Saya San

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In this Burmese name, Saya is an honorific.
Saya San
ဆရာစံ
Image mini.png
Born (1876-10-24)24 October 1876
Dabayin, Shwebo District, Kingdom of Myanmar
Died 28 November 1931(1931-11-28) (aged 55)
Tharrawaddy, Pegu Province, British Burma
Nationality Burmese
Religion Theravada Buddhism

Saya San (also spelled Hsaya, original name Yar Kyaw.Burmese: ဆရာစံ, Burmese pronunciation: [sʰəjà sàɴ]; 24 October 1876 – 28 November 1931) was a former monk, a physician and the leader of the 'Saya San Rebellion' of 1930-1932 in British Burma. The series of uprisings that have been called the 'Saya San rebellion' has been regarded as one of Southeast Asia's quintessential anti-colonial movements, spreading throughout the Lower Burma delta and into hills of the Shan States; involving numerous communities, thousands of villagers and several thousand counterinsurgency troops.[1] However, the discussion of Saya San and the rebellion among the intelligentsia has persisted till now.

Saya San’s life[edit]

Saya San was a native of Shwebo, a centre of nationalist-monarchist sentiment in north-central Burma that was the birthplace of the Konbaung (or Alaungpaya) dynasty, which controlled Myanmar from 1752 until the British annexation in 1886.[2] He was born on October 24, 1876. His original name was Yar Kyaw. His parents were U Kyaye and Daw Hpet, who lived with their five children in the rural agricultural village of Thayetkan. Yar Kyaw was exposed to Buddhist tenets at an early age by studying at the local village monastery. Then he continued his studies at the nearby Hpo Hmu monastery till he was nearly twenty years old. Yar Kyaw left for the village of Nga Kaung Inn soon after with a hope that he could make a better living selling mats and baskets as an alternative to working in the agricultural sector. Eventually, he met and married Ma Kay, and had two children, Ko Po Thin and Ma Sein. As economic condition failed to improve, Yar Kyaw left for Moulmein in Lower Burma, where employment opportunities were better because of the expansion of the rice frontier.[3] Earning his living as a carpenter for some time and then more successfully as a fortuneteller and traditional healer, he wrote two treatises on traditional healing practices that questioned the authority and efficacy of Western medical treatment.[4]

The transition Saya San made from a medical man to a political activist is not very clear. People tend to believe that he joined the General Council of Burmese Associations (GCBA) led by U Soe Thein in 1920s. He began his political career as a representative of his village and soon progressed to lead his township and district branch of Moulmein. 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.[5]

In late December 1930, Saya San organized peasant revolt and proclaimed himself a pretender to the throne who, like Alaungpaya, would unite the people and expel the British invader. He organized his followers into the “Galon Army” and he was proclaimed “king” at Insein, near Rangoon (Yangon). Quickly, the rebellion drew colonial authority’s attention and was suppressed by British army. As the revolt collapsed, Saya San fled to the Shan Plateau in the east. By August 1931, however, he was captured at Hokho and brought back to Tharrawaddy. He was tried and sentenced by a Special Rebellion Tribunal. Despite the efforts of his lawyer, Ba Maw, he was executed on November 28, 1931.

Saya San Rebellion[edit]

Background -1) British rule has arrived[edit]

Briefly, the imperial history of Burma had sustained almost eight centuries. In the 9th century the Tibeto-Burman speaking Burmese, began migrating to the Irrawaddy valley from present-day Yunnan's Nanzhao kingdom and then established the Pagan Kingdom in 1057. Pagan's power slowly waned in the 13th century. Kublai Khan's Mongol forces invaded northern Burma and sacked Pagan city itself, the kingdom fall in 1287. In the second half of the 16th century, the Taungoo Dynasty reunified the country, and founded the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia for a brief period. In the 18th century, the Konbaung Dynasty restored the kingdom, and went to war with all its neighbors. The kingdom fought three wars with the British. In 1885, the kingdom was conquered, and the King Thebaw, was deported to India. Eventually, Burma was annexed into British rule in 1886, but the more difficult task if maintaining stability remained, as British authorities immediately faced a number of uprisings that erupted throughout the formal Burmese Kingdom.[6]

