Introduction / History The Burmese originated in the hills of Tibet, and they speak a Sino-Tibetan language called Bama (Burmese). Today, they are the political, economic and religious leaders of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. They inhabit the country's central delta plains, an extremely fertile area that was formed by the Irrawaddy and Salween Rivers. This is the most economically important region in the country.
Myanmar has had a long history of coups, wars, and rebellions. Ethnic divisions and political unrest have been common since the first Burmese kingdom in the eleventh century. Today, the Burmese military maintains forcible control over the ethnic groups who want equal importance in the government and in commerce. In May of 1994, over 17 battles occurred in Shan State alone. The military promises ceasefire but at the slightest note of rebellion, they attack violently. Consequently, the Burmese have lived in a constant state of instability, defense, bitterness, and fear.
What are their lives like? Rice is the basic means of economic support for the Burmese. Each day, entire families including mothers with their babies, toddlers, and old people go out into the fields to work. Oxen and water buffaloes are used to draw the heavy wooden plows; very little modern equipment is used.
Rice is the main staple food for the Burmese. Fish is also an important part of their diet, especially for those living near the coast. Meat is rarely eaten due to its high cost and their vegetarian preferences.
The Burmese farmers live in villages among trees, along roads, or near rivers. Houses are built entirely of wood and usually have only one room. Mats are placed out to sleep on at night, then rolled up or stacked away during the day. All activities take place on the dirt floors. Therefore, it is extremely impolite to enter a Burmese house wearing shoes.
The Myanmar constitution dictates the political organization of Burmese communities. There is an unbroken line of authority from the Prime Minister to the village headman. The community, which elects a single headman, is considered a "territorial unit" and must pay taxes to the government. For the common citizen, the five traditional enemies include fire, famine, flood, plague, and the government. Both men and women are required to serve in the military.
The Burmese do not recognize clans or lineages. Marriages are monogamous and rarely arranged by the parents. Young couples are encouraged to live together and only marry after the girl becomes pregnant. Newlyweds generally live with the brides' parents for the first few two or three years after marriage. They will then set up their own homes.
What are their beliefs? The Burmese are predominantly Buddhists. The traditional goal in Buddhism is to seek the middle path to nirvana, or ultimate peace. The Burmese have mixed these Buddhist beliefs with their own animistic beliefs (belief that non-living objects have spirits).
Their animistic beliefs center around inherently evil spirits called nats. The Burmese spend their lives trying to appease the nats so that they will be protected from other evil spirits that may seek to harm them. All Burmese homes have altars for the spirits, as well as a statue of Buddha. Sadly, the farmers spend more in a year on their religion than on education, health, and clothing for their families.
The Burmese, like other Buddhists, believe that death is not a threat to one who has done good deeds. Instead, death is simply a "passing" from one life to another. They believe that "rebirth" is determined by the accumulated good or bad deeds done in the previous life. Therefore, those who have earned less merit are reborn as demons, ghosts, animals, or inhabitants of hell.
What are their needs? Although things have improved slightly over the past years, Myanmar remains a nation in deep crisis. The harsh military regime refuses to relinquish governmental control to the rightfully elected leader, and a bloody civil war continues to devastate the nation.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Myanmar and share the love of Christ with the Burmese.
* Ask God to use the Burmese believers to share the Gospel with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will being faithfully interceding for these precious people.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Burmese towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Burmese.