Maria Ana Marques Guedes*


Pierre Laffont noted a series of omissions in the studies of South East Asian literature about twenty years ago. 1 Then in the 1980's, Victor Lieberman regretted the underestimation of numerous sources of Burmese history. 2 At the beginning of the 1990's, Sanjay Subramanyan pointed out the delay in investigations concerning the search for remains of Portuguese presence in Asian testimonies. 3

We continue today to come across the same omissions, jamming up the cogwheel where one ought to link careful studies about Portuguese presence in determined areas with the knowledge of languages and local literature, including what historiography and historical sources have to reveal.

Regarding Burmese sources, it is true that translations do exist of chronicles or excerpts of chronicles and document collections, mainly in English, but also bilingually in Burmese-English, and even in French. 4 In spite of being few, they are ignored as far as Portuguese presence in that country in concerned.

With regard to Portuguese sources, when identified in published accounts or in manuscripts (identification being restricted by ignorance of historical and cultural aspects, names, toponyms, and if these points in Burmese are not known by experts in Portuguese research, the opposite is often the case too, i. e., the Portuguese is often unknown by non-Portuguese researchers) essentially finding oneself invariably with two situations:

1. Documents belonging to Lisbon archives and other parts of the country are exposed without a check on quotations with the Asian sources and this is repeated in a revolving circle to the point of degradation,

2. In the case of works belonging to non Portuguese libraries or archives, they generally stay on the stack list for lack of Portuguese readers. 5

As a cross reference of the second case, Oriental manuscripts in Portugal have waited centuries for researchers capable of reading them. 6

This encapsulates the actual state of investigating Portuguese presence in Burma in the period of the Portuguese Expansion to South East Asia. It would be impossible for me to take on, as no more than a mere novice and a modest one at that, the connection between the studies of Portuguese influences in Asia and the specialists of Burmese culture, history, language and literature. It is with this in mind that I will deal with some of the Burmese written records concerning both official and non-official contacts with the Portuguese and Burma throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Such an approach will be processed through an approximation of the literary genres which treat this theme.


The chronicles occupied a position of importance among Burmese literary genres. Placing aside the analysis of the differences (without forgetting them however) between Europeans and Asians regarding the use of cultural concepts necessarily linked to systems of thinking, and then of the way of writing history, I will examine the historical value of the chronicles I know of which deal with Portuguese presence. Then I will underline the general agreement of historians, even faced with the coexistence of legendary narratives and of more precise passages, so-called historical passages, concerning the relative exactness of Burmese chronicles which cover the period studied here. 7


The Slapat Rajawan Datow Smin Ron, mentioned by Arthur P. Phayre in his History of Burma as a chronicle of Pegu, written by the Buddhist priest, Hsaya Daw Athwa, was translated into German and published by P. W. Schmidt (Vienna, 1906) with the collaboration of C. O. Bladgen, who previously worked on an English version which was never published. The English edition, with an introduction and notes by R. Halliday, also with Bladgen's collaboration, was put to press in 1923 in the "Journal of the Burma Research Society", under the title, A History of Kings.

The chronicle refers briefly to Filipe de Brito de Nicote, the adventurer who built the Portuguese fort at Syriam and extended his power around the whole Pegu region. The name "Kapitan Jera" was a curious adaptation of the Portuguese expression 'capitão geral' (Captain General) - a title which Nicote received after having offered, more in word than deed, the "conquest of Pegu" to the Portuguese crown. The "Kapitan Jera" [... is presented as...] a ships' commander, the foreigner who was king in Syriam for twelve years [...],"8 in spite of his 'heretic' religion which stopped him from having the prerogatives of Burmese Buddhist royalty enjoyed by the supreme king, Anauk-hpet-lun. On this point the chronicle is more accurate than Portuguese sources, which are generally ambiguous regarding Nicote's decrees in Burma certainly because of not being aware of local institutions.

As for the numerous events of this turbulent period, the narrative is plainly brief: in 1612 the king of Ava (Anauk-hpet-lun) surrounded Syriam, taking control of the city and the Pegu government during the following year. All in all the contrast between the decrees of Nicote and Anauk-hpet-lun is accentuated again: the king of Ava was the lord of the "jewelled umbrella",9 one of the symbols of power for Buddhist kings.


The Syriam Yazawin was studied and translated later, in spite of being published in the same magazine eight years before the English edition of the mon chronicle just mentioned. It was translated under the title, History of Syriam, by J. S. Furnivall with the help of checking the two versions, one belonging to a Syriam monastery, the other defunct in the Bernard Free Library in Rangoon. For comments the editor used the German translation of the Slapat Rajawan Datow Smin Ron (published in 1906).

The History of Syriam is more detailed but less clear than A History of Kings. Firstly it is confusing to include two different narratives without any warning, as if it is only concerned with one: the history begins again then ends in an independent version and here and there contradicts the first which it began as another, like the founding of Syriam. Pointing out this duplication, Furnivall gives the reader a plausible explanation: the author - better called a compiler it seems, probably had a Burmese chronicle and rewrote it following a Syriam local chronicle. This type of adding together, apart from being crude, was often trying to combine versions which in practice was impossible. 10

Just like the Slapat, this chronicle mentions the Portuguese in the course of their influence in Syriam. Nicote appears under the name of "Nga Zinga", a "kala feringhi" ("European foreigner"). 11 He is showed as a ìcorrupter of religionî who apart from everything else, was planning to smelt the great bell donated by Dhammazedi12 to the pagoda of Shwe San Daw into cannons. Divine providence appears to be as present as it was in contemporary Portuguese chronicles for through the intervention of Buddha, the ship which carried the bell sank.

