Burma (Myanmar) is one of the countries in South-East Asia that remains the most unknown in the eyes of the world’s population. Yet, the country has major tourist attractions: religious monuments. Impressive, exceptional landscapes and warm and welcoming locals. The population of Burma, although destabilized by years of civil war, remains very open to foreigners. A genuine patchwork of different ethnicities and cultures, visit Myanmar and meet its inhabitants will give an extraordinary human dimension to your stay.
1. General Demography in Burma
Visit Myanmar is to have the opportunity to meet the traditionally warm people of this multi-ethnic country.
→ Population and ethnic composition
Censuses in Burma are not commonplace. Until recently, the Birman demography was a mystery. With the improvement of the political situation, the first statistics on the population were published.
Thus, according to the United Nations, the population of Burma reaches 53 million people (figures from 2013). It is a very heterogeneous population: it is estimated that more than 135 ethnic groups in Burma, mostly Burmese. Shans, Karens, Mons represent about 30% of the population. 70% of the population lives in rural areas, and the literacy rate is 92%.
Although Burmese is the most widely spoken language, many other ethnic groups have kept their own language. You will not find it hard to find English speaking people in Yangon and the busy tourist spots during your Myanmar travel. Indians and Chinese also speak different languages or dialects, such as Hindi or Bengali.
Most people live without access to basic health care or hygiene. Infant mortality is high (73/1000), and low life expectancy (53 years for men, 56 for women). The Burmese population is also under the threat of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
According to the 1974 Constitution, Buddhism is the official religion of Burma. It is practiced by nearly 90% of the population. Among the other religions, 4% are Christian, 4% Muslim and animism prevail.
→ Demographic Challenges in Burma
Myanmar’s economy depends largely on natural resources and agriculture. Inadequate infrastructure, lack of training and political difficulties have limited the development of industry.
The poverty level reaches 26% of the population, and much higher in rural areas. Access to electricity is limited to only 26% of the population.
Due to its large demographic heterogeneity, the population of Myanmar is often under pressure from conflicts with ethnic minorities or minority religious groups. This is currently the case with the Rohingyas, a Muslim minority in the north of the country.
2. Presentation of the 3 most represented ethnic minority groups in Myanmar
During your visit Myanmar, if you want to give a human dimension to your stay, we advise you to meet ethnic minority groups. You can thus discover more deeply all the richness of Burma. Here are the 3 most represented.
→ Shans (9% of the population)
There are currently between 4 and 6 million Shans in Burmese territory. They live mainly in Shan State, northern Burma, famous for housing Inle Lake. If the Shans were once in conflict with the Burmese, it would seem that the situation has subsided. However, the Shans are doing everything they can to keep their culture alive.
The majority of them are of Buddhist confession, and speak Shan language in addition to the Burmese. Traditionally, the Shan are farmers (rice, fruit, tea …) as well as very good craftsmen with regard to lead, for example.
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→ The Karens (7% of the population)
The Karens live mainly in the state of Karen, in southern Burma. Many live on the border between Thailand and Burma. The situation of this ethnic group is very precarious: many are homeless, and more than 100,000 people are currently living in refugee camps since the last insurgency.
The Karens speak several different languages, depending on their origin, including Karenni and Kayan.
Even if the Karens are 65% Buddhists, the rest of the population is Christian.
Traditionally, the Karens live on agriculture, making it a relatively poor population compared to the rest of the Burmese.
(Photo: Internet – Karen – visit Myanmar)→ The Rakhines (4% of the population)
→ The Rakhines (4% of the population)
The Rakhines live along the coast of the State of Rakhine, to the east of Burma. They are mostly Buddhists. Rakhine culture has much in common with Burmese culture, but also with Indian culture. This is due to the fact that the Rakhine State is separated from the rest of the territory by the Arakan Mountains and has some proximity to the rest of Southeast Asia. We can notably note these influences in literature, music or even cooking. The Rakhine language is generally comprehensible by those who can speak the Birman.
At present, the violence committed between the Rakhines and the Muslim community of the Rohingyas is causing a humanitarian disaster. We are talking about thousands of people killed or deported.
When you want to have Burma tours, you will come to rub shoulders with the Burmese population. Rich in different cultures, it will bring a more authentic dimension to your stay. And if you want to see her the best time to visit this beautiful country, you can click here (when to go Myanmar) to know more.