A modest review of the no-longer modern review
Title: Kambawza– A modern review
Author: Daw Mi Mi Khaing (1916-1990)
Number of pages: 60 A4 size
Vintage books, old china, antiques;
Maybe I love old things so much
Because I feel impermanent myself.
Josh Lanyon,” Fatal Shadows”(2000)
Daw Mi Mi Khaing (left), Sao Saimong Mangrai (centre), Sao Sai Long (right) at their Kengtung Palace, Taunggyi, c. 1935
The book — or rather the 28 articles which were later combined into a booklet– was written right after the Karen insurrection in 1949 that spread from the Burmese lowlands in the south to the highlands of Shan State in the north, and the Kuomintang incursion in 1950.
The Shans, and the non Shans living together, still had their saofas ( lords of the skies)then: 34 of them in fact, whose domains Daw Mi Mi Khaing had visited with her husband Sao Saimong Mangrai (1913-1987),whose scholarly work, The Shan States and the British Annexation (1965),had won him a huge following among the Shans.
Not all these princely states were Shan however, as can be observed through the following list:
Shan 21 states
Danu 7 states
PaO 2 states
Wa 1 state
Kayan 1 state
Kokang 1 state
Palaung 1 state
These ruling princes, despite strong mixed feelings expressed by many of them, had taken a momentous decision in 1947 to join with Burma in order to achieve a ‘speedy freedom’ from the British.
The Panglong conference and its outcome are described by her in this way:
Till this day it remains a miracle to those of us present, how from fervid Shan, Kachin and Chin discussions of old resentments,fears and defensive safeguards a metamorphosis took place overnight into a feeling of brotherhood which swept everyone off his feet.
At the time of her writing, the saofas (commonly written saopha,saohpa or sawbwa) were still lords of their domains if not of the skies. And she was an admirer of several of them including:
• Sao Homfa of Hsenwi “is the most colorful of the leaders who remain— a Shan sawbwa with a solid body of Kachins among his subjects, forming in his personality a bridge between past days and the present, autocratic in the days of autocracy, magnanimous and conceding in these days of change, always positive, astute and daring.”
• Sao Hkun Pan Sing of Tawngpeng ” is the most cheerful looking man in the whole Shan State. To see him is to love him.”
• Sao Hkun Kyi of Hsihseng was “a big made handsome man with a strong temper, he seemed cut out to lead the Taungthus (PaO) into anything which would have advanced their cause.”
Following independence in 1948, all powers were vested in the Shan State Council, composed of equal number of saofas and elected commoners. “These changes have made it possible for the representative section of the people of Shan State to manage their own affairs, and apart from the appointment of a few senior specialists from the Burma services, there has been no flooding of the administration by Burmans as the Shans had been led to fear would happen.”
This was true even in the area of defense.
In August 1949, the state capital Taunggyi was overrun by the Karen resistance force, Karen National Defense Organization(KNDO) that had called for a coalition against Rangoon, then the country’s administrative and commercial capital.
She together with her family was then on the way from Taunggyi to the north. “(During the overnight stay in Loilem) the Shan officer sent by the KNDO to propose ‘Karen-Shan amalgamation against the Burmans’ to the Hsenwi sawbwa at Lashio,had returned. (Through him we learned) that Hsenwi had given the answer:’ No amalgamation. We will fight.'”
The sawbwas were then ordered by him to mobilize. At Mongkung, she saw” mustached Shans of the old gentle type, with turbans and pinni boungbis (traditional baggy Shan pants) receiving each his rifle from the sawbwa’s stock, while bags of rice brought in by headmen were being loaded with rolls of bedding on to the lorries; and the sawbwa himself, who has his own eccentricities, was holding a rifle as he rushed about giving orders with his gaungbaung (turban) awry. Where the Union army could not reach out far enough or soon enough, the very same apparatus which had got up expeditions for or against the Burmese king had to be set creaking again.”
Today all these things have changed. From self dependents, Shans have become dependents, to the extent that even if their Burmese rulers agree to leave tomorrow, they wouldn’t know what to do with their sudden freedom.
So how does one see the Shan State in the next 60 years?
Being human, one and all, Shans may yearn for the return of Daw Mi Mi Khaing’s Kambawza while their Burmese rulers may for the non perish ability of today’s Shan State under their firm control, by chanting incantations like ‘non-disintegration’ and ‘perpetuation’ in their vain endeavor against Anicca ( The Law of Change).
But if anything can be learned from her, it is that tomorrow’s Shan State is going to be different from today’s, just as it is from yesterday’s.
My only hope, perhaps a vain one, is that someone may remember to write about it. And vainer still, I may come back to read it.
Nice write up! 😀
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