Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Burma. The easternmost province of British India, bounded on the north and north-east by the Chinese dominions; on the east by the British Shan states and Siam, and on the west by the Bay of Bengal. It consists of Lower Burma, which was added to the Indian empire by the wars of 1824 and 1852; and Upper Burma, which was annexed by Britain in 1885. The physical structure of the country is that of a region seamed by chains of mountains running north and south, and watered by streams which flow southward into the Bay of Bengal. The mountain system is known to be connected with that of the Himalayas, and some of the rivers undoubtedly rise in the Tibetan plateau, but the intervening region between Tibet and Burma is one of the least known spots in Asia. The origin and physical structure of the Burmese rivers and mountains are still a matter of great uncertainty. The principal rivers are the Irawadi, the head stream of which rises east of Assam, which flows through Bhamo and west of Mandalay to discharge its waters by ten mouths into the sea; the Salwen or Lu-kiang, which rises in Tibet, and traversing the eastern confines of the province joins the Gulf of Martaban near Moulmein, and the Sittang. There are tributaries of the Irawadi, such as the Kyendwin, the Manipur river, the Shweli and Myitnge, which may be said to attain the dignity of separate rivers. The Irawadi, being navigable up to Bhamo, forms an important highway of communication; the Salwen is not navigable. Both rivers overflow the alluvial plains around their lower course in the rainy season. The northern part of the province is mainly an upland territory, containing much rolling country, intersected by occasional hill ranges, and varied by a few isolated alluvial tracts.

The chief products of Upper Burma are rice (of which, it is said, the Burmese count 102 sorts, and of which there is a considerable export), grain, tobacco, cotton, mustard, teak, and indigo. In 1867 the area under rice cultivation in Lower Burma was only 1,682,110 acres, and the number of rice mills was seven. In 1881 the number of mills had risen to forty-nine, and the acreage to 3,181,229, an increase of eighty-nine per cent. in fourteen years. A cheap and coarse sugar is obtained from the juice of the Palmyra palm, which abounds in the tracts south of Mandalay; but most of the sugar used is imported. There is a great demand for this product, which increased cultivation would supply. The tea plant, which is indigenous, is cultivated in the hills, a few days' journey distant from the same spot. The common potato is largely cultivated by the Kakhyens on the Chinese frontier, where it is known by the name of the "foreigner's root." The local supply of labour is inadequate to the demands, and during the harvest and rice shipping season there is extensive immigration, which is increasing from year to year. Unskilled labour is worth from Is. to Is. 6d. a day, and more during the season. It has been calculated that it takes as much money to construct one mile of road, or 100 cubic feet of masonry, in British Burma, as it does to make two miles, or 800 cubic feet, in India. Next to labour, the most urgent want of the country is land communication. It is said there are thousands of villages in Lower Burma alone which are shut off from trade for at least eight months of the year by reason of the lack of roads. Road-making is slow, owing to the want of labour and metal, no road metal being available in many districts except broken brick, which in a country with a heavy rainfall requires constant care and repairs. There are two lines of railway, one following the valley of the Irawadi, called the Irawadi Valley State Railway, connecting Rangoon with Prome, and the other extending from Rangoon to Mandalay.

Minerals. The geological structure of Lower Burma, comprises three sections, western, middle, and eastern, nearly corresponding to the divisions of Arakan, Pegu, and Tenasserim, The rocks of Arakan belong to the secondary series, Pegu is tertiary, and Tenasserim primary. The economic products of the western division are petroleum, limestone, and coal. The middle or Pegu division produces laterite. The eastern division has not been much explored; but coal, limestone, tin, lead, gold, antimony, and graphite have been found. Upper Burma is rich in minerals. Gold is found in the sands of different rivers and also towards the Shan territory on the eastern frontier, which contains various metals. There are silver mines near the Chinese frontier, but they are not worked. Iron is worked in rude fashion at two or three places, and large deposits of rich magnetic oxide exist in the ridges east of Mandalay, near the Myit-nge river, while the same district contains lime in great abundance and of remarkable whiteness; statuary marble equal to the best Italian kinds is found about fifteen miles north of Mandalay. Mines of amber are wrought, and at Ye-nangyaung, on the banks of the Irawadi, there are upwards of a hundred deep petroleum wells which yield oil in abundance for export. The precious stones produced are chiefly the sapphire and the ruby, which are found about seventy miles in a north-east direction from Mandalay. Before the British annexation no stranger was ever permitted to approach the locality, and all stones found were sent to the Crown treasury. The mines are now worked on concession by an English firm. The Yu or jade mines are situated in the Mogoung district. Momien in Yunan was formerly the chief seat of the manufacture of jade, and still produces a considerable quantity of small articles.

