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Anglo-Burmese
Total population
52,000 in Burma
Worldwide total unknown
Regions with significant populations
Australia, United Kingdom, United States, India, Burma
Languages

English, Burmese

Religion

Buddhism, Christianity

Related ethnic groups

English, Bamar, Anglo-Indians, Dutch people

The Anglo-Burmese, also known as the Anglo-Burmans, are a community of Eurasians of Burmese and European descent, and emerged as a distinct community through mixed relations (sometimes permanent, sometimes temporary) between the British (whether English, Scots or Welsh) and other European settlers and Bamar from 1826 until 1948 when Burma gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Today, this small but influential Eurasian community is dispersed throughout the world, with very few accurate estimates as to how many remain behind in military-ruled Burma (or Myanmar.)

The term Anglo-Burmese is also used to refer to Eurasians of European and other Burmese ethnic minority groups (e.g. Shan, Karen, Mon, Chinese) descent. It also, after 1937, included Anglo-Indian residents in Burma. Collectively, in the Burmese language, Eurasians are specifically known as bo kabya; the term kabya refers to persons of mixed ancestry or dual ethnicity.

Contents

History

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Earliest settlement

The first Anglo-Burmese community emerged in the early 1600s, as the Portuguese and Bamar intermixed, and this multicultural community was collectively known as the Ba-yin-gyi. The community was established in Syriam (now known as Thanlyin) on the outskirts of modern-day Yangon. The settlement was founded by Felipe de Brito. De Brito is said to have gone mad, having declared himself king of Lower Burma, causing his outpost to be destroyed and himself executed by the Burmese king. Most of the small community of Eurasian and European settlers was banished inland to Shwebo then known as Moksobo. Additionally, a small band of French soldiers captured in the late 1700s by the Burmese King was provided with Burmese wives and established a similar, small Eurasian community. In one of the last census counts conducted by the British in the 1930s, a number of people in Upper Burma still classified themselves as descendants of these bands of Portuguese and French soldiers.[1] After the Portuguese and the French, the Dutch also established trade missions in Burma and along with them came Armenian settlers, both communities intermarrying with the already established Eurasians or marrying local Burmese people. The VOC (Dutch East India Company) was active in Burma in the 1700s and many Anglo-Burmans of Dutch heritage are descended from the Dutch merchants who settled in the country. Today's Anglo-Burmese can count a very diverse lineage in their blood.

British occupation

From 1825 onwards, border wars with the British ended with the coastal provinces of (Arakan and Tenasserim) being annexed to British rule with a capital set up in Moulmein. The year 1852 saw a second war that added the delta province of Pegu to what became known as Lower Burma or British Burma. Finally in 1885 after a plot was uncovered that the French intended to annex Upper Burma, the British moved first with the total annexation of Burma, King Thibaw and most of his relatives of importance were exiled to India, and Burma was made a province of British India. British settlers now began to settle in large numbers in Burma, intermixing with the local Burmans (Bamar) and other local ethnic groups, and the Eurasian community grew larger, some say larger than the Anglo-Indian community in India (see 'Finding George Orwell' by Emma Larkin). Frequently, European men took Burmese women as "temporary" wives, often deserting them and their offspring after their tours of duty ended in Burma but legal, long lasting marriages did also take place. Frequently, when a "temporary" relationship ended, the European father left behind a sum of money for the upkeep of their children, and sometimes the children were removed from their Burmese mothers and placed into convent schools run by Europeans, where their Burmese heritage was often undermined. The issue of mixed marriages, particularly between Bamar women and British males, was to become a major issue in the independence movement as it further developed.

