Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The "Mon Paradigm" in Burmese History

The archaeologist Dr. Bob Hudson defines the Mon Paradigm as "the widely accepted notion among both indigenous and western scholars that the traditional story of King Anawratha invading and capturing Thaton in the 11th century and a subsequent inflow of Mon culture into Bagan...was a historical fact." (PhD Dissertation, p. 39, rather slow online link, summary of story on page 26 paragraph 4 of the dissertation).

The Mon Paradigm has been gathering momentum for several years as a subject of debate: "The reaction at the 2001 Texts and Contexts conference in Yangon, which saw two highly detailed, prepared rebuttals presented from the floor at the conclusion of Aung-Thwin’s paper, which had been circulated in advance, was a fair indication that the academic community in Myanmar is attracted to the debate." (p. 40)

The Mon Paradigm seems to have several dimensions beyond the Pagan era events in the definition given above. It also includes a criticism of western "Orientalist" historical scholarship: "Western scholars of the 20th century accepted the story of the early Mon kingdom as fact, and attributed many finds in southern Burma of coins, art works and archaeological materials, 'even those with no dates or Mon writing on them' to the Mon ethnic group. The Mon were portrayed as the historical victims of aggressive Thais and Burmans, whose consolation for this injustice was to be credited with civilising their conquerors, a situation with parallels to the Roman adoption of the culture of the conquered Greeks." (p. 40) There are also writing orthography dimensions to the debate.

The Mon Paradigm probably needs a broader formal definition than the series of Pagan era events as well as a more precise statement of sub-claims and support. Toulmin's model of logical argumentation might help some people organize and understand the complex web of arguments in the Mon Paradigm. Some of the criticism might have bearing on post-Pagan historical periods such as the Ava (1365-1527) or the First Toungoo (1486-1599) periods.

The myth supposedly originates during the reign of king Dhammaceti just before the time period (1486-1539) that my paperon the late Ava and early First Toungoo period addresses: "The notion of a first millennium Mon kingdom in southern Burma originated with the 15th century King Dhammaceti of Bago (Pegu) as part of a retrospective claim of Theravada Buddhist orthodoxy for his regime." (p. 40) The discussion of the ethnonym "Talaing" in Dr. Aung-thwin's book is of especial interest to me since this is the term used to refer to the inhabitants of the south in U Kala's Mahayazawingyi which I have used as the foundation of my narrative history.

(Dr. Bob Hudson's dissertation is large, so beware, it took me a long time to download. There is also a separate download page for the dissertation.)