Newsletter Vol-3

Rural Societies and Villagers’ Livelihood Phase II

The lacquer tradition in Myanmar is an ancient one. The art of lacquerware, pan yun, is one of the ten traditional arts and crafts of Myanmar which are metaphorically called “flowers” (pan) and an early example of Myanmar lacquerware is provided by the lacquer tube dated to AD 1274 which was excavated at the Mingalazedi Pagoda in Bagan. The Bagan Museum also has on display a number of excavated lacquerware, including Buddha images, votive objects and household articles, which attest to the antiquity of the lacquer tradition in Myanmar.
Project “Historical Development of Rural Societies and Villagers’ Livelihood in Myanmar: From Tradition to Modernity” had begun in May 2001 as a joint project of SEAMEO CHAT and the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) of Kyoto University with the Universities Historical Research Centre (UHRC) and Yangon University as participating institutions. Project RUSOVILIV Phase I, which had ended in March 2003, had concentrated on a rural environment on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal, Gwa township in Rakhine State.

For Project RUSOVILIV Phase II, the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies (ASAFAS) of Kyoto University joined in, and a Field Station was established in SEAMEO CHAT with Nobuhiro Ohnishi as Station Manager. Phase II would run until March 2005 and the focus now was the Ayeyarwady Delta celebrated in Myanmar history . From being largely forest and wasteland it had been turned into the rice bowl of Myanmar in the late 19th century and had become the engine of Myanmar development in the first half of the 20th century.
The tour of the Ayeyarwady Delta, with quick intensive on-site study at each stop, was made to get a general idea of conditions prevailing within the region as well as to select a site for study in Phase II. The choice fell on Maubin and eight surrounding villages. Maubin, located on the eastern edge of the Ayeyarwady Delta, exemplified the development of the Delta in the 19th century. It had just been a village until it was chosen to be a district headquarters and the town was laid out in 1875. The population of the town in 1877 was only 1,178. But its strategic location on the waterways between Yangon and much of the Delta had contributed to its development. More recently, a 720 metre long bridge, completed in 1999, had brought it to within a 90-minute driving distance of Yangon, and a College, opened in 2003, further added to its status.

The countryside around Maubin is typical of the Ayeyarwady Delta – a flat level plain formed by the alluvial deposit of the Ayeyarwady, criss-crossed by a network of streams. The population is Bamar (ethnic Burman) and Kayin (Karen), living in villages some of whose names, such as Khunna-eindan (“Seven House Row”) and Zayatkon (“Resthouse Hill”), indicate their humble origins. Because there are low swampy areas, there are fisheries, but their main occupation, as it is for most of the Ayeyarwady Delta, is the growing of rice.
Rice has been a staple crop in the Ayeyarwady Delta, but there have been recent changes: developments in agricultural technology, changes in marketing patterns, development of communications. So how have things changed and how are they changing in the Ayeyarwady Delta?

Saw Pyone Naing of the Geography Department of Yangon University is studying village distribution, flood risks and land reclamation efforts.
Ms Pyone Aye, also of Yangon University and an ichthyologist, is studying paddy fishery, the ecology of paddy fishes, and the effects of fertilizers and pesticides on paddy environments and paddy fishes.
Win Myint, a botanist of Yangon University, is studying the maintenance and utilization of garden forests.
Myint Thein and Tin Win, senior researchers of the Universities Historical Research Centre, are studying the history of the area and also collecting historical materials.
A difference from Phase I is that, apart from the work of these senior researchers who visit the site periodically, there is also a team of postgraduate student researchers who continuously monitor selected indicators at the site.

Apart from the main thrusts of research, there are also auxiliary studies of the villagers’ daily life, of traditional customs, of market conditions and the operations of the market, of flora and fish fauna, and much else related to village life and the natural environment of the area.
Taking time off from their teaching and other duties, the researchers of Yangon University were happy to be doing their research in cooperation with the researchers of Kyoto University. They remarked, “We learn from them and they learn from us. It’s a two-way process from which we both benefit.”

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Last Modified : 10 Feb 2011 (NWA)

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