Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Burmese – Ana (Pana)

May 25th, 2011 · No Comments · Burmese, Inhibition

Āna (Pāna)

Relates to inhibition

A pervasive aspect of Burmese culture, āna literally means to have one’s strength (ā) hurt (na); the optional suffix pāna literally means ‘cheek hurts’.  Āna can be interpreted as a security strategy employed in one’s social interactions with others of unknown, equal, or greater power so as not to offend or impose on the other party. In the Burmese context, it is an oxymoron for the powerful to feel a lessening of power in their interactions with people who are clearly weaker.  As such, āna may be associated with the abuse of power. When the gap between superior and inferior is wide, then fear may become the dominant emotion.

A multifaceted concept, āna cannot be directly translated into English with any single word.[1] The Myanmar-English Dictionary defines āna as “a tendency to be embarrassed by feelings of respect, delicacy; to be restrained by fear of offending.”  Āna is often associated with a reserved demeanor, respect, inhibition, fear, timidity, obedience and shyness.  One Western scholar described āna as:

an emotion that wells up inside a Burmese, paralyzing his will, in particular preventing him from pushing his own self-interest and compelling him to hold back and accede to the demands of others. . . Apparently the Burmese feel that the considerations of [āna] are appropriate in any situation in which one’s interests might conflict with those of others or in which one might feel some sense of obligation or indebtedness to another.[2]

Āna is felt in dealings between strangers, those who are not closely acquainted, and elders, social superiors and other respected persons. When people are close to one another, they do not normally feel āna, and the word is rarely used among them.

When one feels āna they may be inhibited by feelings of consideration for the other and a desire not to bother or trouble them. For instance, you are feeling very hungry while at someone’s home, but you feel āna to tell the host to make something for you. Accordingly, a good host will tell visitors not to feel āna, and to make themselves at home.  Similarly, one might feel āna if another person did many things for them, or assisted them in a significant way. For example, if a friend gives many presents or does many errands the recipient might start feeling very āna.

Āna is often regarded favorably because it leads people to behave well toward others, and to avoid hurting their feelings.  A government-run publication notes “When a Myanmar feels āna then he or she would deliberately withhold himself/herself from expressing or physically committing something that might hurt the feelings of others. With this in view he or she would keep away, show forbearance and give ground to the other person. His psychological posture does not conform, so to speak, to the don’t take ‘no’ for an answer type. A Myanmar tries to be gentle, courteous and considerate of others.”[3]

Conversely, the proverb ‘ā mana sha makyō’, literally ‘strength is not hurt, tongue is not broken’ is said of those who talk openly about their true feelings or desires, without feeling āna for others.

Because āna inhibits people from expressing their true feelings and compels them to act in accordance with the (perhaps incorrectly) perceived wishes of others, it can significantly complicate social relations to the detriment of one or both parties. For example, a host, although tired and wishing to spend the day quietly at home, may sense that his guests are restless and suggest that they all travel to a nearby village to go swimming.  The guests, although wishing to remain at home might agree, out of deference to the perceived wishes of the host.  Consequently, āna resulted in everyone going out of their way to please each other in a way that was contrary to the wishes of all concerned.

The literal meaning of āna is captured by the Burmese proverb ‘āna hlin ā pa’, if you feel āna (strength is hurt), ā pa (strength) will be gone, implying that, the person who is too anxious to please others suffers.[4] The Burmese Proverbs states that if you feel ā na, your welfare will fail/grieve: ‘ā na tat hlin mi mi akyō sī pwā hsōun shōun nit na tat the’.[5] The compendium with this proverb notes that many occasions in which people fail to work, waste time, get tired, or become ill with disease is due to āna.[6]

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[1] The most comprehensive elaboration of the concept is provided in Sara Mcinteer Bekker, “The Burmese Concept of Anade: Its Function and Meaning in Interpersonal Relations,” Contributions to Asian Studies, Vol XVI, and her unpublished 1963 dissertation of the same title at George Washington University.

[2] Lucian Pye, Politics, Personality and Nation Building: Burma’s search for identity, (London:Yale University Press, 1966).

[3] Hla Thein, “Are you Feeling Ahnarde?” Myanmar Perspectives, Vol 3, No. 9, September, 1997. http://www.myanmar.gov.mm/Perspective/persp1997/9-97/YANGON.HTM

[4] Burmese Proverbs, (Yangon, Ministry of Education, 1996), pg 286 [In Burmese]

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid.

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