Fauna. The deep impenetrable jungles of Burmah afford shelter to many wild animals. Elephants and wild hogs are numerous, and the single and double-horned rhinoceros. There are nearly thirty kinds of carnivora, including the tiger, leopard, bear, and wild cat. Quadrumana are found in six or seven distinct species, hares are numerous, and among ruminants the barking deer, hog deer, sambhar, goat, antelope, bison, buffalo, and wild ox. The rivers, lakes, and estuaries swarm with fish. Aquatic birds abound in endless variety. Among other birds, pea-fowl, jungle fowl, pheasant, partridge, quail and plover are found throughout the country. Geese, ducks, and fowls are extensively domesticated, and cock-fighting is a favourite amusement wdth the people. The domestic animals are the elephant, buffalo, ox, horse, mule, ass, goat, sheep, and pig. The first three are used for draught, the elephant being especially useful in dragging timber. The horse is a small variety, rarely exceeding thirteen hands in height, and like the mule and ass it is used only as a beast of burden.

Population. Ethnically both Upper and Lower Burma vary considerably. In the former the Burmese people are the most numerous, after which come the Karens, natives of India, Talaings, Shans, Chins and others. Upper Burma is surrounded by numerous tribes of Kakhyens, Karens, Chins, and Singphos, who lead a rough life in their mountains and come down to levy blackmail on the more peaceful inhabitants. The population according to the census of 1891 is estimated at 7,553,900.

Commerce, Manufactures, etc. For centuries the seaboard of Burma has been visited by Arabs and other Asiatic races, and in the time of Caesar Frederick gold, silver, rubies, sapphires, long pepper, lead, tin, lac, and rice were exported. Of late years the commercial development of the country has more than kept pace with its rapidly increasing population. Since 1855 the external or sea-borne trade of the province has risen from £5,000,000 to £19,949,417 (taking the rupee at the conventional rate of exchange of two shillings), besides which there is considerable inland traffic with China (registered at Bhamo) and with the Shan states. The principal articles exported by sea in 1889-90 were rice (Rs. 6,19,74,743), teak (Rs. 73,38,020), cutch, a resinous gum used for dyeing tea in Europe and America (Rs. 23,38,365), raw cotton (Rs. 10,82,769), jade (Rs. 8,19,350), raw hides (Rs. 7,44,382), and caoutchouc. The chief imports are cotton piece goods, silk and woollen goods, oils, railway plant, iron, liquors and salt. Besides the important industry carried on by the rice mills, as mentioned above, which free the rice from the husk and prepare it for the European, American and Chinese markets, there are numerous steam timber saw mills at Rangoon, Moulmein, Tavoy and Shwegyin. Silk weaving was a favourite occupation with the Burmese, but it is said that the imported goods are underselling the local manufactures, and the industry is languishing. Lac ware is a characteristic manufacture, and most Burmese own vessels of this material. The groundwork of these articles is very fine bamboo wicker-work which is overlaid with coats of lac, the chief ingredient in which is the oil or resin from the thitsi tree. The Burmese show proficiency in the art of wood-carving, while other popular industries are boat-building, cart-making, mat-weaving, the manufacture of paper, umbrella-making, ivory carving, and stone-cutting. In the casting of bells and in elaborate metal-work they are specially skilful.

History. The Golden Chersonese, as Ptolemy designated it, has played an insignificant role in the world's history as compared with the other two great peninsulas of Asia - India and Arabia. Each of the three has been the home and stronghold of a powerful creed, but while Arabia and India have been intimately connected with modern civilisation, Burma has remained comparatively isolated and unknown. The Arakanese chronicle relates how the Burman peninsula was first colonised by a prince from Benares, who established his capital at Sandoway, and the royal history of Ava traces the lineage of the kings to the ancient Buddhist monarchs of India, From the eleventh to the thirteenth century the old Burmese empire was at the height of its power, and to this period belong the splendid architectural remains at Pagan. The city and dynasty were destroyed by a Mongol invasion in 1284 in the reign of Kublai Khan. Afterwards the empire fell to a low ebb, and Central Burma suffered largely from inroads made by the Tataings and Shans, and dynasties of the latter race often held sway. In 1404 the reigning Arakanese prince, Min Saw Mun, was dethroned, and took refuge in Bengal. Some years later he was restored by Mohammedan aid, and thenceforth the coins of the Arakan kings bore on the reverse their names and titles in corrupt imitation of Persian and Nagari characters, and the custom was continued long after their connection with Bengal had been severed.

