Ethnic group

poptime="c." 30,000,000
rels=Theravada Buddhism
related= Yi, Nakhi, Tibetans and to a lesser extent Bodo and Karen

The Bamar (MYname|MY=, constituting approximately 68% (30,000,000) of the population. However, there is some speculation that the government has slightly inflated this figureFact|date=May 2008. Furthermore, a reliable census has not been taken in over a century, and figures are based on estimatesFact|date=May 2008. The Bamar usually have straight black hair, and a darker skin tone (although intermixing makes skin tone vary).

The Bamar are frequently called simply Burmese, but this term is ambiguous as it can also refer to a citizen of Burma who belongs to a different ethnic group (Karen, Shan, Kachin, Mon, etc.). In general, the people of Burma use "Myanmar" to describe persons of all ethnic backgrounds in Burma.


The Burmese language, the official language of Burma, is widely spoken by many of the ethnic minorities as well as the majority Bamar. Its core vocabulary consists of Sino-Tibetan words, but many terms associated with Buddhism, arts, sciences, and government have derived from the Indo-European languages of Pali and English. The Rakhine, although culturally distinct from the Bamar, are ethnically related to the Bamar and speak a dialect of Burmese that includes retention of the IPA|/r/ sound, which has coalesced into the IPA|/j/ sound in standard Burmese (although it is still present in orthography). Additional dialects come from coastal areas of Tanintharyi Division, and include Myeik (Beik) and Dawei (Tavoyan). [cite web|url= |title=Language Family Trees |accessdate=2006-07-06 |last=Gordon |first=Raymond G., Jr. |year=2005 |work=Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition |publisher=SIL International] English was introduced in the 1800s when the Bamar first came into contact with the British as a trading nation and continued to flourish under subsequent colonial rule.


The Bamar are of East Asian descent, and speak a Sino-Tibetan language (related to Tibetan, and more distantly to Chinese). They migrated from the present day Yunnan in China into the Ayeyarwady river valley in Upper Burma about 1200-1500 years ago. Over the last millennium, they have largely replaced/absorbed the Mon and the earlier Pyu, ethnic groups that originally dominated the Ayeyarwady valley.


The Bamar are most numerous in Burma, constituting the majority ethnic group. Thailand has the second largest number of Bamar. They are either fleeing the political situation or seeking economic opportunitiesFact|date=May 2008. The United States is also home to a large Burmese American populationFact|date=May 2008 and many have settled in Europe, particularly in Great Britain. The Burmese diaspora, which is a recent phenomenon in historical terms and began at the start of World War Two, has been mainly brought about by a protracted period of military rule and reflects the ethnic diversity of Burma. Firstly, the Anglo-BurmeseFact|date=May 2008 following Burmese independence in 1948 began moving to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and North America, to be followed by the Bamar themselves. It is by no means confined to the West; Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, Korea and Japan are also popular destinations. Burmese settled in Australia, New Zealand and the UK tend to be overwhelmingly of Anglo-Burmese originsFact|date=May 2008, whereas in the US, other Burmese groups are also representedFact|date=May 2008.

Culture and society

The Bamar traditionally wear sarongs, known in Burmese as "longyi" ( _my. လုံချည်). Women wear a type of sarong known as "htamain" ( _my. ထမီ), while men wear a sarong sewn into a tube, called a "longyi", or, more formally, a single long piece wrapped around the hips, known in Burmese as a "paso" ( _my. ပုဆိုး). Formal attire often consists of gold jewellery, silk scarves, and jackets. On formal occasions, men often wear cloth turbans called "gaungbaung" ( _my. ခေါင်းပေါင်း) and Mandarin collared jackets called "taikpon" ( _my. တိုက်ပုံ), while women wear blouses. Both genders wear velvet sandals called "Mandalay pa nak" ( _my. မန္တလေး‌ဖိနပ်‌), although leather, rubber and plastic sandals ( _my. ဂျပန်ဖိနပ်‌, lit. Japanese shoes) are also worn. In cities and urban areas, Western dress, including T-shirts, jeans and sports shoes or trainers, has become popular, especially among the younger generation. Talismanic tattoos, earrings, and long hair tied in a knot were once common among Bamar men, but have ceased to be fashionable since after World War II; men in shorts and sporting ponytails, as well as both sexes with bleached hair, have made their appearance in Yangon and Mandalay more recently, especially in the anything-goes atmosphere of the Burmese New Year holiday known as Thingyan. Westernization mostly comes via Japan and Singapore. The Bamar of both sexes and all ages also wear "thanaka", especially on their faces, although the practice is largely confined to women, children and young, unmarried men. Western makeup and cosmetics have long enjoyed a popularity in urban areas. However, thanaka is not exclusively worn by the Bamar, as many other ethnic groups throughout Burma utilize this cosmetic.

