Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Burma's Ho Chi Minh Trail (2)

(This is the direct translation of Chapter 5 of Major Ba Shin’s "Burma Before Anawrahta".)

Proto-Burmese Invasion into Burma in Mid 9th Century

The original inhabitants of the place now called Middle Burma (Myanmar) were Pyus and in AD 832 their ancient nation Thayekhittayar was destroyed and their civilization uprooted by the Nansaws from Yunan in China.

The Mon nation Thuwanabummi (Yarmanya) in Lower Burma was also invaded by the Nansaws in AD 835 and over 2000 Mon were taken to Yunan as the prisoners. After the Nansaw invasions Burma had completely collapsed without a central administration and most of the country lay in ruins.

Demographically it could be safely assumed that by that time there were Thet in the region of Upper Burma where the Irrawaddy River meets Chindwin River, Karen in the Middle Sittaung Valley, ancient Mon in the Lower Sittaung Valley, Pyu in Middle and Southern Irrawaddy Valley, and the rest of the ancient Mon in Zawgyi and Panlaung Valleys (The Karen seemed to have cut of the ancient Mons into two groups).

In addition Palaung and Wa the Mon-Khmer tribes and Gadu the Thet tribe were also mixed with other tribes in Middle Irrawaddy Valley and the Zawgyi-Panlaung Valley.

Chance for the highlanders to move down into Burma 

There were no written historical evidences such as stone inscriptions from that period between 832 AD when the Pyu Nation was destroyed by the Nansaw and mid 11th century when King Anawrahta ruled Pagan have been found yet. So what were the significant historical events during that period?

The existing society was collapsing. People were deeply divided. There were no unified forces to resist the foreign invasion and defend the land and that chaotic period was quickly becoming an opportune time for the stronger tribes from the highland to move in en masse or invade the fertile plain valley land of Burma.

People who speak Burmese and sub-Burmese Languages

Basing on the demographic distribution of the current people of Burma and the ancient stone inscriptions the people who had moved down from the Yunan Highland to the valley land of Middle Burma during that chaotic ruler-less period were the earlier Burmese. In other words it could be evidently stated that they were the members of the Tibeto-Burman tribes and they spoke either old Burmese or the sub-Burmese languages.

That statement could be strongly reinforced by the detailed study of the regions of Burma now occupied by the people who speak the languages belonging to the Burmese sub-family of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages.

Languages of Burmese sub-family

Linguistically at least 8 out of ten natives of Burma speak the languages of Burmese sub-family. Here are that languages of the Burmese sub-family.

1.      The Burmese language used by the majority.
2.      The Accented Burmese languages which have slight deviations in sound 
and pronunciation from mainstream Burmese language.
3.      The Earlier Burmese languages which are basically similar to both
Mainstream Burmese and other Accented Burmese languages.

Main Regions of Burmese Speakers

Mainstream Burmese (Burmese) is widely spoken in all over Burma. But the principal regions where Burmese is the only language are the districts namely Mandalay, Shwebo, Sagaing, Pakhoku, Myingyan, Kyaukse, and Meikhtila districts at the confluence of Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers in the middle Burma. These districts are the principal demographic region of Burmese speakers.

Farther from these districts the fewer the Burmese speakers. But the speakers of accented Burmese can be widely found at faraway places from these main districts and they appear to be the descendants of original Burmese speakers since long way back.

Speakers of Accented Burmese

The people, whose ancestors were originally from the middle Burma, now speaking a form of accented Burmese can be found in the Western Burma in Ramree and Sittwe Districts (Arakan Language), Hteelin and Saw regions in Pakhoku District (Yaw Language), along the Kaladan River of Southern Chin State (Chaungthar Language), and East Pakistan -now Bangaladesh- (Western Arakan Language and Northern Chaungthar Language).

In Southern Burma they can be found in Tavoy District (Tavoy Language), and Mergui District (Mergui Language).  These people speaking accented Burmese are strikingly similar in both culture and couture to the people from middle Burma.

The People Who Stayed Behind

In the western part of Shan Plateau east of Middle Burma there are people still widely speaking some form of accented Burmese languages. The Danus in the west, the Taungyoes in their east and the Inthars by the Inle Lake region belong to these groups.

Even though their places are not that far from the Irrawaddy Valley their accents, culture, practices, and couture are starkly different from the Valley Burmese. From that evidence it could be easily concluded that the ancestors of these people were not the people who had moved up from the Irrawaddy Valley but the people who had stayed behind when other were moving on down to the Valley of Middle Burma.

