Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Burmese – Lu myo yei than sin hmu

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

Lu myō yēi than sin hmu

Relates to racial purity

A referent of security, racial purity emerged as a rallying point in the early nationalist movement, and appears to have increased in prominence after 1962.  The formal term for racial purity is a compound noun combining lu myō (c.f. separate entry) and than sin hmu, meaning ‘clean’ or ‘pure’.

The discourse of racial purity probably has its roots in the early 1930’s when strands of the nationalist movement sought to mobilize support against South Asians who had immigrated to Burma in massive numbers under British colonial rule.  A popular Burmese song from this time intoned “exploiting our economic resources and seizing our women we are in danger of racial extinction” (myō thōn chīn)[1]myō is the suffix in words such as lumyō and amyō, thōn means ‘deteriorate’ or ‘cease to be’ and is derived from the Pali word thōnnya meaning ‘nothingness’ or ‘zero’, chīn is a noun suffix.

Under military rule the boundaries of citizenship and national identity have been restricted.  In several instances the government has targeted ‘non-indigenous’ populations resulting in large exoduses of different South Asian and Muslim communities in the 1960’s, 1978, and again in 1992.

The webpage of the Ministry of Immigration and Population notes that it was created to ‘safeguard the race and religion of Myanmar’.[2] The ministry’s motto is ‘Myanmar shall last while the Earth lasts, Myanmar People shall last while the Earth lasts [sic]’. That motto plays on a proverb counseling against interracial marriage – ‘a fissure in the earth does not swallow a ‘race’ (lumyō) causing its extinction, another ‘race’ (lumyō) will cause that extinction (pyok)’. Pyok literally means ‘to be detached, dislocated, unhinged or lost.

Reflecting this, intermarrying with outside groups is often denigrated as splitting or dispersing the race i.e., lumyō kwē or lumyō kyā. K is variously defined as ‘separated’, ‘dispersed’, ‘explode’, ‘split’, ‘differ’, and ‘vary’. Its transitive form, hkwē is prominent in state propaganda admonitions against creating divisions within the country (See patriotism). Government propaganda attributes the disappearance (pyok kwē) of the Pyu lumyō and their civilization to the mixing of their blood thwēi hnāw with non-Pyu lumyō.[3] One of Burma’s earliest civilizations, the Pyu ruled several city-states in central and northern regions of Burma from about 100 BCE to 840 CE.

In 1989, a series of articles in the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar authored under the pen name Myo Chit Thu (literally, ‘patriot’ or ‘one who love’s his race) recounted the ways in which ‘foreign’ races including the Chinese, the Indians, and the Pakistanis, have exploited the Burmese.  Particular emphasis was placed on intermarriage with ‘Burmese girls’ and resultant ‘mixed blood in our country’.[4]

Persons of whose parents are from different lumyō are commonly referred to by the derogatory term kabyā, suggesting that the interbreeding of tāing yīn thā lumyō is at the very least noteworthy.  In a similar vein, Burmans express the purity of their bloodline with the phrase ‘I am a genuine Burmese, not mixed with water’ (bama lumyō sit sit yei mayō bū), although the emphasis is often less on adulteration by non-Burman, tāing yīn thā, than an absence of South Asian ‘blood’ in their lineage.

The military regime frequently impugns the credibility of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on the same basis.  For example, in 1998 a long commentary in the state-run press stated that she ‘has no desire to safeguard the race’ and criticized her for marrying a Briton and giving ‘birth to children who have blood of colonialists without any shame instead of the blood of the national leaders’.[5] (Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, was Burma’s independence leader.)

A father’s effort to protect the purity of his lineage also provides the romantic twist to a popular Burmese movie The Pride that Melts in Love.[6] Fearing that his youngest son, played by the famous heartthrob Dwe, will emigrate to a foreign country and marry a foreign girl, the father works diligently to ensure his sons marriage to a Burmese woman.  The father denigrates his two elder sons who have already settled overseas, fearing that they will marry foreigners and have myō masit (i.e., ‘impure (lu) myō’)  children.

 

 

Lambrecht, C. (2004). Oxymoronic Development: The Military as Benefactor in the Border Regions of Burma. Civilizing the Margins: Southeast Asian Government Policies for the Development of Minorities. C. Duncan. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Leik La Thu Da Oo (2007). Myanmar-American Relations: The Facts and Effects, The Good and The Bad [In Burmese]. Rangoon, Digast Media Bank.

 

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[1] Cited in Khin Yi, The Dobama Movement in Burma (1930-1938), (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), page 97.

[3] Leik La Thu Da Oo (2007). Myanmar-American Relations: The Facts and Effects, The Good and The Bad [In Burmese]. Rangoon, Digast Media Bank.

[4] Lambrecht, C. (2004). Oxymoronic Development: The Military as Benefactor in the Border Regions of Burma. Civilizing the Margins: Southeast Asian Government Policies for the Development of Minorities. C. Duncan. Ithaca, Cornell University Press..

[5] Cited in Chronology 1998, available at http://www.irrawaddy.org/aviewer.asp?a=575&z=141

[6]Achit Dwin Pyaw Win Thwā Thaw Ma Na

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