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The New York Times, June 21, 1888, p.6:

BURMAH'S MIGHTY RIVER

THE LAND'S NUMEROUS CAPITAL CITIES OF THE PAST.

TRAVEL BY RAIL—GETTING A ROPE ASHORE—
WHERE FIGHTING WAS DONE—PAGODAS IN PLENTY.

    MANDALAY, Upper Burmah, April 25.— Here we are at length in the last of the countless capitals of Burmah, which has changed its metropolis so often that in more senses than one its history may be said to be written in capitals. Like that ungallant gentleman who wished his wife were a bank bill so that when she came to 40 he might change her for two twenties, each successive King of Burmah has done his best to change his old capital for two new ones. Tagoung, Old Pagahn, Mohtshoboh, Prome, New Pagahn, Sagaing, Ava, and Amarapoora have all had their turn.

    Amarapoora itself was superseded in 1862 by the foundation of this big, tawdry, dusty town, which now lies two miles to the east of it, hoary with all the antiquity of 25 years, and dirty enough for 25,000.

    The ordinary mode of reaching Mandalay from Rangoon is to run, or rather crawl, up to Prome (the present terminus of the Irrawaddy railway) by the night mail train leaving at 9:30 P. M., and then to catch one of the river steamers which start from Prome for Mandalay every Monday and Thursday, going up in about four days and coming down again in a day and a half. The train is usually full at least half an hour before its time of departure, and your only chance of getting a good place (or any place at all if there happens to be a rush) is to be at the station fully an hour in advance.
    The first-class cars consist of two cushioned lounges along the sides, and a third slung overhead like a hanging bookshelf, the compartment being thus calculated (as you learn from a terse but ungrammatical inscription above the door) "to sleep three." The second class is a duplicate of the first, minus the cushions; and the last advice you receive from your friends before entering either is a warning to bolt the door and pull up the side windows for fear of thieves.

    The third class—which is merely an open-sided wooden box upon wheels—carries as many as it can possibly be made to hold, and has no seats of any kind, so that the unfortunate native soldiers and policemen, who sometimes travel by it, are a "standing army" in the most literal sense. If you take a passing peep into one of these native cars, (being careful to hold your nose tight while you do so,) you will dimly descry a writhing paste of bare brown limbs, lean, dark faces, white caps or turbans, glittering eyes, and sharp white teeth, the slim, swarthy, cunning-eyed coolie of Madras standing beside the flat-faced, cocoa-tinted Burman, and the gaunt, wolfish visage of the Shan, crushed against a smooth, doll-like, pig-tailed, placidly sorrowful "John" from Shanghai.

    It is needless to describe what every traveler knows to his cost, viz., the unwashed, uncombed, uneverything feeling that haunts you after a long railway journey by night, when you awake in the chill gray dimness of early morning from a heavy unrefreshing slumber to find yourself lying with your heels higher than your head, in an attitude suggestive of having just been broken on the wheel, very stiff, very cold, very hungry, and very cross. When all these discomforts are supplemented by the obtrusive attentions of countless industrious mosquitos, which the coldness of night does not seem to affect one whit, it may be admitted that the English traveler in these parts has some ground for exercising pretty freely his national privilege of grumbling.

    But all this is forgotten which the train comes to a halt in front of the quaint little station of Prome, and from the crest of the ridge upon which the town is built we look down upon the noble Irrawaddy outspread below us in all its mighty breadth. On its smooth shining surface the steamer that is awaiting us lies like a carved toy.
    On the summit of the hill the great central pagoda of the Shway Sandaw temple, surrounded by its ring of small gilded shrines, stands like a King amid his courtiers, while on the further side of the famous river an endless succession of steep rocky hills, crimsoned with the first glow of sunrise, seem to start up from a sea of rich purple haze against the brightening sky.

    Suddenly there breaks forth a burst of ear-piercing yells worthy of an Apache raid, and a cloud of wild figures, gaunt, swarthy, narrow-eyed, and almost innocent of clothing, leap on to the footboards of the cars, swarm up to the doorways, or thrust their bony fingers and lean brown faces through the side windows. Is the train being attacked by a gang of those reknowned Burmese dacoits (brigands) of whom English residents hear so much and see so little? Any nervous person might well think so, but in reality these invaders are nothing worse than coolies volunteering to carry our baggage.
    Scarcely has the train stopped when bags, boxes, and bundles are snatched up by scores of eager hands, and the whole crowd, passengers and porters together, go scrambling up the sandy, yielding side of the embankment, and plunging down the steep, slippery descent leading to the water's edge, which may best be described as a sloping mountain of buttered biscuit varied with an occasional landslip of molasses.
    Then comes an impromptu tightrope performance along a wet plank almost as narrow and slippery as the fabled Mohammedan bridge of Al Sirat—"whereupon not even a sparrow could find footing if the grace of Allah upheld it not"—and at last we are fairly aboard the Mandalay steamer.