Anglo-Burmans represent a very diverse heritage, their Asian side primarily representing Burman blood, but also Karen, Shan and Mon as well as other smaller Burmese ethnic groups (Chin, Kachin, Arakanese for example). The European element included, aside from the British, other European influence, chiefly Greek, Dutch, Scandinavian, Irish (who left their country when the Great Irish Famine happened since their country was under British rule), German, Austrian, French, Portuguese, Italian and Russian. In addition, Iraqi (Assyrian/Chaldean Christian), Armenian (the Armenians were classed as White/Europeans in colonial Burma), and Anglo-Indian blood was also represented among Anglo-Burmans. By the 1920s, the Anglo-Burman community was a distinct ethnic group in Burma. In 1935, colonial Burma was plagued with riots due to the country having been swallowed into British India. In response, in 1937, as Burma separated officially from British India and formed a separate crown colony, Anglo-Burmans were officially recognised as an ethnic group under the Government of Burma Act. Having European blood, Anglo-Burmans were often more privileged, and became one of the dominant ethnic groups in Burmese life. They began assimilating to European customs, in particular British. Most Anglo-Burmans (unlike Anglo-Indians and the Burgher people in Sri Lanka) were able to trace at least a grandparent, if not a parent, originating from outside of Burma's borders. As such, the connection with the West was strong, and many Anglo-Burmans did not settle down as a truly indigenous ethnic group. Of course, some Anglo-Burmans did, and most of the community felt Burma was their own country, with no wish to "repatriate" to their European homeland. In fact, after Independence, when the Anglo-Burman Union carried out research among the community to gauge the feeling of its people with regard to nationality, it was discovered that around 60% intended to remain in Burma and take Burmese Citizenship (see John Clement Koop- The Eurasian Population in Burma) with the remaining 40% split between staying in Burma or leaving for Australia or the UK. Along with the British settlers, Anglo-Indians also came into Burma during colonial times to work on the railways and customs departments and intermarriage between the two groups (Anglo-Indian and Anglo-Burmese) was frequent, especially in Rangoon (Yangon) as both communities were innately drawn to one another. Community clubs were a mainstay of life during British rule, with most attending what was commonly called the 'Anglo-Indian/Domiciled European Club'.

Between 1935 and 1948, Burma quickly became the jewel of the East, with a flourishing economy based on agricultural produce (primarily rice), oil, timber, gems and other natural resources. At this time, Rangoon was said to be the most cosmopolitan city east of the Suez Canal and the city and its environs were estimated to hold at least 50% of the Anglo-Burmese community. During British rule, Rangoon and Maymyo became principal population centres for the Anglo-Burmese, although substantial communities also existed in the Ayeyarwady River delta towns as well as in Mandalay, Moulmein, Amherst (now Kyaikkami), Taunggyi, Kalaw, Toungoo, Pyinmana, Meiktila, Yenangyaung and the mining towns of the Shan States. It is important to note that although prejudice did exist among some of the colonial settlers of European origin and equally among some Burmans, the Anglo-Burmese were not held in such contempt by the British and Burmans as were the Anglo-Indians by both the British and Indians in India, despite their similar origins and heritage. This was also reflected in the derogatory term bo kyet chee in Burmese to refer to Anglo-Indians in contrast to bo kabya which referred to Anglo-Burmans. Many Anglo-Indians in Burma never learnt to speak Burmese and managed to get by with Hindi or Urdu and this tended to alienate the local Burman people. As far as the host community was concerned, those willing to intermingle or blend in were as readily accepted as any kabya in the days of the Burmese kings, but those who looked down on the Burmese themselves were held in mutual contempt.

Japanese occupation and Allied liberation

In 1942, the Japanese invaded East and Southeast Asia, including Burma in hopes of creating an Empire for itself throughout Asia. Because of their European connections and appearance and fearful of Japanese rule, most Anglo-Burmans began making frantic preparations to leave the country for safety in India alongside the British. A vast majority of Anglo-Burmans made their way out of Burma by their own means, some by sea and others by air. Many were employed by government departments or were married to government employees and were able to flee on official evacuation convoys. Others stayed at their posts and ran the telegraphs and phone operations, railways and other infrastructure systems until it was too late to escape. Sadly, of those less fortunate who were left behind, many opted to trek through the jungles to safety in India. This exodus has become historically known as "The Trek" and many Anglo-Burmans alongside Europeans, Indians and Chinese died en route. Those who remained behind suffered horrendously. Many Anglo-Burmese during colonial times were concentrated in and around the town of Maymyo and as the Japanese took control of the country, they found many still located there and simply incarcerated them in concentration camps for fear of their loyalty to the British. However, Anglo-Burmese who resembled Bamar were incognito and managed to pass, acting like the Burmans. Indeed, many Bamar sheltered their Eurasian friends and relatives from the Japanese and after the war, many Anglo-Burmans were not to forget this, refusing to take back their European names and dress, appreciative of the security and protection offered to them, and disgraced with the manner in which the British handled the evacuation of the country and the abandonment of the community. Others less fortunate during the war were interned in prison camps whilst others, particularly the Anglo-Burman women, were taken as servants and mistresses by the Japanese army, most often unwillingly. In 1944, Burma's colonial government met in exile at Simla, India. Among those who attended were the Governor of Burma, Sir Reginald Dorman Smith, along with Anglo-Burman leaders (including James Barrington who was to become the first Ambassador for post-independence Burma to the U.S.A. and Canada), to discuss the future of Burma after the war and the status of the Anglo-Burmese community. After Japan was defeated, most Anglo-Burmans who had fled to India returned to Burma.