The meeting between Nicote and Anauk-hpetlun took place when the first one marched on Prome.The "Nga Zinga" apparently acquired, from Anauk-hpet-lun authorization to settle in Syriam with his men. This authorisation resulted from requests along with presents of weapons for the king. 13

This last passage of the chronicle merits examining before carrying on. On one hand, there is disagreement with others known contemporary sources, to which neither the negotiations with Anauk-hpet-lun nor his authorisation are referred to. On the other hand, it is said, and historians accept it, that Nicote arrives in Syriam under the service of the Arakanese king, Min Razagri. Holding an outstanding military position, he joined the troops which went down to southern Burma to conquer territory from Nandabayin (the last emperor of the first Toungoo dynasty, with his seat in the city of Pegu), managing to take possession of the countryís southern capital. Concerning the rest of the story, the actual chronicles of Syriam note the arrival of Nicote coming from Arakan, although this only happens in the second part, where the narrative begins in a new version which frequently contradicts with the first version, just as in this passage.

The difference did not go unnoticed by Furnivall, who suggested that there was a passage which was probably incorrect in the first of these versions; and secondly, certainly agreed with what actually happened. Aware of the degree to which there was consistency between the last version and the majority of Portuguese and Burmese sources, I think the chronicle's preliminary information should be taken into account for the following four reasons:

1. In spite of the version still lacking in corroboration, the lack of confirmation in itself does not prevent the truth of narrative occurrences in new sources,

2. Following setting up in Syriam, Nicote extended his powers through wars and diplomacy: with the objective of obtaining the acknowledgment of the autonomy of the Portuguese establishment, by making contacts and alliances at least with Goa, Mrauk-U, Toungoo, Martaban and Prome. 14 And, consequently, it is probable that the negotiations with Anauk-hpet-lun had taken place with the same objective,

3. Other sources record the meeting in Prome between the king of Ava and the Portuguese captain around 1608-1609. 15 Now if it had been so, there is still no certain documental proof, 16 the confrontation could have been sealed by agreements in which demarcations of areas of activity were established, and

4. Even if there had been a concession from Anauk-hpet-lun, it would not have signified recognition of Portuguese sovereignty; on the contrary, the two versions of the chronicle tell that the Portuguese cheated on their allegiance owed to the king, and extended their powers "[...] to the north, south, east and west." This was in fact the behaviour of the Syrian adventurers, in relationship to Min Razagri and the Portuguese Viceroy in Goa: without any authorisation whatsoever, they built a fort and extended their authority over the surrounding regions. Not even Min Razagri, who gave himself the title "Lord of Pegu" and "Emperor of Arakan and Pegu"17 after the conquest, or the Portuguese State of India and the Portuguese king, who accepted a pseudo delegation of sovereignty over Pegu from Nicote, designating him as their representative with the title of general captain, were obeyed or received any revenue derived from maritime trade along the Burmese coast. 18

Returning to the narrative: when mentioning the Portuguese, the Syriam Yazawin gives other information with these corroborations:

- Anauk-hpet-lun transferred the capital form Pegu to Ava. 19

- It was by taking advantage of Anauk-hpetlunís absence, occupied since the capture of Toungoo with rebellions in the Shan states, that "Nga Zinga" extended the settlement of Syriam and rose up against them (a point noted in both versions of the chronicle).

- King Natshinnaung's ascent to the throne of Toungoo and his alliance with Nicote.

- The alliance between Toungoo and the Portuguese adventurers took place under Natshinnaung's initiative, through an envoy of an ambassador in Syriam and the refusal of submission in relationship to Ava. 20

- Upon Nicote's arrival in Toungoo there was a battle21 during which Anauk-hpet-lun's army general died and Nicote took over Toungoo.

- Anauk-hpet-lun surrounded Syriam and victoriously killed Nicote and Natshinnaung in the appropriate way for their positions. As for the rest of the Portuguese and the company in arms, he took them captive into the interior of the country22 (to the locations of Kyaukyit, Panet, Yindaw and Myedu, according to the first version; or to Myedu, and Tabayin, according to the second version). 23

- The king of Arakan had supported Nicote, sending him war materials (according to the first version). 24 Information which is not corroborated is:

- The importance given to the fact that Nicote had a son-in-law, Potta Pinyada, who had been captured (according to the second version).

It is incomprehensible and on the other hand that:

- Anauk-hpet-lun was aware of the association between Nicote and Natshinnaung in 1539, the year which had passed after the seizure of Syriam (according to the first version).


The Maha Yazawin Gyi (The Great Chronicle) by U Kala, whose narration ended in 1711 (with a postscript in 1724), was edited in Rangoon in three volumes between 1926 and 1961.

Studying the chronicle, authors like U Hla Pe and Victor Lieberman show the disparity in the historical value of the information regarding the periods prior and after the fourteenth century. For the second of these two periods the narrative is a lot more precise and the legendary stories are rare.

As a way of testing the verity of records corresponding to the period between 1580 and 1608, Lieberman compares them with Jesuit writings, mainly those of Pierre du Jarric and Nicolau Pimenta, considering that they were the three principle sources for the History of Burma during that period. He concludes that Pimenta and U Kala, in spite of obvious differences, essentially agreed even with regard to the timing of political events of the period in question, and that included the disturbing events of the first split up of the so called Toungoo empire and the reunification of Burma under Anauk-hpet-lun.

He makes a useful comparative picture25 of the information contained in the three chronicles, registering even the number of pages dedicated to each event. This he does due to the idea that U Kala could not have used books like Pimenta's, published in Rome in 1601, and that the Jesuits had no access to official Burmese records.

