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May 22 2010 7 22 /05 /May /2010 06:42




The Growth of Christianity in the Myanmar  


The Early Arrival of Chrsitianity in Myanmar 

      The Burmans were the largest group in Myanmar; they were more advanced than other people groups. Buddhism was deeply rooted in the life of Burmans widely since the founding of the first Burman kingdom of pagan by king Annawrata in 1044, Buddhism has been adopted as the religion of the state44.

       Other ethnic group those who were inhabited in hill areas and highlands were known as animist who were known as spirit worshippers. In Myanmar, (formerly known aw burma)there were Nestorians in Pegu in the 10th century ,Roman Catholics from 1544 and Protestants by 1813.Sereval tribes, especially  the Karen ,Chin and Kachin peoples have been Christians for many years and have built up strong indigenous Christian communities Christians are only a small minority. Baptists and Roman Catholics are the two main Christian groups.

      Before Judson came to Burma, Roman Catholic missionaries were working since 1599. Some concrete results were recorded as the conversion of Nat sin Naung king of Taungoo. But soon after the conversion of Nat Sin Naung, he and the missionary were on crucified. From then the Roman Catholic missionaries gave up and disappeared. Fr Sagermano said, “Some 2000 believers were remaining faithfully in their faith.”46  The protestant missionaries were working since 1807 in Burma. The London missionary Society sent missionaries to Burma. Because of many reasons and obstacles they hand over to American Baptist Mission (ABM) in 1813.

      Burma was uncivilized when Judson arrived in the year 1813 Judson said, “I am almost the only one who can speak Burmese to present the Gospel to the Burmese people in the world.”48 This chapter mainly concentrates to the situation of Burma politically, economically religiously, socially and culturally during Judson was in Burma.


Developments in Roman Catholic Mission in Myanmar  

      The official record of the Roman Catholic mission in Burma begins with the coming of two Jesuit missionaries, Pimenta and Boves, who were accompanied by the Portuguese adventurer and mercenary Philip de Brito Y Nicote. According to Harvey, Debrito started his life as a cabin boy and then he served many years as head of the Portuguese mercenaries employed by King Min Razagyi of Arakan. When Arakan conquered Syrian in 1599, the king appointed him to take charge of the custom house and control the Portuguese living there under their own laws.

      De Brito and his Jesuit priests work of the Christianization of the Burma Buddhist was said to have been quite successful. The most significant was the conversion of Nat Shin Naung, king Taungoo, and the most well known poet in the entire history of Burma.

      Taking the conversion of Nat Shin Naung, as an insult to Buddhism, King Maha Dhamma Raja of Ava (also known as Anuakphet Lwun Min) marched to the south, and in 1613 crushed the Taungoo and destroyed Syrain.  King Maha Dhamma Raja, who happened to be an uncle of Nat Shin Naung, asked him return to Buddhism or face death His nephew refused to return to Buddhism and he received baptism from the white priest. Subsequently Nat Shin Naung and De Brito were crucified as heretics.

      The conversion of Nat Shin seems to have been the high noon of the Catholic mission in Burma. The first missionaries, however, were Portuguese Roman Catholic in the 16th and 17th centuries. Official historical records begin with the appointment of two Italian priests to the kingdom of Ava in1720, The Reverend sigismondo Calchi, and a secular priest, Joseph Vittoni, were sent by Pope Clement XI to the emperor of Chine the previous year.

       Vittoni and Calchi were directed to establish a mission in Burma. The missionaries perceived that if the king covert to Christianity, then the whole country would follow he and Burma might have become a Christian nation, because for the Burman always regarded their king as the defender of their faith. However, unfortunately for the Roman Catholic mission in Burma, this was not to be the case.

        High noon was followed soon by the dark hours. Together with the crucifixion of Nat Shin Naung and De Br to, the Portuguese power in Burma in Burma was uprooted and its Catholic mission provokes abortive. The remaining Christian followers were deported to very remote area between the Chindwin and the mu rivers in upper Burma. They and their descendents remained faithfully to their religion, and in the 1780. Fr Sagermano saw them and reported that some 2000 believers were in Burma.


Developments in Protestant Mission in Myanmar  

      The first protestant missionaries to Burma came from Bristish Indian in the year 1807. Their names were Marden and Chater. Marden, who did not stay long, was replaces by Felix Carey, son of the eminent English missionary Dr. William Carey who had turned to take government position and shifted from missionary to ambassador,.


       After Chater left, Felix Carey was the only missionary who was able to stay in Burma. However, Felix Carey also had encountered many troubles during the “dreadful event of the internal political state of affairs in 1812.51Despite such a dreadful state of internal political affairs, Felix Carey “ Become greatly interested in the Burma” and he had good negotiations with King Bodawpaya in Ava ,then the capital of the Burma or Myanmar Kingdom .Finally ,he “he decided to give up his missionary career and enter the service of King Bowdawpaya”. For this reason the Britsih missionary society’s mission in Burma was handed over to the American Baptist mission in 1813.


