Museums under the Ministry of Culture can be classified as national museums, archeological museums, regional cultural museums as ethnological museums, and memorial museums. Some religious museums, private museums, and historic houses under other institutions undertake the duties and tasks of preserving the cultural heritage of Myanmar. Nowadays, other types of museums appear more frequently under other ministries and the private sector in Myanmar. The Cultural Policy of Myanmar aims to raise national prestige and integrity through the preservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage and national character.
According to Myanmar’s main cultural policy, the mission statement of the Ministry of Culture is to “honor the state with culture.” Myanmar has rich and diverse cultural heritage in both physical and nonphysical forms. This heritage is mainly preserved in the National Museum (Yangon) and Bagan Archeological Museum, together with other regional cultural museums and archeological museums under the Ministry of Culture.
The earliest Myanmar museums include ancient palaces and Pitaka libraries and museums established before independence such as the Bagan Archeological Museum, and recent museum developments are as follows. The establishment of the Ministry of Culture in 1952, 4 years after the country regained independence, led to construction of the first National Museum (Yangon) and several other museums.
1. The Old Museum Building in Bagan (Photo credit: Thet Oo Maung)
2. Stone scripts in Bagan (Photo credit: Thet Oo Maung)
3. Buddha’s footprints in Bagan (Photo credit: Thet Oo Maung)
The National Museum of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar was first opened in June, 1952 at the Jubilee Hall Building in Shwedag on Pagoda Road, Yangon. The museum was moved to a larger location at 24/26 Pansodan Street in 1970, and then to its present location in 1996. The new five-story National Museum has been open to the public since September 1996. The museum's collections are displayed in the following 14 galleries and halls. The museum is divided by two main categories:
1. Myanmar (Burmese) Culture
· Myanmar (Burmese) Epigraphy and Calligraphy
· Myanmar (Burmese) Traditional Folk Art
· Myanmar (Burmese) Performing Arts
· Myanmar (Burmese) Art Gallery
· Buddhist Art
· Ethnic Cultures
2. Myanmar (Burmese) Historical Periods
· Natural History
· Prehistoric Period and Protohistoric Period
· Myanmar (Burmese) Civilization
· Royal Regalia
· Lion Throne
· Yadanabon Period
· Ancient Ornaments
· ASEAN Corner
The presentation of the National Museum mostly promotes the Burmese culture and Buddhism. The artifacts of the National Museum mainly aim at promoting Burmese Culture, although the government hasofficially recognized 135 different ethnic groups, in addition to 7 other unrecognized ethnic groups. If we divide the country’s ethnicity by language families, there would be six major language families in Burma/Myanmar:
The Department of Archeology and the National Museum of Burma have an archive building but it is really hard to access. This archive is infamous as a black-hole for non-Buddhist artifacts. Some artifacts which are supposed to be displayed at the museums have disappeared or have been damaged in their hands. Some are going out to local antique black markets.
4. The ink copy of an Armenian tombstone in 1740, written in Armenian and Dutch and found in an antique black market. (Photo credit: Thet Oo Maung)
One famous myth in Myanmar is that a Buddhist Monk called Shin ARa Hanbring gave Buddhist sermons to King Anawrahta, the first king of the Bagan Dynasty. King Anawrahta converted to Buddhism and declared Buddhism as the state religion. This is how Burma (the Bagan Dynasty) was founded, and Burmese culturewas cultivated under such circumstances. Based on this mythical narrative, non-Buddhist people in the country are not considered as indigenous people. This narrative especially discriminates against Christian and Muslim groups. The fact is, Buddhism was introduced to Burma long before King Anawrahta’s times. One can actually find many Buddhist and Hindu historical artifacts of the 6/7 A.D Pyu Kingdom, which was called Sri-Khitara.
The Burmese military and political leaders have strong dedication for the unification of the country. Many leaders believe Burma is only for Burmese and Buddhist people based on the myths. At the same time, many Burma governments portray their purposes as anti-colonial. They have written many mythical stories in the disguise of historical facts which especially aim at suppressing the unrecognized ethnic groups and religious minorities in Burma. In some cases, they wrongfully accuse them as deadly parasites brought by the British. This ideology has brought religious and ethnic discrimination in the country. The mass murdering, mob attacking, ethnic cleansing, and genocidal killings have been the side effects. The museums under the government somehow support this ideology. The government museums in Burma promote the narrative of one superior race (Burman) and one superior religion (Buddhism), and this fuels discrimination in the country.
5. The abandoned tombstone (1749) of an Armenian in Pagu City, written in Armenian, Dutch and Burmese. (Photo credit: Thet Oo Maung)
1. Museums in Myanmar: Brief History and Actual Perspectives, Author - Zan, NuMra
2. National Museum of Myanmar (Yangon) - Wikipedia 3. List of ethnic groups in Myanmar - Wikipedia
4. The Historic Lin Zin Gone Myanmar Muslim Cemetery and Mosque were demolished by using Bulldozers- M-Media, Reported by Thuta Maung.