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Friday, April 9, 2010

COLONIAL YANGON


Yangon(or Rangoon, as the British colonials would say) is now a busy cosmopolitan city. But before that it was just a small fisher village on the banks of the swift flowing Yangon River.

It was the time of open warfare between the two powers in what is now known as Myanmar. The Bamar Kingdom in the north and the Mon Kingdom in the south. Each was fighting for hegemony over the alluvial lands of the Ayeyarwady delta.
In 1755 King Alaungpaya, the founder of the Myanmar Konbaung Dynasty defeated his Mon enemies and to honour this victory he named this small, lazy fisher village :YANGON", meaning the "End of Animosity". It became one of the outposts of the Myanmar Empire in the south. Yangon also witnessed many other tragedies occasioned by many skirmishes between the Mons and the Bamars but still it endured.

The British, during their 1st Anglo-Myanmar War of 1824 briefly occupied this small town as their base and logistic terminal but later returned it to the Myanmar Court. Even at that time there were already many foreigners calling the town their home. Ships from many nations across the globe call at Yangon port to conduct business.

There was another war between the British Empire and the Myanmar Kingdom in the mid 1800s. It was the 2nd Anglo-Myanmar War and it heralded the new re-birth of Yangon. The British , this time were here to stay. At the end of the hostilities, Myanmar was partitioned into two parts. The North was under the Myanmar Crown but Lower Myanmar now belonged to the British. Commerce grew and the city prospered. It became a multi-cultural centre with Chinamen, Indians, Englishmen etc. Yangon became the Administrative and the Commercial Capital of what is now known as British Burma.

Another Anglo-Myanmar War in 1885, known in history as the 3rd Anglo-Myanmar War marked the end of the Myanmar Konbaung Dynasty and the whole country was annexed to the British Empire by January of 1886. The British commercial interests exploded. Yangon was the place for such renowed British commercial houses as the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, the Bombay Burma commercial network, the Steel brother company, Rowe & Co, where the best of Myanmar society do their shopping and of course the grande dame of all, the Strand Hotel.. British banks, like Grindley's also began to appear in the city. There was a branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai bank in Yangon.But whatever the different commercial activities these organizations persue, the one thread that they have in common was to construct impressive buildings in what is described as "colonial architecture style", imitating the structures found in their home country.

Take a walk around today's Yangon CBD and one can still see these magnificent buildings in all their faded glories. Start your walk from the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon, right in front of the Yangon City Development Committee offices(the municipality) and go east. Take a right turn at Pansodan Street (previously called Phayre Street) towards the river. Take another right turn along the Strand Road until the corner of the Strand and the Sule Pagoda Road and get back to your starting point. And you will be surprised to see how many of these colonial style structures had survived through the years.

photos: Sonny Nyein(Swiftwinds)


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2 comments:

  1. Fascinating. You should write a book about Colonial Rangoon, with nice photos like this - or maybe just a website.

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  2. Hello,
    Thanks for your comment. Actually there is a book about Yangon already. A very good coffee table book written by one of my friends, Paul Strachan. I have forgotten the title. Another book(more a historical research) is by Prof Pearn "History of Rangoon"
    There are other articles on MM's nature, culture and traditions. Hope you like them also.

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