- Editors’ Note
The summer 2017 issue of The Journal of Burma Studies covers a wide range of subjects understudied, to put it mildly, by investigators of Myanmar’s past and present. The articles are concerned with some of the most important components in the country’s very long-range intellectual and material evolution, its current political and social instabilities, and how the Burmese vernacular lives in the twenty-first century. The changing lineaments of its Buddhist path were greatly influenced by how contemporaries in each period handled the texts the Burmese believed preserved the pristine dhamma as articulated by the Buddhavacana. Sadly, this vast subject has received minimal scholarly attention, though this is about to change.
Aleix Ruiz-Falqués’ groundbreaking article on how Pali grammar informed premodern Burma’s intellectual and religious evolution shows how hitherto narrowly interpreted grammatical texts contributed to the country’s ideational history. The Burmese concern with Pali grammar, the author proves, exceeded issues of comprehension, translation, and linguistic concerns. For the Burmese handlers of the Buddha’s Pali Daw, knowledge of Pali grammar became a key to doctrinal definitions, to correct engagements with the dhamma, to a more immediate grasp of the real. By interpreting grammatical texts as forms of philosophical speculation, illuminated by Indian debates on logic, epistemology, and the authority of revered texts, the article opens up a new field for scholarly inquiry that will restore to long-forgotten texts recognition of their importance. The application of contemporary literary theories to a domain hitherto examined only through a syntactic lens is another highly promising venue for future research.
Lilian Handlin reads closely two eighteenth-century donative inscriptions, recording meritorious deeds of a wealthy widow and her son and daughter-in-law. The two statements reflect a different mind cast, related to the diverse historical [End Page 1] circumstances that informed their inscribers’ lives. The statements grace a small shrine housing a Buddha statue, whose significance is illuminated by the depictions featured on its walls. The images comprising the shrine’s décor reflect accepted patterns associated with the period in which the shrine was constructed. But that décor also features some less commonly encountered (given the surviving record) components, one of them inscribed with the intriguing clause: “Theravada zat” (jataka). The textual source preserving the story in written form or another means of non-oral transmission have thus far proved unidentifiable. The article thereupon considers the significance of the donors’ recourse to a term that, in the middle of the eighteenth century, had yet to acquire the heavy-duty resonance later generations saddled it with. That being the case, the article speculates on what the donors thought they were saying by using the term, and how their decision to inscribe it on the walls of their meritorious deed opened the door for later generations to endow the word with meanings suitable to changing times.
Peter Swift’s examination of how Chin members of the 1988 generation were mobilized into the Chin National Front illuminates one facet of Myanmar’s painful process of coalescence that has bedeviled attempts, since the country gained independence, to form a coherent union. Such a union would meet the desires and needs of its disparate components, each of whom—much like the Chin—trails a history of mutual hostility and suspicion. Subverting the standard narrative of how events transpired, the author examines the motives of the young Chin who fled over the border not necessarily to take up arms against the Myanmar government or else rely on the help of the Indian government to provide the necessary support stoking armed resistance. Other reasons, including the lack of economic opportunities at home, as well as personal friendships and alliances, drew people across the border and into camps, where joining the resistance was less a life choice and more a timely imperative.
A. A. Bastian restores to historical consciousness two forgotten Americans who found themselves in the 1850s in [End Page 2] Rangoon witnessing momentous events in the immediate aftermath of the second Anglo–Burman War. Levi Savage and Ellam Luddington were two Mormon missionaries, sent by the Latter Day Saints authorities to Southeast...