Bamar people

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Bamar people
Myat Phaya Galay and Ko Ko Naing.jpg
Princess Myat Phaya Galay and her husband Ko Ko Naing
Total population
c. 35 million
Regions with significant populations
 Myanmar      34,110,000
 United States96,420
 South Korea22,000
 United Kingdom9,800
 Hong Kong5,400
Theravada Buddhism and Burmese folk religion
Related ethnic groups
Sino-Tibetan peoples

The Bamar (Burmese: ဗမာလူမျိုး; MLCTS: ba. ma lu myui:, IPA: [bəmà lùmjó]; also historically the Burmese, Burmans and Myanmari) are a Southeast Asian Sino-Tibetan ethnic group native to Myanmar (formerly Burma). The Bamar live primarily in the Irrawaddy River basin and speak the Burmese language, which is the sole official language of Myanmar at a national level.[1] Bamar customs and identity are closely intertwined with the broader Burmese culture. The country’s name changed from “Burma” to “Myanmar” in June of 1989 by the State Law and Order Restoration Council.[2]


The Bamar speak Burmese, a Sino-Tibetan language. The Burmese-speaking people first migrated from present-day Yunnan, China to the Irrawaddy valley in the 7th century. Over the following centuries, the Burmese speakers absorbed other ethnic groups such as the Pyu and the Mon.[3][4] A 2014 DNA analysis shows that Burmese people were "typical Southeast Asian" but "also with Northeast Asian and Indian influences" and that the gene pool of the Bamar was far more diverse than other ethnic groups such as the Karen. They are closer to the Yi and Mon people than to the Karen.[3]

Ninth century Chinese sources indicate that Sino-Tibetan-speaking tribes were present near today's Irrawaddy River.[5][6] These tribes were considered ancestors of Bamar people.[7]


A Burmese speaker, recorded in Taiwan.

Burmese, is spoken by the Bamar but is also widely spoken by ethnic minorities. 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 and speak a dialect of Burmese that includes retention of the /r/ sound, which has coalesced into the /j/ sound in standard Burmese (although it is still present in orthography).

Additional dialects come from coastal areas of Tanintharyi Region including Myeik (Beik) and Dawei (Tavoyan) as well as inland and isolated areas like Yaw.

Other dialects are Taungyoe, Danu and Intha in Shan State.[8]

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 most numerous in Myanmar, constituting the majority ethnic group at around 32 million.[citation needed]

The Burmese diaspora, which is a recent phenomenon in historical terms and began at the start of World War II, has been mainly brought about by a protracted period of military rule and reflects the ethnic diversity of Myanmar. Many have settled in Europe, particularly in Great Britain.

Following Myanmar's Independence (1948–1962), many began moving to the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Malaysia, Singapore, mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, India and Japan.[9]

Culture and society[edit]

A Bamar woman in the 1920s

Bamar culture has been influenced by those of neighboring countries. This is manifested in its language, cuisine, music, dance and theatre. The arts, particularly literature, have historically been influenced by the local form of the animistic religion and Theravada Buddhism. In a traditional village, the monastery is the centre of cultural life. Monks are venerated and supported by the lay people. Rites of passage are also of cultural importance to the Bamar. These include shinbyu (ရှင်ပြု), a novitiate ceremony for Buddhist boys and nar tha (နားထွင်း), an ear-piercing ceremony for girls. Burmese culture is most evident in villages where local festivals are held throughout the year, the most important being the pagoda festival. Many villages have a guardian nat and superstition and taboos are commonplace.

Traditional dress[edit]

The Bamar traditionally wore sarongs. Women wear a type of sarong known as htamain (ထဘီ), while men wear a sarong sewn into a tube, called a longyi (လုံချည်)[10] or, more formally, a single long piece wrapped around the hips, known in Burmese as a paso (ပုဆိုး). Formal attire often consists of gold jewelry, silk scarves and jackets. On formal occasions, men often wear cloth turbans called gaung baung (ခေါင်းပေါင်း) and Mandarin collared jackets called taikpon (တိုက်ပုံ), while women wear blouses.

Both genders wear velvet sandals called gadiba phanat (ကတ္တီပါဖိနပ်‌, also called Mandalay phanat), although leather, rubber and plastic sandals (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.[10] 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.

Bamar people 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.[10] 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 chili and turmeric. Rice (ထမင်း htamin) is the staple, although noodles (ခေါက်ဆွဲ, hkauk swè), salads (အသုပ်, a thouk), and breads (ပေါင်မုန့်, paung mont) are also eaten. Burmese typical diet consists of rice as the main dish along with various curry dishes. Green tea is often the beverage of choice, but tea is also traditionally pickled and eaten as a salad called lahpet. The best-known dish of Bamar origin is mohinga, rice noodles in a fish broth. It is available in most parts of the region, also considered as the national dish of Myanmar.[11] Dishes from other ethnic minorities such as the Shan, Chinese and Indian are also consumed.