By the 1890s, colonial officials had determined that the main pacification campaigns were successful, and they could concentrate on the business of building a social-economic infrastructure that could support their interest in the vast teak, mineral, and agricultural resources that their new colony provided. Attached as a province of India, British Burma would be subject to administrative policies established in New Deli as well as the vast array of procedural structures that characterized the India Civil Service. The new territories were divided into districts and assigned a commissioner with a small support staff. Though the prism and experience of British India, Burmese people, cultures, languages and histories were constructed by imperial surveys that now sought to map the new territories. Indigenous healing practices, rituals, folktales, notions of authority and village life would be organized and categorized according to how well the district officer understood what he was observing.[7] Moreover, when the British Indian authorities destroyed the kingdom of Burma in 1885-1886, they transferred the Burmese royal throne to a museum in Calcutta. Meanwhile, the Palace of Mandalay became the British Upper Burma Club, in utter disregarded of its immense cosmological importance to the Burmese. In other words, the colonial rule had changed the social landscape of ancient Burma in a manner caused much resentment.

Background -2) Resistance before Saya San[edit]

British had faced numerous outbreaks of resistance throughout 1886-1890. These opposition movements became more intensive and extensive. Some of these rebellions were led by former members of the court, like the Myinzaing Prince, who continued to wield considerable influence over troops and villagers in provincial centers that had once been in alliance with the throne. Other pockets of resistance were led by local headmen and monks but were limited by size and scope. These were often short-lived either due to lack of support or due to the overwhelming technical advantage of the British.[8]

In the late 1890s, a small group of Buddhist associations with contemporary forms of organization and structure were founded by lay members in an effort to preserve the religion and its place in society.[9]

In 1906, political organizations such as Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) came into prominence within Rangoon, drawing young clerks and educated elites into working for changes in colonial society through accepted and approved channels. The YMBA focused on improving social conditions and concentrating on educational government on issue of cultural identity. This would pave the way for formation of the General Council of Burmese Associations (GCBA) which planned to participate more directly in political protest and demonstrations.[10] In order to engage rural communities, members of GCBA would travel into countryside conducting interviews, collecting data, and filling reports to establish lines of communication with emerging village activists. Saya San joined GCBA and worked at the countryside for more than two year, so he was familiar with rural places and had direct connection with peasants.

What happened in the Rebellion?[edit]

In October 1930, there had been earthquakes at Pegu and Pyu. There were heralded as portents, recalling prophesies that the throne of the King of Burma would not remain unoccupied. At the auspicious moment, the coronation of Saya San proceeded in the traditional manner, at a pagoda near Rangoon. Saya San was proclaimed the Thupannaka Galon Raja, and donned the royal raiments prescribed by ancient usage. On 21 December 1930, the Galon Raja moved to his palace on Alaungtang Hill in Tharrawaddy, where a royal city, known as Buddharaja Myo, or “Buddhist King’s Town”, was ceremonially plotted out. The new king disposed of the proper retinue of five queens, four ministers, and four regiments.[11] Saya San promised supporters that he would restore the authority of the Burmese monarchy, revitalize the Buddhist religion and expel the British. Also, he assured his oath-bound followers that they would be protected by his magical charms and tattoos.[12]

On the night of December 22/23 the first outbreak occurred in the Tharrawaddy district. Tharrawaddy, like most of Lower Burma, suffered severe economic dislocation during the ‘Hoover Slump’. The Great Depression of 1930 had a devastating impact on rice prices. Rice was Burma’s most important export commodity and its fortunes on commercial markets affected much of the rural population. The high population density in central Burma and the concentration of land ownership in fewer hands created a large number of disaffected landless laborers increasingly aggrieved with colonial government, whom they lamed both their inability to work the land independently and for decline of their real incomes as rice worker.[13] Thus, rural cultivators, already frustrated by the drop of rice price were quick to respond to Saya San’s appeals involving a mixture of anti-tax rhetoric, Buddhist prophecies and guarantees of invulnerability.