The subsequent history of Burma forms a confused record of intestine strife and foreign war. Despite its mountain barrier, it lay at the mercy of both Burmese and Talaings, and its rulers were generally subject to the one or the other power. The close of the sixteenth century witnessed the last great struggle between Ava and Pegu, and the King of Arakan availed himself of the weakness of his neighbours in Bengal to extend his dominion over Chittagong and northwards as far as the Megna river. In the seventeenth century a new dynasty arose in Ava which subdued Pegu and maintained supremacy up to the first forty years. The Peguans or Talaings then revolted, and having taken Ava and made the king prisoner, reduced the country to submission. It was then that Alompra arose. He had been first a hunter and then a Dacoit leader, and having made himself master of the capital, eventually, after four years' fighting, effected the subjugation of the Peguans. In the course of these hostilities the French sided with the Peguans and the English with the Burmese. He died in 1760, but not before he had reduced the town and district of Tavoy, Mergui, and Tenasserim, and was actually besieging the capital of Siam. In 1765, while the Burmese were waging war against the Siamese, a Chinese army of 50,000 men was despatched against them from Yunnan, but through the tactics of the Burmese the force was practically annihilated. The Siamese were subject to the Burmese until 1771, when they revolted and were never again subdued, peace being concluded between the two powers in 1793. At this time the British and Burmese were gradually approximating, and occasional collisions occurred. These culminated in outrages committed by the Burmese, and in 1824 war was declared by England. An uneventful campaign ensued, in the course of Which Sir A. Campbell triumphed over his foes at every point, and ultimately obtained from them the ratification of the treaty of Yandabu, ceding Arakan, with the provinces of Mergiu, Tavoy, and Yea; the renunciation by the Burmese sovereign of all claims upon Assam and the contiguous petty states, a war indemnity, and other concessions. The peace was, however, emphatically short-lived, and in 1852 a second Burmese war was declared which resulted in the annexation of the province of Pegu, by proclamation of the Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie. In 1855 a mission of compliment was sent by the ruler of Burma to the Viceroy, and in the summer of the same year Major Arthur Phayre, de facto governor of the new province of Pegu, was appointed envoy to the Burmese court, accompanied by the late Sir Henry (then Captain) Yule, and Dr. Oldham as geologist. This mission added largely to our knowledge of the country, but it was not till 1862 that the king yielded so far as to conclude a treaty of commerce. A British resident was, until October, 1879, maintained at the capital, and during that time two expeditions under Major Sladen and Colonel Horace Browne were despatched, in 1868 and 1874 respectively, towards the Chinese frontier. The latter expedition was marred by the assassination of Mr. Margary, who had been commissioned to meet the party from the Chinese side.

The last king of Burma, Theebaw, ascended the throne in 1878, and, in spite of remonstrances from Mr. R. B. Shaw, the British resident at Mandalay, massacred almost all the direct descendants of his predecessor in February, 1879. In October of the same year the British resident was withdrawn, and though efforts were made to re-open friendly relations, and a Burmese embassy visited Simla in 1882, there was no real restoration of confidence. British subjects and traders were molested, and representatives of France and Italy were welcomed, two return embassies being despatched from Burma to Europe. This behaviour culminated in an act of great oppression, whereby the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation, a company of merchants with dealings in Burma, were summarily condemned to pay a fine of £230,000 to the Burmese Government. The Chief Commissioner protested, and eventually despatched an ultimatum to Mandalay. On this being unconditionally rejected, British troops crossed the frontier on the 14th November, 1885. Except at Minhla, scarcely any resistance was encountered. The capital surrendered, the king and his two queens were sent down to Rangoon, and the Chief Commissioner assumed charge of the administration. On the 1st January, 1886, Upper Burma was declared to be part of Her Majesty's dominions, and it was afterwards formally incorporated with British India under Act 21 and 22 Vict., cap. 106. The subsequent history of Burma, but more especially Upper Burma, has been one of pacification and consolidation. For some time after the annexation the country was overrun by dacoit leaders and rebels, who maintained a sort of guerilla warfare, and whose example occasioned disturbances in Lower Burma as well. Constant expeditions have had to be despatched in various parts of the country, which is now gradually settling down. These pacificatory measures have also not been without their indirect advantages in enabling British officers to survey and open up the country. The last administrative report written by Sir Charles Crosthwaite (for 1889-90) states that organised crime within the province has entirely disappeared, and that it has been found possible at last to reduce the military police.