Myanmar Culture and Tradition

Although Myanmar is featured with numerous indigenous cultures, the dominant ones are Buddhism and Bamar. Bamar was strongly influenced by cultures of surrounding countries. It is clearly and closely reflected in language, cuisine, music, dance, and theater. Art, especially literature, was greatly influenced by the Hinayana Buddhism. If you consider Burma's national epic, Yama Zatdaw, an adaptation of Ramayana, it had been powerfully influenced by the literature of Thailand, India. Moreover, Buddhism and the worship of Nat (the God) that relates to complex or simple rituals are originated from a pantheon of 37 Nats.

Monks are highly respected in Myanmar. Moreover, this country owns the majority of Theravadan Buddhism pilgrims in the world.

Temples are considered the most sacred part of spiritual and cultural life in Myanmar’s traditional villages. Monks are revered and the locals often kneel down in front of them to express their respect for them. The Initiation ceremony for Buddhism pilgrims, called Shinbyu, marks the most important maturity of a young boy entering the monastery for a short period of time. The girls also have ear piercing when they reach adulthood. Myanmar’s culture features prominently in the village’s festivals throughout the year, especially temple’s festival. [Many villages in Burma have their own rituals, taboos, and superstition.

British colonial rule in Burma has significant impacts on the culture of this country. That is the education system which follows the structure of the British education system. Moreover, Colonial architecture also represents its influences in major cities such as Yangon. Many ethnic minorities, especially the Karen group in the southeast and the Kachin group the north and northwest who follow Christianity are the work of missioners.

Visiting temples and other Buddhist religious grounds, tourists are required to uncover their head and move on barefoot. In other words, they can not wear hats, shoes, socks, sock pants, short skirts, and even soft T-shirt. Especially, women are not allowed to approach the altar and directly burn incense. It means that visitors must dress neatly and behave well to avoid disturbing monks and nuns in the temple as well as disrespecting the culture. These manners sound strict but visitors still need to obey them. They can also put money on the “charity-box” but it depends on themselves. 

Bear in mind, you should understand the regulations of time and place of taking photos (if any).  If yes, you should ask for a permit to take pictures and record videos.

Revering monks and nuns (called Sangha Burmese) and old people, caring for children is a Myanmar’s custom. Visitors must place their hands in front of the chest and make a bow to the monks instead shaking hands.

As a custom, Myanmar people take off their shoes before entering the house. They often “say hello” to each other by a smile. Visiting the rural and mountainous areas, visitors should learn and respect their local manners.

When taking pictures or filming the locals, visitors had better avoid recording their backwardness. 
The traditional manners of Myanmar people:

Myanmar people eat only two meals a day at 9 am and 7 pm respectively. Between these main meals, they have a snack at lunchtime. They often have vegetables, shrimps, fishes for their meal. They said that if a meal lacked these three main dishes, they did not have an appetite for food. Interestingly, the Burmese do not use chopsticks for eating, instead, they eat by hands. However, before eating they must wash their hands carefully at a basin in front of their seat.

Myanmar food is quite hard to eat and they are quite “strong”. Moreover, the reasons why this country’s food hasn’t got the attention it deserves are the overwhelmingly sour and savory flavors that dominate the food, as well as the tendency for dishes to be served with a ton of accompaniments —soups, boiled vegetables, herbs or dipping sauces and pastes. Specifically, the foods are strong, pungent flavors, not sweet or spicy flavors like you might find in neighboring countries like Thailand or India. Therefore, you should go to Chinese or Thai restaurants. Even, if you want to enjoy Myanmar food, you ought to go to restaurants of the Shan group where you are served nicely.

Myanmar people show a big love for birds.

Noticeably, the Burmese own a “weird” custom: to become a beautiful young lady when they are mature, girls must have a waist belt from the age of 5, then they embroider more 30 belts by themselves. The list of criteria, which are used to choose a girl for the wedding by Myanmar men, ranks the size of a women’s waist at very first position.

Traditional customs of the Myanmar people that visitors should learn before visiting this diverse country:

- Pull off shoes and socks when entering the temple.

- Women are not allowed to approach to the altar, sacred things, place of praying or even directly burn incense.

- Myanmar’s festive New Year, called Thingyan (“changing over”), is celebrated from 12 to 17 of April. This festival originated from China and Buddhism country, particularly, Thailand. “Water throwing or dousing” one another from silver vessels, water pistols, water buckets or even from fire hydrants is the distinguishing feature of this festival and may be done during the first four days of the festival. It is said that people must splash water on to each other to cleanse for a New Year (clean up the unfortunate and sin of the previous year).

- The Buddha burning festival (Thidingyut Festival or Festival of Lights) is celebrated in October (equivalent to Mid-Autumn Festival of Vietnam) to mark the day Lord Buddha came down from heaven after spending three months of the Buddhist lent there. Buddha’s return is welcomed throughout the country with colorful illumination. It lasts three days of burning lights, setting off fireworks and releasing balloons into the sky by the locals.

- The other national holiday is the Independence day of Myanmar on 4th January.

- In terms of Arts, the Burmese traditional dance, which dancers mainly uses hands, head and perform on traditional music, is very famous.

- As a Buddhist country, visitors should pay high respect to the monks and Buddhist temples.

- People are not allowed to change foreign currency at non-official agencies. Myanmar Government also bans people from selling and changing foreign currency strictly. You should exchange currency at jewelry shops. Do not exchange foreign currency at the black market or because you won’t get a reasonable exchange rate, or even, be cheated. These people are very sophisticated.

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