6 Things to Know About Myanmar Culture
Here are the best things about Myanmar culture that I didn’t know before traveling this beautiful country.
It is always good to learn about a country’s culture before traveling in it every culture has its own rules and customs that visitors need to adhere to. Doing so ensures the warmest possible welcome from local people and stops any small misunderstandings turning into larger ones. Here are six things which are essential to know about Myanmar culture.
History of Myanmar
Known as Burma under British colonial rule, a name still used by many foreign governments, Myanmar was populated through three waves of migration by the Hmon people from what is now Cambodia by Mongol people from the eastern Himalayas; and, finally, by Thai peoples from northern Thailand. The first unified state was founded at Pagan (now Bagan) in 1057, but the capital was ravaged by Kublai Khan in 1287. A succession of dynasties rose and fell along the Irrawaddy, before the British arrived, conquering the south of the country in 1852. After the fall of Mandalay in 1886, Burma became a province of British India, marking the start of a troubled colonial period.
Family is possibly the most important pillar of Myanmar culture. In a typical family, the father is considered the spiritual head of the household. He always hands his monthly salary over to the mother, who manages family expenses. Traditionally, children are taught to love and take care of their grandparents when they are old. They also believe that supporting their parents and grandparents in their old age is an important way to show their gratitude for raising them. Myanmar people generally do not leave the parents household until they get married, although this attitude is beginning to see some change.
Men and Women
In Buddhism, men have a higher status than women Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and a woman has to hope that, in her next life, she is reborn as a man.The husband is considered the spiritual head of the Myanmar household because of his hpon (PONE), or spiritual status. In public, women let men take the lead, often walking behind their husbands or fathers. At home, however, a husband usually hands his earnings over to the wife, who manages the family budget and often runs her own small business, too.
Language in Myanmar
The official language is Myanmar (Burmese) but there are also many other dialects and languages. English is spoken in business circles and it’s possible to get by in English in major tourist areas, although a few words of Burmese are appreciated.
89% Theravada Buddhist. The remainder are Hindu, Muslim, Christian and animist. Many Buddhists also hold some animist beliefs, including worship of nats (spirits) which are rationalised as being disciples of the Buddha.
Food and Drink
Myanmar’s food and drinks are varied and, generally, very good. Savoury dishes can tend to be slightly too oily or sweet for foreign tastes, but they smell and taste extremely delicious. Among all the foods in Myanmar Culture, two items are particularly special to the Burmese people. Tea has an enormous place in the cultural heart of the country. It is used not only as a drink, but also as a food in Laphet Thoke (tea-leaf salad), a slightly bitter but truly delicious dish made using tea leaves, sesame seeds, fried peas, garlic, dried shrimp and peanuts.
Myanmar clothing is quite distinct from clothing in other parts of the world, so it can come as quite a surprise to unprepared tourists to see most men and women dressed in Longyi, a sheet of cloth worn as a long skirt. Longyis vary from casual to very ornate styles, and are comfortable and lightweight. It is important to remember that in most religious sites like Shwedagon pagoda, a dress policy is implemented for both genders. You are not allowed to wear casual clothes, meaning knees and shoulders must be covered. This policy does not apply outside religious sites, however. Myanmar people are very proud of their traditional dress (and rightly so, it’s beautiful!) and feel great confidence when they wear it for special occasions like weddings and ceremonies.