The matters mentioned are the following:

1. The death of Bayinnaung and the riots during the uprising of Nandabayin,

2. The wars of Bayinnaung and Nandabayin with Siam,

3. The uprising of the feudal kings (Prome, Chiengmai and Toungoo),

4. The offensive alliance between the kings of Toungoo and Arakan against Nandabayin, and

5. The capture of Pegu by the Arakanese, with the help of Portuguese mercenaries.

Among the Portuguese mercenaries appeared Nicote, named in this chronicle as "kala bayingyi", a similar name to that used in the histories of Pegu and Syriam. 26

As to Lieberman's comparison between the Maya Yazawin Gyi and the Jesuits' accounts: overall the Burmese chronicle is longer and more detailed and shows a greater acquaintance with royal biographies;

- The analysis of the details seems to demonstrate those in this chronicle were the most reliable, in the majority of cases, since other sources (both Siamese and European) have confirmed them:

- Exceptionally the Jesuits dedicated more attention than U Kala to certain events, like the capture of the Arakanese prince by the Portuguese or biographical notes on Nicote:

- The conclusion is that Pimenta, du Jarric and U Kala, in spite of obvious differences, agree in the essential data and even in the chronology of the periodís political events.

Aware of Lieberman's rigorous and important work which brings up evidence of the similarities between the accounts studied in a pioneering fashion, I would like to make the following three observations:

1. The assertion that the Jesuits did not have access to Burmese sources is proved wrong by the Jesuits themselves who confirm having specifically used such sources in various written accounts. This was the case with Mendes Pinto's Peregrinação (Pilgrimage [The Travels of Mendes Pinto]) where, going along with what the author said, he verified this use in the historical and geographical descriptions and in those regarding the unification wars,

2. The preference given to the Jesuit version (to the detriment of U Kala) concerning the capture of the Arakanese prince, is based on the fact that Faria e Sousa, the "Independent Spanish historian", corroborates du Jarric. I must disagree as in one hand, Manuel Faria e Sousa depended on the crown, to whom he dedicated his Ásia Portuguesa (Portuguese Asia), considered by him a deserved eulogy to Portuguese achievements; 27 and on the other hand, his work did not go beyond being an assumed compilation of chronicles and of other different sources "[...] above all [written by] the Jesuit fathers."28 The agreement of ancient Jesuit accounts with Faria e Sousa does not therefore to have the significance given by Lieberman, and

3. The alleged disagreement between U Kala and the Jesuits concerning the way (peaceful, according to the first, or not, according to the second) that the Arakanese king, Min Razagri, obtained the hand of the princess (daughter of Nandabayin) from the king of Pegu, part of the treasure of Pegu (following the destruction of the city), and the white elephant (an important sign of royalty), was not as evident as Lieberman claimed. In reality certain passages, whether in the Cartas (Letters) by Pimenta or the Maha Yazawin Gyi, agree that Min Razagriís acquisitions were not peaceful. It was the case in the faithful narratives of U Kala and the correspondence of the Jesuit, Andrea Boves, as to the Arakanese king's reaction upon learning that the king of Toungoo had broken his alliance made between both parties and had returned to his territory with the spoils of the sacking of Pegu; Min Razagri summoned the Portuguese who served him in Arakan to attack his treacherous allie in Toungoo. 29 Regarding this there was agreement between both accounts.

Considering the three observations above, it seems permissible to minimalise the differences between the sources in question and even to put forward an hypothesis on the Jesuits' use of Burmese registers, probably the same ones used later by U Kala. Concentrating on the Maha Yazawin Gyi, as far as other aspects of Portuguese presence in Burma are concerned, those that are pointed out are the ones connected to the wars with Siam. A concurrence in the facts stands out here which is only ambiguous in details of little significance. Essentially U Kala is corroborated not only by the Portuguese versions of the wars, lengthy versions in view of the fact that there were Portuguese mercenaries fighting on both sides, Burmese and Siamese, but also by the Siamese version. 30


The Hmannam Yazawin Daw Gyi (Chronicle of the Glass Palace), was an official compilation written in 1829 by a commission of specialists chosen by the Burmese sovereign, Bagyidaw, in an attempt to establish, condense and select diverse sources in such a way as to present an accessible and ëobjectiveí work.

The chronicle ended up mainly incorporating the Maha Yazawin Gyi and it was almost totally based on this, adding no more than changes in punctuation. As a result it became, "An extended, critical edition of U Kala's chronicle", in spite of having extended the account until 1829.

Hmannam Yazawin Daw Gyi was the most published of all historical Burmese accounts. Even in the nineteenth century certain passages from the chronicle, like the Burmese-Siamese wars, became known in Europe thanks to the presentation and summaries by Phayre in his History of Burma. The study of these same wars, also based on the chronicle (which in turn, we remember was based on the Maha Yazawin Gyi) was taken up again by Phra Phraison Salarak (U Aung Thein) at the beginning ginning of the twentieth century. 31 This last historian carried out an interesting comparison between his own interpretation and that of Phayre; and around thirty years later, presented another side to the story of those military confrontations, based on Siamese sources which confer with the Burmese version. 32

Although the Hmannam Yazawin Gyi was never translated entirely, Pe Maung Tin and G. H. Luce translated the chronicle's first part into English. This translation was published in 1923 under the auspices of the Burma Research Society with the title Glass Palace Chronicle.

The Portuguese are referred to in the Hmannam Yazawin Gyi, taking up U Kala's narrative again as consequently there have not been greater innovations in terms of information. What is noteworthy is; contrary to Pe Maung Tinís and de Luceís translations, which refer to the period prior to the Portuguese arriving in Burma, the chapters presented in English by Phayre deal with events in which the Portuguese were implicated, as was the case of the mercenaries involved in the Burmese wars with Siam already mentioned.


