Myanmar Family and Perceptions

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myanmar family

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Much has been said about the institution of family in Myanmar, that it is essentially a relationship based on specific duties and responsibilities on the part of husband, wife, parents and offspring.

These rights and duties are taken seriously and adhered to closely. Love and respect, rights and responsibilities are the foundations of a Myanmar family irrespective of religious creed. This holds true today as it did in ancient times and is a tradition that we hold dear. But there is another basic element that knits a family together although it has not been given much prominence.

And that is the love and humour that is very much a part of Myanmar family life. Not much has been said about the fun and laughter that a Myanmar family enjoys, but it is there. The ability of the Myanmar people to look on the lighter, if not funny side of life is carried over into family relationship. The children call their father "Phay Phay" or "Ah Phay" or "Daddy", sometimes "Aba" in the villages. The mother is called as "May May" or "Ah May" or "Mommy", sometimes "Ama" in the villages. The elder sister is called "Ama" and she calls her younger brother "Maung Lay". The younger sister is called "Nyi Ma" and she calls her elder brother as "Ahko" or "Ko Ko". The word "Gyi" is put after the calling names, usually used for elders too. Uncle is called "U Gyi / U Lay" and aunty is called "Daw Gyi / Daw Lay" . The nephew and niece are called "Tu Lay" and "Tu Ma Lay" respectively. Sometimes, the couple call each other as "Mainma" meaning "Wife" and "Yaung Kyar" meaning "Husband". The Myanmar family have lunch and dinner on a round table. The first choice morsel goes to father, but it somehow gets back to the tiniest tot or others in turn. The parents eat sparingly if they are not affluent and see that the children get the lion's share. But you should listen to the chatter and banter at the dinner table. Father teases one or the other of the children. Myanmar children can be mischievous and deliberately let cats out of the bag. There may be some form of corporeal punishment in poorer homes where the parents are ignorant and under some financial stress, but downright physical or mental abuse of children is rare. And if there is, the neighbours will see to it that it doesn't happen too often. There may be tears but there is also humour and affection. Myanmar children are taught to love and respect their parents. But they may like all children, sometimes "talk back" to parents and be cheeky. When the parents are in a good mood they get away with a mild rebuke, if not they're in for a spanking. But the children do not fear their parents. They are wily enough to know how far they can go. To Myanmar people, all children are "Yadana" that is treasure, but there is play on the syllables that admonishes them not to be "Ya - dar - nar" that means "unfortunate to have had you". 


Births, engagements, and marriages are considered to be auspicious occasions or "Thar Ye" while sickness and death fall into "Nar Ye" or sad occasions. 


When a woman has given birth, it is usual for her friends and colleagues to give gifts such as feeding bottles and clothes. Gifts should never be given before the baby’s birth as some women are superstitious that this will bring misfortune to the baby. In some families, if a baby girl is born, after 7 days of her birth, her family members pierce ear-holes with golden pins and leave it for her as to welcome the baby girl with wealth and health. This is also known as "Nar Tha". Sometimes, this occasion only occurs when she grows to the age of about 10. Celebrated together with the Novice hood ceremony of her brothers. Some old families do not let the mother to go out of the house within 45 days after giving birth. She has to stay inside the house and no outer breeze. But theses cases are becoming rare nowadays. When the baby is 100 days old, a name-giving ceremony is usually held. Monks will be invited to chant prayers and bless the baby and in turn meals will be offered to all participants. 


When going to a Myanmar Wedding, one can give suitable wedding gifts depend on the couple’s station and life. Functional items such as crockery, electrical appliances, and pieces of cloth make excellent gifts. Those gifts that are taboo include scissors, knives and anything black in colour. It is also suitable to give cash, so that the couple can buy necessary items for their life together. 


Burial is still common in Myanmar but cremation is also performed. The recitation is also performed. The recitation of prayers by monks is part and parcel of a funeral. If one is informed of the death of the death of a friend, it is necessary to send a letter, or telegram if one is unable to visit the deceased’s family or attend the funeral. Failure to do this is insulting to the deceased’s family. Donations are usually given if the deceased ‘s family is financially backward. When you are attending a funeral, do not wear bright colour dresses. 

Religious Beliefs

Most Myanmar are Buddhist of the Theravada stream. Central to their religious beliefs is karma, the concept that good begets good and evil begets evils. Another belief is tat all living things go through reincarnation. If a person has committed sins, (he or she) will be reincarnated into a lower level being such as an animal or suffer in Hell; on the other hand, if he has done good deeds, he will be elevated to a higher level of existence to the world of devas. The ultimate aim in life according to Buddhist belief is to escape the cycle of rebirth and reach Nirvana. There are also worshipping of the Nats or the Spiritual beings in Myanmar. They are believed to be extremely powerful beings helping out people. 


Some Myanmar people, especially those from the rural areas, have many superstitions. Astrology, palmistry and clairvoyance are sometimes relied upon to make important decisions. These may include marriage, going into a business partnership, naming a baby, and others. To offset bad luck, certain meritorious deeds or Yadaya may be performed such as setting free some live birds or animals, building a footbridge, or mending a road. Superstition of different cultures are interesting in some ways. Here are some Don't go underneath a staircase. You will loose your will power. Don't go under a pole or rope, where women used to hang-dry their longyis. You will loose your will power. Don't leave a shoe or a slipper up-side-down. It'll cause bad luck. Don't keep a broken glass or a mirror in homes. Replace the window panes asap if broken. Don't wash your hair within a week after a funeral in the neighborhood. Don't hit the pot with a ladle after you stir the curry. It's like hitting your parents' head. Don't hit 2 lids of pots and pans against each other. A tiger may bite you. Don't feed someone with the palm upward. The food might cause you disorder. Don't clip your nails at night. Ghosts don't like that. Don't take kids to dark places. Ghosts may posses them. Carrying some hairs of an elephant tail will avoid evil. 

Male/Female Roles

Myanmar parents favour their sons over their daughters but the latter are treasured as well. Daughters are not considered a burden as no dowry is paid to the bridegroom when they marry. Traditional Myanmar women are not aggressive and usually play second fiddle to their husbands. Women are expected to help with the household chores and take care of their aged parents more than men. Where social life is concerned, unmarried women and bachelors tend to mix with members of the same sex. Between married couples, public displays of affection are rarely seen. 

Boss/Employee Relationship

Myanmar employees are hardworking and loyal to their bosses. In return, a boss is expected to be a father figure and give help in times of need. Such help may be the giving advice to sort out personal problems or the granting of a loan in a financial crisis. As in all Asian cultures, Myanmar respect people who are older than them. To avoid friction in the workspace, make sure that a subordinate is not resentful of working under a younger supervisor. Negative communication is usually indirect. If it is necessary to discipline an employee, it is best to do it in private and with tact. Loss of “face” is a serious matter among Myanmar people. 

Business Relationship

Friendship, trust, and honesty are important in a business relationship. Favours received, such as introducing a potential client or supplying a reference, must be repaid at a future time. When two Myanmar businessmen meet for the first time, chances are that business may not be discussed in depth. Rather, the meeting may be spent evaluating each other’s personality and business strengths and weaknesses. In general, it is easier for Asians to deal with Myanmar businesspeople than Westerners.



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