Myanmar (formerly Burma) occupies 261,228 sq. miles (676,578 km²), an area slightly larger than France. Archaeological findings reveal that parts of Myanmar were inhibited some five thousand years ago. The ancestors of present-day Myanmars, the Pyus and the Mons established several kingdoms throughout the country from the 1st century A.D. to the 10th century A.D. From that early beginning, there are today 135 nationalities who call Myanmar home. Then called Burma the nation, became a sovereign independent state on 4th January 1948 after more than 100 years under British colonial administration. The country name was changed to The Republic of the Union of Myanmar in 1989.
The main religions of the country are Buddhism (89.2%), Christianity (5.0%), Islam (3.8%), Hinduism (0.5%), Spiritualism (1.2%) and others (0.2%).
Most of Myanmar lies within the tropical zone. Myanmar has three seasons: a hot and wet season from mid-May to October, a cooler season from late October to mid-February, and a very hot season from mid-February to early May. Temperatures are generally lower in mountainous regions.
Myanmar holds the majority of the world’s remaining supply of teak, in addition to being rich in mineral wealth, including jade, rubies, oil, natural gas, iron, copper, and other metals. Under colonial rule, Burma was the world’s largest exporter of rice.
Myanmar jungles contain a variety of wild animals including many tigers and leopards. Also common to the highlands of Upper Myanmar are elephants, rhinoceros, wild buffalo, wild boar, and several species of deer and antelope. Tamed elephants are used as work animals, particularly in the timber industry. Myanmar is also home to over 1,200 known species of birds, as well as numerous reptiles including crocodiles, geckos, cobras, pythons, and turtles.
Myanmar has a rich literary tradition; Myanmar (Burmese) is a language that is especially suitable for poetry and puns. The first examples of an indigenous literature are found on stone carvings dating from 1113 A.D.. By the 15th century, a rich tradition of historical and religious poetry had developed. Prose works did not become important until the late 19th century, when a proliferation of novels and plays received impetus from a revival of Burmese nationalism. Notable modern writers have included the poet and essayist Thakin Kodaw Hmaine, the novelist and satirist Thakin Thein Pe Myint, and the novelist Ludu U Hla.
A popular form of entertainment is the pwe. A type of folk opera, it combines generally light storylines with music and dance. The texts are taken from local folk tales or the Hindu Ramayana, interspersed with comic or satirical skits; the musical accompaniment comes from an orchestra of tuned gongs, bamboo clappers, bamboo xylophone, cymbals, and hne (a sort of six-reeded oboe).