Simla Conference 1944

Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, Governor of Burma in exile, met with Anglo-Burmese leaders in Simla in 1944, where the Government of Burma in exile was stationed during the war, to discuss the future of the Anglo-Burmese community after the war.

The Anglo-Burmese delegates were :

  • Mr. G.Kirkham,
  • Mr. H.J.Mitchell B.Fr.S.,
  • Mr. J.Barrington I.C.S.,
  • Mr. K.W. Foster B.C.S.,
  • Mr. E.A. Franklin I.C.S,
  • Mr. W.A. Gibson,
  • Mrs. K. Russell,
  • Mr. H. Elliott,
  • Mr. C.H. Campagnac,
  • Mr. J.A.Wiseham, and
  • Mr. J. F. Blake.

One of the results of the conference was the giving of an assurance to the Anglo-Burmese community that they would be allowed to preserve their freedom of worship and allowed to teach their own religion, freedom to continue their own customs, and maintain their own language of English. In the Constituent Assembly of 1947, Anglo-Burmans were also to receive four assigned seats in the new parliament of independent Burma.

Post-independence

On 4 January 1948, the Union of Burma declared its independence from Great Britain, immediately leaving the Commonwealth and severing all ties with the British Empire. The British left protectional clauses in the Constitution and the legislative makeup of independent Burma to take account of the Anglo-Burman people including, most importantly, reserved seats in the parliament of the newly established Union of Burma and a disproportionate number of Anglo-Burmans running the bureaucracy of day to day government and military operations. Aung San, prior to his death, had addressed the Anglo-Burman Union to press the issue of acceptance and the fears the community had for their presence in independent Burma. His assurances went to help with the decision by most of the community to remain in Burma after British withdrawal:

