The Tribes of Burma/Burman

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Following a geographical sequence, the first of the Eastern Tibeto-Burmans to be considered are the Burmans and the tribes of what may be called almost purely Burman origin. In accordance with the principle indicated at the beginning of this note it is not proposed to treat of the Burmans themselves as a race or the Arakanese, beyond noting that at the 1901 Census the total of Burmans in Burma was 6,508,682 and that of Arakanese 405,143. There are, however, a number of scattered tribes who appear to have broken off from the main body at a comparatively recent date and acquired in new surroundings certain new characteristics differentiating them from the Burman proper who cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed. The Kadus, already referred to above, belong more or less to this class, but so many elements have entered into the composition of the Kadu that his case is rather a special one and he has been dealt with apart. The most characteristic of what may be called the Burman tribes are the Taungyos and Inthas of the Southern Shan States, the Yaws of the Pakokku District and the Yabeins of Lower Burma. The first two live surrounded by people of non-Burman origin and have adopted the dress and habits of their neighbours, but speak a language which is practically an archaic form of Burmese. The Taungyos have been described at pages 554—562 of Volume I, Part I, of the Upper Burma Gazetteer, and there is a Taungyo vocabulary at pages 647—659 of that publication, almost every word of which is identical with or bears a close resemblance to the corresponding Burmese word, the older forms "amrang" apla," "anak," "kyak," "tamang," etc taking the lace of the modern "amyin" "apya" "anet," "kyet, "tamin" etc. The dress of the Taimgyo women, consisting of a smock, head-dress and garters of brass wire, is very much the same as that of the Taungthus near whom they live and the two have hitherto been classified together, but the form of the vernacular of the Taungyos may be regarded as proof positive that they are not a section of the Taungthus who have acquired the speech of their Burmese neighbours in the plains, but a Burmese-speaking community which established itself in the Taungthu country before the Burrnans as a body embraced Buddhism and has since then learnt to conform outwardly to Taungthu habits of life. The total of Taungyos in 1901 was 16,749.

It is much the same with the Inthas of Fort Stedman and the neighbourhood of the Yawnghwe lake whose language is described in the Upper Burma Gazetteer as " practically Burmese pronounced in Shan fashion," i.e., with "fang" for "in," "ak" for "et" and the like. The Inthas have practically adopted Shan dress and, but for their dialect and their aquatic mode of life would in all probability have been looked upon as Shans; but they are undoubtedly of Burmese stock. For a description of the Inthas the reader is referred to page 564 of Volume I, Part I, of the Upper Burma Gazetteer and page 68 of Sir George Scott's " Burma" (London, 1906). There were 50,478 Inthas enumerated at the Census of 1901.

The Yaws of the Pakôkku District have almost disappeared. Only eighteen persons returned themselves as Yaws in 1901. Their language is referred to at page 569 of Volume I of the Upper Burma Gazetteer as " a hybrid, nearest to Burmese now; possibly it was at one time nearer to Shan or to some of the Chin dialects." It is not improbable that the Yaws were actually the result of a fusion similar to that which produced the Taungthas, but for want of specific data they have been treated as a Burman tribe. Of a similar mixed stock are the Hpons, who are found in the upper defile of the Irrawaddy between Bhamo and Myitkyina. The accounts given of their wanderings by these people (who are described at pages 566-567 of the Upper Burma Gazetteer) point to a Chinese origin, but their language is undoubtedly Tibeto-Burman with affinities with Burmese and Maru, and, though they have been practically absorbed by the Shans among whom they live (no Hpons were returned as such at the 1901 Census), it seems probable that originally they had nothing of the Shan in their composition. The Yabeins are or were the silk-weavers of Lower Burma. A description of them will be found at page 198 of Volume I of the 1891 Census Report and at page 183 of Volume I of the British Burma Gazetteer. Whatever the cause of their separation, whether ostracized by reason of their calling or not, there can be no doubt that they were originally of Burman stock. There are still a certain number of persons, mainly in the Hanthawaddy and Pegu Districts who are willing to be looked upon as Yabeins. Their total in 1901 was 2,252.

Mention may be made at this point of the Tavoyans and the Danus, to whom frequent reference has been made in Gazetteers and Census Reports in the past. The former who numbered 948 in 1901, are merely the descendants of the original Arakanese settlers in Tavoy who still speak a dialect of Arakanese, with a slight admixture of Siamese. The latter are nothing more or less than Burmese-Shan half breeds. They are found for the most part on the foot-hills in the Shan States and in the Burmese districts adjoinincr the States. They speak Burmese or Shan or both and dress either like Burmans or Shans. In all 63,549 persons were returned as Danus at the 1901 Census.

The Taws and Kunyins of the Katha District (833 and 283 in 1901) are, so far as can be ascertained, of Burmese origin. For an account of the Taws see page 575 of Volume I, Part I, of the Upper Burma Gazetteer. Practically nothing is known of the Kunyins, who are alluded to at page 128 of Part I of the 1901 Burma Census Report. They have been placed provisionally with the other Burman tribes.

In so far as they are partly Arakanese, the Daingnets of the Akyab District (3,412 in 1901) may be looked upon as coming into the same category as the tribes above. So far as can be ascertained they are Tibeto-Burmans with a strain of Chittagonian blood and speaking Bengali. The 520 Rajbansis returned at the igoi Census in the Akyab and North Arakan Districts are doubtless a similar Arakanese Bengali compound.