    A snug little craft she is, built one deck above another like the American river boats, and defying the sun with a substantial roof and canvas side screens. The saloon berths are all on the upper deck and as thoroughly ventilated as countless open doors and walls of Venetian blinds can make them. All meals are served on deck, and the most jaded English merchant who has lost his appetite in some sweltering Rangoon office or malarial inland station might find it again at our well-spread breakfast table, with the cool morning breeze playing around him in all its life-giving freshness.
    The lower deck is crowded with native passengers, and the strange mixture of Tamils, Burmese, Chinamen, Shans, Malays, Bengalis, and other races too many to name makes up an ethnological collection which Mr. Barnum would gladly secure for "the greatest shown on earth."

    Scarcely have we got on board when off goes the steamer, and just at first there is more than enough for us to look at. The trees that clothe the flanking hills from base to summit have all shed their leaves, and the soft, transparent gray of the leafless boughs covers the great slopes like a fleecy cloud or a thin veil of gauze, through which every curve and ridge looms in solemn and shadow picturesqueness.
    Native villagers peer out along the wooded shores every here and there, the overhanging thatch of the tiny hovels making them appear from a distance exactly like great heaps of straw. Both banks literally bristle with pagodas of every form and size, some bell-shaped, others rising in successive turrets after the Chinese fashion, and not a few wearing the exact shape of a monstrous soda water bottle—in such numbers that the proportion of buildings seems to be four to five pagodas to one hut.

    Several Burmese boats come drifting past, regular Noah's Arks roofed in with matting; their sterns rise straight up in the air pillar-wise, and upon a kind of perch on the top of each, like an aquatic St. Simeon Stylites, sits the gaunt bare-limbed scarecrow who manages the heavy steering oar. Instead of one mast and two sails, each of these queer craft seems to have one sail and two masts, the sail itself—a huge, clumsy, three-cornered affair—being supported between two long cross sticks, diverging from each other like an open pair of scissors.
    And now appears the unusual spectacle of a scarlet-robed native sitting upright in the water, with a floating tail as long as a comet's outstretched behind him. But in another moment we perceive that the supposed hobgoblin is merely a Burmese boatman, seated on the end of a bamboo raft.

    As we glide onward we see by a long, even line upon the high clay bank on our left to what height the Irrawaddy rises in its flood time during the rains, and how far the famous stream has sunk below this formdidable "maximum" in the dry season, which is now at its height. In truth, the great river is at present a very inadequate representative of that mighty flood which in "the day of the sending forth of waters" covers fathoms deep the unsightly sand banks which now stand gauntly up out of the thick gray water on every side, giving to the great historical stream the aspect of a giant dish of cabbage soup, with blobs of grease half a mile long floating upon its surface. But no outward uncomeliness can wholly destroy the charm of that romantic and mysterious grandeur which hovers around the mighty river, whose source has never been seen by the human eye.
    The Ganges and the Indus have been traced to their rise far away amid the grim and frozen solitudes of the Himalaya, but no explorer has yet been found adventurous enough to follow the mystic stream of the Irrawaddy to its conjectural source above the clouds, in that mysterious and seemingly inacessible mountain land...

    And so hour after hour goes by, and mile after mile of the long panorama is left behind. We pass Thyetmyo, (once the frontier post of British Burmah,) perched on a high, steep bank of grayish white clay, on the summit of which—reached by a massive stone stair between two low white parapets—stands a sombre temple of dark gray stone, proclaimed as such by its tall central pagoda and the ring of smaller ones around it, although the grim battlemented wall that surmounts the low pointed arch of its gateway is much more suggestive of a fortress.
    We pass the shattered red pagodas of Maloung, where the English expedition landed in 1885 for its final march upon Mandalay. We pass Minhla, where we halt just long enough to land and stroll through the low, solid fort of hewed stone that witnessed the only fight worthy of the name which occurred during that sort but decisive campaign. A little beyond Minhla we cast anchor for the night, for the most daring navigator on the Irrawaddy would not venture to traverse in the dark such a interminable mass of shoals, snags, and sand bars.