In a few weeks it became clear that the violence that began in Tharrawaddy had escalated. The British authority, officials in New Deli soon were asked by their Rangoon counterparts to dispatch armed forces to quell the rebellion. However, the military support did not produce immediate results. The outbreaks continued to spread in neighboring districts. The rebellion spread to the districts of Pyapon, Henzada, Insein, Pegu, Toungoo, Prome, Thayetmyo, Naungcho Township, and the Northern Shan States. Other rebellion leader such as U Aung Hla, Bo Aung Shwe, and Bo Aung Pe led uprisings in neighboring districts to secure weapons, raid police station, and attack government representatives.[14]

Within weeks of the first outbreak, Rangoon authorities responded by seeking special emergency power from India. By June 1931, a Special Rebellion Commissioner, Mr. Booth Gravely, was appointed to manage affairs in Burma.[15] In July 1931, the authorities considered the situation so serious that they (unsuccessfully) asked permission from government of India to introduce martial law.[16] By August 1931, Saya San was captured, but the rebellion had continued for nearly two years.

The revolt was crushed, and the casualties were not much certain. By the end of 1932, more than 1000 rebels were killed and a further 9000 rebels were surrendered or captured. Saya San and 125 other rebels were hanged and almost 1400 were sentenced to terms of imprisonment or of transportation.[17]

Who is the "Galon" King?[edit]

Saya San took the name of the Thupannaka Galon Raja. This name could be understood in three dimensions under Burmese context. The Galon, is a well-recognized figure in the literature of Hindu-Buddhist Southeast Asia. Galon was a fabulous bird of Hindu mythology. It is often depicted in combat with the Nāga. This cosmic battle between galon and nāga would come to represent ideas about the power of nature, the dualities of the world, and the challenges of the human conditions.[18] First, after British rule has arrived, the Nāga 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, as the Galon is the vanquisher of the Nāga.[19] Secondly, The Galon-Nāga symbolism also had other meanings. In Eastern mythology, the Galon represents the sun-force or solar energy, in natural opposition to the liquid quality of earthly waters. The Nāga is an earth symbol that, in its embodiment in serpentine form, partakes of the magical symbolic properties of liquids. The liquid of the serpent is especially fascinating because it is a poison. The Galon is the killer of serpents, and thus the possessor of supernatural power against all forms of lethal poison. Therefore, it is not surprising that most Burmans regarded certain tattoos as effective protection against snakebite. Perhaps at some time in history the tattoo dyes or needles had some genuine medicinal property. On this count we can only speculate, but, in any case, it was a well-entrenched article of Burmese belief. Thus the Galon itself was a symbol or effecter of invulnerability.[20] The Galon has a third vital symbolic role: in most depictions, the Galon is a vehicle for Vishnu, one of three great deities of the Brahmanic universe. Therefore, the Galon is also regarded a super-potent, triple-threat protector.[21]

Different Interpretation[edit]

The discussion about Saya San Rebellion always concentrated on its causes and characters. Scholars have studied on it and produced several interpretations in order to located Saya San’s position in Burmese history and examine the rebellion from different aspects.

Right on the eve of the rebellion, the leading Burmese newspaper, Thu-ri-ya (The Sun) had published an article “A Warning to the British Government” which spoke of Burma as a “key of dynamite” which could explode at any time.[22]

The British government had recorded this event into a report “The Origin and Causes of the Burma Rebellion (1930-1932)”, which was published by 1934. It became the fundamental resource for over eighty years. According to the report: As regards the causes it is well known: (1) that the Burman is by nature restless and excitable; (2) that in spite of a high standard of literacy the Burman peasantry are incredibly ignorant and superstitious…[23] So in authorities' eyes, the rebellion was explained with the framework of superstitious. In addition, it rejected any political causes for the rebellion.

