Postcard (detail) with the caption “Burmese Princess in State Robes”, undated. (Archive: C. Emmrich.)

How do girl children, young women, how do mothers and grandmothers remember the ritual events of childhood, – of their own childhood or that of the girl children they themselves accompanied through those events? In this section of the project the investigators enter in conversations with the female protagonists of two key occasions for celebration in the childhood of a Burmese girl child, nadwin (“ear boring”) and isini (“the female sage”). The team will record and analyze modes of remembering that are bound to be age- and gender-specific, and allow for a the individual reshaping of the ritual by forms of narrative, recollection, and affective stance in a personal testimony.

Hand-coloured print postcard, printed by D. A. Ahuja, Rangoon, written 1926 (not sent). (Archive: C. Emmrich.)

In an attempt to both uncover the history of the well-known Burmese ear boring ceremony (nadwin) and prove that not only rituals for boy children or monastic adults have been worthy of a ritual textual tradition in Burma, this section of the project recovers manuscripts that depict, prescribe, and remember what has come to be the dominant female childhood life-cycle ritual and the roots of which reach back to the royal ritual complex, firmly embedded in the cultural translation of South Asian gṛhyasūtra material into Burmese idioms.

Sketch by Shwe Soe Han. (Reproduced with kind permission by Parami Bookshop.)

Building on work by Yasmin Fischer, Hiroko Kawanami, and Alicia Turner this section of the project investigates how Buddhism is taught in Burmese schools through textbook, which role they play both in state school and monastic curricula. It will try to understand on the basis of the textual and visual content of these texts and their deployment, utilization, and subversion in teaching practices, how these texts function and what reading practices do to them. The team will focus mainly on two aspects: on the one hand, the role Buddhism plays in the national project of building the model lay female devotee and citizen and, on the other hand, the role particularly scholastic philosophical texts play in the empowerment of young emerging female monastic elites.

Photographic portrait (detail) of Anagarika Dhammawati, displayed at the Khemarama Vihara, Mawlamyine, Dec. 2008. (Photo: C. Emmrich.)

Exploring what young women in Burma are suggested to read by their peers or their mentors when engaging with the alternative or diversified life renunciation offers, one inevitably ends up with Rawe Htun’s novel Thami Chet in one’s hands. It narrates the odyssey of a Newar girl child from a Buddhist family in Nepal who, on her quest to learn about the dhamma, makes her way down the slopes of the Himalayas across the Indian plains, the rain forests of the Northeast and into Burma, where she eventually pursues a monastic training as a Burmese nun, a thiláshin. In this section of the project the team investigates the literary form of the work, its intersections with comparable Burmese literature, its personal and historical sources, as well as its continuing distribution and reception among avid young readers. It aims at a critical translation that takes into account the later variant translations of the work into Newar and Nepali.