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Burma and Lao...along the Mekong with Dane Hodges
Monday, January 16, 2012 - 6:26 PM



Dane Hodges eats Pineapple rice with mom, Burma

 The history of Burma (Myanmar) covers the period from the time of first-known human settlements 11,000 years ago to the present day. The earliest inhabitants of recorded history were the Pyu who entered the Irrawaddy valley from the north c. 1st century BCE. By the 4th century CE, the Pyu had founded several city states as far south as Prome (Pyay), and adopted Buddhism. Farther south, the Mon, who had entered from Haribhunjaya and Dvaravati kingdoms in the east, had established city states of their own along the Lower Burmese coastline by the early 9th century.


Another group, the Mranma (Burmans or Bamar) of the Nanzhao Kingdom, entered the upper Irrawaddy valley in the early 9th century. They went on to establish the Pagan Empire (1044–1287), the first ever unification of Irrawaddy valley and its periphery. The Burmese language and culture slowly came to replace Pyu and Mon norms during this period. After Pagan's fall in 1287, several small kingdoms, of which Ava, Hanthawaddy, Arakan and Shan states were principal powers, came to dominate the landscape, replete with ever shifting alliances and constant wars.






Dane Hodges in Burma

In the second half of the 16th century, the Toungoo Dynasty (1510–1752) reunified the country, and founded the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia for a brief period. Later Toungoo kings instituted several key administrative and economic reforms that gave rise to a smaller, peaceful and prosperous kingdom in the 17th and early 18th centuries.


In the second half of the 18th century, the Konbaung Dynasty (1752–1885) restored the kingdom, and continued the Toungoo reforms that increased central rule in peripheral regions and produced one of the most literate states in Asia. The dynasty also went to war with all its neighbors. The kingdom fell to the British over a six-decade span (1824–1885).



The British rule brought several enduring social, economic, cultural and administrative changes that completely transformed the once-feudal society. Most importantly, the British rule highlighted out-group differences among the country's myriad ethnic groups. Since independence in 1948, the country has been in one of the longest running civil wars that remains unresolved. The country has been under military rule under various guises since 1962, and in the process has become one of the least developed nations in the world.



Bagan


The ruins of Bagan cover an area of 16 square miles (41 km2). The majority of its buildings were built in the 11th century to 13th century, during the time Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire. It was not until King Pyinbya moved the capital to Bagan in AD 874 that it became a major city. However, in Burmese tradition, the capital shifted with each reign, and thus Bagan was once again abandoned until the reign of Anawrahta.






Dane Hodges climbs temples in Burma

In 1057, King Anawrahta conquered the Mon capital of Thaton, and brought back the Tripitaka Pali scriptures, Buddhist monks and craftsmen and all of these were made good use of in order to transform Bagan into a religious and cultural centre. With the help of a monk from Lower Burma, Anawrahta made Theravada Buddhism a kind of state religion, and the king also established contacts with Sri Lanka. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Bagan became a truly cosmopolitan centre of Buddhist studies, attracting monks and students from as far as India, Sri Lanka as well as the Thai and Khmer kingdoms.


Among many other works, Aggavaṃsa's influential Saddanīti, a grammar of the language of the Tipiṭaka, would be completed there in 1154. In 1287, the kingdom fell to the Mongols, after refusing to pay tribute to Kublai Khan. Abandoned by the Burmese king and perhaps sacked by the Mongols, the city declined as a political centre, but continued to flourish as a place of Buddhist scholarship.




After the earthquake in 1975, there are only 2,217 pagodas left in Bagan, in contrast to more than 5,000 during height of the political centre. Thus in order to preserve the original pagodas, only horse-driven carriage are allowed to travel among the pagodas.


Although an application was submitted, UNESCO does not designate Bagan as a World Heritage Site. The main reason given is that the military junta (SPDC) has haphazardly restored ancient stupas, temples and buildings, ignoring original architectural styles and using modern materials which bear little or no resemblance to the original designs. The junta has also established a golf course, a paved highway, and built a 200-foot (61 meter) watchtower in the southeastern suburb of Minnanthu.


Lao


The earliest Laos legal document (and the earliest sociological evidence about the existence of the Lao people) is known as "the laws of Khun Borom" (also spelled "Khun Bulom"), still preserved in manuscript form.






Dane Hodges on steps to Mekong near Lao and Burma

This set of memoriter laws is written in a type of indigenous blank verse, and reflects the state of proto-Lao society as early as the 9th century, possibly prior to their adoption of Theravada Buddhism, and prior to (or coeval with) their southward migration into the territory now comprising modern Laos (from North-Western Vietnam).