The Pawtugui Yazawin Gyi or Potugui Yazawin, is the most extensive text about Portuguese presence in Burma, and also the least known. In spite of never having been translated into a European language, it is referred to among the Burmese chronicles listed by U Tet Htoot in 1961, 33 and appeared amongst the works printed in Burma in a British Library Office catalogue. 34

I came across its existence reading the list already mentioned plus an article by Furnivall, written in 1912 under the title, A Forgotten Chronicle. The article was based on a manuscript belonging to U Tin, a magistrate in Pagan; and it seemed that at the time there was another version of the manuscript among the assets of the Bernard Free Library in Rangoon.

Unfortunately I have not been able to locate any of the manuscript's versions; 35 I have a copy, also in Burmese, printed in Rangoon in 1918, a book of two hundred and thirty six pages of text with eight pages on the preliminary subjects comprising of a brief introduction and a detailed list of subject matter.

The introduction, not dated but certainly written at the beginning of this century judging by the publication, explicitly refers to the interest in an edition of a manuscript in palm leaves "[...] de modo a ser conhecida de todos, do homem vulgar ao mais s·bio monge [...]" ("[...] a way of being known to all, from the simple man to the most learned monk [...]") seeing how it was found "[...] guardado e encerrado [...] enquanto o tempo fluí a sem que a crónica, assim desaparecida e desviada do mundo, tivesse oportunidade de se divulgar e distinguir. " ("[...] guarded and locked away [...] while time passed without the chronicle, lost and not part of this world, until the opportunity to be made public and distinguish itself."36 According to the anonymous author of this introduction, the chronicle was translated from Portuguese to Burmese; and, according to the inscription, the translators were a royal Burmese official, Thirirzei-dayat-kyaw and a European priest called Daung Bhinashu, a name which seems like a corruption of Dom Ignácio. No further explanation is given to this minimal information. In spite of various avenues of research, I am still not sure of the identity of the two co-authors. It is certain that the chronicle has little in common with known Portuguese narratives, making it to accept that it concerns a translation of a printed work or manuscript in Portugal.

Regarding the publication of the Potugui Yazawin, the little that follows is as much as I can add for now:

1. I have no knowledge of any translation, published or not,

2. The Burmese edition of 1918 does not appear to have been printed by the active Burma Research Society which, at its level is seriously involved in the printing of Burmese chronicles like the Maha Yazawin Gyi and the version translated into English of the Hmannam Yazawin,

3. I have still been unable to confirm to my satisfaction that Furnivallís article influenced publishers, and

4. All in all the society cited above acquired a copy of the chronicle after its publication between December 1920 and the end of the first quarter of 1921. This acquisition is ambiguous and is more specifically pointed out in the society's review in the following way, "[...] presented by Ko Toke Kyi."37

It is uncertain as to when the Potugui Yazawin was written. Furnivall placed it in the second half of the seventeenth century. The narrative begins with a brief description of the geographical situation of Portugal; then it goes into a long and detailed history of Portuguese Expansion from its very beginnings to the half way through the seventeenth century. Portuguese activities in Burma merited special attention and twenty-one of the one hundred and twenty two chapters were dedicated to it. Here are the chapters' titles in order of appearance in the Potugui Yazawin:

· The arrival of the Portuguese armada from Goa in Arakan.

· The second Portuguese attack on Arakan.

· Portuguese victory in Arakan.

· The return of the Portuguese to their own country with the help of the English.

· The Portuguese arrival in Syriam, Pegu or Hanthawadi, due to its connection with Arakan.

· The way in which the Portuguese of the city of Syriam became traitors.

· The fall of the Arakanese in the conflict between Syriam and Arakan.

· The kind of relationship the Portuguese had with the kingdoms of Pegu and Toungoo.

· Request for help form the governor of Toungoo, Nat-shin-naung, to the Portuguese.

· The refuge in Syriam by Nat-shin-naung, governor of Toungoo.

· The attack and siege of the city of Syriam by Burmese troops coming from Ava.

· The first battle between Syriam and Ava.

· The shooting of a Portuguese general.

· The king of Ava's request to the Portuguese general, that he be given Nat-shinnaung, governor of Toungoo.

· Naval combat between the Burmese and Portuguese.

· New request of the Burmese army to the governor of Toungoo.

· The defeat suffered by the Portuguese during the assault on Arakan.

· The Burmese Army's entrance into the city of Syriam, fighting with all its might.

· The imprisonment by the Burmese of the Portuguese general, "Zuin Cago" [João Cago], and the governor of Toungoo, Nat-shin-naung.

· The execution of the Portuguese general and the governor of Toungoo, in keeping with their positions.

· The end of friendly relations between the Portuguese and Syriam. 38

Believing this to be the work of a Portuguese writer, even noting that it did not have the imperialist style of Portuguese accounts, Furnivall considered "[...] the whole relation is singularly impartial."39 In reality, aside from all the expectations, for those who were used to the approximations characteristic of both Portuguese and Burmese chronicles, it revealed the fact that the account put to the forefront the political and administrative histories of both countries at the same time and with knowledge of the motives.

In certain passages the Portuguese are referred to as rude and violent, and even dangerous and criminal, 40 which distances the chronicle from the style peculiar to writings of the Catholic missionaries, and it becomes difficult to attribute the authorship to a Portuguese writer. However, it seems to have had the help of someone Portuguese in its preparation, judging above all for two reasons:

1. The period is encompasses begins before Portuguese presence in Burma, which seems to suppose knowledge of Burmese History and the aim of disclosing it, and

2. The Portuguese who were present in Burma, in particular Nicote, do not immediately appear as corrupters of religion.

The fact that Filipe de Brito de Nicote is not referred to by his name, as would be expected for if the author were Portuguese, points to a Burmese writer. Unexpectedly the actions of a captain whose name of "Zuin Cago" is underlined, apparently João Gago, is a name not mentioned in Portuguese accounts.

