Investigation of actual conditions regarding cultural heritage protection in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Cultural Heritage in Myanmar
Cultural Heritage in Myanmar
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is situated between India and the People’s Republic of China. Throughout its history, the country has been home to numerous tribes and has seen the rise and fall of a number of kingdoms. Many important cultural heritage sites survive, testifying to the existence of a rich civilization in the past. Renowned sites in the country include the ruins of ancient cities founded by the Pyu tribes, or the Burmese, particularly the site of Bagan’s Temples, which is extremely famous for its landscape featuring innumerable pagodas. Yet, there are still many cultural heritage sites that have not yet received recognition and protection. Although Myanmar is a member state of the World Heritage Convention, none of its cultural properties have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to date.
Although the country had been under a military dictatorship since the 1960s, Myanmar has seen rapid progress in the shift to civilian rule since 2011. Following this political shift, several high level meetings were held between Myanmar and Japan, with the agenda of building a new relationship between the two countries. Both sides agreed to make promotion of international cooperation in the field of cultural heritage protection a centerpiece of cultural exchange. Accordingly, JCIC-Heritage received a request from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to carry out studies with a view to making a concrete plan for cooperation on cultural heritage protection.
Dispatch of team to investigate cultural heritage protection
Since its establishment in 2006, JCIC-Heritage has been collecting information required for the promotion of international cooperation on cultural heritage protection. As a part of this mission, JCIC-Heritage has been conducting a series of surveys in partner countries. Based on a discussion in its Subcommittee for Planning regarding the request from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, JCIC-Heritage decided to send an investigation team to identify potential needs in the field of cultural heritage protection and to collect information regarding the current situation of cultural heritage in Myanmar. The investigation team led by Professor Yoshiaki Ishizawa (Sophia University, and the Chairperson of JCIC-Heritage) conducted its survey in February 2012. While focusing on clarification of the items for which Myanmar was requesting cooperation, the team collected information and held discussions with the persons in charge at Myanmar’s representative cultural heritage sites such as Bagan’s Temples, the wooden structures in Mandalay, as well as museums and libraries in local areas.
Collaboration with various institutions
During this survey, the team also held meetings with the UNESCO Bangkok Office, the Embassy of Japan in Myanmar, and the JICA office in Myanmar for the purpose of collecting information regarding the activities of other international organizations, in addition to hearing the expectations of other institutions in Japan. Our counterpart for this survey was the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, and the Department of History Research in the Ministry of Culture, Myanmar.
Prior to this survey, JCIC-Heritage shared information with Myanmar studies experts in Japan, and learned that the International Research Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region was also planning a survey regarding intangible cultural heritage in Myanmar. Both institutions are now working in close cooperation on this subject.
Current state of cultural heritage in Myanmar
Through this survey, we became aware that the majority of tangible heritage has deteriorated badly and is in critical condition. Particularly in the case of the site of Bagan’s Temples where the number of tourists has been growing dramatically since 2011, the current infrastructure is approaching the limit of what it can handle. In the 1990’s, Professor Yukio Nishimura (University of Tokyo) drafted a plan entitled “Preparation of a Master Plan for the Preservation of the Historic Area of Pagan” funded by the Japan Funds-in-trust for the Preservation of the World Cultural Heritage. Incorporating the ideas of that plan, the foremost challenge is how to achieve sustainable development that strikes a balance between cultural heritage protection and community development, while also placing particular emphasis on urban environmental issues and income disparities. Meanwhile, conservation facilities and research functions at museums are severely under equipped. Moreover, specialists are desperately needed in every sector. Finally, it must be kept in mind that the majority of the cultural heritage sites are living heritage, which are places of worship for the nation’s many devout local Buddhists.
Current situation of international cooperation
In response to this situation, several international cooperation projects have been taking place and more are under way. In regard to the archaeological sites in Bagan, China and India have already started international cooperation projects for the conservation of specific sites. Furthermore, UNESCO has commenced a project including human resource training in the archaeological sector with the Italian Funds-in-Trust.
In the future, Myanmar is expected to receive growing cooperation from Japan and other countries for projects not limited to cultural heritage protection, but encompassing other sectors including development. Coordination among these projects will thus become more vital than ever. Japan has been promoting international cooperation on cultural heritage protection for over two decades, and the knowledge we have gained in those years will be put to the test in Myanmar.
A Japan-wide framework for International Cooperation
While continuing to collect information, JCIC-Heritage is holding discussions with a wide range of related institutions to examine the form of Japan’s international cooperation on cultural heritage protection. JCIC-Heritage has set up a new working group on Myanmar, and is now building a framework to bring together Japan-wide cultural heritage protection projects related to Myanmar. This survey results will be compiled and published, and should serve as a foundation for promoting support efforts under a united Japanese framework.