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Love of children.-One of the chief virtues of the Burmese is the love of their children, so long as they are young and helpless. This characteristic they have in common with all nations who live in a state of nature, the social connection between child and parent being the first and strongest. Burmese parents are in a state of distraction when any accident happens to their progeny; and the death of the child is often considered an irreparable calamity. Great numbers of children cannot be a burden in a country which is highly productive, thinly peopled, and enjoying security of life and property. A childless age is considered one of the greatest punishments imaginable. It will easily be perceived, that under such circumstances infanticides are entirely unknown. It does not seem here to be the case, that the love of the child holds equal pace with that of the parents.
Love of parents.-The facility of gaining independence, and the state of almost unbounded liberty in which the children roam about from their first infancy, loosen very much the ties of filial duty; there are however, but few instances of direct ingratitude on record; numerous cases however are known, where a son has taken voluntarily a debt of his father upon himself, and become a debtor servant for 7 to 10 years, to deliver his father from ignominy and prison.
Marriage.-Marriage is entirely a civil act amongst the Burmese, and considered as binding only so long as both parties find it convenient. Separation is of daily occurrence, and no public blame is attached to it. Such union cannot be supposed to possess moralities. Natural fidelity is therefore not absolutely required, and adultery is the more frequent, as there is no public ignominy attached. So an adultress; a women lives in illicit intercourse with the consent of her husband, and when separated can form again a new union without prejudice to her, and without her new husband troubling himself about her past conduct. The seduction of unmarried girls is rather a rare case, almost impossible; because a girl attaining the age of puberty is as soon as possible disposed of by her parents. The infidelity of the wife here forms a striking contrast to the rigorous jealousy with which females are guarded in all Mussulman and Hindoo countries; it is not only met with in Burmah, but equally in Siam, Cambogia, and Cochin-China. The natives of these countries all professing Buddhism, it seems to have its source in religion, much more as the Kareans, who have no positive mode of worship, are in this respect much more strict than their Buddhist brethren.
Polygamy.-Polygamy is allowed in Buddhistic countries, and the number of wives is (as wherever polygamy is introduced) in propor
tion to the means of maintaining them. The generality however are content with one wife at a time, and the bad effects of polygamy are confined to the comparatively small number of the wealthy. Marriage is contracted easily. The difficulties in over peopled countries, where a certain settlement or occupation in life, or a certainty of income is necessary, before people marry, are not experienced, here where every body if he like, can maintain a wife and family with ease Polygamy and faithlessness, divide and loosen the affections of parents toward their children, yet it has been stated that the Burmese doat on their children; and it is a strange anomoly, which is however daily seen at Maulmain, that a Burmese has a particular predilection for a fair child by his wife, even when he is well aware that it is a spurious offspring. This is, however, only the case amongst the lower classes. We have not yet any proof, how children by English fathers and Burmese mothers will turn out when grown up, the intercourse between the two nations having subsisted but fourteen years; if we however may judge from what the children promise at present, we should be inclined to anticipate that they will be superior to the progeny of Europeans by Indian women.
Religious establishment for the education of the children.-Polygamy and connubial faithlessness have also in general bad effects upon the education of children, diminishing the care and attachment which ought to be felt. The religious institutions of the country have provided for this case. The children are at an early age placed in monasteries, established at almost every village, and endowed by the voluntary contributions of the inhabitants. There the children remain for a certain period of their boyhood, where they are fed by the monks, and instructed in reading, writing, and religious rites.
This is the education which almost all Burmese attain, but they seldom know more; hence the general diffusion of elementary knowledge, and general ignorance in the higher attainments of science, and the great uniformity of knowledge throughout Burmah.
Knowledge of the priests.-The Pomgys, or priests, are considered the learned men of the nation; but their knowledge consisting in the explanation of theological and metaphysical doctrines, is therefore mystical, but the more appreciated by the vulgar majority, because incomprehensible.
Religion. The peculiarities and characteristics of a nation are mostly intimately connected with their religion. Religion either dignifies or degrades the human character. In considering the religion of the inhabitants of these countries, we must form a distinction between
the Seelongs, Kareans, and Burmese, for all three have different creeds, and therefore different ideas of the Deity.
Religious belief of the Seelongs.-The Seelongs must be considered in this respect, as a people in the lowest scale. Yet the idea of the Deity forces itself upon the most savage mind.
These people have no religious creed, they have no established mode of worship, i. e. no outward manifestations of their acknowledgment of a superior being; yet they have a vague idea or impression, that there exists besides mankind, some other not visible beings, exercising an influence over the destinies of mankind, &c.
To them even the notion of polytheism and idolatry is too vague, and as far as I could, after a prolonged inquiry, understand, they believe that the sea, the land, the air, the trees, and the stones are all inhabited by nâts or spirits, either good or evil; who direct the motions of these bodies; who produce the growth of plants, &c., &c. How far these spirits influence men, they do not pretend to know. Of a future state they are entirely ignorant upon for in touching, this question, they invariably answered, "We do not think about that." The observation of things around them, seems therefore to strike their poor minds; and their small share of reflective power, leads them instantly to the acknowledgment of an invisible superior being.
