20.1 Abstracts

Spirit Possession: An Autonomous Field of Practice in the Burmese Buddhist Culture
Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière

The cult of the Thirty-Seven Lords is distinctively known for its practices of spirit possession although possession by spiritual agents may be found in other domains of Burmese Buddhist culture. What sets apart the practices observed in the cult of the Thirty-Seven Lords is a form of individual and relocatable possession contrasting with traditional rituals linked to the locality and allowing for the professionalisation and the autonomisation of the ritual role of spirit mediums. Ceremonies of possession for the Thirty-Seven Lords mobilize communities of followers in which bonds of dependence with the nats are mediated by ritual masters, married to a nat, such bonds fashion these communities on the model of “clienteles” whose dominant authorizing principle is spirit possession. Spirit possession is what allows the cohesion of the spirit mediums practices that can be observed particularly during the festivals and can be said to constitue an autonomous ritual domain in the Burmese Buddhist culture.

 

The Transnational Flow of Music from Burma to the United States
Heather MacLachlan

Some of the most prominent and commercially successful Burmese musicians have performed concert tours of the United States during the past decade. This article provides an empirical description of the transnational network which makes these concert tours possible, and then provides an explanation for this phenomenon. Burmese migrants—both the musicians and the emigrants who sponsor concerts—are identified here as transnational actors. This study, however, challenges much of the literature on transnational cultural flows, arguing that the appropriate focus for analysis in this case is not change and hybridity provoked by conditions in the host country (America), but rather the continuity of shared expectations and behaviors developed in the home country (Burma). In fact, it is the habitus of the Yangon-based music industry which makes possible the organization and funding of concert tours in the United States. This habitus, or shared way of thinking and behaving, includes: a flexible understanding of what constitutes a “band,” symbolic ties between musicians and fans which govern financial expectations, an informally structured industry which is open to the intervention of amateurs, and the habitual self-reliance of people who grew up under a government which provided few supports.

 

Revisiting the Nineteenth-Century Marketplace, and the Chinese Community in Moulmein
Yi Li

This article examines the Chinese community in Moulmein, a cosmopolitan center of a newly established British colony after the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26), in the nineteenth century, and investigates interchanges and influences facilitated by the first port city in colonial Burma. As Chinese merchants and workers established commercial, social and religious networks during the formative years of British Burma, they interacted with their multi-ethnic neighbors within and beyond colonial market places. However, if the early experience of these Chinese migrants suggests a porous ethnic boundary, the impression of China and the Chinese dominating the European public sphere in Moulmein indicates a gap between the real-life Moulmein Chinese, which was encountered every day, and the imaginary China as a potential market to an eastern-looking British Empire, especially during the Opium War (1839–42). Taking the Moulmein Chinese as a case study, this paper investigates the limitation of J.S. Furnivall’s “marketplace” where people “mix but do not combine.” Instead of a reflection of the colonial markets operating rigidly along ethnic lines, this paper argues, Furnivall’s mid-twentieth-century observation is a direct result of colonial discourse and policies emphasizing ethnic segregation and stereotypes, when the discrepancies between real-life and imaginary China and the Chinese were further enhanced and eventually dominated the later years of British rule in Burma.

 

Kipling, “Mandalay” and Burma in the Popular Imagination
Andrew Selth

It is difficult to overestimate the impact on popular perceptions of Burma—indeed, of the “Far East” more generally—of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Mandalay”. It first appeared in the literary weekly The Scots Observer on 21 June 1890. It was subsequently included in the collection Barrack Room Ballads and Other Verses, which was published in London in 1892. Given its importance, the poem deserves citing in full.

 

The Social Dynamics of Pagoda Repair in Upper Myanmar
Elizabeth H. Moore and Win Maung (Tampawaddy)

Pagoda repair in Myanmar is not just a building upgrade but a significant mechanism connecting religious and lay communities. During the course of a renovation, the wider public is engaged, from urban elite to artisans, builders, shopkeepers and farmers in replenishing the dedicated space of the pagoda compound and the teachings it embod-ies. The case studies from Sagaing, Mandalay, Kyaukse and Bagan discussed here highlight how coordination of pagoda repair is often by word of mouth, familiar networks and more recently, social media. Informality is also pertinent in relation to archaeologi-cal calls for greater documentation of pagoda repair. Imposing daily recording could easily change malleable social contacts into disinterested form-fillers, rather than engaging local communities in the shared caretaking of their landscape. While information on archaeological and heritage management “best practice” is abundant, the processes of pagoda repair remains little known apart from the participants of each undertaking. Thus what a decade ago was a locally understood difference between repair and conservation, today is an urgent issue threatening both the vitality of the living Buddhist practice and its intangible heritage. Without a shared mechanism to oversee restorations of aged pagodas, the hard evidence from which to interpret the ancient cultural landscape will be irrevocably lost and its intangible sustenance gone. The issue needs to be openly debated and acted upon to ensure the compatible integration of international conservation and heritage practice with the existing social and religious dynamics of pagoda repair.

 

Yangon’s New Stock Exchange in Comparative Analysis
T.F. Rhoden

In the political sphere, the citizens of Myanmar have witnessed and taken part in an expanding and deepening process of democratization and political liberalization in the past few years. In the economic sphere, changes are also underway that indicate a growth of economic liberalism. One part of that process is a slowly increasing financialization as indicated by the new Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX) set to begin trading operations in late 2015. This paper will analyze what this new stock exchange means for the citizens of Myanmar by placing it within a regional comparative analysis of stock markets across Southeast Asia, including the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange (HoSE), the Hanoi Stock Exchange (HNX), the Lao Securities Exchange (LSX), and the Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX). The main argument is that despite calculable risks in terms of business transparency and national politics, the potentialities for a successful YSX are in place. The main socioeconomic conditions that warrant investment, both from the domestic as well as international perspective are 1) the depth and diversity of Myanmar’s adult population size, 2) Myanmar’s rallying industrial sector, 3) Burmese businesses’ current lack of bank financing, and 4) Burmese citizens’ little-to-no holdings in financial assets as compared to other non-financial wealth holdings. The YSX will not be an overnight success for either domestic Burmese investors or for domestic Burmese enterprises seeking new avenues to finance growth and project investment. However, the systemic socioeconomic conditions are in place for the Yangon Stock Exchange to parallel more closely the experience of the Vietnamese HoSE and HNX than that of the other Indochinese exchanges of LSX and CSX.