"I have come here at your bidding and I am to do so. The welfare of all people of this country irrespective of race or religion has always been the one purpose that I have set out to fulfil. In fact it is my life's mission. Unfortunately, the country to which you and I belong is not yet free. Unless our nation has the freedom to plan our destiny and life in accordance with our head's vision and heart's desire, it will not be possible to promote the welfare of our people to the extent that we wish to do. At this moment my colleagues and I belonging to the AFPFL, of which I have the honour to be President, are endeavoring to carry out the main national objective, namely the question of obtaining the independence of our country as soon as possible. You might observe that my colleagues and I are Independence Wallahs and not in favour of "Dominion Status," or any other status. I do not believe that because Burma is unable to do this or that immediately that should offer any argument against her right to independence. The fitness of any nation for an independent form of government is to be judged not by the conditions and standards arbitrarily imposed upon her in her period of subjugation; it can only be judged when a nation is fully allowed to plan her destiny and to order her life freely. Arguments are advanced against the independence of this country in many forms. One argument is that Burma will not be able to provide adequate defence as an independent entity. This argument has proved to be quite hollow when judged in the light of recent events. In the recent World War II it had been proved that no nation, not even Great Britain herself, was able to defend herself alone against external aggression on a big scale. If the criterion of a nation's ability to defend herself is to be taken as a reason for the independence of that nation, then I am afraid no nation in the world deserves to be independent. As a matter of fact only in an independent Burma can we plan our defence to the utmost limits we may be capable, and only in an independent Burma shall we be able to arouse the greatest enthusiasm on the part of the people to defend their country and only then can we hope to have the best defence structure for this country. Another argument against the independence of our country is that we have not sufficient finance to rehabilitate and reconstruct our country. Finance is only secondary and not the main thing which we must have in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of a nation. Our country has ample natural resources which indeed form the national wealth. So long as we have such ample national wealth at our disposal and we are in a position to utilize it to the best interests of our people, the question of shortage of finance should not worry us much. After all, even Britain herself has to borrow from the United States. We may similarly have to do the same, and if a Bolshevik Russia, outlawed and ostracised for years after her revolution of their country, could get loans for her rehabilitation and reconstruction there should be no difficulty in the way of Burma getting loans from other countries. It is also pointed out that Burma lying as it does between the two biggest countries on earth is liable to be made a pawn frequently in the game of international politics. We have no cause to become enemies either with India or China now or in the foreseeable future. As such any bogey raised on account of the juxtaposition of our country with the two biggest countries in the World is only an academic one. It may be that situated as we are adjoining one another, there may be some minor differences on local issues from time to time, but this should not affect our fundamental interrelations to any great extent. There is also another argument advanced against the independence of Burma and that is that we have not got a sufficient number of technicians. Japan, Turkey and Russia have proved that a nation is quite capable of running on her own even without having an adequate number of technicians at the start. What these countries each in its own way have done in this matter can likewise be followed in our country, and there should be no difficulty in our case too on account of lack of sufficient technical personnel. While there may be many more arguments advanced against the independence of Burma, they will, one and all, fall through when we examine them closely. After all most of the things advanced as arguments against our independence are, in fact, inevitable results of our own subjugation. The best way to remove these is to have our country independent as soon as possible, for this is the only way we can fashion our destiny and order our lives in accordance with our vision and to our heart's content and, in that way remove those factors that may be used as arguments against our independence. But by saying all these do we mean to remain isolated from the rest of the world? Certainly not. The one fact from which us nation, big or small can escape is the increasing universal interdependence of nations. A free and independent Burma is quite ready to enter into any arrangement with other nations for common welfare and security, etc. In such arrangements, the question of Burma's joining the British Commonwealth of Nations will, I hope, come up as one of the first things to be considered. When I mention the British Commonwealth of Nations, I am not referring to it as it has been conceived up to now and as it stands; I am envisaging a much broader construction which can reorientate itself to changing circumstances. Speaking for myself, as an ally of Free Burma, I would rather prefer the devil we know to the other devils we don't yet know. Yet inspite of such inclination on my part, if I finally choose other devils, it will be only because I have no other alternative and am driven to that conclusion by the logical events. Our nation, as indeed all other nations, cannot live without allies. We must have our allies and friends, and if we cannot win the friendship of one, we must try the others. We cannot live alone. I am an internationalist, but an internationalist who does not all own himself to be swept off the firm Earth. I recognise both the virtues and limitations of pure nationalism, I love its virtues, I don't allow myself to be blinded by its limitations, though I knew that it is not easy for the great majority of any nation to get over these limitations. In so far as nationalism encourages us to love our people and love others, or at least encourages us not to hate others, there I am completely with nationalism. In so far as nationalism inculcates in us a sense of national and social justice which calls upon us to fight any system that is oppressive or tyrannical both in our country and the world, there I am completely with nationalism. I hate Imperialism whether British or Japanese or Burmese. I believe in the inherent right of a people to revolt against any tyranny that people may have over them. No doubt their own convenience should not be a cause or causes for taking that path of revolt with all the good and bad consequences what it may imply towards the life of the community. But on the other hand, history has amply demonstrated the right of a people to its own freedom, and that once it is denied to them, even in the case of the peoples who belong to the same stock such as happened in the case of the founding of the American nation after the war of American Independence. There is therefore nothing wrong in the aspirations of a nation if it wants to regain the freedom that is its birthright and attempts to have it. There also I am completely for Nationalism. I believe with Abraham Lincoln in this respect that no nation has the right to rule another nation. If such principles that I have just mentioned are principles of nationalism, well and good and I certainly think that we should foster them and adopt them. The implications of such principles also mean in my view that every nation in the world must be free not only externally (i.e., free from any foreign rule) but also internally. That is to say that every nation in the world being a conglomeration of races and religions should develop such a nationalism as is compatible with the welfare of one and all, irrespective of race or religion or class or sex. This is my nationalism and I believe that such a nationalism is but a complement of true scientific internationalism. Nowadays, all the world over, we cannot confine the definition of a nationality to the narrow bounds of race, religion, etc. Nations are extending the rights of their respective communities even to others who may not belong to them except by their mere residence amongst them and their determination to live and be with them. Today the AFPFL of which I am President and the Government which AFPFL is leading have declared their policies quite clearly in this respect and you know them already. I am glad to know that you regard yourselves as nationals of this country. But if you regard yourselves as nationals of this country, it should not be sufficient by mere verbal declaration; you must identify yourselves in all national activities for national welfare. Let me be perfectly frank with you-your community in the past did not happen to identify yourselves with national activities; on the other hand, you were even frequently on the other side. Now you have to prove that you want to live and to be with the people of this country, not by words but by deeds. So far as I am concerned, I am perfectly prepared to embrace you as my own brothers and sisters. During the dark days of the recent war when members of your community, whoever were left behind in Burma, had to undergo the worst of the ordeals they ever went through, I was pained and saddened to know their plight and in my quiet way I tried what I could to alleviate their sufferings. I was indeed sorry that I could not do more. And now when you ask me to be here to address you I put some of these home truths before you in all my honesty so that you may see the writing on the wall just as much as I do. Our country will be free and the world is changing tremendously. Those facts can no longer be hidden from you and me. In these changing circumstances, it is only right that you should awaken to a new sense of values with a new consciousness. A free independent Burma has great potentialities and quite full of promises for our people. We shall have to develop our ample natural resources to the full, we shall have to build many more communications, many more Industries, etc. There will be employments far more than the people in our country may be able to absorb. We must even invite technicians and experts from abroad. I understand that there are a lot of undue apprehensions amongst you in this and other respects. I want to tell you here that you should have no apprehensions on any score provided that you choose to identify yourselves with the people of the country not merely in words but in deeds".

