Burma's largest ethnic group, after whom the country is named. During the British colonial period, it was common to use "Burman" and "Burmese" interchangeably; more recently, "Burman" has been used to refer to the ethnic group, while "Burmese" applies to nationals of Burma, regardless of ethnicity. "Burman" and "Burmese" are both English renditions of the Burmese (Myanmar) language term Bama, the colloquial name for the people (Myanma is the literary or formal term, with essentially the same meaning). When the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) decreed the Adaptation of Expressions Law in 1989, the official name of the group was changed to "Bamar," while the meaning of the term "Myanma"/"Myanmar" was changed to refer not to the majority ethnic group but to all nationals of the country, in other words, to be synonymous with "Burmese."
   In the 1983 census, the last taken, Burmans numbered 23.5 million (69 percent of a total population of 35.3 million). The "heartland" of the Burmans, where they migrated in the early centuries CE from eastern Tibet or southwestern China, encompasses what are now Mandalay, Magwe (Magway), and southern Sagaing Divisions (often referred to as Upper Burma). They also form the majority of the population of Lower Burma, where they have intermarried extensively with other groups, particularly the Mons, Arakanese (Rakhines), and Karens (Kayins). The "purity" of the Burmans of Upper Burma is something of a myth, because over the centuries, they have intermarried with the Pyus, who have now disappeared, and prisoners of war brought to the royal capital from Siam, Arakan (Rakhine), Laos, Manipur, and Portugal (the Bayingyi). Given the large number of recent Chinese migrants in Mandalay and northern Burma, the "foreign" element in the Burman gene pool continues to be significant.
   The first important Burman state was established at Pagan (Bagan), on the banks of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River, in the ninth century. Raised in a harsh, semidesert environment, the Burmans were a warlike people who carried out repeated military campaigns until put on the defensive during the First AngloBurmese War. The more dynamic kings of the Bagan, Toungoo, and Konbaung Dynasties conquered and controlled neighboring states in Lower Burma, Arakan, northeastern India, Laos, and Siam, imposing limited authority over border area peoples, such as the Shans (Tai) and Karens.
   The Burmese language is the most widely spoken of the TibetoBurman language group, which also includes the languages of the Arakanese, Tavoyans, Kachins, Karens, Chins, and Nagas. Burman self-identification focuses on language, customs, distinct artistic and musical motifs, and a shared history. But above all, it is connected with Buddhism. Ethnic/national identity is often summarized in the saying, "to be Burman/Burmese is to be Buddhist," and Burman converts to other religions, such as Christianity or Islam, are often considered marginal to mainstream society.
   Successive Burman states, from the Pagan Dynasty to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), have actively promoted the Buddhist religion, making generous offerings to the Sangha, promoting religious orthodoxy, and building pagodas. Aspects of Indo-Buddhist civilization were transmitted to them by the Mons, especially after the conquest of Thaton in Lower Burma in 1057 by King Anawrahta, though they have also been influenced by Buddhist trends in Sri Lanka. In the early 20th century, Burman/Burmese nationalism began with groups who sought to defend the Buddhist religion from the corrosion of modernity and foreign rule, such as the Young Men's Buddhist Association. However, the cult of the Thirty-seven Nats constitutes another aspect of a distinctively Burman religious life.
   Although Pagan was the first of several important Burman urban centers where kingly power was established, most Burmans traditionally have lived in rural communities, economically dependent on the cultivation of wetland rice or other lowland crops. The focus of village life is the pagoda and the Buddhist monastery (kyaung), which also provided village children in the past with a basic education. Compared to their eastern neighbors, the Siamese (Thais), the Burmans had limited commercial and other relations with the outside world before the colonial era, fostering an isolationist outlook that continues to be expressed today in the antiforeign sentiments of the SPDC. In one form or another, post-independence governments-headed by U Nu, Ne Win, the SLORC, and the SPDC-have promoted the cultural "Burmanization" (Myanmarization) of other ethnic groups.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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