Circus Problems and the Colonizer-Colonized Convergence in Late Colonial Burma

I recently came across some images from the 1930s that were advertising “giraffe-necked women.” Apparently in the 1930s there were Padaung women from Burma who were put on display at various circuses in Europe and America. While these advertisements suggest that the Padaung women were a big attraction, there were people at the time who were upset about these advertisements. In 1937 the Burmese Women’s League passed a resolution that condemned British newspapers for carrying advertisements for the Bertram Mills Circus that featured the Padaung women. What upset the Burmese Women’s League was not what would upset many people today; … Continue reading Circus Problems and the Colonizer-Colonized Convergence in Late Colonial Burma

Dr. Francisco Africa and the Burmese Mission in WW II Southeast Asia

I was looking at a report that the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) compiled during World War II about Filipinos who were collaborating with the Japanese. One of the people discussed was a man by the name of Dr. Francisco Africa. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Africa had served as the dean of the Institute of Arts and Sciences at the Far Eastern University in Manila. After the Japanese occupied the Philippines, Dr. Africa was appointed to serve on a committee to select Filipinos to study in Japan. Later, in 1944, Dr. Francisco Africa became a consultant … Continue reading Dr. Francisco Africa and the Burmese Mission in WW II Southeast Asia

A Documentary about U Dhammaloka, the Ex-Alcoholic Irishman who became the First Western Buddhist

I usually refrain from “advertising” on this blog, but a project came to my attention today that I feel, for various reasons, that I simply have to “advertise.” A few months ago I wrote about an Irishman (Laurence Carroll) who became a Buddhist monk in Burma (U Dhammaloka) in the early twentieth century. I wrote that piece based on the scholarship of a group of scholars. One of those scholars pointed out to me today that there is an Irish filmmaker, Ian Lawton, who is attempting to make a documentary about this man (in collaboration with the scholars who have … Continue reading A Documentary about U Dhammaloka, the Ex-Alcoholic Irishman who became the First Western Buddhist

The Silenced Mules of World War II Burma

In continuing to follow my interest in animals and animal-human relations in the Southeast Asian past, I was looking around the web site for the Imperial War Museums for information about mules in Burma during World War II. Mules were used to transport weapons and goods for the Chindits, a British special forces group that entered Burma from India and fought the Japanese, and they are mentioned quite often in the oral interviews on the Imperial War Museums web site of soldiers who served in the Chindit expeditions. So it looks like one could use what humans have written and … Continue reading The Silenced Mules of World War II Burma

King Thibaw’s Ascension to Rule Among the Gods

There is one episode in the history of modern Southeast Asia that I find endlessly fascinating, and that is the fall of the Burmese monarchy. Perhaps this is because Amitav Ghosh described it so captivatingly in his historical novel, The Glass Palace, or perhaps it is simply because it is a fascinating moment in history. The gist of the story is that King Thibaw and Queen Supayalat were given an ultimatum in 1884 by the British to allow a British “resident” to be stationed at the palace and to take control of various functions, such as foreign affairs, or to … Continue reading King Thibaw’s Ascension to Rule Among the Gods

Remixing the Past: An Indian Guard, High on Ganja, at a Bus Station in Colonial Burma

In the 1890s, the British government commissioned a report on the use of cannabis (i.e., marijuana) in British India, which at that time included Burma. The report that this “Indian Hemp Drugs Commission” produced was more than 3,000 pages long. I have just begun to read through this report. What I can see already though is that ganja (another name for marijuana) was apparently prohibited in British-controlled Lower Burma in 1873, but that with the British annexation of Upper Burma in 1885, large numbers of Indian troops and workers started to arrive in Burma, and since ganja was apparently still … Continue reading Remixing the Past: An Indian Guard, High on Ganja, at a Bus Station in Colonial Burma

Tigers, Trains and Lunatics in Colonial Burma

I woke up at 3am this morning and couldn’t fall back asleep. So I decided to read some of the Statistical Abstract Relating to British India from 1897-98 to 1906-07, thinking that it would put me to sleep. However, it ended up having the opposite effect. In the years that this text covers, Burma was a province of British India, and I was interested to see what kinds of statistics it had about Burma. I found some fascinating ones. For instance, I discovered that in this 10-year period at the turn of the twentieth century 59 people in Burma were … Continue reading Tigers, Trains and Lunatics in Colonial Burma

An Irish Buddhist Monk, an Indian Policeman’s Shoes, and a Burmese Nationalist Narrative

I spent some time today reading about someone I had never heard of before – U Dhammaloka, described on Wikipedia as “an Irish-born hobo (migrant worker) turned Buddhist monk, atheist critic of Christian missionaries, and temperance campaigner who took an active role in the Asian Buddhist revival around the turn of the twentieth century.” I am surely not the only person in the world who has never heard of this man before, as he has only recently been “discovered” by a small group of scholars (Alicia Turner, Brian Bocking and Laurence Cox) who are now researching about him. They have … Continue reading An Irish Buddhist Monk, an Indian Policeman’s Shoes, and a Burmese Nationalist Narrative

Mattie Calogreedy, Anna Leonowens and Marie Vannier – Hapa Women at Mainland Southeast Asian Courts in the Nineteenth Century

The story of the overthrow of the Konbaung Dynasty by the British in the late nineteenth century is a complex one, but a simplified explanation of the events of that time were published in an historical novel that British author, F. Tennyson Jesse, published in (I think) 1930 called The Lacquer Lady. The main character in The Lacquer Lady is Fanny Maroni, a half-Burmese/half-Italian young woman who ends up working for Queen Supayalat, falls in love with a French engineer in Mandalay, and this leads to a lot of intrigue that eventually leads the British to decide to conquer what … Continue reading Mattie Calogreedy, Anna Leonowens and Marie Vannier – Hapa Women at Mainland Southeast Asian Courts in the Nineteenth Century