I just came back from a family outing to the movies (it’s a family tradition). While watching Valkyrie, about a coup attempt by Nazi officers of Adolf Hitler’s government under the guise of Hitler’s assassination during WWII, my mom uttered another one of her sayings. Unfortunately, The movie wasn’t a thriller as advertised (especially because everyone knows what really happened to Hitler).
Watching the final minutes of the movie, my mom whispered to me the Burmese saying သေရင်မြေကြီး ရှင်ရင်ရွှေထီး (thay yin myay-gyi, shin yin shwe hti), poorly translated ‘death means going to the ground, living means being under a golden umbrella’ because Burmese kings were shaded underneath a ceremonial golden umbrella. The saying refers to certain situations such as coups in which people face a life-or-death situation, either becoming “king” (succeeding) or being buried (failing).
My mom has a store of thousands of Burmese sayings in her mind, appropriate for every situation. It’s actually quite remarkable (when my dad married my mom, he realized her penchant for Burmese sayings and starting keeping a notebook of thousands of sayings she’s said).
I personally love Burmese sayings, how such few words can have such meaning and how lyrical they are. But I’m really bad at translating them into English, because it’s hard to retain the same poetic quality. Here are some of my favorites:
- စကားနည်း ရန်စဲ
Zaga ne, yan ze
Less talk, less enemies. (About being cautious with one’s words)
- ထမင်းအသက် ခုနှစ်ရက် ရေအသက် တစ်မနက်
Htamin a-thet ku-hnit yet, yay a-thet ta ma-net
One can survive without food for 7 days, but without water for only 1 morning. (About the importance of drinking water)
Kala ma naing, Yakhaing me
Because you can’t dominate the Indian, you pick on the Arakanese. (About some people who are mad take it out on others)
Khway hmi kauk, kyi-htauk sut
A dog’s crooked tail straightened with a bamboo rod. (About temporary solutions to everpresent problems and quick fix solutions)
- ကျွန်းကိုင်းမှီ၊ ကိုင်းကျွန်းမှီ
Kyun kaing hmi, kaing kyun hmi
Islands rely on reeds just as the reeds rely on islands. (About mutual dependence)
- ပါးစပ်ကဘုရား ဘုရား၊ လက်ကကားရား ကားရား
Bazat ga phaya phaya, let ga kaya kaya
Mouth says “God, God” but hands do otherwise. (About practicing what one preaches)
- သေကံမရောက် အသက်မပျောက်
Thay gan ma yauk, a-thet ma pyauk
Life cannot vanish without reaching the destiny of fate. (About people beat the odds of mortality)
- ပညာရွှေအိုး လူမခိုး
Pyinna shwe o, lu ma ko
Education is like a golden pot nobody can steal. (About the importance of education)
Note: This post requires a Unicode 5.1 Burmese font (I highly recommend Padauk.) Zawgyi and other pseudo-Unicode fonts will not properly display the following Burmese text.