Traditional music of Myanmar consists of an orchestra mainly of percussion and wind instruments but the saung gauk (စောင်းကောက်), a boat-shaped harp, is often symbolic of the Bamar. Other traditional instruments include pattala (Burmese xylophone), walatkhok, lagwin and hsaingwaing. Traditional Bamar dancing is similar to Thai dancing. 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.


Buddhist festivals and holidays are widely celebrated by the Bamar people. Thingyan, the Water Festival, which marks the beginning of the Burmese New Year in April, is one such example.[12] 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.


A nat ein in Downtown Yangon

The majority of the Bamar follow a syncretism of the native Burmese folk religion and Theravada Buddhism. People are expected to keep the basic five precepts and practise dāna "charity", sīla "Buddhist ethics" and vipassanā "meditation". Most villages have a monastery and often a stupa maintained and supported by the villagers. Annual pagoda festivals usually fall on a full moon and robe offering ceremonies for bhikkhus are held both at the beginning and after the Vassa. This coincides with the monsoons, during which the uposatha is generally observed once a week.

Children were 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 considered the most important duty of Buddhist parents. Christian missionaries had made little impact on the Bamar despite the popularity of missionary schools in cities.[citation needed]

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

The term "Bamar" is sometimes used to refer to both the practice of Buddhism as well as the ethnic identity. Bamar Muslims, however, practise Islam and claim ethnic Bamar heritage and culture in all matters other than religion.[13]


In the past, the Bamar typically had shorter names, usually limited to one or two syllables. However, the trend of adopting longer names (four or five for females and three for males) has become popular. Bamar names also frequently make use of Pali-derived loan words. Bamar people typically use the day of birth (traditional 8-day calendar, which includes Yahu, Wednesday afternoon) as the basis for naming, although this practice is not universal.[14] Letters from groups within the Burmese alphabet are designated to certain days, from which the Bamar choose names.[15]

They are chosen as follows:

Day Letters
Monday (တနင်္လာ) က (ka), (kha), (ga), (gha), (nga)
Tuesday (အင်္ဂါ) (sa), (hsa), (za), (za), (nya)
Wednesday (ဗုဒ္ဓဟူး) (la), (wa)
Yahu (ရာဟု) (ya), (ya, ra)
Thursday (ကြာသပတေး) (pa), (hpa), (ba), (ba), (ma)
Friday (သောကြာ) (tha), (ha)
Saturday (စနေ) (ta), (hta), (da), (da), (na)
Sunday (တနင်္ဂနွေ) (a)

Ethnic conflicts[edit]

map of different armed regions in Myanmar

The Bamar people have always been the privileged members of society as a majority and discrimination toward other ethnic groups has been a part of government design since independence from Britain.[16]  In 1962, the military under General Ne Win took control of Burma after a brief period of democracy. [16] Both Karen and Kachin people were suppressed by the military favoring the Bamar people. [17] Both the Karen and Kachin groups armed in resistance to General Ne Win's army and both uprisings resulted in a ceasefire. [17] In Myanmar there are still over 25 armed ethnic groups that feel underserved by the government.[18]

Citizenship Law of 1982[edit]

This law was put into place to deny full citizenship to all people in Burma who may have any foreign descent.[19] Full citizenship was only awarded to people who could prove their ancestors were in Burma before the British rule in 1824.[19] Only full citizens could hold certain government positions and attend universities.[19] The law exasperated social divisions as it effectively limited the political participation and recognition of minority groups.[20]

Religious conflicts[edit]

The conflictual relationship between the Burmese Buddhists and Muslims has characterized a lot of the history of the country.[21] Throughout the 20th century, it was believed that foreign influences must be purged for Myanmar to flourish with Buddhism as its core.[21] This nationalist sentiment led to anti-Muslim actions by police, Buddhists, and more.[21] Although there is no national religion, the Buddhist population is a 90% majority to its 4% Muslim minority counterpart.[22]