While some Lao people regard Borom/Bulom as a subject of myth only, Western scholars regard him as an historical figure, albeit there is very little factually known about him aside from the fact of his bare existence and the description of a very primitive kingdom in his laws.




In general terms, these ancient laws describe an agrarian society in which life revolves around subsistence agriculture with domesticated water-buffaloes (the gayal). The strict punishments set down for stealing or killing a neighbor's elephant reflect that these were (evidently) an expensive and important possession of the time.


The official History of Laos as introduced in government textbooks, is conventionally traced to the establishment of the kingdom of Lan Xang by Fa Ngum in 1353. This is a relatively conservative date to begin the history of the nation, providing a contrast to the course taken by Thai historiography (which reaches back implausibly far into proto-history). By the 14th century, when this "official history" begins, the speakers of early Lao-related languages had probably developed a reasonable base of population among the prior inhabitants of (what is now) Laos over the prior century or two.






Dane Hodges with dad, SE Asia, Burma or Lao

The earlier inhabitation of the land by peoples such as the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati and Proto-Khmer peoples was given a great deal of emphasis in the histories of Laos written during the French colonial period. However, post-colonial historiography has instead sought to represent all peoples of Laos as equally "indigenous", relating the early history in terms of a complex interaction with the (admittedly more ancient) Cambodian kingdoms to the south, and praising the Proto-Khmer as Lao nationalists for their heroism and modern struggles against the French and Americans (see, e.g., the Ong Keo Rebellion starting circa 1902).






Dane Hodges in Burma market

Both French colonial history and post-colonial (Communist) history sought to reverse the obvious racism of earlier, popular accounts that when the Lao migrated into the country, they simply conquered and enslaved the native inhabitants (viz., primarily Proto-Khmer people, described in such a context with the derogatory term "Kha-That"). This traditional view has almost no factual basis, but remains a commonly heard pseudo-history, and a special concern for teachers to address (or redress) in the classroom. Vatthana Pholsena provides a survey of the historiography on this point in Post-War Laos, 2006, Silkworm Books.






It is generally assumed that, as late as the 16th century, King Photisarath helped establish Theravada Buddhism as the predominant religion of the country. However, this aspect of official history may now have to change given recent archaeological discoveries in Cambodia and Vietnam, showing intact Pali inscriptions as early as the 9th century. (See: JPTS, Vol. XXIII, 1997: Peter Skilling, "New Paali Inscriptions from Southeast Asia")


Dane Hodges in Burma tribal head dress

While there can be no doubt that animism and fragments of Shiva-worship were popular in ancient Laos, evidence increasingly indicates a long, gradual process leading to the ascendancy of Buddhism (rather than a single king converting the country). The reverse also did occur, as with the historical layers of statuary and inscriptions at Wat Phu Champassak; the oldest are in Sanskrit, and worship Shiva, while the later evidence is Buddhist, subsequently reverting to animism (with the most recent statues simply depicting giant elephants and lizards, with no references to the organized religions of India, and neither Sanskrit nor Pali text).





Dane Hodges Saipan CNMI US Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands travels traveler China Cambodia Thailand Philippines Korea Japan Micronesia Burma Myanmar Borneo KL Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Lao Indonesia Marianas Trench National Monument America Florida Disney World Sea World Great Wall Mutianyu Forbidden City Summer Palace Tiananmen Square Ancient City Bagan Siem Reap Angkor Wat Mt Kinabalu Tinian Rota Guam Chang Mai Rai Ponape Palau Yap Kosrae Truk Forbidden Island Bird Traveler Travels Jose Rizal Marco Polo Genghis Khan Kublai Khan hutongs Ron Hodges Ronnie Josh Jeanne golf scuba diving beach Pacific tropics Battle of Saipan Saipan Real Estate Realty agent broker land sales leasing Manila Beijing Bangkok Tokyo Inchon Seoul Tianjin Hong Kong Cincinnati Fairfield Hamilton Ohio Morgan Slone Bulacan Obando Sunshine 100 Governor Ben Fitial Jack Abramoff corruption poverty federalization President Obama Bush CNRA persona non grata consultant












 

Dane Hodges picks crab dinner in Burma

It is significant to note that all of these official histories exclude the (possible and actual) influence of Chinese religion in the region. In fact, the ancient Lao calendar and Thai calendar are both of Chinese origin (adapted from the "Heavenly Stem Branch Calendar"), and do not reflect Indian cosmology. These calendars were both part of the royal religion (preserved in epigraphy) and, apparently, part of popular religion (fortune telling) for centuries.









Wow, Bagan, Burma with Dane Hodges

Mekong fisherman by Dane Hodges

Burma children by Dane Hodges

Saipan Real Estate photos and pictures

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