Burmans (also known as Bamar) are the largest ethnic and linguistic group in present-day Myanmar, accounting for approximately two-thirds of the population. They live primarily in the Irrawady Basin and speak Burmese. A distinction must also be made between Burman and Burmese; the latter term refers to any citizen of Myanmar, not just those of the Burman ethnic group.

Almost without exception, Burmans are Buddhist, a fact that has influenced its relationships with other ethnic groups for centuries. Non-Buddhist ethnic groups such as the Karen were viewed as uncivilized, in part because they were not adherents of Buddhism. The intimate relationship between Burman identity and Buddhism deeply influenced Burmese nationalism under colonialism, giving birth to such slogans as “To be Burmese is to be Buddhist.”


Michael Gravers, Nationalism as Political Paranoia in Burma (Surrey: Curzon, 1999).

Matthew J. Walton, “Ethnicity, Conflict, and History in Burma: The Myths of Panglong,” Asian Survey 48.6 (2008).