The Soul of a People

In the book The Soul of a People (1898), written when Myanmar was part of the British Empire, Harold Fielding Hall gives a description of the character of the Burmese people. This description is quite opposed to the intolerant and even murderous predispositions nowadays attributed to them in the West and Arabia.

Harold Fielding-Hall (1859-1917) was born in Ireland. He went round the world in a sailing ship, 1878. Coffee planting in Upper Burma 1879-1885. In government service as political officer for a district, 1887-1891, and became district magistrate 1901; organized rural banks in Burma 1904-1906. Retired 1906 and returned to England.

In his book The Soul of a People (1898), Chapter XVIII 'Manners', p. 222-228, starts as follows:

'A remarkable trait of the Burmese character is their unwillingness to interfere in other people's affairs. Whether it arises from their religion of self-culture or no, I cannot say, but it is in full keeping with it. Every man's act and thoughts are his own affair, think the Burmans; each man is free to go his own way, to think his own thoughts, to act his own acts, as long as he does not too much annoy his neighbours. (...)  He has a very great and wide tolerance towards all his neighbours, not thinking it necessary to disapprove of his neighbours' acts because they may not be the same as his own, never thinking it necessary to interfere with his neighbours as long as the laws are not broken. (...) He never desires to interfere with anyone. Certain as he is that his own ideas are best, he is contented with that knowledge, and is not ceaselessly desirous to prove it to other people. And so a foreigner may go and live in a Burman village, may settle down there and live his own life and follow his own customs in perfect freedom, may dress and eat and drink and pray as he likes. No one will interfere. No one will try and correct him; no one will be for ever insisting to him that he is an outcast, either from civilization or from religion. The people will accept him for what he is, and leave the matter there. If he likes to change his ways and conform to Burmese habits and Burmese forms, so much the better; but if not, never mind.'