern parts, but it is doubtful if any of these metals are obtained in considerable quantities. The mountains near the city of Ava furnish a superior quality of limestone; fine statuary marble is found 40 m. from the capital, on the banks of the Irrawaddy; amber exists so plentifully that it sells in Ava at the low price of $1 per pound; and nitre, natron, salt, and coal are extensively diffused over the entire country, though the latter is little used. On the E. bank of the Irrawaddy, about lat. 20° 30′ N., are the famous petroleum wells, near a village called Renankhyaung. The wells, which are about 300 in number, occupy a space of about 16 sq. m. The country here is a series of sandy hills and ravines, sparingly dotted with stunted trees. The artificial pits are from 200 to 300 ft. deep, and the oil which bubbles up at the bottom is brought up in buckets. When taken out it is thin, but thickens after keeping and coagulates in cold weather. It has a pungent aromatic odor, and is used for lighting and for protection against insects. Turpentine is produced in various portions of the country, and is extensively exported to China.—In the valley of the Irrawaddy and adjacent hills there are four seasons distinctly marked: the cold, from November to February; the first rainy, from March to May; the hot, from June to August; and the second rainy, in September and October. The climate is generally healthy, especially in the hilly tracts. The extremes of heat and cold are seldom experienced except before the periodical rains. Heavy mists occur in November and December, but no snow falls, and only a little hail in April or the beginning of May. The transitions of the seasons are extremely sudden; the greatest heats are in March and April. Earthquakes are frequent, and often usher in and conclude the wet season. Insects are numerous, and a few weeks before the rainy season myriads of winged ants, field bugs, and other insects infest the dwellings. The Burmese, who highly relish these ants as food, lay up stores of them.—The Burmese have made but little advance in the useful arts. Women carry on the whole process of the cotton manufacture, using a rude loom, and displaying little ingenuity or skill. Porcelain is imported from China; British cottons are imported, and even in the interior undersell the native products; though the Burmese smelt iron, steel is brought from Bengal; silks and cottons are manufactured at Ava and Amarapura. While a very great variety of goods is imported, the exports are comparatively insignificant, those to China, with which the Burmese carry on their most extensive commerce, consisting of raw cotton, ornamental feathers, chiefly of the blue jay, edible swallows' nests, ivory, rhinoceros and deer's horns, and some precious stones. In return, the Burmese import wrought copper, orpiment, quicksilver, vermilion, iron pans, brass wire, tin, lead, alum, silver, gold and gold leaf, earthenware, paints, carpets, rhubarb, tea, honey, raw silk, velvets, Chinese spirits, musk, verdigris, dried fruits, paper, fans, umbrellas, shoes, and wearing apparel. Gold and silver ornaments of a rude description are made in various parts of the country; weapons, scissors, and carpenters' tools are manufactured at Ava; idols are sculptured in considerable quantities in white marble. What mining is done is mainly carried on by the Chinese. Lead, silver, and gold, all uncoined, form the circulating medium, and have to be weighed and assayed at every change of hands. A large portion of the trade is transacted by way of barter, in consequence of the difficulties attending the making of small payments. Commerce with China and Britain is carried on mainly by means of the Irrawaddy; the minor traffic is mostly in the hands of Chinese and Armenians, who have long been settled in the capital. The standard silver of the country has generally an alloy of copper of 10 or 15 per cent. Below 85⁄100 the mixture does not pass current, that degree of fineness being required in the money paid for taxes. The revenues proceed from a house tax, which is levied on the village, the village authorities afterward assessing householders according to their respective ability to pay. Those subject to military duty, the farmers of the royal domain, and artificers employed on the public works, are exempt. The soil is taxed according to crops. The tobacco tax is paid in money; other crops pay 5 per cent. in kind. The farmers of the royal lands pay over one half their crops. Fishing posts on lake and river are let either for a stated term or for a proportion of dried fish from the catch. These revenues are collected by officers of the crown, each of whom receives a district, from the proceeds of which he lives. The royal revenue is raised from the sale of monopolies of the crown, among which cotton is the chief. In the management of this monopoly, the inhabitants are forced to deliver certain articles at certain low prices to the crown officers, who sell them at an enormous advance. There are also certain tolls levied in particular districts. This system of taxation, though despotic, is simple in its details; and a further exemplification of simplicity in government is the manner in which the army is made to maintain itself, or at least to be supported by the people. There is no regular system of conscription, and every man is liable to serve. Nearly all are infantry armed with long spears, two-handed swords, muskets, and the jinjal, a kind of carbine. In the province of Padoung every soldier is quartered upon two families, who receive five acres of tax-free land, and must furnish the soldier with half the crops and 25 rupees per annum, besides wood and other minor necessaries. The captain of 50 men receives 10 tikals (the tikal is worth $1¼, or 2½ rupees) each from six families, and half the crop of a seventh. The bo, or centurion, is maintained by the labor of 52 families, and the bo-gyi, or colonel, raises his salary from his own officers and men. The Burman soldiers fight well under able officers, but the chief excellence of a Burman army corps lies in the absence of the impedimenta; the soldier carries his hammock at one end of his musket, his kettle at the other, and his provisions in a cloth about his waist.