Politics

Prophecies, Rituals, and Resistance in Myanmar – The Diplomat


March 31 marked the top of Tabaung, the final month within the Burmese calendar. Tabaung normally overlaps with March and isn’t probably the most festive or necessary of Burmese months. Yet this yr, as in 2021, individuals held their collective breath all through the month hoping a 30-year-old prophecy may come true.

In 1992, a well-known Buddhist monk named the Shwe Paw Kyun Sayardaw composed a taboun or rhyming prophecy:

Out of arms and provides,
The navy will face mutinies.
There might be revolts,
And the heretic king will fall.
Led by the righteous,
The Dragon Troop will win.
If there is no such thing as a unity (by the individuals),
There might be navy offensives.
Peacock troopers will march for warfare in Tabaung,
In their tens of hundreds.
The Dragon King shall come right down to earth,
And the heretic dynasty will fall.
From that day onwards,
Myanmar might be affluent.
The heretics’ roads are extensive,
But the following king is younger.
No matter how good the Yedaya (rituals to change destiny),
The heretic king won’t final past Tabaung.
Mandalay’s Taungtaman lake shall overflow twice,
And there might be peace when the repatriated woman reigns.

For most Burmese, it takes little creativeness to interpret the symbols; it comes virtually as naturally in 2022 as in 1992. The “heretical king” refers back to the heads of the respective navy juntas. In 1992, it was Senior General Than Shwe, chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). And in 2022, it’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the State Administration Council (SAC), as the most recent junta kinds itself. The “heretics” thus check with the Tatmadaw or navy, which has dominated Myanmar instantly or not directly for a lot of the previous 60 years.

Activists interpret the “Dragon troop” to imply the Burmese public or Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters. As for the “peacock soldiers,” the combating peacock has lengthy represented resistance actions in opposition to oppressors. In their fashionable incarnation, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) alongside unions and protest teams have embraced the combating peacock as mascots in defying successive dictatorships. And since final yr’s coup, the combating peacock has as soon as once more come to the forefront of resistance with protest teams and People’s Defense Forces (PDF) militias adopting the image.

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Lastly, anyone conversant in Burmese politics will instantly know the “repatriate girl” refers to Aung San Suu Kyi, who returned to Myanmar in 1988 and rapidly dominated the political stage by way of the NLD. This feeds in nicely into the favored Burmese expectation of a “min laung” or messiah king who will proper all wrongs, vanquish evil, and rule justly. The Shwe Paw Kyun Sayardaw’s prophecy thus predicts in no unsure phrases the Tatmadaw’s downfall and Aung San Suu Kyi’s triumph.

Prophecy Redux

After mendacity dormant for many years, the 2021 coup’s timing and subsequent protests reignited curiosity within the prophecy. Peaceful protests had constructed up momentum all through February 2021, simply because the month of Tabaung was approaching. In specific, the stanza about tens of hundreds of peacock troopers marching for warfare turned a potent slogan inspiring protest paintings.

Predictions made simply after the coup additionally constructed upon the prophecy. Popular astrologer San Zarni Bo  claimed in early February 2021 that Aung San Suu Kyi would very quickly emerge victorious. Others made related divinations, including their very own prospers to how the coup would unravel. The junta lent credence by arresting an astrologer after a video of him organizing a ritual in opposition to the coup went viral.

Combined with the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM)’s early success in addition to rumors just like the SAC operating out of gas, Western powers mobilizing to intervene militarily and Tatmadaw divisions mutinying, the prophecy and different predictions galvanized protesters additional. The prophecy additionally match nicely with the general anti-coup effort repurposing conventional beliefs, resembling banging pots to expel evil spirits, hanging ladies’s sarongs throughout streets, pasting Min Aung Hlaing’s images onto roads, and conducting occult rituals in opposition to the junta.

But Tabaung 2021 got here and went, the junta clung onto energy with growing brutality, and the predictions and rituals did not ship for the yr. Regardless, anti-junta platforms continued with a gentle stream of predictions, symbolism, and rituals together with actual world actions to mobilize in style assist in delegitimizing the junta.

The parallel National Unity Government (NUG) introduced its formation in mid-April 2021 on the day of Thingyan, the Burmese new yr symbolizing ascendency. Netizens tailored a Buddhist deity believed to go to Earth throughout Thingyan by portraying him with a Molotov cocktail in hand and heralding revolution. And a couple of weeks after the NUG introduced its “D-Day” navy marketing campaign in September 2021, a well-liked NLD-affiliated astrologer organized rituals to assist the PDFs and proclaimed that victory was “only five days away.”

