Myanmar history: the origin of Bamars

We all have been familiar with the saying: Myanmar AhSa Tagaung Ka. It means Myanmars originated from Tagaung since the time of AhBiYarZar. There is also another school of thought: Myanmar AhSa, Kyaukse Ka. According to this theory, Bamars are late arrivals and only enter Myanmar around 8th century AD. I first came across it when I read Hall’s book. This is also taken on by various Western authors and as It is based on historical facts the reasoning behind it is impressive, yet, I became skeptical when I came to read more about Myanmar prehistory. How can such a massive human migration occur in the not so far past, without it being recorded or hinted in our history?

The Karens and the Nagas have in their history, the wandering part before they arrived in Myanmar, sagas of their past. The Mons also have songs that alluded to their stay in Talinaga, India. The Rakhine history began with Marayu, who came from India and settled in Rakhine establishing the first Dhanyawaddy in 3325 B.C. With Bamars there is also the arrival from India of AhBiYarZar and his entourage who settled in Tagaung, with later arrival of DazaYarzar during the time of Buddha in Bamar history. There is none about Bamars entering Myanmar around the 8th century, and their history prior to it.

Mons or Talaings, an Ethnic Minority Group of Myanmar, migrated from the Talingana State, Madras coast of Southern India. They mixed with the new migrants of Mongol from China and driven out the above Andhra and Orissa colonists.[25]The Mon probably began migrating down from China into the area in about 3000 BC. [26]

Those Mon (Talaings) brought with them the culture, arts, literature, religion and all the skills of civilisation of present Myanmar. They founded the Thaton and Bago (Pegu) Kingdoms. King Anawrahta of Bagan (Pagan) conquered that Mon Kingdom of King Manuha, named Suvannabumi (The Land of Golden Hues).[27] The conquest of Thaton in 1057 was a decisive event in Burmese history. It brought the Burman into direct contact with the Indian civilizing influences in the south and opened the way for intercourse with Buddhist centres overseas, especially Ceylon. [28]

While little is known about the early people of Burma, the Mon were the first of the modern ethnic groups to migrate into the region, starting around 1500 BCE. Oral tradition suggests that they had contact with Buddhism via seafaring as early as the 3rd century BCE, though definitely by the 2nd century BCE when they received an envoy of monks from Ashoka. Much of the Mon’s written records have been destroyed through wars. The Mons blended Indian and Mon cultures together in a hybrid of the two civilisations. By the mid-9th century, they had come to dominate all of southern Burma.

People have long memories and oral histories are passed along the generations through centuries before being recorded later in written form. Yet, this is not so when Bamar alphabet was introduced by the 11th century, or in the Mon script after Anawratha conquered Thaton, or in the Pyu script earlier during the Bamar reign, from Thamudarit onwards. Why?

It is my contention that the migration of Bamars into Myanmar must have been very much earlier, prior to the arrival of AhBiYarZar, so that their migration is not in their oral history. Bamars are the native people, the aborigines, those who arrived in Myanmar in the first or early human migration, very much earlier than the Mon, Karen and Nagas. The Rakhines, a subgroup of the Bamar, like the YawThars, InnThars, TaungYoes, Daweis and Beiks, would have arrived earlier or at the same time as the Bamars, and as they live separately until the 11th century when Anawratha began organizing the first Myanmar empire (or the 2nd, if one takes the Pyu to be 1st Myanmar empire), developed different dialects of the same language.

It is a common knowledge among Myanmar historians that the British colonial historians belittle us and distort our history to their advantage, portraying us to be savages. Yet when I read Dr. Than Tun’s books and found out that he too accepted Luce’s theory about the Bamar migration during the 8th century, I became confused. But I still hold onto my view.

If the Bamars only arrived in the 8th century, who are the people that lived earlier in upper Myanmar from the stone age hunter gatherers till their arrival? Who are the people of the Chindwin valley including Nyaungan and Samon valley cultures? Where are the Pyus that ruled Myanmar from the prehistoric times till the Nanchao destroyed the last Pyu capital in AD 832?

It is also my contention that the Pyu minority ruled over the majority Bamar and Mon population when they established the first Myanmar Empire and that only some were left behind and later disappeared by intermarriage with the Bamars after the Nanchao took the remaining inhabitants of their last capital to Yunnan Fu.

