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  • Biographical Essay: Myanmar Historian Daw Kyan (1918–2019)
  • Thin Thin Aye (bio)


Daw Kyan was a well-known scholar and humanist who devoted much of her time to research on Myanmar history. Since the 1960s, she had been writing books and articles on various subjects, while also mentoring younger scholars, who are now her successors. Her pen name was Ma Kyan. Sometimes she used her real name, Daw Kyan, as a pen name. As a historian, she meticulously crafted her work, sticking closely to the available evidence, stressing accuracy and precision, and rarely contending with issues for which the data provided little guidance. In the course of her influential and productive career, she compiled and edited many books, among them the Myanmar Encyclopedia Year books, and the English–Myanmar Dictionary. She was a member of the steering committee for the doctorate program at History Department of Yangon University from 2002 to 2005. She was also a member of the Myanmar Literary Awards Selection Committee and the U Ohn Pe Literary Awards Selection Committee. Until the last days of her immensely busy and productive life, she continued to serve as a full-time member of the Myanmar Language Commission. Throughout her life she worked tirelessly to preserve her country’s historical heritage and to make students aware of their rich heritage. Since 1999 the author had met with Sayamagyi Daw Kyan as her PhD candidate. The author got the PhD degree in 2005 under the supervision of Daw Kyan. [End Page 315]

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Daw Kyan was born on July 1, 1918 (or 1919) in Thandwe Township, Rakhine State. Her father was U Kyaw Tun, health servant of Thandwe, in the service of the British colonial administration in Myanmar. Her mother was Daw Ngwe Hnint. When she was nine years old, her father died. She spent her childhood life with her mother. She was the eldest among the four siblings who, like her, were good students who structured their futures on the basis of their educational attainments. They were not keen in doing business but loved literature. Her two younger brothers and one sister have since passed away. [End Page 316]

Daw Kyan passed the high school final examination in 1935 and worked as a junior assistant teacher at the government high school in Thandwe and later as an upper division clerk in Thandwe post office and Sittwe post office in Rakhine State. In 1951, at the age of thirty-two, she continued her education at the University of Yangon. After graduating with an early degree, she remained at the University of Yangon and received an MA degree in history in 1959. While studying as an MA candidate, Daw Kyan joined as a part-time tutor in the Department of English Language and Literature of the Yangon University for two years. In 1956 she was appointed as a research officer in the Burma (Myanmar) Historical Commission.

Daw Kyan went to London, to the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University to collect Myanmar historical documents on administration, politics, economics, social activities, commerce and trade, revenue, police, and education as well as census reports of 1872, 1881, 1891, and the records of the Home Affairs Department and gazetteers of Myanmar in 1957. The former colonial overlords preserved important documents relevant to their former colonies and made them accessible to scholars from far and wide, including to those from Burma. In 1959, she returned to London to select, identify, and microfilm records shedding light on colonial Myanmar, aware that the new technological advances furthered access to materials hitherto restricted to the chosen few. In so doing, she brought back to Myanmar copies of rare documents that shed important light on the British government’s policies up to 1900. She also copied to microfilm rare Myanmar parabaiks1 and ancient Myanmar historical records on palm leaf, as well as the collections of Major Henry Burney and Colonel E. B. Sladen.2 [End Page 317]

The Bulletin of the Burma (Myanmar) Historical Commission was published as a research journal, similar to the much-earlier Journal of Burma Research Society. These were pioneering publications that disseminated some...


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