|Art has always been
related to royalty and religion in Burman history.
Temples, pagodas and palaces showcased the artistic talent of painters,
sculptures and wood carvers. Temples and pagodas were customarily
made of brick and a lot of them are still existing. The great palaces,
however, were constructed of wood, and only one badly deteriorating
example of these exquisitely carved structures still exists today.
Architecture and art which relied on royal support,
declined with the collapse of the last royal kingdom.
Though court culture has disappeared, popular street-level culture
is alive and prospering. Drama is the
of this culture,
and any celebration is a good excuse for a pwe (show). Performances
Buddhist legends, or be more light-hearted shows with
slapstick comedy, dance, huge puppets or ensemble singing. Burman
music is integral to a pwe; it originates from Siam and accentuates
rhythm and melody. Instruments are largely percussive
and include drums, boat-shaped harps, bamboo flutes and gongs.
More than 85% of the Burman people are Theravada Buddhist,
although not the official state religion. Since the Ne Win government
took power, it has actually officially occupied only a small central
role in Burman life. In the Rakhine region, towards Bangladesh,
there are quite a few Muslims. Christian missionaries have had some
degree of success amongst hill tribes; however, many remain staunch
Burmese is the main language with its
own alphabet and script. Although you are rarely going to have enough
time to learn the alphabet, it may be worth studying the numerals,
if only so you can read the bus numbers. Some Burmans speak English,
especially within the older generation.
It is easier to sample authentic Burman dishes from food stalls rather
than in restaurants. Chinese and Indian eateries predominate,
and hotel restaurants usually extract much of the chili and shrimp
paste from their Burman dishes. Rice is the staple of any
Burman meal. To this is added many curry options and a spicy raw
vegetable salad, and just about everything is flavoured with ngapi
- a fermented and dried shrimp paste. Chinese tea is preferable
to the over-strong, over-milky, and over-sweet Burman tea. Sugar-cane
juice is a very popular street side beverage, and stronger drinks
include lychee wine orange brandy and the alarming-sounding white
liquor and jungle liquor.