Myanmar/Burma Projects

Mandalay Marionettes Theater Puppet Show

A marionette is a type of puppet that is controlled by a manipulator with wires or strings from above. Marionettes are operated with the puppeteer hidden from the audience by using a vertical or horizontal control bar in different forms of theatres. In the country of Burma, marionette puppetry has played an important role in the history and development of dramatic art and culture over the last 500 years. Burmese puppetry served as a means of making people aware of current events; as a medium for educating people in literature, history, and religion; as a display of lifestyles and customs; and as mouthpieces for the people in the days of royalty.

The practice of traditional marionette puppetry in Burma has waned over the decades, and is on the verge of becoming a lost art form. In 1986, Mrs. Ma Ma Naing and Mrs. Naing Yee Mar formed the Mandalay Marionettes Theater as a step in saving this rich legacy. This troupe has been working to preserve Burmese puppetry and original Burmese traditions such as Burmese dancing and music, sculpture, sequin embroidery and painting. For further information about the Mandalay Marionettes Theater, please visit

The Mandalay Marionettes troupe has contributed an assortment of performance videos to the SEADL. Included in these is an introduction and overview to the Burmese marionette tradition; a ritual dance that is done to respect the Nats, or the guardian spirits of the area; the Himalayas dance, featuring the horse, monkey and demons; and a dance of an alchemist or the Zaw-Gyi dance. Daw Ma Ma Naing, one of the founders of the Mandalay Marionettes Theater, also gives a brief history about marionettes. Other videos highlight the skills of the puppeteers themselves, while demonstrating the dance of the two royal pages; a humorous dance performed by two villagers named U Shwe Yoe and Daw Moe; a dance between a human being and a puppet; a romantic and sentimental dance called "Myaing Da;"and a performance from the Ramayana epic where Rama chases a golden deer for his princess, Sita.

Materials digitized under this project:


Early Imprints from Southeast Asia 

Western-style printing was introduced to most of Southeast Asia only about two centuries ago. These printed works were produced initially by Western missionaries and subsequently by locals as well. Most early printed works were therefore related to Christian religious teachings and activities, before spreading to other areas. In Burma the imprints included Buddhist texts. Some of the books include detailed illustrations, which add to their appeal.
The British Library holds unique collections of these early imprints from the region. In 2007 TICFIA demonstrated its willingness to give a grant to digitize these early printed works, but it was not until February 2009 that a contract to digitize parts of this valuable collection was signed between Northern Illinois University, as the representative of TICFIA, and the British Library. This collaboration has made possible wider public access to these historic and unique documents.

Materials digitized under this project:


Pa'O Religious and Literary Manuscripts

by Christopher A. Miller 

The ethnic Pa'O (Tibeto-Burman, Karenic branch) minority group number close to one million persons and currently occupy areas as far north as the southern Shan State and as far south as the northern Mon State in present-day Myanmar. The Pa'O Literary and Cultural Council Committee (PLCCC) Library in Taunggyi, Shan State has begun to collect endangered materials, largely consisting of Theravada Buddhist texts in palm leaf manuscript and parabaik (accordian-folded paper manuscript) form as well as scrolls of both religious and literary texts. All texts are written in either the Pa'O language or in Pali employing a slightly modified Pa'O script. There is no doubt as to the significance of these texts as they represent Pa'O interpretations of the Buddhist canon, an alternative to the Burmese lineage that now essentially dominates religious discourse within Myanmar. Further, they represent a major collection of the Pa'O literary tradition in as much as recent political conditions have effectively quelled Pa'O literature. Sources of these collected Pa'O texts are disparate; some are harvested from homes in rural villages while most have been gifted by local Pa'O monasteries.

Title: Pa’O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library Manuscript Archive
Dates(s): 1895 (1257 Burmese Era) – 1986 (1348 BE)
Extent: 71 manuscripts
Medium of copies: digitally photographed
Medium of original material: parabaik (accordion-folded paper manuscripts); palm leaf manuscripts; bound scrolls
Location of original material: Pa’O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library
Contributor(s): Muiń‘″ Pyui″ Charāto‘ ’Arhań‘ Kavisāra / Rhań‘ Ko Lita; Bvecań‘ Penanta / Cakhvī Charāto‘ / Choń‘ Proń‘˝ Bhun‘˝ Krī˝ / Rhań‘ Jayanta; Bhun‘˝ Kyī˝ ’Aintā / Mo‘ Cinna / Pūrinta / Bve Cań‘ Khe Mā / Mai Huiń‘ Thui Bhun‘˝ Krī˝ / Poń‘ Cań‘˝ Vārinta / Thī Pyañ‘ ’Arhe΄ Rvā Kui Cāyanta / Rhań‘ Pe Sū Rinta
Description: Pa’O Theravada Buddhist elucidations of the Tripitaka: Vinaya, Abhidharma, and Suttas; Jataka stories; medicinal texts; astrologies; historical documents; litarary texts
Access: unrestricted
Language(s): Pa’O; Pali (in Pa’O script); Shan; Burmese


  • Christopher A. Miller, Southeast Asian Studies Bibliographer, Arizona State University Libraries
  • Khun Maung Toke, Political and Cultural Affairs Officer, Pa’O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library
  • Khun Rama, Literary Officer and Archivist, Pa’O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library
  • Khun Maung Ba, Librarian, Pa’O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library
  • Khun Kyaw Sein, Museum Curator, Pa’O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library

Date: 4 January – 15 February 2008

Place(s): Pa’O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library (20º47’05.09”N; 97º02’00.71”E; elev. 1403m); Local Pa’O Monastery (20º49’15.06”N; 97º02’03.20”E; elev. 1293m)

Due to the nature of parabaik, each manuscript has two sides (Side 1 and Side 2). In all cases a single text is continued from one side to the other, though there are some instances when a single manuscript contains two texts, one on each side of the folded manuscript.

The digitization of these manuscripts was supported by a Pilot Project grant from the Endangered Archives Programme administered by The British Library.

Materials digitized under this project:

The Northern Illinois University Digital Collection

The Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection at the Northern Illinois University libraries includes a large number of books, periodicals, microform sets, pamphlets, manuscripts, and videos. Materials from and pertaining to the eleven Southeast Asian countries are available in English and in vernacular languages. It is indeed one of the best collections for Southeast Asian studies in the country.

A certain number of selected books and manuscripts from this collection have been digitized and made available. There are other digitized materials also included which are not a part of the Donn V. Hart Southeast Asia Collection.

Materials digitized under this project:


Virtual Southeast Asia

The Virtual Southeast Asia project is an add-on to the Southeast Asia Digital Library that provides a mapping interface to many of the library’s assets, as opposed to the usual text based, menu driven access.  Using Google maps, the interface allows anyone to view the exact location where each image or other asset was created.  The mapping interface allows for viewing the library’s holdings on the macro level, to see where in Southeast Asia the library’s images were created, and, if desired, allows for drilling down to the micro level to view individual images of sites on the map.  While using the interface, you can also easily move beyond the SEADL to access similar images through Googles vast image holdings.  

The Google map viewer for this project is below:

Materials digitized under this project: