- Editor's Note
Welcome to the second issue of The Journal of Burma Studies (JBS) for the year 2019! For this issue, this collection of articles offers deep exploration of three aspects of Burma/Myanmar's foundations: spiritual, economic, and sociocultural.
Our JBS readership—as many visitors to Bagan (recently granted UNESCO World Heritage Status!)—will be familiar with the pantheon of the "Thirty-Seven Nats." In her article, "Counting to 37: Sir Richard Carnac Temple and the Thirty-Eighth Nat," Sally Bamford offers a compelling historiography as to how Temple's 1906 book about the Nats has led to an oversimplification, if not misrecognition of the ways in which nats are ordered and understood throughout Burma's history. Bamford's discussion offers not only an important lesson in the diversity and roles of the Nats, but also an analysis of the ways in which certain sources about the country gain scholarly momentum in the field.
From considering ideas about scholarly currency, and turning to scholarship of currency, the second article in this issue of JBS, by Philip Hauret is entitled, "King Bodawpaya's Effort at a Konbaung Coinage." Although underestimated by the British, the Kingdom's coinage system operated effectively and continued to circulate in Burma through the nineteenth century. Hauret's article, when read in tandem with Bamford's, provides another lesson in British colonial officials misrecognizing or underestimating the dynamism of what was happening in Burma. Their corresponding critique of Richard Carnac Temple for neglecting to notice (or wilfully ignoring?) a coinage system as well as other nats is worth considering as well. We can consider, as well, the role of taxonomies and collecting, and how collectors and their accounts (in both ways) influence our paradigms for understanding the past.
While the first two articles problematize fundamental aspects of Burmese historiography, the last article forces us to consider the ways in which certain paradigms gain [End Page iii] bureaucratic momentum and create very real political consequences, some of which have horrific effects. François Robinne has conducted research over many decades in Upland Burma, among heterogenous communities, often very cosmopolitan in their composition and outlook. In his topical piece, "Thinking Through Heterogeneity: An Anthropological Look at Contemporary Myanmar," Robinne argues that the tripartite structure of the Burma/Myanmar nation, dominated by a central political power that is Burmese and Buddhist; the sangha and its interdependent relationship with the Buddhist laity; and finally, the ethnic and religious minority groups that are outside of the other two groups. It is this structure that frames an identity trap to which ethnic politics is beholden in the country. Ultimately, the internal struggles, as well as the national laws are beholden to an approach that essentializes ethnic identity. Robinne's article suggests that it is necessary to transcend these categorical notions of otherness in order to work toward peace in the country.
Assembled, the three articles offer a compelling picture of accounting: nats, coins, and people. Thank you for your continued support for JBS. [End Page iv]