Geographical Distribution

The term “Bamar” or “Burman” refers to the largest and culturally dominant ethnic group of Myanmar. The term “Burmese” refers to the language and culture of the Burmans, as well as to the other citizens of Myanmar.

The Bamar migrated from SW China more than 3,000 years ago. The central plain formed by the Irrawaddy River and the Salween River is the traditional home of the Bamar. About 68% of the population of Myanmar is Burman (about 31 million), while the remaining population is divided into 5 main minority groups (Shan, Karen, Kachin, Arakanese, and Chin). There are also many small groups like the Lahu, Wa, Akha and Lisu.

Wet-rice cultivation dominates agricultural activity. In the hill country, slash-and-burn farming is still practiced. Cotton, maize, peanuts, onions and other crops are produced. There is an active fishing industry in Burmese waters. Dried shrimp and fish are important components in the diet.

Logging, especially for teak, is an important export industry. Mining of rubies and the export of jade are successful industries. There is a small livestock industry, some jute processing, and tin mining. The economy, however, remains overwhelmingly agricultural. After the present government seized power in 1962, they closed the country to foreign residents in 1964. Since then, the economy has gone from bad to worse

Religion and Beliefs

Buddhism is a pervading force in Burmese society. Almost all Bamar (more than 95%) are Buddhist. The hill-sides dotted with pagodas, the hosts of saffron-robed monks, and innumerable monasteries all proclaim the breadth and depth of Buddhist belief and practice in Myanmar.

Supplementary to the Buddhist worldview are belief systems involved with crisis management, prediction and divination. Spirits (“nats”) are the most important of these systems. These spirits are mainly malevolent and must be propitiated at stated times and places to avoid harm and evil. Many Buddhist pagodas are either built on the site of older nat shrines, or else the nat shrines are incorporated into the Buddhist structure.

Burmese-style Buddhism is tolerant of many influences, Christianity being one clear exception. While official oppression of Burman Christians is not great, Burman society as a whole is greatly opposed to anyone who turns to Christ.


The majority of Burman people have had vigorous mission activity directed toward them over several generations. Despite the efforts of many missionaries as well as Burmese Christians of other ethnic groups there are only 3,400 Christians among 31 million Bamar or 0.01% of the Burman population. In Thailand there are estimated to be 60,000 Bamar with only 45 Christians among them.


Mekong intends to develop new teams to work with the Bamar. These teams will work cooperatively with existing Burman churches. Our vision is to see a strong Bamar church that will be able to reach out with the Gospel to their own people globally.