D.G.E. Hall, the pioneer of writing history on Southeast Asia and famous British Burma’s historian, had disagreed with the reports’ finding. In terms of the cause of the rebellion, he posited political factors rather than economic ones. However, he also recognized the economic discontent.[24] While some scholars have suggested that economic hardship was at the heart of the revolts, others have suggested that initiating a new golden age of Buddhism was an important reason. After the independence of Burma, historians tended to analyze the rebellion in more diverse scopes.

For those Burmese historians, Saya San was portrayed as an early nationalist hero. These interpretations stressed on economic factors, which was the cause of popular dissatisfaction. Different from the British discourse, the economic grievances could be the base of the movement. The movement was not aimless, instead, it was rational and justifiable.

John Cady is the first western historian to call the rebellion as the “Saya San rebellion”. He used a vast amount of British documents, including parliamentary papers and police reports, to create a narrative by recognizing the localized form of political expression. In his book A history of modern Burma, he wrote“…it was a deliberately planned affair based on traditional Burmese political and religious patterns.”[25]

There is more researches focus on the economic perspective. Written a generation later and no doubt infused with the intellectual currents that informed both peasant studies and Southeast Asian studies, Michael Adas' The Burma delta (1974)amazon and James C. Scott's The moral economy of the peasant: Rebellion and subsistence in Southeast Asia (1976)amazon and Ian Brown's A colonial economy in crisis: Burma's rice cultivators and the world depression of the 1930s (2005)amazon provided in-depth analyses into the economic conditions underlying the uprisings in the 1930s. For these scholars (like their earlier Burmese colleagues), the traditional vocabulary of the rebellion was less a factor in the cause of the insurgency than the unforgiving demands of the rational state's economy.[26]

E. Manuel Sarkisyanz’s Buddhist Background of the Burmese Revolution employed the idea of Buddhist millenarian to examine the Saya San rebellion. It represented a transition from those earlier studies which trapped in a context of colonialism or nationalism to those discourses which paid attention to the cultural ideas within a more indigenous context.[27]

From 1970s onwards, the “autonomous history” seems to become the tendency of historiography, which reconstructed those historical figures and events by analyzing indigenous culture from the local people’s point of view.

Another important book regarding Saya San is Michael Adas’s Prophet of Rebellion.google book On the one hand, Adas emphasized on a ‘Prophetic leader’ has ability to start up a millenarian movement. On the other hand, Adas provided other four examples to justify his theory in bigger colonial situations.[28]

One more book from Maitrii Aung-Thwin, “The Return of the Galon King: history, law, and rebellion in colonial Burma.” offers a critical assessment of the history and impact of the narrative of the Saya San revolt, an event taken as formative for Burmese history and studies of peasant rebellion worldwide. This work shows that despite all efforts to write social science objectively, ideology still rules.[29]