The accounts in the Potugui Yazawin merit being studied to reconcile the historical analysis and the analysis of Burmese and Portuguese vocabularies (frequently Portuguese names and terms appear phonetically transcribed into Burmese). I have already started this study as I consider this chronicle a valuable and surprising example of the diffusion of Portuguese culture in Burma. The text would certainly bring new material not only regarding knowledge of Portuguese presence in that particular country, but also for knowing Burmese history.


To reconstruct Portuguese history in Dianga, Chittagong and Mrauk-U, Maurice Collis made use of Portuguese sources, mainly the account of the Augustinian monk, Sebastião Manrique, and also the Arakanese chronicles to which there are no references.

Collis speaks of sources which allowed him to compare between Arakanese and Portuguese information regarding the history of Dom Martim, the Arakanese prince, grandson of Min Razagri, taken from Arakan by the Augustinians and educated in their monasteries. 41

The prince visited Lisbon during the 1640's after a military career serving the Portuguese State of India. The supposition is that it concerned an hereditary prince, constituting the motive for launching the invasion of Mrauk-U. The purpose was that of becoming legitimate king of Arakan, but a dependent of the Portuguese Crown, to which end he made a written grant of his domains. The assault on Arakan to place Dom Martim on the throne, supported by the Augustinians, warranted the attention of Lisbon and Goa for years; but never took place due to the lack of agreement in Lisbon where they argued about the impracticality, well based on the previous defeats suffered by the Portuguese in Arakan. Dom Martin returned to Goa without any plan having been put into action, where he took the post of Captain of Pangim, never to return to Burma. 42

U Tet Htoot was more exact than Collis, who never gave grounds for his assertions. In particular he studied the chronicles entitled Danyawadi Ayedawbon and Danyawadi Yazawin, written respectively by Danyawadi Sayadaw in 1787 and by Min Kyaung Sayadaw U Pandi in 1910.

Both chronicles were based on accounts which were prior to them, and they referred to Filipe de Brito de Nicote as being one of the sons of Minba, the grandfather of Min Razagri. 43 If Nicote's ancestry was still not established (there are unfounded hypothesis that have tried to show his link with a noble Portuguese family), it is even less likely proven that he was descended from an Arakanese father.

Another Arakanese chronicle, of which I only know of a manuscript copy, was made in Chittagong in 1967 and is the Rakhuin Yazawin, a long account which I have not yet studied.



Firstly it seems necessary to establish the significance of the Burmese title. Ayedawbon, or simply Ayebon, as one reads for example in the version known as Danyawadi Ayedawbon, copied by Maung Yeik in one hundred and forty pages, has the sense of 'memories' or 'historical events' was a type of historical literature in prose, similar to Yazawin (Chronicle of Kings).

Apart from Danyawadi Ayedawbon, another historical text which mentions the Portuguese is the Tanyn-myo Akyaung (History of Syriam). It is a Burmese account of fifteen pages in which the author's name is missing. The version I know is a copy of a manuscript dated 1860.


The Portuguese of Syriam are mentioned in the 'Royal Orders of Burma'. Those are different decrees issued during the Nyaungyan dynasty, the second Toungoo dynasty with its seat in Ava. They were collected by Than Tun and published in a bilingual Burmese-English version in 1983. It is possible that they contain the relative military instructions of the assault of Toungoo, whose king had allied with Nicote; and also instructions regarding the siege placed on the Portuguese fort of Syriam by Anauk-hpet-lun; and even various references to the Portuguese listed in the Burmese army. 44


Less rigorous are the allusions to the Portuguese in Burmese stone inscriptions: in 1915 a magazine "Oriente Português" ("Portuguese Orient") noted the discovery (known of through an article in the 'Times of India', with no reference given) of a stone engraving which commemorated the building of a pagoda in Henzade, by Nandabaya and Supabhadevi, son and daughter of kala "Nga Zinga" of Syriam.

It seems that on this stone was also written that Nga Zinga was governor of Syriam for fifteen years, until being taken prison or killed by Anauk-hpet-lun in the Buddhist period of 2152. 45 The year, the construction, and the lineage have not been backed up by other sources.


If the eighteenth century is considered a period of great chronicles and the nineteenth century of official chronicles, the twentieth century could be considered as a period of the development of printing and literature. This development was made alongside new literary tastes where the emphasis on the historical romance cradled in nationalism took place.

The English concern seemed to be strictly linked to this taste, seen as having constituted the relevant factor in the opening up of associated Burmese nationalism about which historical works with aims of autonomy appeared.

Tin Ohn notes that in that period, in this context, making history was considered as an 'act of patriotic obligation'.46 With this intention, by 1920 two versions of the chronicles (by U Tin, U Bi and U Lan, the later author known as Thakin Kodaw Hmaing) and two works on the Treaty of Yandabo (by U Khin Nyunt and U Shwe respectively) which were in the habit of being indicated with seals at the beginning of each new story, were written. Around 1926 a history based on oral traditions appeared, quite separate from the style of classical chronicles. 47

Associated with this increasing interest in national history and with the founding of the Burma Research Society, a new generation of historical writers appeared. This was the case with school manuals and biographies of Burmese heroes like those of Tabin-shwei-hti, Bayinnaung and Alaungpay, published in 1933. The Yazawin was substituted by the designation of Thamaing which according to U Tin, was chosen as the form to demonstrate that history also covers social, economic and cultural aspects.

In an article about nationalism and literature in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi highlights that historical novels from the 1930's showed more willingness to revive popular traditions, which was the spirit of the investigation. It was the case with Nat-shin-naung and Tabin-shwe-hti, the two first novels by Lepandita U Maung Gyi. It is noteworthy that this last work attributes the degradation at the end of the reign and life of Tabin-shwe-hti to his association with Portuguese adventurers. 49

Even more explicit still are references to the Portuguese in the books Nahkan-daw, by the author U So Myint, and Thabon-gyi, by Maha Hswe. 50 The king of Toungoo is portrayed as a traitor, due to his alliance with Filipe de Brito de Nicote and the Portuguese from Syriam. The novel by Maha Hswe really put into question the threat to Buddhism posed by Portuguese presence. Such a threat was cleverly overcome in view of the English occupation.

