Peasants' Day: Remembering Saya San

Saya San, Peasants Day, Myanmar rebellion

1. March 2nd is 'Peasants Day' in Myanmar, but it's not the date of the Peasant Revolution but is the date of General Ney Win’s military coup in 1962. Rather then celebrate the coup, the General thought that remembering the Peasant Revolution was more important.

2. The Peasant revolution was led by Saya San, who came from the rural agricultural village of Thayetkan near Shwebo, in north-central Burma. As a young man, Saya San travelled to Moulmein in Lower Burma to find work. He earned a living as a carpenter for some time and then more successfully as a fortune teller and traditional healer, writing two treatises on traditional healing practices that questioned the authority and efficacy of Western medical treatment.

3. In the 1920s he joined the ’’General Council of Burma Association” and in 1924, at the annual congress of the GCBA, 45-year-old Saya San was elected to chair a commission to survey the living conditions of the Burmese peasantry. After examining the devastating conditions of the peasantry in Burma, Saya San became supportive of an armed uprising against the British Colonial Government.

4. On the night of 22 December 1929, the first outbreaks against the ruling British occured in Tharrawaddy and then continued to spread to neighboring districts and to the Northern Shan States. The rebellion continued for two years, and while a number of attempts were made by British police and British Indian soldiers to capture Saya San, he continued to avoid capture, once disappearing under the eyes of British police and soldiers in the Temple of Maha Muni in Mandalay. People came to believe that Saya San could turn himself invisible by his magic power.

galon, garuda, Myanmar mythcal bird

5. In 1930, Saya San was proclaimed the Thupannaka Galon Raja, and donned the royal raiments prescribed by ancient usage. The Galon (or garuda), is a large mythical bird-like creature that appears in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology in Southeast Asia, often depicted in combat with the Naga (snake). After British rule in Burma, the Naga was generally recognized as the symbol for the British, while the Galon stood for Burma. Thus in one sense, the Galon was a triumphant symbol of resistance or anti-British sentiment. Furthermore, The Galon was believed to possess supernatural powers

6. On 21 December 1930, Saya San as the Galon Raja moved to his palace on Alaungtang Hill in Tharrawaddy, and promised to use his supernatural powers to restore the authority of the Burmese monarchy, revitalize the Buddhist religion and expel the British. Saya San, who was a herbalist and an alchemist, concocted a mercury compound ball [philosopher’s stone] by which a person would become invulnerable from all weapons. He assured his oath-bound followers that they would be protected by his magical charms and tattoos.

Saya San, Myanmar trial

7. However, after nearly two years of guerilla warfare, Saya San's luck ran out while hiding in Shan State. His trusted men betrayed him by taking all his charms and amulets from his body while he was sleeping and he was subsequently captured by the British and brought to Tharrawaddy jail for trial. At his trial, Saya San argued that he was not a rebel but rather the he was only trying to help the peasants from the whirlpool of debt, distress and devastation that had been caused by the economic recessions in UK and USA.

8. In November 1931, Saya San was found guilty and sentenced to be executed. It is said that when he was about to be hanged, he yelled out “I bravely stand this unjust punishment. In my next existences after my death may I succeed in my fight for freedom for the peasants and my country”.

Skim read the article about Saya San and match the headings below to the eight paragraphs (note there are two extra headings)

i. Becoming radicalised

ii. Agricultural traditions

iii. A different date

iv. The fighting begins

v. Formative years

vi. Supernatural symbology

vii. Global recession

viii. Apprehended and tried

ix. Last words

x. Magical defences

When you think you have the correct matches, enter your answers in the test sheet below.


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