A Community of Spirits

While it is certainly true that Buddhism dominates the religious and cultural landscape of the country, even for those non-Buddhist Bamar, [1] fixation on this aspect ignores the fact that Bamar Buddhists also participate in a rich animistic tradition.  This animistic tradition is made up of a multitude of practices that all come together along with Buddhism to produce the Bamar religious landscape.  None of these practices exists in single, bounded form, but rather each one consists of a complexity of practices at both the individual and community level.  All of these practices interweave into a complex composite of opposition and complementary linkages.  We need to examine these practices as bother cultural and religious beliefs, seeing them as related to each other and other cultural beliefs as part of an institutional domain.  By applying an animistic framework[2] we can see the various animistic practices of Bamar religion as extensions of the cultural understandings of appropriate behaviour between actors.  Moreover, by extending this concept, we can see that the inter-relation of these religious figures creates a community of spirits much in the same way that the relationships between people within a village creates a community.  By examining the practices as embedded within a particular cultural and historical context we can see them as part of an ordered scheme originating out of a particular historical tradition ‘the product of dynamic processes of interactions’ (Brac de la Perrière 2012, p.151).  These animistic traditions construct a complex and constantly shifting community of spiritual beings with varying (and changing) ties to the Buddhist hierarchy.  The primacy of this Buddhist hierarchy in both inter-relating and legitimating these practices needs to remembering while examining this community of spirits.  This paper will outline the cosmological world of the Bamar, beginning with that expressed in the Pāli Canon and then providing a brief description of each of the key types of spirits found in the religious landscape.  I will then give a small overview of the variety of ways in which Bamar interact with these spirits and how these reflect their positioning as a community of spirits. Continue reading “A Community of Spirits”

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The Academic Boom in Yangon

It has been interesting following the sudden influx of academics into Myanmar, both for research and teaching purposes.  I know that they have been lurking about the fringes since far before I began to dip my toes into the waters here but it seems like this year there is a real boom.  Perhaps it is just that I arrived here during the wet season which is a time that a lot of ex-pats plan extended holidays and I imagine little research is conducted.  When I first arrived in my dormitory the many, many rooms were populated by a pair of Koreans working on a teacher education project, a Chinese professor studying Myanmar Studies, a Japanese professor working in the law department, and a mysterious American from Johns Hopkins working on something.  Now a large portion of the dormitory is actually filled with English-language teachers on a British Council project teaching English at Yangon University of Education, but even that is a real step forward in a country which wouldn’t let me onto the University grounds in September 2013 without an appointment with a staff member.

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That which we call a rose…

Well those of you who know your Shakespeare will be able to guess at the topic of this blog post: the politics of naming. It has been floating about my brain on and off for the last 6 months or so, and even more infrequently prior to that. I felt like it was time to cough it all up however as just last week we had to write about our names and naming in my Writing & Thinking Workshop and today when I was asked what I studied by my Thai hosts the Thai translation made me pause. But more on that later. I guess I’ll start off with the piece of 5 minute Focused Free Writing I did on the naming of things and then see if I can wedge in some academic discourse somewhere along the way.

Continue reading “That which we call a rose…”

On the Veneration of Elders

I first planned to write the post weeks ago back when it was all so fresh in my mind and I was busy reading Khin Myo Chit’s book Buddhist Way of Life in Myanmar and Other Articles.  Of course as always I managed to get myself sidetracked onto other things and now I can’t quite remember the details I had planned to put here.  I’ve signed myself up for AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month) which is kind of like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) but the aim is not to write a set number of words, but rather to complete a single piece of writing.  My goals are to finish one draft chapter, probably on the historical background of my topic, or on the general specifics of the objects of worship.  I also aim to finish my book chapter which is likewise due at the end of the month and of course I am aiming to get myself into a routine with these blog posts.  There are so many fascinating things I am learning about and getting to experience but I am often just too exhausted once I get home to even consider sitting up to write about them for any audience but myself.  I am thinking of limiting the days I spend in at the University once this current workshop ends and that may also help with spending some time focusing on theory and concentrating on the other side of research:  writing.

On the dangers of being a single woman in the field

I never really thought much about my gender growing up.  Sure I was a girl, but I was never “one of the girls”.  I spent most of my socialising with boys rather than girls.  The girls were all busy doing stupid boring stuff like playing with dolls or playing house.  This isn’t to say that I didn’t do these on occasion, but it usually involved me playing the husband/father role which only added to the boredom.  The boys however were riding bikes down to the lake, collecting cicadas, flying model airplanes made from balsa wood, or making kites and taking them to the local quarry to fly.  Of course it didn’t help/hurt that living near me were the kids my age were mostly boys when I was growing up.  As an adult I found it easier to form friendships with males mostly  because my interests set me apart from other young women my age.  I wasn’t interested in gossip magazines or the latest TV Soaps.  This isn’t to say that all, or even most, young women are interested in these things, but the ones I mostly met were.  Instead my friends were the guys I met who played D&D, who love Japanese anime shows and who would likewise stay up all night playing their latest favourite computer game.  Gradually as I settled into being comfortable in my own gender-challenging interests and identity I found other women who shared my interests, and even found friendships with women who didn’t necessarily share them all but shared similar outlooks on life and geeky senses-of-humour.  Still my gender really didn’t come into play much until I started studying feminism and even then I thought of gender bias and discrimination as something that happened to other women but never to me.

Continue reading “On the dangers of being a single woman in the field”