Where Did the Old Burmese Come From?

The question is if the Taungyoes, Danus, and Inthars are the stayed behind people of the original Burmese migration then where the old Burmese were coming from. And the obvious answer is the old Burmese or proto Burmese did come from the direction of Shan State.

The Original Burmese Speakers

Before that serious and potentially controversial statement is discussed further it should be appropriate to mention more about the people who speak the old Burmese or original Burmese language.

The Marus from Namtu region in Northern Shan State, the Azees (a) Zees along the Chinese border in the Kutkhine region in Northern Shan State, the Maingthas (a) Achans from Bamaw region in Burma and Hotah and Latha regions in Yunan, the Lashees from Sadon and Lawkhaw region in Kachin sate, the Marus from Lawkhaung and Htawgaw regions of Maykha Vally in Kachin State, and the Phoons around the first narrow of Irrawaddy on the border of Bamaw and Myitkyinar districts in Kachin State are the other ethnic groups who also speak the old Burmese language. The Marus and Lashees can be found in around Myitkyinar too.

Conclusion from the Demographic Distribution of Old Burmese

From the demographic distribution of ethnic groups speaking old Burmese or accented Burmese languages it could be wisely speculated that the old Burmese or the proto Burmese had migrated into Burma step by step from the North in Eastern Kachin Sate and Western Yunan to the South in Northern Shan State then to the Southern Shan State. From the Southern Shan State they migrated down into the Irrawaddy valley in the Middle Burma.

Why didn’t they go down between Chindwin and Irrawaddy Rivers?

The obvious question is the old Burmese could have forded the shallow Irrawaddy in Kachin State and moved down to the plain but they did not. Somehow they might have tried to cross Irrawaddy and move down south.

But during that time the valley lands between Irrawaddy and Chindwin were the Dagaung nation of Thets and the old Burmese were not able to go through them. So the first few waves were stopped by the first narrow of Irrawaddy and ended up as today Phoons.

Also because of difficult terrain the old Burmese couldn’t follow the Irrawaddy  through the Darpane and Shwelee river routes.

Into the Shan State

So the next migration waves bypassed the Thet’s Dagaung country from the east by following the Myitnge River route and temporarily ended up in Northern Shan State. From there they moved further down to the south into Yartsout and then southwestern Shan State.

Why didn’t they go down into the Sittaung Valley?

The obvious question is why they didn’t go down further south and move into the Sittaung Valley. The answer is by then the mass of Karens were already occupying the fertile Sittaung Valley. That route also is difficult because of rough terrain. As mentioned before the regions of today Moebyae and the Kayah State and northern Karen State were already the Karen strongholds by then and the Karens were even moving into the valley land west of Sittaung River. 

The easiest route with least obstacles

In those situations the easiest route for the migrating proto Burmese to travel further into the Irrawaddy Valley was through the northern part of southern Shan State where the obstacles were fewer and then into Kyaukse District which continued into the plain valley land of Irrawaddy River.  

From Yartsout and Pindaya into the Irrawaddy Valley

Moreover, basing on the linguistic evidence of accented Burmese speaking highlanders Danus and Taungyoes living along the South-western edge of Shan State the above conclusion - that the old Burmese had moved down onto the valley plain of Middle Burma through Yartsout and Pindaya regions the northern part of southern Shan State – appears to be obviously correct.

Are above just educated thoughts?

The statements above are just the conclusions according to linguistic comparisons and analysis based on the demography of the speakers of mainstream Burmese and various accented Burmese languages in Burma today. But there are many questions!

Are there any other historical evidence to support these statements and conclusion?

Are there any strong references proving the statement that the old Burmese or proto Burmese were originally from the Western Yunan and Northern Shan State in today China and Burma respectively?

If there are, the obvious question is are there any records or written evidence about these people who had lived in those lands during the 8th and 9th centuries?

If above questions can not be satisfactorily answered then the statement about the old Burmese moving down into middle Burma through Southwestern Shan State is just nothing more than an educated thought or just a dream.

There is no history without the historical evidence, and it would not be that easy to firmly state that the educated thoughts are the true history of a nation and its people.

Contemporary Chinese written evidence

Fortunately there are ample stories about these old Burmese originally living in Western Yunan and Northern Shan State during the 8th and 9th centuries from the contemporary Chinese history books and regional records.

(To be continued.)