The Situation during Judson Was In Myanmar (1813-1850) 

      It seems the Burmese people never saw the white foreigner woman because when they saw Ann Judson they were so amazed to see her. When Judson came to Burma, it was unlikely that he was told in Madras about Burma. The viceroy Mya-day-min gave them permission to settle down in Burma. Due to the politeness of Buddhism they could able to communicate with the local people.

      Judson found out Burmans were very good in social life and but in religious matter it was difficult to open their spiritual eyes because Buddhism has been rooted in their lives for many centuries. The people were slaves to their king.  Kings were the most powerful and authority in the society. Nobody could rise up his or her voice. The people were giving high tax to the king from their business.


Judson’s Early Arrival in Myanmar 

      Adoniram Judson, first and greatest American missionary landed in Rangoon on 13th July, 1813. He started his life in Burma with difficulties and frustrations. He committed his life to break the stronghold of Buddhism in Burma, but in spite of all the adversities he preserved until, after six long years, he won his first converted.

      Adoniram Judson arrived at the destination, which he had aimed for three years, the place he had dreamed of, the goal of his ambition, and he had never regretted any thing more in his lives.


Religious Environment 

      The religious of Burma was Buddhism and it was well organized. Most Burmese speaks were Buddhist. Theravada Buddhism is the practice religion. Burmese Buddhists have been perceived themselves as a bastion of Buddhist orthodoxy. Monasteries have been strongly subscribed in rural Burma, with many makes spending times as monks.

       The People of Kachin, Chins, Karen belongs to non-Buddhist religion, each with its own language and its own animistic tradition. These were more ready than the Buddhist to hear the new tidings from the west.

      Judson said that, it is now two thousand years since Gautama, their last god, began his state of perfection, though he no longer exists now, they still worship a hair of his head, which is enshrined in a huge Pagoda, to which the Burmese go every eight day. They know of no other atonement for sin, than offerings to their priest and pagoda.

      The Buddhist believed that if they had done well, and kept the rules of their religion, then they may move higher up the scale but even then, each new life is a time of suffering and trials. They thought that the only way of escape, from the evil of being born again and in the world of evil, pain, sickness and death, is to reach “Nirvana” – that means just, “nothingness”.  They didn’t believe God and they Worshipped Buddha, their great teacher, who reached, the state of Nirvana with his great goodness and purity of life when he was eighty of age.58Judson could see with his spiritual eyes to the Burmese people with sad faces and burdened heart. He felt sorry for the spiritual darkness of the kingdom.


Economic and Political Environment 

      Burma also has is famous silver-lead mines. There are marble and alabaster quarries near Mandalay. In the mines at Magok are found the most beautiful pigeon-blood rubies, and beyond Bhamo are some of the world’s finest jade and amber. Yenangyaung, ‘River of Evil-smelling Water’, halfway between Rangoon and Mandalay, is the center of one of the rich oil fields of the world. But it is not any mines or oil fields, but on the rice crop that most of the people depend.

      There was no good facility with regard to house, road, stationary, machinery, etc. “Felix Carey had brought press from Calcutta for king Bodaw-Paya, but this had been lost when the boat carrying it up from Rangoon to Ava along with Lrrawaddy river and capsized in a storm. The English Baptist Missionary at Serampore presented a printing press to ABM for Burma mission in early 1817. Because type writer and printing press were not available in Burma. There were hands written palm leaf books available for study. The Burmese elder said to Judson, you write we write on black paper.”

      The people were giving high tax to the province from their, farming, lumbering and fishing. The country was ruled by a despotic king who had absolute power and his council of landowners. The people were slaves to him. He was very hostile to missionaries.

      When Judson arrived in Burma in 1813, Bodaw pa-ya, the eldest surviving son of king Alaungpaya, founder of Burma’s last dynasty was the ruler of the Burmese Empire. The viceroy in Rangoon was Mya-da-min. King Bodaw – Paya rule a from the capital Ava (Now Ingwa).  Bodaw – Paya died in 1819 and his grand son Bagyidaw seated on the throne.  Although religious toleration was not officially granted to Burma but wishing to became Christians. 

      During these two reigned, actually the growing Christian community was given considerable freedom so far as the government was concerned.  The Church was permitted to carry on its programme in Rangoon and Ava, though missionary activity is such inland towns as Prome was frowned upon. 

       When in 1837 Bagyidaw younger brother, Tharrawaddy, deposed his brother, relation between Britain and Burma rapidly deteriorated; resulting in the breaking of diplomatic relations and repudiation of the Treaty of Yandabo, making a further was practically inevitable.  The king began to show symptom of insanity, giving way to period of ungovernable rage.  In 1845, his sons put him under restraint.