The seventeenth and eighteenth century Portuguese presence was in this literary genre, used for different ends other than mere historical accounts. It is about the current of literary expression in suppressed countries, where often ideas of nationalism were voiced in defence of dominated peoples. The fact that the revolt was directed against a far away oppressor, was evidently an artifice, fruit of the necessity to avoid consequent retaliations to the attacker by the direct oppressor. In Burma's case, this literary expression allowed the return to a period of badly gained Portuguese dominance, which was certainly by integration of Portuguese presence in the country’s history and culture.


In spite of Burmese literature being multifaceted, whatever its literary genres were, since the period delt with around the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, it was always presented with passages on Portuguese presence.

This article is an attempt to approach some of these genres. It began with prose chronicles, called Yazawin, based on the model of Rajawan (from the pali 'rag' ('king') and 'vamsa' ('race' or 'lineage')). This form is found among the Mons, Arakanese and Burmese to be exact.

That was followed by the Ayedawbon (ëmemoriesí of kingdoms and places) a genre which was also in prose. It is important to stress that these memories, as well as chronicles, are found a little all over Burma. In this example, among others, the Yazadhirit Ayebon, a narrative by the author Bhinnyadala, concerned the reign of Razadirit.

Finally; some less ëhistoricalí accounts were looked at, as was the case with historical novels (which presented themselves as infected by nationalistic romanticism) or less 'literary' accounts, as was the case with stone inscriptions and Royal Decrees. We can organise one or the other within a classification not included in literature as such. In spite of its lesser value, the choice of these writings seems appropriate to the theme for two reasons:

1. If the first ones were 'less historical', it is certain that even so they were part of literature, a literature which was concerned with the Portuguese in a subjective and suggestive way but treated their presence as an historical event, and

2. If the second ones were 'less literary', there is no doubt that they were also historical and it is sufficient to note that they constituted a useful source for chroniclers.

This is obviously not a complete study, not only for not being an extensive study as far as the genres mentioned, but also for leaving aside important historical genres. Among these last ones are religious accounts and chronicles in verse, as with éi-gyin (historical poems); the Maw-gun, (commemorative poems - for the inauguration of pagodas, temples, cities etc.,) and the yazawin than-bauk (lit.: ëhistorical epigramsí or, chronicles in verse).

The historicity of all these genres is underestimated by specialists because of the exaggerated poetical style which characterises them. However I judge that the evidence of these exaggerations does not exclude another truth: the existence of historical information using different expressions. Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to study them in full.

This is also quite an underdeveloped subject in relation to what we have regarding events with Portugal, i. e. in what concerns the Burmese. The Portuguese never attempted to write a history of Burma similar to the Potugui Yazawin. The same is comparatively true for other South East Asian countries, even those where Portuguese presence was not as stable and enduring as in Burma, for example with Malaysia. There, as witnessed in the most recent investigations, 51 one finds pitfalls and omissions in the sources and other historical accounts, however the character of Portuguese presence in Malacca had been effective and stable.

In this first rudimentary approximation in seems feasible therefore to conclude that there is no reason to regret the lack of references to Portuguese presence in Burmese literature and historical writings.

Translated from the Portuguese by: Linda Pearce

* Ph. D. from the Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas (Faculty of Social and Human Sciences) of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (New University of Lisbon), Lisboa. Researcher on the History of the Discoveries and Portuguese Expansion.


1 LAFFONT, Pierre, Avant-Propos, in LAFFONT, Pierre, ed., "Littératures Contemporaines de 1'Asie du Sud-Est", Paris, L'Ásiathéque, 1974, pp. IX-X

2 LIEBERMAN, Victor, Secular Trends in Burmese Economic History, ca1350-1839, and their Implications for State Formation, in COLÓQUIO A ASIA DO SUDESTE NOS SÉCULOS XV A XVIII (COLLOQIUM ON SOUTHEAST ASIA FROM THE FIFTEENTH TO THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES), Lisboa, Museu de Etnologia [Museum of Ethnology], 4-7 December 1989 -[Unpublished communication].

3 SUBRAMANYAN, Sanjay, Throughout the Looking Glass: Some Comments on Asian View of Portuguese in Asia, in MATOS, A. T. de - THOMAZ, Luís Filipe, eds., "Relações entre a Índia Portuguesa, a Ásia do Sueste e o Extremo Oriente" - IV SEMINÁRIO INTERNACIONAL DE HISTÓRIA INDOPORTUGUESA - [Actas do...], Fundação Oriente, Lisboa, 1993, pp. 377-403, pp. 377-381 - "Throughout".

4 Cases of consequent initiatives of the Burma Research Society in the first decades of this century, and more recently the works of Than Tun and Bénédicte Brac de la Perrière [See: Selected Bibliography - for both authors] L 'Histoire des neuf Kharúin: un recueil de textes administratifs birmans du 18 éme Siécle, in "Journal Asiatique", CCLXXVII (1-2, 3-4), Paris, Societé Asiatique, 1989, pp. 47-89, 299-361 [respectively]].

5 A case of the Archives des Missions Etrangéres de Paris [AMEP] (Paris Archives of the Foreign Missions) where in past years to 1996, the head of archives, Fr. Gérard Moussay called for the help of Portuguese historians in order to catalogue various documents which had laid untouched for centuries for lack of expert collaborators in the Portuguese language.

