Historical Background

Surrounded on three sides by mountains and on one side by the sea, Myanmar has been the hub of cultural exchange and trade. The political landscape always played an important role in the culture as the country was ruled by monarchies, invaded by the British and the Japanese, before eventually becoming free. Right from the time of the Pyu state in the 849, the land served as an essential trade route between India and China. This resulted in the culture of the people being influenced by the Gupta Empire. The traders, artisans, and other craftsmen also played an important role in the evolution of the culture.

The land was then divided into a number of city kingdoms, where each city kingdom pre-dominantly spoke a different language. The Tibeto- Burman speakers, called Burman eventually unified the entire land, and established their capital in Pagan which lies in the north. Eventually, the only kingdom left to be brought under the unified kingdom Mon (important for sea trade because of the presence of ports) was also conquered by the Burmans.

For years thereon till 1885, Myanmar was ruled by the monarchies of the Ava Kingdom, the Toungoo Kingdom and the Alaungpaya Kingdom. Myanmar also suffered European colonialism as the British took over Mandalay post the third Anglo- Burmese war. Slowly they took over the whole country, making Rangoon the capital. The British capitalised on the strategic location of Myanmar, its agrarian economy, and the extraction of petroleum. The result was a crippled economy that became an export oriented enterprise of Western colonialism.

Japan invaded Burma briefly during the period between 1942 and 1945 while World War II was on. The Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) played an active role in driving out the Japanese in 1945 and the country came back under the British rule. Subsequently, negotiations began between the Burmese political leaders and the British for independence. Burma achieved independence from British rule on 4 January 1948. The period after independence though was full of political and economic instability. The country was a socialist state from 1962-1988. Renamed the Republic of Myanmar from Burman in 1989 by the State Law and Order Restoration Council led by the Military. Military dictatorship ruled the country from 1988 to 2011. From 2011–2015, a series of political, economic and administrative reforms were undertaken by the military-backed government. In the elections held in November 2015, National League for Democracy (NLD), a party, which was for a long time the main opposition, won a  big majority in the combined national parliament and became the first elected party in years to be chosen by the people. NLD is led by Aung San Su Kyi who is Noble Peace Prize Laureate awarded in 1991.

Myanmar today is one of the world’s largest recipients of international development assistance, often referred to simply as “aid.” A history of underinvestment has left the country with the highest poverty rate in the region and critical deficits in infrastructure and social services, making it a priority for many development agencies. Myanmar was the seventh-largest recipient of international aid in 2015, and it is now the third-largest recipient per capita in the region—behind only Cambodia and Laos, which have far smaller populations. Expectations are for sustained, high engagement with the international community.

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