On the Way to Mawlamyine. And Back.

When and Where

Friday, February 09, 2024 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm


Christoph Emmrich


Lecture by Professor Christoph Emmrich for  the Global Asia Lecture Series, Arizona State University (note the time given above for this lecture is Eastern Standard Time)

"On the Way to Mawlamyine. And Back: Translations of a Buddhist Girl Child, Young Woman, and Activist Nun into Burmese, Newar, Nepali, and English"

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Thami khyad, Yahmha mhyay, Snehi chori and Beloved Daughter are four versions - one Burmese, one Newar, one Nepali and one English - of an oral account narrated by Dhammawati - then a Burmese novice girl child wonder, now a famous Nepalese nun and activist - to the prominent Burmese monk, writer, and translator Rawe Htun, an account turned by him into a novel describing her escape, in the 1950s, from her home in the Kathmandu Valley to Mawlamyine on the coast of the Andaman Sea, a book that in Burma would become an inspirational bestseller. As Dhammawati eventually returns to her Nepalese home, the novel follows her in the echoes of its translation: it is rendered from Burmese into Dhammawati’s native tongue, then from Newar into Nepali to reach a national, and finally from Nepali into English to reach a global audience. Dhammawati reacts and intervenes in the text and its reception with each translational iteration. The Dhammawati who leaves Nepal as a girl child, arrives in Burma as a young woman, and returns to Nepal as an activist nun, ready to change Nepalese Buddhism forever, is as much a creation of her primary author and of her translators across various languages, as she is a creation of her own, both as real-life protagonist and as she who intervenes in and drives the ways in which she has been translated. As a directed close reading across languages and literatures, this talk is a reflection on the creation and re-creation by men of the Buddhist girl child as a trans-age, trans-lingual, trans-modern, trans-Asian literary figure, on women initiating and intervening in that process of transmission and transformation, and on the kind of historical and political trajectories these oral, textual and performative transactions produce. 


Arizona State University