Bamar cuisine contains many regional elements, such as stir-frying techniques and curries which can be hot but lightly spiced otherwise, almost always with fish paste as well as onions, garlic, ginger, dried chilli and turmeric. Rice ( _my. ထမင်း "htamin") is the staple, although noodles ( _my. ခေါက်ဆွဲ "hkauk swè"), salads ( _my. အသုတ် "a thouk"), and breads ( _my. ပေါင်မုန့် "paung mont") are also eaten. Green tea is often the beverage of choice, but tea is also traditionally pickled and eaten as a salad called "lahpet". The most well-known Bamar-originated dish is "mohinga", rice noodles in a fish broth. Dishes from other ethnic minorities (Shan, Chinese, Indian) are also consumed.

Traditional Bamar music consists of an orchestra mainly of percussion and wind instruments but the "saung gauk" ( _my. ဆောင်းကောက်), a boat-shaped harp, is often symbolic of the Bamar. Modern Bamar music is typically Westernized, with influences particularly from American country music. However, rap and hip-hop have also gained popularity. Traditional Bamar dancing is similar to Thai dancing, and is known as "yodaya aka" ( _my. ယိုးဒယားအက, lit. Thai dance). Puppetry is also a popular form of entertainment and is often performed at "pwés", which is a generic term for shows, celebrations and festivals. In urban areas, movies from both Bollywood and Hollywood have long been popular, but more recently Korean and Chinese films, especially DVDs, have become increasingly popular.

Rites of passage are also of cultural importance to the Bamar. These include "shinbyu" ( _my. ရှင်ပြု), a novitiation ceremony for Buddhist boys, and "na htwin" ( _my. နားသွင်း), an ear-piercing ceremony for girls.

Buddhist festivals and holidays are widely celebrated among the Bamar. "Thingyan", the Water Festival, which marks the beginning of the Burmese New Year in April, is one such example. "Thadingyut", which marks the end of the Buddhist lent, is celebrated with the Festival of Lights in October. "Kathina" or robe offering ceremony for monks is held at the start of Lent in July and again in November.


The majority of Bamar are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. People are expected to keep the basic five precepts and practise "dana" (charity), "sila" (morality), and "bavana" (meditation). Most villages have a monastery and often a pagoda maintained and supported by the layfolk. Annual pagoda festivals usually fall on a full moon day, and robe offering ceremonies for monks are held both at the beginning and after the Buddhist lent which coincides with the monsoons, and during which "uposatha" (sabbath) is generally observed once a week. Children used to be educated by monks before secular state schools came into being. A shinbyu ceremony by which young boys become novice monks for a short period is the most important duty of Buddhist parents. Christian missionaries had made little impact on the Bamar despite the popularity of missionary schools in cities.

The Bamar practise Buddhism along with "nat" worship which predated Buddhism. It involves rituals relating to a pantheon of 37 Nats designated by King Anawratha, although many minor nats are also worshipped. In villages, many houses have outdoors altars to honor nats, called "nat ein" ( _my. နတ်အိမ်‌), in addition to one outside the village known as "nat sin" ( _my. နတ်စင်‌) often under a bo tree. Indoors in many households, one may find a coconut called "nat oun" up the main post for the "Eindwin Min Mahagiri" ( _my. အိမ်တွင်းမင်းမဟာဂိရိ; lit. Indoors Lord of the Great Mountain), one of the most important of the Nats.


The Bamar typically use the day of birth (traditional 8-day calendar, which includes "Yahu", Wednesday afternoon) as the basis for naming. Letters from groups within the Burmese alphabet are designated to certain days, from which the Bamar choose names [Harvard reference | Surname=Shway Yoe (Sir James George Scott) | Authorlink=James George Scott | Title=The Burman: his life and notions | Publisher=Macmillan | Place=London | Year=1882 (Reprint: Norton, New York, 1963) pp. 4-6] . They are chosen as follows:

ee also

*Rakhine people
*Danu people


*cite book | author=Khin Myo Chit | authorlink=Khin Myo Chit | year=1980 | title=Flowers and Festivals Round the Burmese Year
*cite book | author=Tsaya | authorlink=Tsaya | year=1886 | title=Myam-Ma, The Home of the Burman | publisher =Thacker, Spink and Co. | location =Calcutta | pages = 36-37 | url=;c=sea;cc=sea;sid=40c565a47750ac05acd1a56fe2bec38b;rgn=author;q1=Tsaya;view=toc;subview=short;sort=occur;start=1;size=25;idno=sea314


External links

* [ The Silken East - A Record of Life and Travel in Burma by V. C. Scott O'Connor 1904]
* [ Burmese Women's Hair in Big Demand] Kyi Wai, "The Irrawaddy", June 15 2007

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