Sunday, 23 December 2012

Sunday 23 December – Mmmore Bears

Three bears from countries starting with the letter M, which I realized I knew very little or nothing about.

With the first one I can claim the excuse that the country did not go by that name back when I first learned world geography…


Myanmar (Burma)

The name Burma has been in use in English since the time of British colonial rule. In 1989 the military government officially changed the English translations of many colonial-era names; among these changes was the alteration of the name of the country to "Myanmar". The renaming remains a contested issue.

Location of  Burma  (green)in ASEAN  (dark grey)  —  [Legend]

Artist:  Ko Ko Latt  (pseudonym: Lu Htun)

The front presents symbolic figures – an integral part of the world of faith of Myanmar.

The top position is reserved for the one who discovered The Four Noble Truths all by him – Buddha. His portrait is flanked by two Brahmas, bright creatures in the top regions of the mythological mountain Meru – free of worldly desires and close to the entrance to Nirvana.

On the right and on the left on the Buddha’s arms we can see Thagyamin, King of Ghosts and ruler of the sky of Tavatimsa, beneath the domains of the Brahmas. He is the Myanmar version of the Indian God Sakka, protector of Buddhism. Thagyamin is immensely popular and is very often called upon.

Beneath the Buddha is the image of Galoun, King of Birds. He is the Myanmar version of the Sun Eagle, Vedisch Garuda.

The bear’s belly is decorated with the powerful and dynamic figure of Bilu, who appears in many fairy tales and oral traditions. He is mostly described as rough and sinister, also characterised as a cannibal - but at times he can also be helpful and good.

On the thighs, two chinthe are looking out – mythological lions often placed in front of pagodas sentinels, symbolising courage, power and bravery.

Beneath them, one Naga each – the mythological snake that is bound to the earth, ruler of the water and Galoun’s opponent - finishes the roundel. Once, when the future Buddha was deeply lost in meditation, one Naga protected him from a raging storm.

They are all considered to be protectors – to be addressed to prevent the Buddhas and human beings from all types of misfortune.


With the next country I find no excuse for not having a clue where in the world to place it. Checking my old school atlas, it turns out the country had the same name and borders back in the 1960s…



The Republic of Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa.

Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (from which Mali is named), and the Songhai Empire. During its golden age, there was a flourishing of mathematics, astronomy, literature, and art Mali was once the site of one of the richest and largest empires in the world. Mali was also one of the earliest nations to make a declaration of human rights.

Mali is a constitutional democracy governed by the Constitution of 12 January 1992, amended in 1999. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. Mali's key industry is agriculture. Cotton is the country's largest crop export. Eighty percent of Malian workers are employed in agriculture while fifteen percent work in the service sector.

Though Mali's literature is less famous than its music, Mali has always been one of Africa's liveliest intellectual centers. Mali's literary tradition is passed mainly by word of mouth, with reciting or singing histories and stories known by heart.

The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of the country of Mali. The Dogon are best known for their religious traditions, their mask dances, wooden sculpture and their architecture. Dogon country is now one of Mali's major tourist attractions.


Artist: Oumar Kamara

The bear reminds us of the culture of the "Dogon". The Dogon have been accepted as part of the UNESCO World National Heritage because of their strong sense of awareness of their own tradition and spirituality. The Dogon have fostered their culture over many centuries - some graves that were found in caves date back to the 11th century. A central aspect of the Dogon culture is the Toguna, the central theme for the design of my bear. The Toguna is the centre of every Dogon village, as its town hall - built deliberately low - it prevents the angry flaring up of arguments during the men's discussions.

On the bear's arms I've painted the Kanaga watching the world. He was the first "Dogon".

The signs on the bear's side symbolise fertility, resurrection, humanity, etc.

On its feet you can see the "Cauris" which were used as exchange goods in the old days and here also stand for understanding between the people.

Oumar Kamara


Mozambique I knew by name, but was I able to place it correctly on the map? Nooo..



Between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from farther north and west. Swahili, and later also Arab, commercial ports existed along the coasts until the arrival of Europeans. The area was explored by Vasco da Gama in 1498 and colonized by Portugal in 1505. Mozambique became independent in 1975.

Mozambique is endowed with rich and extensive natural resources. The country's economy is based largely on agriculture, but with industry, mainly food and beverages, chemical manufacturing, aluminium and petroleum production, is growing fast. The country's tourism sector is also growing.


Artist: Livio de Morais

It’s not the same bear as on the BB homepage but I think the themes are similar.

“This is meant to be a homage to the famous sculptures of the Makonde (tribe from the North of Mozambique). ---

My message: Life, peace, tolerance and freedom.

The passing rites: Birth, initiation, fertility and life hereafter. These aspects dominate the design of my bear in the shape of the woman-mother and wearing her native mask. Mother Makonde has her eyes closed (spirituality) and is pregnant. --- On her back the child can rest. This reminds of children's rights and human rights.

The dominant colour is ochre: Symbol of life on earth.”


  1. you are doing great, i can't even place where you are on a map... and i can't place all of the states on a state map here in the USA...

    1. With the help of Google and Wikipedia, sure ;)
      Give me a blank map and no internet, and I'm in deep trouble though!

  2. Myanmar/Burma is a country I could have placed (actually on this occasion I could have approximately placed all three which is unusual) because, apart from anything else, it was the setting for The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh which is one of the best books I've read.

    1. It was the name Myanmar that had not registred in my brain (although I know I've heard it before) - I did know where Burma was. Mali for some obscure reason seemed to have been erased from my memory completely though. (If I dare, maybe I'll go back to these posts next year and see if anything I learned this year still sticks then...)

    2. It's been in the news a lot here because out Prime Minister just visited. If you can remember to remind me in a year I'll try as well but I don't give much for my chances. These days I have enough trouble remembering what day it is.


Communication is what makes blogging fun :)

Welcome to also visit my main blog: Beyond the Lone Islands