Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Burmese – Amyo, lumyo, taing yin tha lumyo

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

Amyō, lumyō, tāing yīn thā lumyō

Relates to race; nation; ethnicity; national race; ethnic nationality; indigenous race

The Burmese language lacks precise terms for the English language concepts of race, ethnicity, and nationality, which are variously concepts, referents and threats to security.  Sometimes very specific meanings are imputed to amyō, lumyō, tāing yīn thā lumyō, while in other instances they are used interchangeably. (See region and blood). This can easily lead to confusion when reading English language translations.

Amyō is defined as ‘race’ or ‘lineage’; ‘kind’, ‘sort’, ‘species’, ‘variety’; ‘hereditary’; ‘relative’; ‘relation’; and ‘social class by birth’.  Amyōthā generally means ‘nationality’ or ‘husband’, thā is the word for son or a set of people belonging to the same group, or with a common birthplace zatī (See native region).

Lumyō (literally, person-type) is variously defined as ‘race’, ‘nationality’, ‘nation’, or ‘type’ (of people).  Lumyō su refers to ‘ethnic group’, with su conveying the idea of collection or group.

The word tāing yīn thā lumyō, is variously translated as ‘ethnic nationality’, ‘national race’, ‘national minority’ and ‘indigenous race’.[1] The term implies a broader familial connection with the other ‘indigenous people’s of Burma as clearly implied in its word elements: tāingdivision’ (i.e., administrative unit), yīnclosely related’, thāsons’, and lumyō. Although tāing yīn thā lumyō officially encompasses the Burmans, in common parlance the term is used to distinguish non-Burmans from the country’s other ethnic nationalities. For example, ‘it is obvious from her Burmese accent that she is a tāing yīn thā lumyō’.

The ambiguity of these concepts often leads to confusion.  For instance, asking someone what Lumyō they are may elicit a variety of responses, which may include their country of citizenship, their ethnicity, or even their religion as many Burmese Muslims and Jews regard their religion and ethnicity as synonymous.

As reflected in the passage below, the same Burmese word is often variously translated as ethnicity, race and nation, even within the same document.[2] To further complicate matters, official propaganda often translates the word for ‘country’ (naing ngan) as ‘nation’, perhaps reflecting the government’s assertions that the political territory comprising Burma is synonymous with the Burmese ‘nation’ as a people.

You are the offspring from parents of national races (tāing yīn thā) . . . Patriotism (myō chit seik dat) is the most decisive factor for you comrades to selflessly shoulder the responsibilities entrusted to you by the State. You must deeply love your race (amyō) and your nation (naing ngan) based upon the knowledge of the nation’s [nation is implied here rather than explicit] history and traditions. . .

The nationalities (tāing yīn thā lumyō nwe su) which had descended from the same ancestors have lived together through weal and woe in this country (naign ngan). For thousands of years all our nationals (tāing yīn thā) have lived together as equal citizens (naign ngan thā) from the moment of their birth. . .

All our nationals (tāing yīn thā) have the same virtues of truthfulness, honesty, uprightness and straightforwardness, of being hospitable, generous, considerate and sincere. These are in fact our national (lumyō) characteristics.  In addition, we have our own culture, which reflects national pride (amyō gon) and pride in our antecedents (zati goun)[3] (See native region).

Our race (lumyō) has a long historical tradition and throughout history it has shown great courage. Without any territorial ambition our race (lumyō) unify [sic.] by prowess, heroism and gallantry …  However, history clearly shows the tradition of brave resistance when our Tatmadaw and people (lumyō) joined hands in the spirit of national pride (zati man) and not subservient to foreign domination. [Literally, “will not bear/accept slavery”.]

The military government currently recognizes 135 tāing yīn thā lumyō whom it presents as the genuine people of Myanmar.  Government ideology presents Myanmar as a melting pot culture with roots in a common Mongoloid stock.  This claim is grounded in a colonial era account which claimed that the people of Burma have a common physiognomy — ‘by observing the birth-marks of infants in Myanmar, it can be deduced that anthropologically [the national races] all belong to one single race’.  According to this line of thought, colonialism undermined a process of national assimilation among the different from the different tāing yīn thā lumyō from which an indivisible racial group was about to emerge.[4]

This connotation of shared ancestry is reflected in the term thwēi hkwē aok chok yēi (literally, “blood-divide-rule”) referring to the British system of administration whereby highland areas were granted semi-autonomy and administered separately from central Burma, as well as to the preferential hiring of ethnic minorities to staff the armed forces.  The English translation of this term as ‘divide and rule’ totally misses the ideological connotation of the splitting of a people with blood ties (See blood).

Burmese persons descended from “immigrants” such as Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese and Chinese, are not officially recognized as tāing yīn thā lumyō, nor are the Muslim Rohingya.  Such groups are referred to collectively with the pejorative ka, which is also used to convey the notion of something being foreign.  Along the same lines, Caucasians are referred to as kalā hpyū i.e., ‘white kalā’.  According to Burma’s citizenship law, anyone descended from people who were born in Burma after 1886 are consigned to second class and third class citizenship.  However, even government sanctioned historical accounts recognize that the tāing yīn thā lumyō arrived in Burma through successive waves of immigration from China (albeit before the other ‘immigrant’ communities who increasingly settled in Burma during British colonial rule.)

In stark contrast to state propaganda, many of the ethnic people’s of Burma regard themselves not only as linguistically and culturally (and in some cases religiously) distinct from other groups, but also intrinsically distinct in a racial or genetic sense, although this is generally expressed in terms of one’s blood thwēi.

 

 

Kaungbon, M. (1994). Our Three Main National Causes. Yangon, News and Periodicals Enterprise: Ministry of Information.

 

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[1] The term ‘indigenous races’ is apparent in the official translation of the 1947 Constitution.  A government representative stated before the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations that the country has no indigenous peoples, but this position has subsequently contradicted by a government spokesman’s assertion that “there existed no problems whatsoever regarding indigenous issues per se, because all 135 national races belonging to the Union of Myanmar were indigenous.”  COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Fifty-first session, Agenda item 7, HUMAN RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, “Report of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations on its seventeenth session” Geneva, 26-30 July 1999, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1999/19, 12 August 1999 at paragraph 36.

[2] For example, A Dictionary of Postmodern Sociological Terms and Current Political Terms defines ethnicity, race, and nation as distinct concepts but offers the term lumyō as the Burmese equivalent for each of them.

[3] In some cases zadi gon is translated as “national integrity” or “racial pride”. C.f., the term region.

[4] Kaungbon, M. (1994). Our Three Main National Causes. Yangon, News and Periodicals Enterprise: Ministry of Information.

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