In the 9th century, the Pyu capital of Halingyi fell to the northern kingdom of Nanchao of southern China. The Myanmar, or Burmans, assumed leadership of the Tibeto-Burmese peoples and established their capital at Pagan.

The attack on Halin in 832 AD by the Nan-chao of Yunnan, China, appears to have been a devastating blow since according to the Chinese records the entire population was carried off into slavery and after this date mention of the Pyu is very rare.

In [AD 832] Man [sc.Nan-chao] rebels looted and plundered P’iao kingdom [sc. Halin]. They took prisoner over three thousand of their people. They banished them into servitude at Chê-tung [approx. Yünnan Fu], and told them to fend for themselves. At present their children and grandchildren are still there, subsisting on fish, insects, etc. Such is the end of their people

Man [sc.Nan-chao]: Man Shu (Book about Southern barbarians) [chapter Nan-chao]

I further believe that the Pyus are the descendents of the entourage of Abiyarzar and Dazayarzar, who had intermarried with the local Bamars, yet an elite ruling group, whose last population did not exceed 4000.

Bamars would be living in Myanmar since 750,000- 275,000 years B.P. or at least since 11,000 years B.P.

Humans lived in the region that is now Burma as early as 11,000 years ago, but archeological evidence dates the first settlements at about 2500 BCE with cattle rearing and the production of bronze. By about 1500 BCE, ironworks were in existence in the Irrawaddy Valley but cities, and the emergence of city states, probably did not occur till the early years of the Common era when advances in irrigation systems and the building of canals allowed for year long agriculture and the consolidation of settlements.[1]Artifacts from the excavated site of Nyaunggan help to reconstruct Bronze Age life in Burma and the more recent archaeological evidence at Samon Valley south of Mandalay suggests rice growing settlements between about 500 BC and 200 AD which traded with Qin and Han dynasty China. [2]

// Time line

  • 40 million year B.P. Pondaungia cottelia (Poundaung Primate) Live in Pondaung area in Lower Chindwin district
  • 40-42 million years B.P. Mogaungensis (Amphipothecus Primate) live in Mogaung village, Pale township in Sagaing Division and in Bahin village, Myaing township in Magwe Division.
  • 750,000- 275,000 years B.P. Lower Palaeolithic men (early Anyathian) live alone; the bank of the Ayeyawaddy river.
  • 275,000-25,000 years B.P. Lower Palaeolithic men (late Anyathian) live along the bank of the Ayeyarwaddy river and central Myanmar
  • 11,000 years B.P. Upper Palaeolithic men live in Badahlin caves which situated in Ywagan township in southern Shan States.
  • 7,000 – 2,000 B.C. Neolithic men live in central Myanmar Kachin State, Shan States, Mon State, Taninthayi Division, and along the bank of the Chindwin and Ayeyarwaddy rivers.
  • 1,000- 800 B. C. Bronze Age Culture
  • 600 – 500 B.C. Iron Age Culture [3]

I have queied Dr. Bob Hudson, Archaeology Department, University of Sydney about my concern and here is his reply, in which he also wrote about his doubts about Luce’s interpretation that Bamars arrived first at Kyaukse in the 8th century after crossing the Shan States from Yunnan:

