Friday, May 19, 2006


The Burmese chronicle is not one text, but several versions of the same basic text that differ in slight, but sometimes important ways.

The most famous version of the Burmese Chronicle is the Hmannan Yazawin or Glass Palace Chronicle. This is the version that Harvey relies on and explicitly cites in his history of Burma. U Pe Maung Tin and the historian of Pagan Gordon Luce translated the Pagan part of the Hmannan Yazawin into English. This is the only published translation of the Burmese chronicle into English so far. In the early 20th century there were also English summaries of the sections of the Burmese Chronicle relevant to Thai history published in the Journal of the Siam Society.

U Kala's Mahayazawingyi is the version that the historian of early modern Burma Victor Lieberman of the University of Michigan relies on his 1984 classic Burmese Administrative Cycles: Anarchy and Conquest: c. 1580-1760 (Princeton University Press).

The Burmese Chronicle starts with the creation of universe, then describes the society of primordial humans and how the first king, the Mahathammada king, was elected to put an end to the social chaos that reigned then. The chronicle then moves to the legendary history of Indian kings including a legendary history of Asoka (Maha-thiri-thama-thoka) the most important early Buddhist Indian king.

Eventually, the Burmese Chronicle slowly changes from being mythical to largely factual. Lieberman has proven much of the history for the 1590s, which was also witnessed by many Europeans, to be largely factual in his paper: Lieberman, Victor B. (1986) "How reliable is U Kalas Burmese Chronicle? Some New Comparisons," Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (JSEAS) 17 (1986): 236-55.

My translation covers hundreds of years, but is far from complete. Use it to get a general idea of what the Burmese chronicle is like, but if you want to put the Burmese chronicle to scholarly use, please use the Burmese language original and this translation as a reading aid. The Burmese language, especially in 1700, is written in a very different fashion from the English language, so any translation faces many difficult and imperfect decisions. Any translation is almost guaranteed to not satisfy someone.

There are some very strange stories in the section on Indian kings, like the story about robots or automata guard the relics in a pagoda, which truly seems strange.

Note that the individual entries are grouped into time periods in the right sidebar.

One day I will perfect the translation and also index it in other useful ways such as by place name and personal name just like Geoff Wade's Online Ming Shi-lu does. An open content project similar to Wikipedia might be an innovative way to tackle this translation. Colonial era historical and scholarly work often put the outsider western colonizer's name first, although the Glass Palace Chronicle referred to above, was an exception putting U Pe Maung Tin's name first. Nowadays you'd want to have the indigenous name collaborating on the work first, of course, since it is their history. If the western outsider did most of the work though, this presents a problem. The compromise solution is to have a group-communal author, for example "The Burmese Chronicle Translation Group". This strategy has been used in mathematics:

"Nicolas Bourbaki is the collective allonym under which a group of mainly French 20th-century mathematicians wrote a series of books presenting an exposition of modern advanced mathematics, beginning in 1935. With the goal of founding all of mathematics on set theory, the group strove for utmost rigour and generality, creating some new terminology and concepts along the way." (Source: Wikipedia:Nicolas_Bourbaki).

The most important part of the Bourbaki process was intensive peer review. In a politically charged situation like Burmese history though, such a translation maybe would never be completed. Individual authorship is both an incentive and also forces decisions on controversial aspects like how to render certain phrases in English. The Burmese to English dictionary project at SOAS never got beyond the first volume and remains unfinished, supposedly as a collection of index cards, to this day.

Check back for more. This introduction is a slowly evolving text.


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