In some countries around the world it can seem simple that the people of those countries and the name of those countries are synonymous. People from Spain are Spanish or people from Russia are Russians (note: I’m stating this in English, but in other languages this may be different). Often though there are people in those countries that are another ethnicity than what the countries name is.
So, people traveling to Myanmar often ask, “Are people from Myanmar – Myanmarese?” Or they may say, “Are they Burmese or Myanmar, what’s the difference?” Let me clear this confusion up. First of all, there is no such thing as a Myanmarese person. Are person that is Myanmar is Myanmar i.e. Burmese ethnicity which makes up roughly 60% of the country’s population. Not all people living in Myanmar are Myanmar but they are not Myanmar ethnicity. What?
If you ask a Myanmar person (person from Myanmar the country – see the confusion!) they will say that Myanmar was the name of the country before the British arrived, that Burma was the name given by the colonialists. So, the Myanmar name is saying what the country name is. The people on the other hand are not all Myanmar. There are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar and many sub groups. Myanmar is their Nationality but it is not all their ethnicity.
The Burmese term for the original 8 major ethnic groups included in Myanmar at the formation of the country is called Tine Yin Tha. This group of 8 people groups; Burmese, Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, Shan, Kayin, Mon, and Kayah. This is one of the arguments to exclude some groups of ethnicities like the Rohingya.
So when someone says they are Myanmar, ask them “Bar Lu myoe lae”. Which roughly translates, “which ethnic group are you.” This is one of the most common questions Myanmar people ask each other and to get to know someone.
Written By- Charles Ryan Russell (CEO of Myanmar Business Answers)