6 'Manuscritos Orientals' ('Oriental Manuscripts') is the name of one of the centres of the Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo [ANTT] (National Archive of Torre do Tombo) in Lisbon. There are however Oriental documents in other centres of this and other archives.

7 The existence of this legend is quite prominent in Burmese chronicles, above all in the descriptions which report on periods prior to the fourteenth century. This was the case in U Kala's chronicle, among other examples, in the description of king Ngataba's rise to the throne, which was based on a talking rooster who when he sang declared his own death sentence and predicted that whoever ate his head would become king, something which the future sovereign did without hesitating.

8 HALLIDAY, R., ed., Slapat Rajawn Datow Smin Ron - A History of Kings, in "Journal of the Burma Research Society", Ragoon, 1 (13) 1923, pp. 1-67, p. 59.

9 Ibidem. -"jewelled umbrella". The "guarda-sol branco" ("white parasol", as translated in Portuguese) was sometimes bedecked with jewels, and like the "white elephant" (mentioned later in the text) they were two symbols of royalty; the king was even considered the holder of the "seven gems".

10 FURNIVALL, J. S., ed., The History of Syriam - Syriam Yazawi, in "Journal of the Burma Research Society", Ragoon, 3 (5) 1915, pp. 129-151, p.150.

11 Kala = The term, whose origins are controversial, means both 'Indian', and can be a generalisation for 'foreigner'. It is a Burmese term for 'Indians' and for 'the orientals coming from India'.

Feringhi = The term means ·lEuropeansì or by analogy, "Portuguese". Derived from the Perse 'Faringi' or 'Firingi' (i. e., Port.: 'francos') the term used in this period in Asia to define 'Europeus' ('the Europeans') and especially 'Portugueses' ('the Portuguese'). The singular, 'parangi', for example, only means 'Português' ('Portuguese') (See: YULE, Henry - BURNELL, Arthur, Hobson-Jobson, being a Glossary of Anglo-Indian colloquial words and phrases, Sittinbourne, Linguasia, 1994, pp.352, 495 [1st edition, London, 1886]). 'Feringhi' would have given 'Bayingi' in Burmese (See: MAUNG Kaung, The Beginnings of Christianity, in "Missionary Education in Burma 1600-1842 ", in "Journal of the Burma Research Society", Ragoon, 2 (20) 1930, pp. 59-75, p. 62, for example, meaning 'Português' ('Portuguese')).The Burmese historian, Vivian Ba considered that the term defines 'Portugueses ('Portuguese'), but did not accept that it is a corruption of 'feringhi'; assured me personally, that she believed it delt with a literal translation of 'bayingyi' (Port.: 'amigo dos reis', or "friend of kings"), which is rooted in the role of the Portuguese adventurers and missionaries being together with the king.

12 King of Pegu between 1472 and 1492. Noted for his peaceful efforts towards Burma's unification, evident in a capable administration, in the creation of a general legislative body and in a religious reinforcement given to Theravada Buddhism, which is still the main and official religion of Burma today.

13 FURNIVALL, J. S., ed., op. cit., 2 (5) 1915, pp. 49-56, p. 53.

14 GUEDES, Maria Ana Marques, Interferência e Integração dos Portugueses na Birm, nia c.1580-1630, Lisboa, Fundação Oriente, 1994, pp. 132-134.

15 BOCARRO, António, Década 13 da História da Índia. Composta por Antonio Bocarro chronista díaquelle estado publicada de ordem da Classe de Sciencias Moraes, Politicas e Bellas-letras da Academia Real das Sciencias de Lisboa e sob a direcção de Rodrigo José de Lima Felner, 2 vols., Lisboa, Typographia da Academia Real das Sciencias, 1876, vol. 1, chap.36; LIEBERMAN, Victor, Burmese Administrative Cycles, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1984, p.52-53.

16 An extensive Italian manuscript gave information on some points similar to this; certain passages are unclear and lack a continual study, which I have not found the opportunity to do. See: BA: 46. X. 19, fols. 13-22 vo - Relatione delle Guerre.

17 PIMENTA, Nicolau, Cartas da Índia, Lisboa, Pedro Craesbeeck, 1602, p.91; MANRIQUE, Sebastião, Itinerário, 2 vols. Lisboa, 1946, vol.2, p. 11 -According to Portuguese sources.

See: COLLIS, Maurice, Arakan's Pace in the Civilisation of the Bay, in "Journal of the Burma Research Society", Ragoon, 1 (15) 1923, pp. 34-52 - For the registered titles for the Arakanese sources.

18 With regard to the Arakanese king's reprisals, it tells of the sending of consecutive armadas on to Syriam between 1601 and 1603 (MOUZINHO, Manuel de Abreu, CAETANO, Maria Paula, intro., Breve discurso em que se conta a conquista do reino de Pegu na India Oriental, Lisboa, Europa-América, 1990, chaps. 8, 9 [1st edition: Lisboa, Pedro Craesbeek, 1617]), in 1605 and in 1607 (REGO, António da Silva, Documentação Ultramarina Portuguesa, vol.2, Lisboa, Centro de Estudos Históricos Ultramarinos, 1960, p.233-241; and ANTT: Miscelâneas do Convento da Graça, T C 1, [caixa] box 2; Relacão da Armada que o Mogo levou contra a nossa fortaleza de Sirião, em Pegu, 10 fls.) all of them overcome by Nicote's men. When in Goa, thanks to continual letters of complaint from the Viceroy sent to Lisbon and according to the relative replies, he ended up losing part of the support lent to the Syriam fort (See: GUEDES, Maria Ana Marques, op. cit., p. 139).

19 See: LIEBERMAN, Victor, The Transfer of the Burmese Capital from Pegu to Ava, in "Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland" (1) 1980, pp. 64-83, passim. - regarding this excellent and well documented article.