Dear Nyi Win
Much of the recent archaeological evidence, such as the finds at
Tagaung, suggests far more continuity from Pyu to Bagan than was
accepted in Luce‘s day. My problem with his ideas about Kyaukse is that
they are based on his own linguistic approach, which is in effect a
personal opinion- I don’t know how to replicate or test his data
. If we
cannot test evidence, whatever kind of evidence it may be, we should
ideally develop ways to do so- and at the same time, be vary cautious
about statements that cannot be tested. I believe that Luce also
over-stated the age of inscriptions at Kyaukse
, which in general reflect
a wealthy Bagan province rather than a predecessor to Bagan.
I don’t think we yet have an answer to the question. But I can see no
evidence of some kind of mass migration of people who seemed to speak
the same language as the Pyu, but supposedly arrived and supplanted
Harvey, as I discussed in my thesis, suggests that Pyusawhti may
have been someone- or a symbol for a small leadership group- much later
than the chronicles suggest, who learned military and political tactics
from Nanchao. If this small group came to dominate the Pyu population, a
myth may have then grown up that they had come from somewhere else to be
in charge
. This is a common form of legitimisation in the ancient world,
as it overcomes any local arguments that if your grandfather was not the
boss of my grandfather, why should you be the boss of me? (I hope that
example makes sense). The appearance of the term Mranma may therefore
have been a name the ruling group adopted or were given
, just as a group
of Americans in the days of the revolution called themselves
Republicans, or the way a company making soft drinks calls itself Coca
Cola. The genetic evidence for Tibeto-Burman speakers in southern China,
the nearest data we have so far to Myanmar, suggests a very small
southward migratory shift of males in the Pyu/Burman period
, but not a
mass movement of population
. So while I think we need to look again at
the transition from
Pyu/Tircul to Mranma/Burman, I would not suggest
that there is any clear answer yet to the question of origins.
best wishes


Dr Bob Hudson
Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow
Archaeology Department,
SOPHI, Building A14
University of Sydney 2006, Australia
Office phone: (61-2) 93516777

Although Myanmar archaeological experts have been making research in cooperation with international primate experts to prove the proposal — “The origin of Myanmar is Myanmar “, it is a far cry from the presence of fossilized remains of Pontaung primates in Pontaung rock layers that existed over 40 m yrs ago, they are preanthropoid primates which are very much distant from modern humans, Homo sapiens, which developed after the early humans Homo erectus. Current concept is that all humans developed in Africa and migrated out in waves, first the Homo erectus which populated the old world and later replaced by the later out of Africa group Homo sapiens. There is no continuity between the Pontaunggia preanthropoid primates and the Homo erectus or the Homo sapiens.

Myanmar has both Homo erectus and Homo sapiens populations, and the origin of Bamars lies in either one or both of these 2 groups.

Myanmar makes archaeological research to prove origin of Myanmar 2010-07-07 11:34:12

By Feng Yingqiu

YANGON, July 7 (Xinhua) — Myanmar archaeological experts have been making research in cooperation with international primate experts to prove the proposal — “The origin of Myanmar is Myanmar “.

These experts have been working together yearly to find out the fossilized remains of Pontaung primates in Pontaung rock layers.

The findings of the primates on the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, gained from the archaeological research in Meiktila and Yamethin districts in Mandalay division over the past decade, stood some evidences for the Bronze Age and the Iron Age as well as for the Myanmar culture and history, according to research report.

Over the weekend, Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture organized a paper reading session on archaeological evidences in Nay Pyi Taw with the belief that the findings through the archaeological research add to the Myanmar history.

The research paper reading session involved resources persons from Myanmar Historical Mission, National Culture and Fine Arts Universities in Yangon and Mandalay, Archaeology, National Museum and Library Department as well as a foreign academician.

Doing archaeological research on the Myanmar history from the origin of the race to date through the prehistoric period and Pyu period, Myanmar claimed that it has been able to discover the origin of Myanmar people who were born and who migrated from one place to another in the Myanmar soil along with the Myanmar civilization.

Myanmar media maintained that the advice, suggestions and queries by experts and researchers, and the response by resources persons are profound evidences for the Myanmar history.

In 2009, Myanmar found some more evidences on both Bronze Age and Iron Age after excavating areas in Thazi township, central Mandalay division, proving that Myanmar passed through both Bronze Age and Iron Age in the ancient time.

The Myanmar ministry, in cooperation with the CNRC of France, excavated the areas around Ywagongyi village in the township for 20 days from 20 days in January 2009, finding out the site where 44 bodies were buried along with two small bundles of bronze sheets, two iron objects, 14 stone beads of different colors, a fine stone weapon, two small earth-baked objects deemed to be round shuttles, and different earthen objects.

Of the fossilized bodies, two are complete sets and 20 fossils are assumed to be at middle age, 10 at early age, one at infant age and one shows over 40, the pelvis of which was badly damaged.

“The iron objects are excavated the same as that of Bronze Age and Iron Age found in Pyawbwe and Thazi townships. The two earth- baked objects are also called earth-baked beads which were excavated in large number especially in city states”, according to then report which added that five of the bodies were thought to be buried inside coffins of Bronze Age and Iron Age, which were found in Pyawbwe and Yamethin townships.

