• Fieldnotes

A Shared Locale: Field Reports from Amarapura in Myanmar

18 December 2017

Background: Our research area, Taungthaman village tract in Amarapura Township in Mandalay Region, is a land which possesses cultural heritage, universities and many varieties of subsistence patterns.

Taungthaman Lake, which is a historical sits dating to the Paleolithic age, and the U Bain Bridge, which was built in 1851 over the Taungthaman lake and is the longest teak wood bridge in the world, are famous tourist attractions in Myanmar. In addition, there is the Kyauktawgyi Pagoda with its big stone Buddha and beautiful 19th century murals. In 2000, Yadanabon University was founded with 83 acres of farmland given for its campus. Yadanabon University is one of the biggest universities in Upper Myanmar and now, more than twenty thousands of students are studying in Yadanabon University. There are four villages, namely Taungthaman, Htantaw, Simihtun and Obo in Taungthaman village tract. The total population is 4289 and the total numbers of households is 1382.

Oh-bo village is the biggest village among them with the 519 households and 2401 people. Htan-taw village is the second largest with 480 households and 2135 people. The third one is Taungthaman village where the households are 209 and the population is 891. Semi-htun is the smallest one with 174 households and 892 people.

Before 2000, the dwellers of these four villages were living through farming, fishing, toddy climbing, etc. After the establishment of Yadanabon University, the farmers whose farms were given to the university had to change their subsistence patterns. Yadanabon University offered a lot of job opportunities and many villagers and migrants set up enterprises related to the university. What are the issues in this land? As anthropologists as well as educators, we asked the village leaders and villagers and observed their life in the village tract. What are the real problems in the research area?

During our observation of Yadanabon University and the surrounding villages, we noticed the ubiquity of accumulated trash and garbage in the form of plastic bottles and plastic bags. It was extremely clear that waste management is weak in these areas and we will try to help the local people by introducing garbage separating systems. During our discussions with the village elders, one person pointed out that the younger generation of the village need to cherish their locality. Currently, they aren’t very interested in their villages and the village head emphasized the weakness of the social connection between the younger generations and the locality. This social tie will be strengthened through aforementioned knowledge production around the potential heritage sites and 19th century cultural materials that are present in the community. One of the Ahpyo-gaungs (the chair of the traditional women organization) also pointed out that local snack-food street vendors of the villages could not get permission to enter and sell their foods in the Yadanabon University. Thus, we decided to take up the following challenges:

  • To use the local crafts alternatives to plastic consumption
  • To foster the young generations for potential heritage conservation
  • To intervene for local snack-food street vending in an organized manner for the students of the university

Week1: Community engagement at Htan-taw village In consultation with Htan-taw village leader, Mr. Win, 25 households were chosen to start our project at Htan-taw village. We decided to use the Htangaukphar (a traditional basket made of toddy-palm-strips). There are only four households that continue the traditional handicraft of making Htangaukphar. Most of the basketmakers are over 50 years old and they find it difficult to sustain their traditional craft because of the higher prices of raw materials and the decreasing numbers of handicraft workers. The price of a basket currently varies from 5$ to 6$ which is very expensive compared to a plastic box. But to promote the use of local products, we placed an order for the baskets from three households so we could deliver them to the 25 households of Htan-taw village. In line with the project aims, we encouraged the households to use two types of containers to segregate their waste: Htangaukphar for plastic and paper which would be recycled and plastic box for kitchen-waste which would be turned into fertilizer. We also organized educational activities for children. While we intended only to organize the children from 25 households, the children from other households also wanted to participate in this work and we decided to accept all children who were willing. First, we gave them books and pens so the children would be happy and more ready to participate in our program.  As they have school, we decided to schedule the activities for the weekends. There are totally 16 children and we asked them to write or draw a picture of "Mandalay University", "the most beautiful place in your village" and "the don'ts for that most beautiful place" as homework. This homework is intended to connect the children with their locality. Currently, the children are unconscious of their village. Now they will have to think of a "beautiful" place. They will have to compare beautiful and unbeautiful places in their mind. So they will have to consider their houses and other places such as U Bain Bridge or Kyauktawgyi Pagoda. And they will consider what are the good behaviors and bad behaviors in these places. The answers from the children will show how they think. It will also make them consciously notice their surroundings and help them connect to the preservation and maintenance of their heritage.

Meeting with local residents The village leader, Mr. Win, studied Psychology at Yadanabon University and graduated in 2008. He also teaches English to the high school students who are living at Htan-taw village. Through Mr. Win, we met two first year girl-students; one is studying Law and the other Chemistry at Yadanabon University. Both of them learn English from Mr. Win. The two girls helped us meet the people of 25 households in Htan-taw and the villagers were very enthusiastic about participating in our project. We met and asked the representatives of 25 households about their waste management practices. They said that they didn't segregate their waste and simply threw them onto the rubbish truck. Then we introduced the garbage separating system and the teaching program for children. One of them, a 60 year old lady said, "We heard from you what we've never heard. Please come and do your work. We will participate in your work." I also met with the pro-rector of Yadanabon University and I asked about their research on making fertilizer at Yadanabon University.  I offered to give her the kitchen waste of 25 households to the Yadanabon University. I also discussed about the serious waste problem in her campus. She said that she will manage it soon.

Week 2: Checking the waste management of local people and teaching and learning with local people At the second weekend our group went to the Htan-taw village and fortunately there was a Shinpyu Pwe or initiation ceremony at Htan-taw village. Most of the villagers were preparing to participate in the ceremony and hence stopped their business on such occasions. I asked a woman who is a street- food vendor how she managed the waste. She showed the waste containers and I saw that she divided the waste of plastic and kitchen waste. Then she said, "Today I stopped my business because there is a Ahlu (Offering ceremony) and I have to participate in the procession of the Ahlu." According to their traditions, every house has duty to support the Ahlu with money and labor. I also gave 10,000 kyats to support the Ahlu. I saw that most houses used the Htangaukphar for plastic waste and the plastic box for the kitchen waste. But one used Htangaukphar as a container or a carry box for the roots of toddy-palm. Another one keep the plastic box as a container of rice or oil or food not as a waste box.  I explained our aims and I requested that they use the Htangaukphar only for plastic waste. We also started teaching and learning class with the children who are from 25 households. We found that most of the children did the homework which we gave during the previous week. All of them were interested in the gathering and were worried about it finishing. We learn from the children to do more engagement at the village with them. They are the leaders of the village in future and they can also provide more thinking to the researchers. In this gathering, we tried connect the children and their place, their heritage and their environment. We also introduced the local snack and talked about garbage and healthy food. This will connect to our attempts at waste management and foster in the young generations the potential of heritage conservation.