MYANMAR : (Official name:Union of Burma, changed after independence to Union of Myanmar)

Myanmar has been known as the land of the golden pagodas, large rivers and generous deltas. Burma as it was known, gained independence from Britain in 1948 and became a socialist republic in 1962.

Population: 53.4 million.

Capital: Moved from Rangoon to Pyinmana in 2005.

Ethnic Groups: 8 ethnic groups; Burmese is the largest at 68% of the population. The other minority groups are: Shan, Kachin, Rakhine,Mon, Karen, Chin, Kayah.

Religion: The main religion is Buddhism; Muslim and Christian groups are in the minority.

Language: Burmese and numerous dialects.

Climate: 3 seasons: Rainy Season May - October; Winter October - February; Summer March - May.

Terrain: Central delta lowlands ringed by steep, rugged highlands.

Government & Political Situation: The military junta govern/rule the country. Control is maintained through intimidation, the strict censuring of information, repression of individual human rights, and suppression of ethnic minority groups. Since 1988, when military forces killed more than a thousand pro-democracy demonstrators,many people from minority groups have fled the country.

Economics: Burma is full of natural resources with a strong agricultural base. It also has a vast timber, natural gas, and fishery reserves and is a leading source of gems, jade and teak.

Number in New Zealand: There are an estimated 920 former refugees from Burma/Myanmar in New Zealand. Of these, 159 live in the Greater Wellington region. Many Chin and Kayah people arrived as refugees in 2006. 

Cuisine: The food of Myanmar has been influenced by its neighbouring countries - India, China, and Thailand. However, the Burmese have only used concepts from these countries for inspiration and the cuisine of Myanmar has developed a unique personality of its own.The regional cuisines are influenced by the surrounding terrain and the climate.

Food is an important part of Thingyan (the water throwing festival) celebrated at Burmese New Year in April. In October during Thadingyut (the lightening festival) food is offered to elderly people to ask for their blessings. In return the elderly give money to the young.

Favorite national dishes are:

Festivals: Food is an important part of the many festivals, called pwe, that happen every year. Most of them are related to religion and often under the patronage of a pagoda or temple.

Thingyan (the water throwing festival) marks the Buddhist New Year in April. Traditionally people use leaves to sprinkle water on each other; today they often use hosepipes or whatever containers they can find. It's a purifying ritual - the water washes away the misdeeds of the previous year.

In October during Thadingyut (the Festival of Lights) food is offered to elderly people to ask for their blessings. In return, the elderly give money to the young. Thadingyut marks the end of the Buddhist Lent when the Lord Buddha went into meditation, just before attaining enlightenment.

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