        His eldest son Pagan Min succeeded him by the following year.  Under these two kings Tharrawnddy and Pagan Min, the mission was closed but not entirely.63 Between 1824 and 1826, British troop drove the Burmese out of eastern India and conquered Arakan and Tenasserim coast. Through two wars between the British and Burma, in 1824-26, and again 1852, portions of lower Burma fell under the rule of the British viceroy in India.


Social and Cultural Environment  

      The Burma has no caste system like in India.  Women were not slaves to their husbands.  In-fact they were lively, spirited and even quarrelsome to a degree seen nowhere else in Asia.  But personal honesty was almost unknown.  Lying is so common and universal among them that they say we can not live without telling lies. Judson found that it was easy enough to talk about ordinary subjects, but very difficult to discuss religion.

      In every Burmese village there is to be seen one house which is larger and better than the rest. That is called Zayat, and it serves as a kind of inn, where get up early and do their work in the first of morning. Work is over by midday, and the afternoon and evening are time for rest and pleasant talks. People flack to the Zayats and there they discuss many matters.

      Judson was told that he should not go to the hell of Burma to spare his life and his family and for his future mission work. When he comes to Burma, he found out the stubbornness of Burmese people and he said, Converting one Burma is like drawing a tooth from the mouth of alive tiger.” In-spite of all difficulties and hardship Judson had been shaking the people’s heart, so many inquirers came up to the missionary.  This news immediately reached to the emperor and the reactions were taken severely. When Buddhists were converted to Christianity, Buddhism was greatly eroded in many ways. That’s the reactions were taken severely.

      When he arrived in Rangoon, he got permission to settle in Burma. He could start his mission work without any restriction. When the Anglo-Burma war broke out in 1824, the war gave him great trouble in his mission while he was gaining the people. The emperor provided him lands for mission quarter. But unexpectedly because of the war he was suspected as spy unnecessarily and the king put him in prison. Even from prison, still he could contribute great things to the emperor. Like Joseph, he was taken out from prison and brought to the most important place between Britain and Burma for treaty.

      In-spite of all difficulties and hardship Judson still contributed many things to the Burmese people. Judson contacts to the Kachin missionaries. In the Next Chapter I would like to discuss about the Kachin People’s their original growth of the Christianity.



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Leach, E.R .  Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study Of Kachin  Social Structure. London: n.b.,1954. 

Lebar, Hickey and Musgrave. The Kachin State of Burma.  n.p.,1964,(www.kachinland.com). 

Lebor, Frank M. ed., Ethnic Groups of Mainland South East Asian.New  York:New Haven,1964.

Kane, J.Herbert. Understranding Christian Mission . Michigan: Baker Book  House,1986. 

Li, Pungga Ja. What Kachins Believe and Practice,Vol.I. Ruili:Sinpraw Bum  Media Group,2000. 

Mun, Lahpai Zau.  Kachin Way of Living Book I . Momuk: H.G.P ,1999. Naw, Dashi and  Sumlut Gam, Wunpawng Htunghkring Buka.  Myitkyina:May Press,2001. Naw, S.Sin Wa. Baptist History and Kachin Baptist Convention  communication Rangoon:KBC,2000. Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Mission. n.p:Penguin,n.y. Sakhong, Lian .Religious and Politics among the Chin People In Myanmar (1896-1949)”(Ph.D Dessertation,Upsala University,2000.Sword ,Gustaf A. and Ruth M.Armstrong  “The Kachin of Burma” in   Pyilan  Lunghtawn  Journal. September,2004. Tegenfeldt, Herman G. A century of Growth: The Kachin Baptist Church of  Burma.South Pasadena: William Carey Library,1974. 

Trager, Helen G.  Burma Through Alien Eyes (Missionary View of the  Burma in the 19th Century).Bombay:Asia Publishing House,1966. Vedder, Henry C.  A Short History of Baptist Mission. Philadelphia:The  Judson Press,1927. Waters, John. Storming the Golden Kingdom. Bombay: Gospel Literature  Service,1992. Wawm, Duwa La. Jidwi Tsun Dan Na .Myit kyina:Hanson memorial  Press,1999. 

Wa, Lasi Bawk. ,Jinghpaw Wunpawng Sha Ni The Dai Ni  Na Sut  Masa.  Myitkyina :Millemium,2000. 

Wa, Maung Shew. Burma Baptist Chronicle, Book I & Book II. Rangoon  University Press for the Burma Baptist Convention,1963. Zaw, U Tint. Education In Burma in Presentation Papre for International  Burmese Students and Youth Conference:18-20 December,Uk,2004. 

Internet materials: 

www. Kachinpost.com

www. Kachinland.com

www. Kachinnet.com 

Journals and magazines: 

The Jinghpaw Times

Kachin  National  News  Beacon.(Wunpawng Shi shaman)

Pyilan Lunghtawn Journal


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