    I must not foget to note that at each of these halting places half a dozen of our native sailors cooly jumped overboard and swam ashore. At first I supposed this to be the regular Burmese way of landing—having witnessed a very similar performance at the debarkation of our Kroomen in West Africa—and expected the native passengers to follow suit, with their baggage tied upon their heads. But afterward I discovered that the whole proceeding—which seemed to afford immeasurable amusement to the performers themselves—was only a primitive local method of carrying a rope ashore to moor the steamer to the bank.

    On the second day... the banks were low and flat, while between the river and the flanking fields of rice or Indian corn stretched a wild waste of bare sand... In fact, the only spectacle which relieved this monotonous desolation during the earlier part of the day was the hilly plateau on Yenangyoung, the seat of those famous Burmese petroleum wells of which so much has been made of late...

    Our longest halt that day was at Memboo, where the wreck of the sister ship to that upon which we were stood up out of the shallow water in an unpleasantly suggestive way. Here the low bank began to grow gradually higher and steeper, till at Sinpynookyoong (White Elephant Island) it rose almost sheer up from the water's edge in a wall of hard sand more than 30 feet high, on the top of which our cable was made fast by a gang of nimble coolies. The hindmost of the gang, who had lagged a little behind the rest, was scrambling up the treacherous face when the ground broke away beneath him and he fell sprawling on his back, while the cable overhead, scraping away the brittle edge of the bank, sent down upon him a perfect cartload of white dust, making him look just like a fly that had fallen in a cream jug.
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    Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years (1824-1886) and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony; independence from the Commonwealth was attained in 1948.

    Gen. NE WIN dominated the government from 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin.

    Despite multiparty legislative elections in 1990 that resulted in the main opposition party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - winning a landslide victory, the ruling junta refused to hand over power. NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient AUNG SAN SUU KYI, who was under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and 2000 to 2002, was imprisoned in May 2003 and subsequently transferred to house arrest.

    After Burma's ruling junta in August 2007 unexpectedly increased fuel prices, tens of thousands of Burmese marched in protest, led by prodemocracy activists and Buddhist monks. In late September 2007, the government brutally suppressed the protests, killing at least 13 people and arresting thousands for participating in the demonstrations. Since then, the regime has continued to raid homes and monasteries and arrest persons suspected of participating in the pro-democracy protests.
    The junta appointed Labor Minister AUNG KYI in October 2007 as liaison to AUNG SAN SUU KYI, who remains under house arrest and virtually incommunicado with her party and supporters.

    Burma in early May 2008 was struck by Cyclone Nargis which official estimates claimed left over 80,000 dead and 50,000 injured. Despite this tragedy, the junta proceeded with its May constitutional referendum, the first vote in Burma since 1990, setting the stage for the 2010 parliamentary elections.
    CIA World Factbook: Burma


Area of Burma: 678,500 sq km
slightly smaller than Texas

Population of Burma: 47,758,180
July 2008 estimate

Languages of Burma:
Burmese
minority ethnic groups have their own languages

Burma Capital: Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon)


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  Free Books on Burma (.pdfs)

Karen People of Burma Marshall 1922
Pacification of Burma Crosthwaite 1912
Burma: Land and People Kelly 1910
Mandalay & Other Cities of the Past... O'Connor 1907
...Life and Travel in Burma O'Connor 1904
Ten Years in Burma Smith 1902
Burma Ferrars 1900
From Tonkin to India by... Irrawaddi Orléans 1898
The Burman Scott 1896
...From Canton to Mandalay Colquhoun 1883
History of Burma Phayre 1883
Burma, Past and Present Fytche 1878
Two Years Imprisonment in Burmah Gouger 1860
...Up and Down the Irrawaddi Palmer 1856
Description of the Burmese Empire Tandy 1833

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    Just about nightfall we reached Sinamui, a little cluster of thatched huts in a sandy hollow at the foot of a steep bluff, towering into an absolute precipice, where it overhung the river. On the brow of this cliff rose up against the red sunset the usual quantity of tall tapering pagodas (very much like rolled up white parasols) surmounted with that quaint little open-work turret of gilt iron which is a characteristic feature of all Burmese temples, and to which the natives give the name of htee (umbrella.) But by some unlucky accident all the crowning turrets have got tipped on one side, suggesting very forcibly a gang of drunken giants with their hats knocked over their eyes.

