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The impact of the natural disaster on the Tangible and Intangible Culture Heritage

Cyclone Nargis, devastated the Irrawaddy delta on 2 and 3 May 2008, killing tens of thousands of people and ruined Myanmar infrastructure, many survivors remained vulnerable and traumatized. To be able to continue theatrical and religious activities in the affected region of Moulmeingyun Township and Bogalay Township, Myanmar, the following activities were funded by Prince Claus Fund / CER and coordinated by Kyaw Myo Ko, Director of Myanmar Upper Land | culture & travel.
Based on set objectives, we selected the locations and the fields that we aimed.

1.  Under the category of artistic related, monasteries, cultural heritages of Location No.1 Moulmeingyun Township;

-Restoration of the Kanner Monastery
-Restoration of the Kyunlone Kutkar Pagoda, Sabbath and Mediation Hall and Buddha Statues
-Rebuilding of the theatrical organization office
-Activities for Theatrical Supports

2.  Under the category of artistic related, monasteries and cultural heritages of Location No.2 Bogalay Township

-Restoration of the Shin U Pa Goata Shrine
-Restoration of the Koe Myo Nan Spirit House
-Rebuilding of the theatrical organization office
-Activities for Theatrical Supports

Then commencing the projects under the two most important titles as the Reconstruction of the cultural Buildings Projects and the Theatrical Supports Projects for the restoration of Tangible Culture heritage and safeguarding of the Intangible Culture Heritage.
(The project activities were commenced in mid-March 2009 and finished at mid-October 2009)


Description of the situation

The following steps were provided as the project initiating phase;
1) Planned meetings with local experts and selected participants
2) Organized field trips for data gathering and to make descriptions of;

  • the disaster
  • the cultural heritage in question
  • the damage that the cultural heritage has incurred as a result of the disaster
  • the heritage’s cultural value for the affected community
  • the proposed activities
  • a detailed financial budget for those activities
  • information about the contract partner, the contact person and the project co-coordinator
  • information about any additional partners, both financial and otherwise
  • a provisional budget for the heritage’s further restoration

As referring to the record of one leading Journal, the numerical breakdown of the damaged monasteries by the cyclone Nargis were as follows;
In the Irrawaddy Division, there were 1163 partially damaged monasteries and 736 totally collapsed monasteries. 600 Monasteries were being renovated by the Government, Public Sector and International aid.
In Yangon Division, there were 2846 partially damaged monasteries and 52 totally collapsed monasteries.
Until the end of June 2008, 2593 Monasteries were being renovated by the Government, Public Sector and International aid in Yangon Division and 305 Monasteries were in need of renovation.

In Myanmar, The Land of Pagodas, we have some golden and towering Pagodas like the great Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon; others are small and whitewashed, on hilltops or flatlands among green paddy fields and in almost every village.

Pagodas and Monasteries are not merely places of religious worship and ritual. They are also centers of the community for social activities, places for communal alms-giving in particular seasons and last but not least they have an important function for the continuity of Intangible Culture Heritage.

In Myanmar culture, every pagoda has an annual festival, and all such festivals are the place of trade fairs, clan gathering, and cultural diversity. Besides this, the Pagoda has an important role for artists because it is the place for artists and where theatrical and dramatic troupes can perform.

During our Assessment trip, we selected one monastery, one meditation hall with Buddha statues, two spiritual houses and two township level theatrical organization offices which were really in need to be renovated. We also found out the damages at other spiritual houses since the majority of Buddhism as practiced in Myanmar is mixed up with spiritual worship and animism.

According to the nature of this Irrawaddy delta region, the majority of the people earned their living in fishing and farming. We assumed that there were artists who employ themselves as artists and some artists also being a fisherman or farmer for their livelihoods. But due to lack of some original records, it was difficult to discover the depth of their troubles. Thanks to the support of township level theatrical organizations, we could verify the most reliable data. There were no puppets and puppeteers thoughtfully affected by Cyclone Nargis although the another performing art community from this affected delta region was damaged.

In this deeply concerned with the devastation of Cyclone Nargis, the Prince Claus Fund (PCF), in the context of the Cultural Emergency Response Program (CER), aimed on the subject of making Inventory of Cultural Heritage, Artistic related to the Intangible Asset and the damaged Monasteries and other which related to Tangible Culture Heritage


Discussion of the approach chosen

Challenges of the Local Community

The local community of artists and the owners of heritage places were not aware how these projects worked and how they should receive a response to such activity. Unfortunately, participation in decision-making for the local people is not a “bottom-up” but rather “top-down” process.

Since before the cyclone, Nargis hit 2008, public infrastructure is underdeveloped, and a more rigorous heritage-oriented activity is questioned to achieve at this stage.
After the devastation, the community of the artists obviously does not have access to viable financial support for their profession and are also lacking means for their survival needs.