However, Aung San and his entire cabinet were assassinated prior to Independence and this sent a ripple effect through the entire country and among all ethnic minority groups, who Aung San had personally addressed to reassure them of their place in the new country. In February, 1948, ethnic rebellions immediately erupted throughout Burma, with the Kayin taking most of the central part of the country, including Mandalay and for a time, it was feared that Rangoon itself would fall to the rebels. Due to the insurrection and erupting civil war, there immediately followed, however, a stream of Anglo-Burmans leaving the country, who were fearful of what awaited them and the country since the end of British rule. At this time, about 30% of the population of Rangoon were reckoned as Anglo-Burmese. This proportion, however, was to decline steadily through to the late 1960s.

Following the British withdrawal in 1948, some Anglo-Burmans left Burma, primarily for the United Kingdom. It is an interesting irony of note that whereas both Anglo-Burmans and Anglo-Indians had tended to look down on the native Bamar, after they emigrated to Britain, many ended up calling themselves Burmese in white society, primarily due to British attitudes which refused to acknowledge those of mixed origins as their own. Many more remained behind in Burma and carried on with their lives. However through the 1950s, the situation steadily declined in the country, with armed insurrections and rebellions throughout the country, principally among the Kayin people. Due to the perceived suffering the Bamar had encountered under British rule, affirmative action of sorts was introduced by the government of U Nu in the 1950s, primarily due to the disproportionate control the Anglo-Burmans had within government departments and the running of the country. Many Anglo-Burmans began to lose their jobs, to be replaced with pure Burmans as the bureaucracy of the country became increasingly Burmanized. Additional measures relating to the Burmese language were introduced so that in order to take the Matriculation exam to enter Rangoon University, prospective students were required to be fluent in written Burmese (which many Anglo-Burmans had not been taught), even though all books and most teaching were still carried out in English.

