Daily Archives: 26 March 2004

Morobe Field Diary, October 1976: Fieldwork Progress

Oct. 13-16 I added about 50 words a day to my dictionary. That puts my major entries at over 1000. (I tend to have rather more minor/subentries than I will in the final product–all the parts & life cycle of a coconut under coconut etc.). People have been very cooperative. I’m going to have to collect some tapes before boredom sets in again.

Diseases seem to be partly seasonal here. August was fever time; people have depleted my cold tablet supply now and a lot of people seem to be plagued with carbuncles though they may be off and on the year throughout. The only thing that can be done for them is lancing to drain off the pus. Some get to be several inches in diameter and so painful that walking is difficult if they are on the leg (as they frequently are).

I’ve gained a bit more insight into the possible causes of the kaunsil‘s election. Not only does he have well-placed & educated children and a good (Yabim) education himself but he has an extensive network of relatives thruout the village and controls with his wife very large land holdings (from a coconut plantation all the way to the waterfall; all the mtnside his garden is on–about a hundred meter wide swath all the way up (& over?) the ridge; another garden just across the river and one off this end of the village). Phillip, his relative, was elected first, but relieved shortly & his opponent in the last election was S. (Daniel), his cross-cousin.

Today had every prospect of being a good workday (though it’s Sunday–or maybe since it is Sunday & everyone is around): one guy volunteered to give me vocabulary, the kaunsil promised a tape. Then last nite the kaunsil‘s oldest sister came by and reported an illness that wasn’t apparent but which blocks her wind passages so she can hardly breathe at times [asthma?]. Then this morning she had a bad attack of it and the whole village is waiting to see whether she’ll pull thru or not.

Later in the day, people dispersed, I got to elicit some vocabulary and hear a good deal of conversation (half was in Tok P. because some ausländer Sepiks were involved) and, in the evening, the kaunsil gave me my first text–a really perfect specimen. It is about sago palm food [starch] producing and begins with the different kinds of sago palms–which are distinguished only by their thorns, or lack of them–then, separated by a heading, continues with the whole process, from tree-cutting to division of the food [starch]. It is vocabulary rich, discourse structure rich, clear, slow, intonation contours mostly unambiguous and thus well punctuated–which, in a language with more than one inflected verb to a [simple] sentence [or clause], is very important for defining [complete] sentences. I now have my hands full transcribing but the tape is so good that I’ll be able to transcribe easily words I’m unfamiliar with. (It only goes from 1-70 on the cassette.)

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Etymologically, Myanmar = Burma

In 1989, Burma‘s military government changed the name of the country to Myanmar. The reason, it said, was that the British colonial power had named it ‘Burma’ after the main ethnic group in the country, the Burmese, who inhabit the central plains. ‘Myanmar’, it was argued, included the Burmese and all other ‘ethnic races’, including the Shan, the Karen, the Mon, the Kachin and more than 100 other nationalities. This is, however, historically and linguistically highly dubious. The once-British colony has always been called Burma in English and bama or myanma in Burmese. [The Japanese designation biruma would thus appear to have come from the English spelling.]

The best explanation of the difference between bama and myanma is to be found in the Hobson-Jobson Dictionary, which remains a very useful source of information. ‘The name [Burma] is taken from Mran-ma, the national name of the Burmese people, which they themselves generally pronounce Bam-ma, unless speaking formally and emphatically.’

Both names have been used interchangeably throughout history, with Burma being more colloquial and Myanmar more formal. Burma and Myanmar (and Burmese and Myanmar) mean exactly the same thing, and it is hard to argue that the term ‘Myanmar’ would include any more people within the present union than the name ‘Burma’.

There is no term in the language that includes both the Burmans and the minority peoples, since no country with the borders of present-day Burma existed before the arrival of the British in the nineteenth century. Burma, with its present boundaries, is a colonial creation rife with internal contractions and divisions.

SOURCE: “Myanmar/Burma,” by Bertil Lintner, in Ethnicity in Asia, ed. by Colin Mackerras (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), p. 174

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