    Before anchoring on the second night the Captain warned us to be on deck by daybreak the next morning if we wished to see the ruins of the old city of Pagahn. But the spectacle was well worth a far greater exertion. As we steamed up to this ancient capital of Burmah—which was at the height of its splendor when Danish pirates were mooring their painted warships in the Thames and the Humber—the first rays of sunrise were just streaming through a purple hollow between the two mighty peaks of Mount Popa, and lighting up the sea of dark green foliage, out of which the ancient temples rise like islands, mile after mile, as far as the eye can reach. According to Burmese tradition they still number 999, ("what's the good of telling a lie for the sake of one pagoda?") although native historians relate that when the King of Burmah was fortifying the city in 1284 against the invading armies of the Chinese Emperor, he pulled down 4,000 square temples, 1,000 arched temples, and 1,000 smaller ones, in order to furnish material for the defenses, and then getting frightened at some imaginary prophecy, ran away without making any resistance at all, leaving his deserted capital to molder into ruin.
    This "tall story" is to some extent borne out by the vast masses of crumbling brickwork and fallen stones, walls buried in wild grass, and towers strangled by the wiry coils fo Thug-like creepers, which cover the whole site of the lost city over an area of eight miles by two. In fact, the entire plain is one great churchyard of dead pagodas, and among them stand gauntly up through the boundless network of clinging boughs the gloomy figures of their surviving comrades—the living among the dead...

    Seldom indeed has such a museum of temples been gathered into one spot. There are the bell-shaped pagoda of Burmah, crowned with its gilded turret, and the carved cornices and spear-like pinnacles beloved by the Siamese, and the broad, solid dome of Central Tartary, and the successive stories of China. There, too, is the tall central tower rising far above its encircling lifequard of smaller ones, which one sees in the great temples of Northern India. And there, conspicuous over all, are those massive cones of dark-red brickwork—each planted upon a wide square platform, the four sides of which are four gigantic flights of stairs—which Jesuit missionaries found in the depths of Mongol deserts 200 years ago.
    Such a spectacle, seen amid the wild luxuriance of a tropical jungle, and beneath the cloudless glory of a tropical sunrise, transcends the power of words to describe, and I think the most unimaginative man among us is not wholly free from a passing twinge of regret as we leave the glorious panorama behind, and glide onward to the final stage of our long voyage to Mandalay.
DAVID KER.   

The New York Times, June 13, 1926:

BURMA GOVERNOR BUYS FREEDOM FOR SLAVES

Sir Harcourt Butler Releases 3,500 Near Tibet Border at Cost Of $1.25 Each...

    ...A hundred miles to the southeast of the Bramaputra River, whose waters almost skirt the border of mysterious Tibet, are the Naga Hills, a territory left unadministered because of its inaccessibility to white men and because of the dangers from the treacherous natives, the possibility of being devoured by wild animals, the bites and stings of poisonous reptiles and insects, and the devotion of the countless leeches that fasten themselves to the body.
    Perhaps the leeches are the greatest difficulty to overcome. They get through the eyelet of a shoe or other seemingly impossible entrances and begin their work, often so quietly that the victim is unaware of it until camp is made...

Idlers Need Slaves

    Several expeditions have visited this land of dangers in order to abolish slavery and human sacrifice. Both have been a part of the life of the barbarous Nagas since time immemorial...
    Little more than a year ago Sir Harcourt, with certain staff officers and 110 military police, penetrated into the country. The expedition aimed principally to abolish slavery among the Kachins, a neighboring tribe of the more dreaded Nagas, and the Shans... he put it bluntly to them in good old English style that slavery and the offering of human sacrifices had to stop.
    The chiefs listened and tersely replied that they were not in favor of stopping either... there were as many slaves as freemen in the territory, and slavery was an essential because otherwise there would be no one to work. It seemed never to occur to them to do any work on their own account, for they and their ancestors had always had slaves...

Slaves Freed for $1.25 Per Head

    A few weeks ago, however, J.T.O. Barnard returned to London from the most extensive trip ever made into forbidden Naga land... He said his party released nearly 3,500 slaves at a very little cost to the Government for their purchase price. In fact, these slaves were set free at an average cost of about $1.25 each...
    In addition to releasing these slaves, Mr. Barnard received the promise from 34 villages out of a total of 138 that thereafter they would abstain from offering human sacrifices. The 104 other villages declined to give up the practice, but several made an unusual proposal to the Government. It was that if the Government would hold one final and complete sacrifice with great ceremony they would agree to discontinue the practice. Of course there could be but one answer to such a proposal...
    England is determined to eradicate the sacrifice. Certain chiefs of tribes were taken as guests into the great city of Calcutta to gape at the strange sights. They have become friends of the Government and can be counted upon to use their influence at home toward civilizing the people.

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