Documents of Myanmar Socio-Economic History
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Most Parabaik manuscripts consist of white characters written using pointed soapstone on thick, black, oblong paper folded in concertina fashion. Writing on Parabaik is similar to writing characters or illustrations on a blackboard with white chalk. When a document was no longer required, the paper was often wiped with a damp cloth or covered in Indian ink so that new documents could be written. The characters thus written are not so fixed as black ink characters on white paper, and they are easily erased with only light friction.

Large Parabaik are about 15 cms by 40 cms, middle-sized ones are about 10 cms by 25 cms, and small ones are about 8 cms by 15 cms. They are folded from one to sixty-four times, and are classified into seven main types according to the number of folds. They are made of mulberry paper or bamboo pulp. Black Parabaik have been used since about the 14th century, but the material is said not to last more than 150 years.

As they could be used repeatedly, and documents could easily be rewritten, Parabaik were widely used to record both official and private documents up to the end of 19th century, when western paper was ordinarily adopted in Myanmar. As black Parabaik was utilized as a notebook or for writing drafts, a single Parabaik often contains various different kinds of documents, such as those relating to central or local administration, regulations, official or private judicial matters, money lending, contracts, inheritance, religious affairs, pharmaceutical and medical practice, poetry and other literature, astrology, and so on. The documents found in them cover a range of concerns, from government affairs to the social life of ordinary people from the end of the 18th to the middle of the 19th century.

Parabaik are scattered all over the country of Myanmar. The condition of their preservation is poor, as they are exposed to insects, fire, flood, and high humidity. Cases in which locally preserved Parabaik have already been lost by the time researchers arrive to study them are too numerous to mention. Many valuable documents recorded on Parabaik are vanishing at every moment.

Furthermore, when Parabaik are used as historical source materials, their pages have to be turned by hand by every researcher in order to find the desired documents. Inevitably, the characters on the Parabaik will gradually fade, and their folds become fatigued and damaged. This is one of the biggest problems in the preservation of Parabaik.

The National Commission for the Preservation of Traditional Manuscripts (NCPTM) was organized in Myanmar in September 1994. The Commission has been engaged in making inventories of and microfilming both Peza (palm leaf manuscripts) and Parabaik from throughout the country.

The Committee for Constructing a Database of Myanmar Parabaik Manuscripts (CCDMPM) has been set up to create a database of Myanmar Socio-Economic History documents at Aichi University, Toyohashi, Aichi, Japan. Our project supports NCPTM programmes by constructing a database consisting of a JPEG file for each pair of facing pages, with paleographic information in this catalogue concerning each document found in the Parabaik. The reader may easily search out the relevant documents without having to touch any Parabaik manuscripts. We hope that this database will advance the study of the early modern history of Myanmar, as well as that of the whole Southeast Asian region, and will also contribute to the preservation of a valuable cultural heritage in Myanmar.

© The Committee for Constructing a Database of Myanmar Parabaik Manuscripts in Aichi University Toyohashi, Aichi, JAPAN 2002