Also see: THAN Tun, ed., The Royal Orders of Burma AD 1598-1648, Part One, Kyoto, Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, 1983, pp. 6, 8, 10, 14 -Edicts of 9 April 1597, 17 August 1597, 25 August 1598, 30 August 1598, and 8 August 1604.

20 BOCARRO, António, op. cit., vol. 1, chap.36; GUEDES, Maria Ana Marques, op. cit., p. 141.

21 BA: 46. X.19, op. cit., fol. 21.

22 GUEDES, Maria Ana Marques, op. cit., p. 146-148 ó Regarding other descriptions of these events.

23 FURNIVALL, J. S., ed., op. cit., 2 (5) 1915, pp. 53, 49-56; ibidem., 3 (5) 1915, p. 143 -Respectively.

24 BOCARRO, António, op. cit., chap. 37 ó As confirmed by the author.

25 LIEBERMAN, Victor, How Reliable is U'Kala 's Burmese Chronicle? Some Comparisons, in "Journal of Southeast Asian Studies", Singapore University Press, 2(17) 1986, pp. 236-255, p.241.

26 See: Note 8.

27 SOUSA, Manuel Faria e, Ásia Portuguesa. Tradução de Isabel do Amaral Pereira de Matos e Maria Vitória Garcia Santos Ferreira. Com uma introdução pelo Prof. Lopes de Almeida, 6 vols., Porto, Livraria Civilização, vol.1, p.50.

28 Idem.

29 See: GUEDES, Maria Ana Marques, op. cit., p. 104. Also see: PIMENTA, Nicolau, op. cit., p. 100 - "Carta de A. Boves", written in Syriam on the 28th of March, 1600.

30 U Hla Pe, Burmese Historiography: The Source, Nature and Development of Burmese Chronicles, in "Burma, Literature, Historiography, Scholarship, Language, Life and Buddhism", Singapore, 1985, p.56.

Arthur Phayre and U Aung Thein [see: Selected Bibliography - for both authors] verify this agreement.

31 U Aung Thein, Burmese Invasions of Siam, Translated from the 'Hmannan Yazawin Daw-Gyi, in "Journal of Siam Society", 1 (5) 1908, pp. 1-70; 2 (8) 1911, pp. 36-60.

32 U Aung Thein, Intercourse between Siam and Burma as Recorded in 'The Royal Autograph Edition' of the History of Siam in "Journal of the Burma Research Society", Ragoon, 2 (25) 1935, pp. 49-108; 1 (28) 1938, pp. 109-176; 3 (28) 1938, p.232; U Aung Thein, Review 2, in "Journal of the Burma Research Society", Ragoon, 2(29)1939, p.208-212.

33 U Tet Htoot, The Nature of Burmese Chronicles, in HALL, D. G. E., ed., "Historians of South Asia", London, Oxford University Press, 1961, pp. 50-62, p.59.

34 WHITBREAD, Kenneth, Burmese Printed Books in the India Office Library, London, Her Majestyís Stationery Office, 1969, p.59.

35 I thank the efforts of Vivian Ba, the Burmese historian who belongs to the staff of the Myanmar Embassy in Paris, and U Thaw Kaung, from the University Library of Rangoon, in searching for the precious manuscript.

36 DOM Binashu - THI-ri-zei-d'a-yat-kyaw, Potegui Yazawin, Rangoon, Sun Press, 1918 - Author's translation into Portuguese.

37 In: "Journal of the Burma Research Society", Ragoon, 2 (11) 1921, p.112.

38 DOM Binashu - THI-ri-zei-d'a-yat-kyaw, op. cit. - Author's translation into Portuguese.

39 FURNIVALL, J. S., ed., A Forgotten Chronicle, in "Journal of the Burma Research Society", Ragoon, 2 (2) 1912, pp. 161-167, p.166.

40 Ibidem. - Potugui Yazawin, chaps. 29 & 30.

41 COLLIS, Maurice, D. Martim, the first Burman to visit Europe. 1606-1643, in "Journal of the Burma Research Society", Rangoon, 1 (16) 1925, pp. 12-20.

42 GUEDES, Maria Ana Marques, D. Martim, an Arakanese Prince at the service of the Estado da India and Portugalís Designs for the Submission of Burma, in, FARIA, F. Dutra - SANTOS, João Camilo dos, eds., "The Portuguese and the Pacific", Santa Barbara, Center of Portuguese Studies - University of California, pp. 77-112.

43 U Tet Htoot, op. cit., p.57.

44 THAN Tun, ed., The Royal Orders of Burma AD 1598-1648 [...], op. cit., pp. 25, 62, 103 - Decrees of 18 November 1607, (?)November 1610,30 May 1635, and 24 June, 1638.

45 Inscrição Portuguesa na Birmânia, in "Oriente Português", (12) 1915, pp. 302-303. It is strange that if refers to a Buddhist era and not to Burmese, already in use.

46 TIN Ohn, Modern Historical Writing in Burmese, 1724-1942, in HALL, D. G. E., ed., "Historians of South Asia", London, Oxford University Press, 1961, pp. 85-93, p.91.

47 THEIN, Hmawbi Saya, Pazat Yasawin; apud TIN Ohn, op. cit., p.93.

49 GYI, Lepandita U Maung, Tabin-shwe-hti, pp. 110-111.

50 The books were edited in Rangoon in 1932 and 1936 respectively.

See: BERNOT, Denise, op. cit., p. 10 - For Maha Hswe and his work.

51 THOMAZ, Luís Filipe, Os Frangues na Terra de Malaca, in DOMINGUES, F. C. de - BARRETO, LuÌs Filipe, eds., "A Abertura do Mundo", Lisboa, Presença, pp. 216-217, passim - For example.

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