Myanmar culture is one of the most interesting in Southeast Asia. As a country that had been on lockdown for decades, now is the time to get in and explore thoroughly, taking in a nation distinct for its many fascinating ethnic groups and cultural variety. For as multifarious as the people in Myanmar are, Buddhism binds most of them tightly. Ancient stupas, carvings, and other religious paraphernalia are evident in small villages and large cities. From flavorful food to traditional dress, Myanmar’s people are distinct in their simplicity.
People Image: koflerdaniel (flickr)
In Myanmar there are castes and classes; poverty is widespread and there is evident inequality among them. Myanmar society is separated into a majority of extremely poor, a small middle class, and a very small elite social class. Traditionally, women in Myanmar culture were of fairly high status; in the case of divorce, women kept their dowrys and were entitled to half of the common goods unlike other countries in Southeast Asia. Interestingly, children, especially newborns and smaller babies, receive high levels of attention from family but also from strangers and are taken everywhere with their mothers. Children still go through multiple rites of passage, attend school, and often (since 1962) are involved in higher education. One common cultural factor in the region, especially in Thailand, is people do not show intense levels of emotion. It’s considered bad etiquette to showcase anger. It’s also considered taboo to touch another’s head, especially a child. Overall, the Burmese are extremely outgoing and friendly and take great interest in outsiders. They are calm, kind, and gentle people who live simple lives.
The diversity in Myanmar’s geographical makeup, excellent growing conditions year round, and a natural endowment of water and fertile soil equate to a country with an abundance and variety of great food throughout the year. Rice is the main staple comprising 75% of their daily intake and served with fish, salad, soup, and vegetables and different types of flavorful relishes, many of them spicy. An array of curries, along with eggs and prawn are also popular dishes and accompaniments often finished off with fresh fruit. In Myanmar culture, a morning meal and evening meal, most often before sunset, are eaten. The customary low table found in countries like Vietnam and Thailand, is laden with platters of food that is primarily eaten with fingers. The daytime hours are when the Burmese typically smoke tobacco and consume betel nut; betel nut is from the betel palm, is chewed like tobacco, and has painkilling and digestive aiding elements. The Burmese are also known to munch on Chinese pastries, chappatis, and fried insects.
Myanmar culture revolves around Theraveda Buddhism with about 90% of the popular practicing. In this sect of Buddhism, each person is required to seek their own salvation to achieve Nirvana. One of the most architecturally significant features throughout the country are the hundreds of Buddhist temples and pagodas, large and small. Buddhism is thought to have been introduced to Burma via India through missionaries that emperor Ashoka sent in the early third century. Between about ten and sixteen years of age, many Burmese males, and some females, train as Buddhist novices and spend time living in a monastery. The remaining popululace not practicing Buddhism are Christian, Muslim, and Hindu.
Dress Image: Esme_Vos (flickr)
A sarong called "longyi" is a traditional outfit for both men and women and comes in myriad patterns and colors. It is made as one continuous piece of fabric, like a wide tube, and tied off at the waist. Men traditionally wear an overcoat type jacket over a white collared shirt and also sometimes wear a gaung baung. Yanmar’s Bamar females wear "yinzi," a blouse with buttons on the front or "yinbon," with buttons on the side. Pants and skirts are becoming more popular among Myanmar’s younger generation.