The dawn of reasoning and the idea of a Deity, however imperfect, seem therefore identical; and the belief in nâts or spirits, seems to be the first and lowest of all religious creeds. The opinion that the lowest religion begins with idolatry, is not corroborated by what we find amongst these people; the Seelong's idea of a Deity is so imperfect, that he does not even represent it by a figure. The idea of the Deity being in its infancy indefinite and vague, idolatry itself is an advance to positive religion.
Religious belief of the Kareans.-The Kareans, who are already more advanced than the Seelongs, have also the idea, that certain trees, or caverns, or animals, are the abodes of mighty spirits, to whom they however do not as yet assign a form. The Burmese on the contrary, who have already their system of the Deity, embody these notions, form images, and pay them superhuman devotion, as the representations of these conceived and systemized ideas. The Seelongs apparently not believing distinctly that superior and invisible powers directly influence mankind, propitiary sacrifices, and an external mode of worship are not introduced. The Kareans having an idea of the direct influence of nâts upon the destinies of mankind, offer sacrifices to them, consisting of fowls, tobacco, rice, and pieces of mo
ney, depositing them in certain reputed places in the jungles, and sometimes under small sheds, near their houses. The Burmese have a strictly observed ceremonial, external worship, celebrated in temples, pagodas, &c., &c.
If it is true that morals cannot exist without a positive religion, and that morals cannot be maintained without the notion of a future state of rewards and punishments, the people of this portion of the world cannot be in our sense moral, for the Seelongs and Kareans have no established religion, and the religious creed of the Burmese even excludes a continued active state after death.
Buddhism. The leading features of Buddhism are predestination, metempsychosis, and final annihilation or absorption.
The principal moral precepts of Buddhism are the following1. Eschewing every kind of evil.
2. Fulfilling of good.
3. Purifying or cleansing of the heart; which latter again is ob. tained by Neggen sheet ba, or the eight good ways, which are, i. Caution. ii. Security. iii. Rightly directed intelligence. iv. Right actions. v. Right words. vi. Right opinions. vii. Right intentions. viii. Right way of supporting life. According with the destiny of their good or evil actions all men pass after death into certain forms, become nâts, or a lower degree of spiritual beings, or they continue to be men, or they turn into brutes. The highest degree of perfection to which any being can or will come, after passing through numerous grades of nât existence, is Neibban, or annihilation, or following the translation of others, an existence in a perfect state of quiescence. This is the essence of Buddhism, a religion generally diffused over a great portion of Asia; probably, counting no less disciples than Mahometanism or Christianity. Most of the people are satisfied with performing the rites of their religion, without attempting to understand its theology, and even among the priests few are able to expound their religious tenets, because there are few who can read and write Palí, in which language their religious system is written.
They content themselves with the recitation of certain prayers, invocations, &c. and, the priests as well as the mass of the people, find it much easier to perform external ceremonies. The Buddhist adherents do not try to make converts, at least not in this country, and they are equally tolerant to all sects; they do not affirm that their creed is the best or alone true, but say it is that religion fitted best to their country, state, and individuality, and they adhere strictly to this faith.
Conversions to Christianity in Tenasserim.-Few Burmese turn
Christians from the conviction of the superiority and blessings of our religion; and isolated are the cases of those, who for the sake of worldly gain became nominally Christians. The missionaries have hitherto signally failed in their endeavours, and the reason of the want of success with the Burmese is not fanaticism or obstinacy, but religious dogmatical indifference. They admit the beauty of Christian morals, but contend that theirs is equally good; and with reference to the dogma they say, that the Christian is equally unintelligible with the Buddhistic, and that in comparing both, they do not see any great difference; it would be bad to abandon their notions and customs, their families, and all that is holy and dear to them, to follow the advice of strangers. Kareans, on the contrary, who have positively no established mode of worship, embrace Christianity; and some of the American Baptist Missionaries, who settled amongst them, did much good. Infinitely more could be done, if all the Missionaries were equally well fitted to open the hearts of these simple children of nature by mild persuasions, instead of filling their minds with distrust by holding up the terrors of damnation.
Recapitulation of the aforesaid.-After having touched upon the essence of religion, the state of morals, the characteristics and peculiarities of the people, we are led to the following conclusions
1. That the inhabitants of the Tenasserim Provinces possess the virtues of uncultivated nations.
2. That they cannot be expected to possess the higher morals and virtues of nations advanced in civilization; that fortunately the vices of polished nations, are, if not unknown, yet rather rare amongst them.
3. That their vices are in a great measure the consequence of the long misrule of highly oppressive and arbitrary governments.
4. That they possess original views of morality, different from those of Europeans on certain subjects, which are chiefly applicable to the comparatively low estimation of chastity among their women.
5. That the whole nation is educated to a certain degree, but that education stops short at that point, and that no higher cultivation can be expected from the present state of things.
6. That religion is no impediment to their advancement, as it does not imbue them with prejudices against other creeds, and that the absence of the caste system, so obnoxious in India, is a great advantage if their improvement be contemplated.
7. That the Burmese are therefore capable of great improvement. Diffusion of European knowledge.-Very little, or nothing has hitherto been done by the British government, to educate the people.