The 1921 census gives the province a population of 13,212,192 residents with an average density of 22 residents per sq. km, one of the lowest in the Indian Empire, except for the Belūcistān and the Andamans. This is due to the fact that the mountain and the forest that occupy such a large portion of it are almost uninhabited. The most populated regions are the deltas, the dry district, extensively cultivated and with some development of irrigation, and some coastal stretches. Over the past hundred years, the population has certainly increased steadily, but exact figures are missing. However, the increase is noticeable in the latest censuses: 1901, 10,278,715; 1911, 11.763.961; 1921, 12,790,754 (figures reported to the surface of the province in 1901, because this too has been expanding), with percentage increases of 14.4 and 8.
Burma is essentially a rural region; only two cities exceed 100,000 residents, Rangoon and Mandalay (v.). But other smaller centers nevertheless have the physiognomy and importance of cities: they are those that have an important bazaar, therefore centers of trade distribution, or that have acquired some importance because they have been chosen as the capitals of districts, or are ports, especially river ports. In the latter category are Bhamo, Kalewa, Monywa, Sagaing, Mandalay itself, Pakokku, Sale, Myingyan, Yenangyaung, Magwe, Minbu, Allanmyo, Thayetmyo, Prome and Henzada.
The 1921 census also gives the distribution of the population by nationality or ethnic group:
Burma is in the particular situation of finding itself a sparsely populated country capable of much development, between two of the most populated regions of the earth, India and China. Every year a large number of Indians, attracted by the highest wages and the possibilities of trade or colonization, enter the country and a considerable part of them settle there. Rangoon receives the largest portion of it. The foreign population of Burma has grown from 475,000 in 1901 to 707,000 in 1921. Indians have settled preferably in the delta region, in Arakan and along rivers and railway lines: they almost entirely provide the hand of industrial work, which does not attract the most indolent Burmese. The Chinese also form an important colony, made up mostly of artisans and traders.
Europeans are largely represented by English and Scots, but very few of them are to be considered residents. Anglo-Indian mestizos find work as clerks, in minor administrative positions and on the railways.
The natives belong, as the table indicates, to many different lineages, and the languages spoken are very numerous. Burmese (see below) and English are, however, the official languages, while Hindustani is widespread in cities and wherever Indian labor is employed. The Burmese are the most civilized and occupy the most fertile plains; the other lineages are found in great majority in the mountain. Counting together with the Burmese their relatives Arakanese and the Tavoyani of the coast of Tenasserim we have almost 9/10 of the population. The Burmese have an overall attractive appearance, have a broad face but without the typical Mongolian eye; while the color of the skin varies from a pale brown to a dark coffee brown; some of the city ladies, however, are no darker than the Northern European average. L’ lungyi), gathered in a single fold on the front, which reaches up to the ankles. Both sexes love silk fabrics, brightly colored but in delicate hues, and even the poorest have a silk lungyi. On this the free men i also take a short dark-colored jacket, single-breasted, and usually white. Old people still wear their long hair tied up in a bun on one side of their heads: but the European cut is now common. The male headdress is the gambaung, a strip of colored silk turned around the head; women grease the long braids with coconut oil and make them into a cylindrical roll at the top of the head. As an ornament, flowers styled in the hair are often used.
The Burmese civilization, both in its economic aspects (plow agriculture, irrigation) and in its spiritual aspects, is a derivation of the Indian one. The religion is Buddhist and occupies a large place in the life of Burmese. The spiritual leader of each village is the hpoongyi, the yellow-robed monk, and the monastery, located outside the enclosure or hedge that defends each village from animals and thieves, is also the school. Each village then has its own pagoda and white pagodas crown almost every hill. Given the large number of religious schools, the percentage of illiterate people is small: only women’s education is neglected. But they are more active and practical than men and enjoy a rare freedom among non-European peoples. Overall, the Burmese is clean, witty, a lover of sports, but also a lover of a comfortable and indolent life.
Like religion, writing (derived from the old Pāli) and a considerable number of words are drawn from India. The music is characteristic: the melodies are mainly composed of the five notes C, D, E, C, A, and since semitones are not used, the chromatic scale is unknown. National music is closely associated with drama; Among the typical instruments, the kigi – waing, a series of metal gongs arranged in a circular frame of sturdy reed, and the saing – waing, composed of 18 cylindrical drums hanging from a circular support are worthy of memory: next to these instruments are also used cymbals, clarinets and flutes.
Kindred in civilization are the Talaing or Mon, of the Moulmein region, now almost absorbed with them, who are credited, like their Khmer relatives in Cambodge, for introducing Indian civilization to the region. Among the mountain tribes, the Karen are perhaps the most advanced: they inhabit the Arakan Yoma, the Pegu Yoma and the indigenous state of Karenni and are also found in isolated communities in the delta region. The Shan live on the plateau that takes its name from them and also along the upper course of the Chindwin; the Kachin are gathered in the northernmost districts; the Chin on the western ranges, while the Paloug and the Wa live near the Chinese border. Linguistic affinities are independent of the conditions of civilization: the cultured Talaing with the Palaung and Wa, that they are the most barbaric tribes of the province (in part still practicing the Indonesian use of headhunting), they enter the large scattered family of Austro-Asian languages; the Kachin and Chin with the Burmese, in the Tibetan-Burmese branch; the Karen and Shan (Thai) in the Sino-Tibetan branch of the Sino-Tibetan family. In general, all the mountain tribes present, to varying degrees, traces of archaic cultures, similar to the Indonesian ones, they practice semi-nomadic hoe agriculture and are linked by the same needs of this to the mountain environment. Religion is a variable animism and this also goes to explain why Christianity has been able to make rapid progress among them, especially among the Karen.