Challenges of the project Team

Although the core project team was affiliated with the Myanmar Theatrical Association, there was still lacking awareness of the method of assessment at Tangible heritage and especially in Intangible heritage as there had no such experiences been before at that time of June 2008.
The lure of the telecommunication was the primary challenge and also there has no public internet connection in this delta region.

1. Activities in Moulmeingyun, Myanmar

Restoration of the Kanner Monastery:

The Kanner monastery was provided mostly with a new building with the previous design.

The building was in use to hold the examinations for the monks around this region and the public community for donation ceremonies and also for novitiate ceremonies and situated at the township center. The head monk of this monastery is also a chairman of the town level Monk association.
This monastery is of particular value to the community of Maoulmeingyun and social significance for the people of the township.

Restoration of the Kyunlone Kutkar Pagoda, Sabbath and Mediation Hall and Buddha Statues:

In this Sabbath hall from Kyunlone Kutkar Pagoda where the Buddhists used to take the eight perceptions and learn the Buddha’s teaching once a week of every Sabbath day, most of the Buddha statues were damaged in this cyclone Nargis.
The structure of the distorted Pagoda and the meditation hall were restored; as well as repaired on Buddha statues and also some new replaced Buddha statues were built.
These activities helped the continuity of religious belief, and this is of spiritual and social significance for the local community.

Rebuilding the theatrical organization office:

The theatrical office building was rebuilt completely as according to the proposed plan to support, center and maintain the intangible cultural heritage of the local community.

2. Activities in Bogalay, Myanmar

Restoration of the Shin U Pa Goata Shrine:

The Shin U Pa primary (the name of the Buddha’s disciple) Shrine was rebuilt completely. This building is also of spiritual and social significance for the local people since it was used to hold a major ceremony once a year.

Restoration of the Koe Myo Nan Spirit House:

The Koe Myo Nan spirit house was completely rebuilt as in the original style, the walls and roofing were repaired; a wooden stand to put on the Nat statues (Nats are Burmese spirits that died at the hands of royalty) was also provided.
It is the religious belief of the township people, and this is of spiritual significance to the local community.

Rebuilding of the theatrical organization office:

The theatrical office building was rebuilt entirely according to the proposed plan for the union of the artists in this region.  The theatrical office building is of significance with future communication to this remote area and to support this particular community of Artists.

Activities for Theatrical Supports in the Region:

 5 Sets of Quality Traditional Orchestras were produced and delivered to entitled Orchestra bands that were lost and damaged their musical instruments. Those entitled were selected by the previous decision of the board of Myanmar Theatrical Association, township theatrical associations, and the project coordinator.

Sets of Orchestras have an important role in maintaining all branches of Myanmar traditional culture to preserve and safeguard the diversity of Intangible Culture Heritage which is closely related to the artists/musicians/dancers

One of the theatrical groups expressed their concern about sustaining the traditional performing art, for them were necessary, replacement of theatrical related objects such as a sound box, amplifier and its accessories, performance curtains and lights settings. Those activities supported the artistic and social significance for the Artists and the local communities.


Critical Evaluation and Conclusion

Traditional cultural community from Delta region did appreciate the support of the Cultural Emergency Response program of Prince Claus Fund (PCF) and the Local Actors since there was no hope for them. Although there were some INGO’s but they did help other communities.

The people from traditional cultural communities, monks, caretakers and trusteeship of the concerning buildings have been actually pleased and also expressed their gratitude and many thanks to the project at their testimonial letters as well when they did regain the monk’s dining and examination hall and Sabbath day gathering and the meditation hall in Moulmeingyun and the spiritual house in Bogalay.

The stakeholders like the members from the different levels of Myanmar Theatrical Association, the monks, trustees and heads of the communities and the artists also had been very pleased and were proud on connecting those opportunities to the local community though there had inland policy disputed circumstances by the government.

Although the implementation of the project was faced with difficulties due to communication and transportation, eventually set objectives and intended deliverables of the project were met. The social awareness has been raised among the local communities concerning the importance of preserving not only the tangible but also the intangible cultural heritage.

One of the key factors of the success is that this project was affiliated with Myanmar Theatrical Association (Central) at some management parts like the selection of the artists who entitled the set of Myanmar Orchestra and some other theatrical related. So that we have more access to perform the formal procedure of Governmental works as well.

Finally, all the projects have fulfilled all of the requirements as documented and the stakeholders and the people from every community who were connected to this project were satisfied that all outstanding items had been satisfactorily addressed.



Kyaw Myo Ko (Director, Myanmar Upper Land | culture & travel), “Project Closure Report for Reconstruction Buildings Projects and Project Closure Report for Theatrical Supports Project” to Prince Claus Fund/ CER, The Netherland.