Military rule

In 1962 General Ne Win overthrew U Nu's government and established strict military rule. It soon became apparent that this new military government had other plans as a socialist, xenophobic and isolationist regime was born. At this time, many more Anglo-Burmans left due to discriminatory measures taken against minority groups, particularly those the military deemed as vestiges of colonial rule, specifically the Anglo-Burmese and the Karen. Anglo-Burmans already in the Armed Forces were dismissed and those who wanted to join were now barred. There were also mass dismissals of Anglo-Burmans from the Civil Service in departments where they had previously dominated such as the Railways, the Union of Burma Airways, Customs Department, Division of Forestry and Mining and the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs. All schools were nationalised, the principal target being missionary schools, and English was no longer taught from kindergarten level as it had been before. Standards began to fall in the educational system in the country and the previously highly esteemed University of Rangoon was closed for some time, after which the Rangoon University Student Union (RUSU), hotbed of the nationalist movement during the 1930s and 1940s, was blown up by the military. Once the University reopened its doors, English as the principal medium of instruction was abolished and foreign institutions no longer accepted degrees obtained from the University. The Anglo-Burman Social Club in Rangoon was subsequently requisitioned by the military and turned into an officer’s mess and the Anglo-Burman Union was banned. During this time, many Anglo-Burmans left for Australia and New Zealand, with small numbers emigrating to Canada and the U.S.A.

Present-day

Today, only a handful of people actually identifying themselves as Anglo-Burmans are believed to remain in Burma. Most who remained after 1962 adopted Burmese names, and converted to Buddhism to protect their families, jobs and assets. Because of the similar heritage and roles played, and because Burma was historically part of the Empire as part of India, Anglo-Burmans were once counted as Anglo-Indians; today, Anglo-Indians still accept Anglo-Burmese as their "kith and kin" and world reunions of Anglo-Indians usually also include many who would also be classed more correctly as Anglo-Burmese, to reflect their Burmese, rather than Indian, blood.

Notable diaspora

The most famous Anglo-Burmans today are to be found outside of Burma's borders such as the Bollywood actress Helen, the late British television actor Richard Beckinsale, his daughters the actresses Kate Beckinsale and Samantha Beckinsale, the music critic Peter Barakan (ピーター・バラカン), the British TV personality Melanie Sykes the jazz musician Jamie Cullum and his brother Ben Cullum and the singer Annabella Lwin. The alternative musician Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (né Sam Duckworth) is also Anglo-Burmese. The sons of Aung San Suu Kyi and Michael Aris, Alexander and Kim, are technically Anglo-Burmese.

Educational system

Anglo-Burmans were enrolled in missionary-run schools where English was the medium of instruction with Burmese as a second language. For some Anglo-Burmans who married full blooded Burmese, their children, whilst still being counted as Anglo-Burmans, were usually more openly exposed to the indigenous culture and spoke and used the Burmese language more frequently than their more "Anglo" counterparts. Notable schools include:

Community organisations in Colonial Burma

  • Anglo-Burman Social Club
  • Anglo-Burmese Association
  • Anglo-Burman Union
  • Anglo-Burman Council
  • Gedhawk

Present-day Anglo-Burman organisations

Resources

  • Anglo-Burmese Society [3]
  • Sue Arnold. A Burmese Legacy.
  • Maureen Baird-Murray. A World Overturned.
  • Stephen Brookes. Through the Jungle of Death.
  • F. Tennyson Jesse. The Lacquer Lady.
  • Emma Larkin. Finding George Orwell in Burma
  • Colin McPhedran. White Butterflies.
  • Ethel Mannin. The Living Lotus.
  • George Orwell. Burmese Days.
  • Methodist English High School, Rangoon - Alumni website,
  • Dutch Malaysian Eurasians [4]
  • Singapore Eurasian Association [5]
  • The Australian Anglo-Burmese Society (offering membership to Anglo-Burmans worldwide)[6]
  • Anglo-Indian Web [7]
  • An Address to the Anglo-Burman Union by Aung San, 1947 [8]
  • The International Journal of Anglo-Indian Studies - research paper written on the Anglo-Burmese community - [9].

See also

Notes

External links


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