According to the archaeologists, the findings indicate the existence of the late Stone Age and Iron Age in the area and they do not reveal literature, writing and religious evidences.

In June 2008, ancient artifacts on Bronze Age and Iron Age were also excavated in Kanthitgon village in the same Thazi township, proving the same transition of ages.

Foreign archaeologists once considered that in the early history, Myanmar was transferred from Stone Age into the Iron Age without flourishing of Bronze culture.

The thesis was proved wrong when many artifacts were excavated later in such regions as Nyaungkan, Myin-U Hle, Hnawkan and Kukkokha that provided evidences of bronze culture in the country which was further supported by the artefacts found in Kanthitgon village.

The 2008 archaeological research was carried out in eight different places simultaneously and among the ancient objects found in Kanthitgon village were nine complete bodies along with some incomplete sets of bodies of all ages, child, middle age and old age. The bodies were buried together with bronze and iron weapons.

The artefacts of the Bronze Age found in the village also included bronze arrow heads, spears, wire bundles, cups, floral works, stone beads, bone beads, different sizes of pots and plates and iron spears, according to the research findings.

Myanmar has called for maintaining the archaeological findings as evidences to prove that “the origin of Myanmar is Myanmar”.

// Editor: Lin Zhi

After reading the above article “Myanmar makes archaeological research to prove origin of Myanmar”, I have some queries about the evolution of Bamars from the pre-anthropoids Mogaungensis (Amphipothecus Primate) and Bahinia pondaungensis

Did the Mogaungensis (Amphipothecus Primate) and Bahinia pondaungensis or their descendents migrate to Africa and eventually become modern humans, the Homo sapiens?

[primates develop to humans in Africa only and reach other places by the “Out of Africa” route as Lucy’s descendents to Myanmar]

40-42 million years B.P. Mogaungensis (Amphipothecus Primate) live in Mogaung village, Pale township in Sagaing Division and in Bahin village, Myaing township in Magwe Division

Teeth and bits of jaw from a tiny, squirrel-sized animal that lived 40 million years ago in what is now Myanmar (Burma) suggest primates originated in Asia, not Africa as was believed, researchers said. A team of researchers from France, Japan, and Myanmar say the little animal, which they have named Bahinia pondaungensis, was probably the ancestor of modern apes, monkeys and humans. Jean-Jacques Jaeger of the Universite Montpellier-II in France and colleagues found the fossils in a layer of red clay, along with a complete lower jaw from a more advanced primate called Amphipithecus.

The fossilized remains of many early anthropoids have been found in Africa, most from a single rich site in Egypt. Many scientists thus believed that Africa, already believed by many scientists to be the cradle of humanity, also gave rise to earlier ancestors. But a number of fossils have recently been found in Thailand, China, and Myanmar. They are between 49 million and 33 million years old and include some of the most primitive-looking anthropoids ever found.


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2 Responses to “Myanmar history: the origin of Bamars”

  1. Htet Myat Win Says:

    I previously followed Hall’s Kyauk Sel theory.Cause I just value the authentic truth rather than strong nationalism.Also ,there is a question I found to against Ta Gaung theory;Why Bamar didn’t have own alphabet while mon and phu have.What took Bamar too late to write if we lived continuously in this land since Ta Gaung.
    Now I found some hypothesis that indicate Ta gaung theory is correct.Theory still not yet complete.Here.May I ask a question to help my course.I would to know about Sanskrit speaking tribes.
    Are they Mongoloid or indian blooded?Is there any of them still living?If it is ,where are they?
    Htet Myat Win.

  2. Amanda Says:

    Nyiwin’s explanation of the origin of maynamar people is flawed deliberately out of desperate attempt to dominate other groups in Burma. He failed to comprehend that today’s bama are not the same tribe that entered the region. Pyu people were not Bama either. bama is a mix of people, i.e. intermingling of the migranmts wioth the indeginous. hence their entrance to Burma was not noticeable until a new wave of significant size arrived in 8th century. The newly arraived further micxed into exiting people. That is the story of bama tribe.

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