Myanmar – A Brief History
Early Burma & The Pyu
Burma’s history goes back 13,000 years with the first known settlers living in close proximity to the Irrawaddy River. We know that these settlers were amongst the first people to grow rice, create bronze out of copper and also domesticate chickens and pigs.
From there the Tibeto-Burman speaking Pyu entered the Irrawaddy valley going on to found city states throughout the area. In this period foundations of Buddhism were brought to the country from South India after a trade route was established between India and China, converting much of the state. The Pyu period was a humane and peaceful period and many Pyu boys entered monastic life between the ages of 7-20. The Pyu were a long prosperous civilization lasting nearly a millennium before the Mranma (Burmans) entered in the upper Irrawaddy valley conquering the area in 832. Whilst Pyu settlements remained until the mid 11th century, eventually the Pyu gradually were absorbed into the expanding Burman Kingdom of Pagan, by the 13th century, the Pyu had completely assumed the Burman ethnicity.
Pagan Rule 1044 – 1287 (Golden Period)
Small Kingdoms 1287 – 1510
Toungoo Dynasty (1510-1752)
Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885)
British Rule (1886-1948)
Under British rule Burma went under big social, economic and administrative changes which completely transformed the once agrarian society. A year after Burma was conquered by Britain; Burma was made a province of India in 1886 making Rangoon its principal capital. Huge changes were made as traditional Burmese society was overturned with the demise of the monarchy and the separation of religion and state. The demand of Burmese rice grew with the opening of the Suez Canal and a vast amount of land was opened up for cultivation. Whilst the Burmese economy grew, the wealth remained with the British and migrants from India. The Burmese population was also excluded entirely from military service. Although the country became more powerful and prosperous, the Burmese people did not reap the rewards, causing discontent among the local populace.
Universities were created within Burma and in the 1920’s armed rebellion and protests against the British were led by political activist Buddhist monks. The British separated Burma from India in 1937 and granted the colony a new constitution calling for a fully elected assembly. By the mid 1930’s, the Students Union at Rangoon University was at the front of an active and powerful movement for national independence. Aung San (a magazine editor for the Students Union) emerged at the potential new leader of the national movement gaining support of the nation through successful student strikes.
Second World War and Aung Sa
At the beginning of the Second World War, Aung San capitalized on British preoccupation and led 29 others to undergo military training in Japan. The Thirty Comrades fought in Burma against the British alongside Japan who had promised to grant Burma freedom if the British were defeated. When it became apparent that Japan would not hold its promise, Aung San negotiated an agreement with the British to help them defeat the Japanese.
Japan surrendered and Aung San negotiated Burmese freedom in January 1948 declaring independence from Britain
However during a draft constitution, new leader Aung San was assassinated by opposition hugely altering Burmese history. U Nu, a member of Aung San’s cabinet was delegated to fill the position left by Aung San’s death. Burma was granted independence on January 4th 1948.
The country has been in one of the longest running civil wars outlining the country as one of the least developed nations in the world. The first decade of Burma’s new democratic government was constantly challenged by communist groups resulting in civil war destabilising the nation. As the economy diminished U Nu was removed from office in 1958 by caretaker government leader Ne Win. Ne Win took control of the whole nation in order to restore law and order. However, this was a brutal beginning of a dictatorship with Ne Win forcing minority states to remain under his jurisdiction. 2 years later he staged a coup which solidified his position as Burma’s military leader.
Ne Win’s new revolutionary council suspended the constitution and instituted an authoritarian military rile. The country was closed off to the outside world as Ne We tried created an isolated society known as the Burmese Way to Socialism. Burma protested the ruling of Ne Win with peaceful protests; however in 1962 Ne Win’s military suppressed a peaceful campaign killing 100 students, the following day they blew up the Student Union’s building. Under Ne Win rule the country was on a disastrous path of cultural, environmental and economic ruin. Outside visitors were restricted and protests were met with violence.
Ne Win’s dictatorship went on for several decades but in 1988, Ne Win suddenly announced he was to step down. Seeing this as a possible escape from military rule, thousands took the streets of Rangoon. On August 8th 1988 troops began a four day massacre killing 10,000 demonstrators including men, women and children.
After this the military swept aside the constitution of 1974 in favour of martial law under the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC.) The military government also announced at this time they were to change the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar. In 1990 the (SLORC) held multiparty elections – with 82% of the public vote, the National League of Democracy (NLD) led by Aung Sa’s daughter Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landslide. Surprised by the result, the SLORC retaliated to the election by putting the leaders of the opposition including Aung Sa Suu Kyi under house arrest whilst they maintained leadership Burma.
After pressure from the outside world the SLORC was abolished in 1997 and replaced by the State Peace and Development Council, however this was just a cosmetic change. Human rights allegations continued to be raised leading to United States and The European Union to put in sanctions. Aung Sa Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2002. The situation in Burma remains tense to this day with heavy crackdowns on the NLD still in effect. However a new era is beginning to emerge with steps being implemented for a road to recovery and reform. In 2006 the International Labour Organisation announced it was seeing to prosecute members of the ruling Myanmar junta for crimes against humanity, over forced labour of its citizens.
2011 to Today
With careful monitor from the United Nations, Burma is on a path to recovery. New labour laws have been introduced allowing labour unions and strikes as well as a relaxation of press censorship. Tourists are now allowed to enter the country freely. Hilary Clinton visited Buma in December 2011 to encourage further progress followed shortly by President Barack Obama. An ongoing series of political, economic and administrative democratic reforms in Burma are progressing and positive times lie ahead for the previously troubled nation.
Towns & Cities in Myanmar
Myanmar has no shortage of captivating destination to visit on your holiday. Refer to our Towns & cities guide to plan the perfect trip.
Our Favourite Hotels in Myanmar
There are so many beautiful hotels to choose from in Myanmar. So we have selected a few of our most favourite and characterful hotels; giving you a taste of what you can expect.
Our most popular Activities in Myanmar
Browse through our Myanmar Activity suggestions and get some inspiration.
We can then add any activity you want and tailor-make a Myanmar holiday just for you!