This article examines negotiations over teak and rifle sales during the reign of King Mindon (1853–1878) to consider the relationship between religious formations and the economic control of teak in the last Burmese kingdom. This article focuses on archival documents from 1864–1865 that describe the Konbaung court's struggle to purchase Enfield Rifles from a private British merchant while the British government would not allow the guns to pass through its territory. King Mindon was finally able to buy a stockpile of rifles when he threatened to stop exporting teak—the tropical hardwood highly coveted by the British for its suitability to shipbuilding. King Mindon convinced the British that he had a special Buddhist right to reserve this particular timber for monasteries and royal buildings in Mandalay. This article argues that these Enfield-teak negotiations hinged on traditional Buddhist understandings of the king as owner of the earth (bhūmisāmika) as well as on a British practice of defining Buddhism as an elevated world religion. By studying the rhetorical strategies used in these negotiations—and in related commercial treaties and royal pronouncements—this article shows how control of material resources was established through expressions of concern for the future of Buddhism. Furthermore, this article examines documents from the archives of the American Baptist mission to Burma to reveal how the powerful teak industry worked with Buddhist and Christian institutions to promote particular political leaders, ethnic groups, and religious communities at the expense of those with less access to material resources and social mobility. This collection of Burmese, British, and American sources reveals the influence of teak in the fight for religious, political, and economic control of nineteenth-century Burma.


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pp. 1-36
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