Since 2010 there has been an increase in conflicts that pin Buddhists against Muslims. [23] The government in Myanmar is still unresolved on whether the Rohingya Muslims are to be considered citizens and accepted into the culture.[23] There have been mosque burnings, hundreds killed, properties destroyed and thousands of Muslims have been displaced as a result of violence.[24] All Muslims including Non-Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar still feel threatened and alienated because of the long and violent past.[23] The narrative that exists around Muslims and Islam, in general, is dangerously threatening to their security and is an influence on the violence between the groups. Muslims have been consistently referred to as “fearsome” which has justified the violence toward them.[25] As Burma people, Muslims have been alienated and abused and one major root of the issue is the continuing discrepancy over citizenship.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The World Factbook – Central Intelligence Agency". Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  2. ^ Holliday, Ian (1 August 2010). "Ethnicity and Democratization in Myanmar". Asian Journal of Political Science. 18 (2): 111–128. doi:10.1080/02185377.2010.492975. ISSN 0218-5377.
  3. ^ a b Summerer, Monika; Horst, Jürgen; Erhart, Gertraud; Weißensteiner, Hansi; Schönherr, Sebastian; Pacher, Dominic; Forer, Lukas; Horst, David; Manhart, Angelika; Horst, Basil; Sanguansermsri, Torpong; Kloss-Brandstätter, Anita (2014). "Large-scale mitochondrial DNA analysis in Southeast Asia reveals evolutionary effects of cultural isolation in the multi-ethnic population of Myanmar". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 14 (1): 17. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-17. PMC 3913319. PMID 24467713.
  4. ^ (Myint-U 2006, pp. 51–52)
  5. ^ Brief History of Achang People. 民族出版社. 2008. ISBN 9787105087105.
  6. ^ Book of Man. 中国书店出版社. 2007. ISBN 9787805684765.
  7. ^ 民族学报, Volume 2. Yunnan Nationalities University. 1982. pp. 37, 38, 48.
  8. ^ Gordon 2005.
  9. ^ Kiik, Laur (2020). "Confluences amid Conflict: How Resisting China's Myitsone Dam Project Linked Kachin and Bamar Nationalisms in War-Torn Burma". Journal of Burma Studies. 24 (2): 229–273. doi:10.1353/jbs.2020.0010. ISSN 2010-314X.
  10. ^ a b c "Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure". Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  11. ^ "Burmese Food Primer: Essential Dishes To Eat in Myanmar". Food Republic. 22 February 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  12. ^ "HOW THE BURMESE CELEBRATE NEW YEAR FESTIVAL?". EN - To travel is to live (in Vietnamese). 16 June 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  13. ^ Ayako, Saito (2014). "The Formation of the Concept of Myanmar Muslims as Indigenous Citizens: Their History and Current Situation" (PDF). The Journal of Sophia Asian Studies (32): 25–40.
  14. ^ Scott 1882, p. 4.
  15. ^ Scott 1882, p. 4-6.
  16. ^ a b Thawnghmung, Ardeth Maung (1 December 2011). The "Other" Karen in Myanmar: Ethnic Minorities and the Struggle without Arms (in Czech). Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-7107-3.
  17. ^ a b Kipgen, Nehginpao (1 January 2015). "Ethnicity in Myanmar and its Importance to the Success of Democracy". Ethnopolitics. 14 (1): 19–31. doi:10.1080/17449057.2014.926610. ISSN 1744-9057.
  18. ^ Hlaing, Kyaw Yin; Taylor, Robert H.; Than, Tin Maung Maung (2005). Myanmar: Beyond Politics to Societal Imperatives. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 978-981-230-301-1.
  19. ^ a b c Steinberg, David I. (30 November 2001). Burma: The State of Myanmar. Georgetown University Press. ISBN 978-1-58901-285-1.
  20. ^ Ho, Elaine Lynn-Ee; Chua, Lynette J. (8 April 2016). "Law and 'race' in the citizenship spaces of Myanmar: spatial strategies and the political subjectivity of the Burmese Chinese". Ethnic and Racial Studies. 39 (5): 896–916. doi:10.1080/01419870.2015.1081963. ISSN 0141-9870.
  21. ^ a b c Wade, Francis (15 August 2017). Myanmar's Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim 'Other' (in German). Zed Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-78360-530-9.
  22. ^ Bakali, Naved (1 April 2021). "Islamophobia in Myanmar: the Rohingya genocide and the 'war on terror'". Race & Class. 62 (4): 53–71. doi:10.1177/0306396820977753. ISSN 0306-3968.
  23. ^ a b c Kyaw, Nyi Nyi (2 October 2015). "Alienation, Discrimination, and Securitization: Legal Personhood and Cultural Personhood of Muslims in Myanmar". The Review of Faith & International Affairs. 13 (4): 50–59. doi:10.1080/15570274.2015.1104971. ISSN 1557-0274.
  24. ^ Kipgen, Nehginpao (1 June 2013). "Conflict in Rakhine State in Myanmar: Rohingya Muslims' Conundrum". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 33 (2): 298–310. doi:10.1080/13602004.2013.810117. ISSN 1360-2004.
  25. ^ Kipgen, Nehginpao (1 June 2013). "Conflict in Rakhine State in Myanmar: Rohingya Muslims' Conundrum". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 33 (2): 298–310. doi:10.1080/13602004.2013.810117. ISSN 1360-2004.
  26. ^ Haque, Md Mahbubul (2 October 2017). "Rohingya Ethnic Muslim Minority and the 1982 Citizenship Law in Burma". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 37 (4): 454–469. doi:10.1080/13602004.2017.1399600. ISSN 1360-2004.


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