—The government of Burmah is a pure despotism, property and life lying at the mercy of the sovereign. He has the title of boa, or emperor. The sovereign is assisted by four woongees, or public ministers, four atween woons, or private councillors, four woon docks, or ministers of the interior, four state secretaries, four reporters, four officers to regulate ceremonies, and nine to read petitions. Anything suggested or approved by the emperor has the force of law. The four public ministers have no distinct departments, but act wherever chance directs. They form also a high court of appeal, before whom suits are brought for final adjudication; and in their individual capacity, they have power to give judgment on cases which are not brought up to the collective council. As they retain 10 per cent. of the property in suit for the costs of the judgment, they derive very handsome incomes from this source. Justice is rarely dealt out to the people. Every officeholder is at the same time a plunderer; the judges are venal, the police powerless, robbers and thieves abound, life and property are insecure, and every inducement to progress is wanting. No person in Burmah possesses any hereditary rights except the descendants of subdued princes, who are privileged to use the insignia of royalty, as white umbrellas, &c. Any subject can aspire to the highest office in the state. Near the capital the power of the king is oppressive; but it decreases with distance, so that in the more distant provinces the people elect their own governors, and pay but slight tribute to the government. The provinces bordering on China display the curious spectacle of a people living contentedly under two governments, the Chinese and Burmese taking a like part in electing the rulers of these localities. Each large city has its judicial tribunal, and townships have each a governor, who is assisted by police officers placed over the several wards. From the decision of the governor there is an appeal to the provincial governor, and from him to a higher law officer in the capital. The code of laws is derived from the “Institutes of Menu,” and though it contains many salutary regulations, the aims of justice are frequently perverted through the corruption of the judges. The enslavement of a debtor in discharge of a debt is common, and females in such a case may be used as concubines. Trial by ordeal often takes place, and in criminal cases punishments have been marked by the greatest cruelty.—In physical conformation, the Burmese, like most of the race which inhabits the countries between Hindostan and China, have more of the Mongolian than of the Hindoo type. They are short, stout, well proportioned, fleshy, but active; with large cheek bones, eyes obliquely placed, brown but never very dark complexion, coarse, lank, black hair, abundant, and more beard than their neighbors the Siamese. The women are in general well formed, rather disposed to corpulence, and of a lighter complexion than those of Hindostan. The costume of the men differs little from that of the Chinese—a tight vest with long sleeves, and a velvet or satin robe falling to the feet; the laborers often have only short trousers. The dress of the peasantry is mostly black, yellow being a sacred color, and worn by priests only.
—Several distinct tribes inhabit the Burman dominions. The Burmans or Mranmas, as they style themselves, the rulers of the country, claim to have been originally celestial beings who descended to earth, where they gradually degenerated. The Salain live between the Salwen river and the Galladzet and Anapectomu mountains. The Shans, resembling the Siamese, are scattered over the E. and N. provinces. The Cassayans live chiefly in the capital. The Yo, probably a Chinese tribe who adopted Burmese customs, live on the Irrawaddy. The Kayrens or Karens, inhabiting a hilly tract between the Salwen and Sittoung, bear great enmity to the Burmans. Various Tartar tribes live in the north. The ordinary houses are made of bamboo and matting thatched with leaves or grass. Those of the priests are of a superior kind and built somewhat after the Chinese model. The temples are of different styles in different provinces. At Pugan they are heavy, broad, and surmounted by a spire; in the S. provinces they are pyramidal, and adorned with many figures of sphinxes and crocodiles. They are all richly decorated and gilt.—The language spoken by the bulk of the population is the Burmese. It belongs to the monosyllabic class of languages, but words of several syllables have been introduced from the Pali, from which also the circular-formed writing is said to have been borrowed. The Burmese has been erroneously defined by some as a dialect of the Chinese, with which it has as little affinity as with the Sanskrit. The pronunciation often differs from the writing, the words being either abridged, or where a harsh-sounding letter stands, it is softened in pronunciation. To point out the difference between words spelled alike but having different pronunciations and meanings, there are two signs placed either under or after the word. A dot placed under the word gives it a long soft sound; two dots after the word give it a short abrupt sound. The Burmese language is characterized by its monosyllabic roots and its want of grammatical forms; yet this monosyllabism is almost lost sight of by expressing a thing by two words, one of which gives its general and the other its special meaning. There is no distinction between nouns and verbs except in the particles joined to the word. There is no inflection of words. Substantives and adjectives are formed by the aid of particles which by some have been