About the Project

Documenting Colonial-Era Monastic Collections in Former Principalities of the Shan State, Myanmar
Planning Grant

This project will survey written, printed, and photographic materials held in monasteries donated in the first half of the 20th century by the Shan rulers of the former principalities of Hsipaw, Kyaingtong, and Yawng-nghwe (now Nyaung-shwe), located in Eastern Myanmar (Burma) and Northern Thailand.

The team will create an inventory of Buddhist manuscripts, secular texts, visual materials such as photos and portraits, books, and various ephemera dating from the late 19th century to the early 1960s. Documentation and preservation of these items is crucial at a time when these artifacts are at high risk from humidity-related damage, lack of maintenance, and smuggling.

Working at multiple sites will allow the project team to identify and secure more artifacts and to develop a comparative approach that will support ongoing scholarship on Shan history and culture. This approach will also advance understanding of colonial-era religious dynamics and the mobility of Buddhist ideas and practices in the Shan region and beyond.

Project Lead

Francois Tainturier

Host Institution

The Inya-Burma Institute

More Information

Collection Details

The Inya-Burma Institute’s project with MEAP focuses on the written and visual works housed in Burmese monasteries that were commissioned by the Shan rulers of Hsipaw, Kyaingtong, and Yawng-nghwe (now Nyaung-shwe). Materials selected for this project include manuscripts of Buddhist/secular texts, visualizations (such as photographs) of Shan rulers and of historical events, and various pieces of ephemera (e.g. posters, calendars, announcements). Most of these materials date from the late 1800’s to the 1960s. This collection illustrates the religious dynamics of the colonial era in Myanmar (Burma), including the mobility of Buddhist ideologies, Buddhist practices, and practitioners within the area (i.e. monks and lay persons).

From the late 1980’s to the early 1990’s (and occasionally in the present), Southeast Asian manuscripts were often sold to tourists due to the material’s historic desirability and their vulnerability to theft. While the risk of losing physical materials still exists, digitized versions of these manuscripts will help safeguard the written works and will preserve their content for future research and use.

This collection holds significance to a wide array of scholars within and outside of Myanmar, including those studying Buddhism, Shan history, and the history of Burma/Myanmar. It will advance the understanding of the Shan monastic community that has been historically patronized by Shan lords during the colonial period. The materials document (1) rulers’ efforts in institutionalizing the Buddhist community and (2) the social connections established by rulers who circulated sacred texts, donated to monasteries, and held religious events.

The Inya-Burma Institute’s digitized work will allow users to explore religious ideas, practices, and individuals within a community that persisted in a region considered too remote to develop such religious dynamics. It will also supply evidence of a Shan monastic community that managed to incorporate technological advancements of the 20th century to help assert moral authority.

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