Sunday, June 7, 2009

Asia/Refugee Stuff: Can't tell the players without a score card. --PART ONE

Burma, according to some sources, is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Asia. And once one begins studying, quite frankly, it can bey very confusing trying to sort out who's who.

This represents an initial attempt.

PLEASE DO NOT QUOTE OR CITE THIS TEXT WITHOUT PERMISSION. PLEASE VIEW IT AS A WORK IN PROGRESS, A WORKING DOCUMENT INTENDED TO SOLVE A PUZZLE AND TO AID OTHERS WITH IDENTIFICATION OF THE VARIOUS PEOPLES THEY MIGHT ENCOUNTER WHEN THEY DEAL WITH BURMA. FEEDBACK AND CORRECTIONS ARE MUCH APPRECIATED.

According to the on-line CIA fact book for Burma, the population of Burma is composed of the following ethnic groups:

Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Indian 2%, Mon 2%, other 5%

A few notes are in order:

First, Burmans (also known as Burmese) are the majority population of Burma. Most refugees from Burma, in my experience, are not Burmese and some get offended when one implies or states that they are. From their point of view, this makes sense because often their ethnic identity is one of the reasons they were forced to flee Burma and become refugees anyway. (In fact, as I write, just yesterday I was taken to task for pointing out some people I saw on the street as "Burmese" when in fact they were not just Karens, but one was wearing a distinctively Karen hand-woven shirt. The Karen with me took offense, although not too much. Then again, I probably should know better.)

Chinese would include both Chinese who came under the British seeking economic benefit who arrived mostly in Rangoon, as well as those descended from the Kuo Min Tang troops of Chiang Kai-shek who fled China across the border into northern Burma.

Indians would also include Bangladeshis and Nepalis. The majority of these came to Burma under the British seeking economic benefit, often taking laboring jobs, as well as some descended from the Indian troops who served throughout the British Empire. The Nepali-Burmese include some descended at least in part from Gurkhas, the elite Nepali troops of the British and considered by many to be the best mercenary soldiers in the world. (The British sicked the Gurkhas on the Chin when their slave raiding got out of hand.) The role of Indians in Burma is extremely contentious. One reason the British conquered Burma was to defend the eastern frontier of their Indian colony, which, in the eighteenth century was being threatened by Burmese expansionism. Therefore after the British conquered Burma, they classified it as part of India, a classification that has never been used before or since. During that time many, many Indians came to Burma and some Burmese do not believe that they belong in Burma today.

Many Indo-Burmese do not have citizenship. Not only do many not have citizenship in Burma, but some do not have any citizenship anywhere in the world, being essentially stateless people.

Burmese citizenship laws are confusing to all concerned, including those who live in Burma, and therefore not properly enforced. Of course, widespread corruption does not help the implementation of laws either, nor does the fact that the citizenship laws have been radically rechanged at least once since independence. However, the laws do include different sorts of citizenship for different kinds of people depending on whether or not one belongs to an ethnic group that the government considers to be "real Burmese" as opposed to something else, like Indian.
(This issue is discussed in Charney's "A History of Modern Burma" on pages 142-143.)

The Mon are a people who live in Burma who were conquered by the Burmese in the eighteenth century. They took on many Burmese ways, including increasing use of the Burmese language. They are not to be confused with the Hmong, a people originally from the Guizhou region of China who were driven south into Thailand and Laos while still remaining in China (where they are referred to as the Miao or Meo. To the best of my knowledge, there are no Hmong living within Burma, although I might be wrong.)
Nevertheless, at times when Burmese refer to the Mon it does sound like they are saying Mong.

MORE LATER --THIS WILL BE EXPANDED IN FUTURE POSTS

No comments:

Post a Comment