Myanmar: Land and People
The most densely populated part of the country is the valley of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, which, with its vast delta, is one of the main rice-growing regions of the world. Mandalay, the country's second largest city, is on the Ayeyarwady in central Myanmar. The Ayeyarwady basin is inhabited by the Bamar, the Burmans proper, a Mongolic people who came down from Tibet by the 9th cent. and now represent about two thirds of Myanmar's population, which is mainly rural. The valley is surrounded by a chain of mountains that stem from the E Himalayas and spread out roughly in the shape of a giant horseshoe; the ranges and river valleys of the Chindwinn (a tributary of the Ayeyarwady) and of the Sittaung and the Thanlwin, or Salween (both to the E of the Ayeyarwady), run from north to south.
In the mountains of N Myanmar (rising to more than 19,000 ft/5,790 m) and along the India-Myanmar frontier live various Mongolic peoples; the most important are the Kachins (in the Kachin State in the north) and the Chins (in the Chin State in the west). These peoples practice shifting cultivation (taungya) and cut teak in the forests.
Between the Bay of Bengal and the hills of the Arakan (or Rakhine) Mts. is Rakhine State, a narrow coastal plain with the port of Sittwe, which is home to the Arakanese, or Rakhine. Also in the state are the Muslim Rohingya, who are not recognized as a native minority by the government and are considered Bengali immigrants and noncitizens. In E Myanmar on the Shan Plateau is Shan State, home of the Shans, a Tai people closely related to the Thai who, at nearly 10% of the population, are Myanmar's largest minority. South of Shan State are the mountainous Kayah State and Kayin State; the Karens, who inhabit this region, are of Tai-Chinese origin, and many are Christians. South of Kayin State is the Tanintharyi region, a long, narrow strip of coast extending to the Isthmus of Kra. At its northern end is the port of Mawlamyine, Myanmar's third largest city.
Most of Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate; however, N of the Bago Hills around Mandalay is the so-called Dry Zone with a rainfall of 20 to 40 in. (51–102 cm). On the Shan Plateau temperatures are moderate. Theravada Buddhism is the religion of about 90% of the population; there are Christian and Muslim minorities. Burmese (the tongue of the Bamar) is the official language, but each of Myanmar's ethnic minorities has its own language; in all, over 100 languages are spoken.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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