styled affixes; these stand after the word, and between them the sign of the gender and plural (tó) is placed. The sign of the plural is also used in the formation of the plural of personal pronouns, which always appear in their original form, and are employed as affixes, but always stand before the verb. The plural, moods, and tenses of verbs are also formed by the aid of these particles. The passive is formed from the active by the addition of an aspiration; or the auxiliary verb shi, to become, is used. There have been recognized four moods, the indicative, imperative, interrogative, and gerund, and three tenses, the present, past, and future. Adverbs are formed by the repetition of the adjective. The Burmese literature is very rich. There are many translations with commentaries from the Pali. The popular language has also been considerably developed. Domestic annals and traditions are not without their importance, and there are many songs and epic poems. The temples and convents have large collections of books. The Bible was translated into Burmese by the American missionary Judson in 1835-'7.—The Burmese are Buddhists by faith, and have kept the ceremonies of their religion freer from intermixture with other religions than elsewhere in India and China. They believe that the religion was introduced by Gautama, the Burmese name for Buddha. Toward the close of the last century the Burman state religion was divided by two sects, or offshoots from the ancient faith. The first of these entertained a belief similar to pantheism, believing that the godhead is diffused over and through all the world and its creatures, but that it manifests itself in its highest stages of development in the Buddhas, who appear from time to time. The good, after death, are happy in Nirvana, a state of perfect rest, while the had are punished by a degrading metempsychosis. The other sect rejects entirely the doctrine of the metempsychosis, and the picture worship and cloister system of the Buddhists; considers death as the portal to everlasting happiness or misery, according to the conduct of the deceased; and worships one supreme and all-creating spirit. The adherents of this sect are numerous, but they worship in secret on account of their persecution by the government. The rosary is in general use, and the Pali words expressing the transitory nature of all sublunary things are often repeated. The Burmese Buddhists avoid to some extent the picture worship practised in China, and their monks are more than usually faithful to their vows of poverty and celibacy. Their religious ministrations are confined to sermons. They live in monasteries, instruct the children, and subsist entirely on the contributions of the public. They may at any time leave their convents and resume the ordinary occupations of life.—The ancient history of the Burmese commences with a cosmology similar to that of the Hindoos. A chronological table translated into English goes as far back as 289 B. C. Prome was then the seat of government. About A. D. 94 the last king of Prome died, and a new dynasty arose and transferred the court to Pugan, which remained the capital for 12 centuries. About 1233 the Chinese invaded Burmah, and subdued Ava. About 1300 Panya became the capital, and continued so for 360 years. In 1322 arose the dynasty of Sagaing. About 1364 Panya and Sagaing were both destroyed, and the seat of government was transferred to Ava. Wars were constantly waged between the Burmese and Peguans, and in the middle of the 16th century the Burmese conquered Pegu; but the latter, supported by the Europeans, not only cast off the Burmese yoke, but invaded Burmah in 1752, captured Ava, and took prisoner Donipti, the last king of his race. Soon afterward Alompra, a village chief of ability, placed himself at the head of the malcontents, defeated the Peguans, recovered Ava, and became king and lawgiver of Burmah, and founder of the present dynasty. In 1754-'7 he conquered the Cassayans and Pegu, then Martaban and Tenasserim, and took the king of Siam prisoner. In 1771 the Siamese regained their independence, and the Chinese invaded Burmah. The Chinese were repulsed and many of the Chinese prisoners forced to settle in the country. In 1783 one of the successors of Alompra conquered Aracan, fought with Siam, and captured Mergui, Tavoy, and other districts. He also armed his troops with European weapons, organized the country to resist the encroachments of the English, and changed his residence to Amarapura. Under his successor Ing-she-men (Madutchao) Ava again became the capital, and Assam was annexed to Burmah in 1822. At this time the war with England commenced. In 1799, 50,000 Mughs of Aracan migrated into British territory, to escape the extortions of the Burmese governor; and in 1811 they made an incursion into Burmese territory. On the king's demanding these emigrants from the English, he was met with a refusal. He next demanded the cession of several border districts of Bengal on the ground of their having originally formed parts of Ava, with the same result. In 1824 Lord Amherst, governor of India, declared war against Burmah and sent Campbell to Cachar, which had expelled its rajah, who was tributary to the king of Burmah. Campbell gained a victory at Prome (Dec. 3, 1825), and concluded a treaty of peace with the Burmese shortly after. But the ratification of the treaty not following on the part of the Burmese, Campbell renewed the war in the early part of the following year, and the treaty was ratified in a few days. The English obtained thereby the provinces of Aracan, Mergui, Tavoy, and Ye. For the wars in Pegu and its subjection to the English, see Pegu.—See Yale's “Narrative of the Mission from the Governor General of India to the Court of Ava” (London, 1858); Winter's “Six Months in Burmah” (London, 1858); Bastiat's Seigen in Birma in den Jahren 1861-'2; and Williams's “Through Burmah to Western China” (London and Edinburgh, 1867).