While those interpretations have emerged, scholarship has raised many questions about Saya San's role in the revolt. For example, if the British falsified and overstated Saya San's role in the revolt so as to make his execution seem more meaningful than it actually was. Several details of the trial, including a diary produced by the police which outlines Saya San's plan, are not considered to be trustworthy.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Maitrii, Aung-Thwin (June 2008). "Structuring revolt: communities of interpretation in the historiography of the Saya San rebellion". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 2 39: 297–317. 
  2. ^ "Saya San". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 14 October 2012. 
  3. ^ Maitrii, Aung-Thwin (2011). The Return of the Galon King: history, law, and rebellion in colonial Burma. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-8968-0276-6. 
  4. ^ Saya, San (1927). Let-hkanu-zu-kyan,Weik-za theik-pan in got-taya-kyan. Burma. 
  5. ^ Maitrii, Aung-Thwin (2011). The Return of the Galon King: history, law, and rebellion in colonial Burma. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-8968-0276-6. 
  6. ^ Robert H. Taylor (2009). The State in Myanmar. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3362-6. 
  7. ^ Maitrii Aung-Thwin (2011). The Return of the Galon King: history, law, and rebellion in colonial Burma. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-8968-0276-6. 
  8. ^ Maitrii Aung-Thwin (2011). The Return of the Galon King: history, law, and rebellion in colonial Burma. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-8968-0276-6. 
  9. ^ Maung Maung (1980). rom Sangha to Laity: Nationalist Movements of Burma, 1920-194. Columbia, Mo: South Asia Books. 
  10. ^ Robert H. Taylor (2009). The State in Myanmar. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3362-6. 
  11. ^ Solomon, Robert L (1969). "Saya San and the Burmese Rebellion". Modern Asian Studies. 3 3: 209–223. doi:10.1017/s0026749x0000233x. 
  12. ^ Maitrii, Aung-Thwin (June 2008). "Structuring revolt: communities of interpretation in the historiography of the Saya San rebellion". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 2 39: 297–317. 
  13. ^ Clipson, Edmund Bede (2010). Constructing an Intelligence State: the Colonial Security Services in Burma, 1930-1942 (University of Exeter). 
  14. ^ Maitrii, Aung-Thwin (2011). The Return of the Galon King: history, law, and rebellion in colonial Burma. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-8968-0276-6. 
  15. ^ Maitrii, Aung-Thwin (2011). The Return of the Galon King: history, law, and rebellion in colonial Burma. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-8968-0276-6. 
  16. ^ Patricia Herbert (1982). The Hsaya San Rebellion (1930-1032) Reappraised,. Melbourne: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies: Monash University. 
  17. ^ Patricia Herbert (1982). The Hsaya San Rebellion (1930-1032) Reappraised,. Melbourne: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies: Monash University. 
  18. ^ Maitrii, Aung-Thwin (2011). The Return of the Galon King: history, law, and rebellion in colonial Burma. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-8968-0276-6. 
  19. ^ Solomon, Robert L (1969). "Saya San and the Burmese Rebellion". Modern Asian Studies. 3 3: 209–223. doi:10.1017/s0026749x0000233x. 
  20. ^ Solomon, Robert L (1969). "Saya San and the Burmese Rebellion". Modern Asian Studies. 3 3: 209–223. doi:10.1017/s0026749x0000233x. 
  21. ^ Solomon, Robert L (1969). "Saya San and the Burmese Rebellion". Modern Asian Studies. 3 3: 209–223. doi:10.1017/s0026749x0000233x. 
  22. ^ Thu-ri-ya (The Sun). "A Warning to the British Governmen". Thu-ri-ya (The Sun). 
  23. ^ Government of Burma (1934). The Origin and Causes of the Burma Rebellion 1930-1932. Rangoon. pp. L/PJ/6/2020,BRGF. 
  24. ^ D. G .E. Hall (2008). Burma. Hesperides Press. ISBN 978-1443725415. 
  25. ^ John Cady (1958). A History of Modern Burma. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801400599. 
  26. ^ Maitrii Aung-Thwin (June 2008). "Structuring revolt: communities of interpretation in the historiography of the Saya San rebellion". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. No. 2 39 (Communities of Interpretation and the Construction of Modern Myanmar): 297–317. doi:10.1017/s0022463408000222. 
  27. ^ E. Manuel Sarkisyanz (1965). Buddhist Background of the Burmese Revolution. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. 
  28. ^ Michael Adas (1987). Prophets of rebellion: millenarian protest movements against the European colonial order. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521335683. 
  29. ^ Maitrii, Aung-Thwin (2011). The Return of the Galon King: history, law, and rebellion in colonial Burma. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-8968-0276-6. 

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