In January 2022, a New Year’s prediction saying Min Aung Hlaing won’t final the yr and the junta will crumble after April went viral. Later, when a solitary hornbill was sighted in Yangon removed from its pure habitat in Chin State, netizens claimed the chook portended the flames of warfare spreading to the nation’s major cities. The sighting got here as one other spherical of rumors unfold claiming the PDFs had been about to launch their a lot promised “city conquests.”

As Tabaung 2022 rolled in, there was as soon as once more renewed curiosity within the Shwe Paw Kyun Sayardaw’s prophecy. This time, its “tens of thousands of peacock soldiers” have manifested themselves as the various PDF outfits waging an evolving battle in opposition to the SAC. Possibly impressed by the prophecy, some of the lively PDF teams in Sagaing area’s Pale township rebranded themselves the “Myanmar Royal Dragon Army” led by Bo Nagar, that means “Dragon Officer.” Bo Nagar has change into a family title with anti-junta platforms rapidly capitalizing on the symbolism.

And because the Burmese new yr rolled in, the NUG and their supporters urged individuals to not have a good time for the second yr in a row, backed up by threats from PDFs to assault festivities and warnings in opposition to holidaymakers. Thingyan symbolizes a clear break by throwing water meant to clean away the earlier yr’s sins and miseries. By denying Thingyan, anti-coup teams purpose to suggest the junta being unable to both mark a symbolic break from the overthrown NLD authorities or to clean away its sins – specifically civilian deaths.

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Soldiers and Soothsayers

The SAC’s personal actions in addition to successive Tatmadaw leaderships’ dabbling in occult actions, widespread follow of yedaya rituals believed to change destiny, and consulting astrologers have attracted ridicule whereas concurrently fueling perception in tabouns and predictions. Divinations and yedaya have all the time been mainstays for these concerned in politics, enterprise, and the navy, and are key facets of in style faith not restricted to the Buddhist majority.

Just like their opponents, junta supporters have shared their very own oracle readings and divinations, which predictably say the junta will in the end triumph. They have additionally allegedly embraced the sunflower as a yedaya talisman, supposedly sporting, rising, or portraying it wherever they’ll. With its Burmese title translating as “to stay long,” the sunflower purportedly signifies a prolonged rule for the junta. Furthermore, anti-junta netizens have accused quite a lot of distinguished Buddhist monks patronized by Min Aung Hlaing of performing yedayas or giving maleficent recommendation to safeguard the junta.

After the coup, pro-military social media accounts unfold claims alleging President Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi had carried out yedaya throughout their tenure to cement NLD rule. One declare was that the NLD leaders had positioned golden daggers and spears on the highest of Yangon’s famed Shwedagon pagoda to such finish. These talismans had been supposedly found when the pagoda was re-gilded after the coup, whereas detractors claimed the SAC was peeling off gold to pay troopers.

And as widespread resistance took root in as soon as peaceable Sagaing area, pro-military platforms claimed the NLD had put in a drum imbued with black magic in one of many area’s most revered pagodas. The drum truly had Buddhist symbols however was nonetheless eliminated by the junta in March 2022. The state of affairs in Sagaing has failed to enhance for the SAC, and the removing was seen as an indication of deluded desperation within the face of stiffening resistance.

What’s Next?

To be truthful, the Burmese individuals don’t blindly entrust their future onto prophecies or rituals. Soothsayers, astrologers, and clairvoyants are a dime a dozen in Myanmar, and all appear to have been blindsided by the coup. That mentioned, the symbolisms and predictions enhance real-world actions and assist guarantee anti-junta protesters and netizens that victory is each inevitable and imminent, and that Providence will set issues straight. They are additionally supposed to demoralize the Tatmadaw utilizing its personal cultural language and hamper it from claiming conventional legitimacy.

Supportive prophecies and predictions additionally function a coping mechanism for a populace more and more squeezed by financial despair and spiraling insecurity. Divinations have lengthy supplied a psychological security internet for individuals going by way of tumultuous instances and now provide solace amid the chaos irrespective of how outlandish or unbelievable they might sound.

Crucially, favorable prophecies and predictions assist sugarcoat the NUG and their supporters’ appeals to the general public to danger all the pieces within the title of complete revolution. Such supplies additionally assist channel resentment in opposition to the junta to lift hope and rally across the NUG. Moreover, a mix of perception in imminent, divinely-ordained, complete victory and romanticized portrayals of battle, in addition to the junta’s atrocities, have hardened attitudes inside anti-junta teams to name for armed wrestle to the bitter finish.

Nobody actually is aware of how issues will unfold as Myanmar’s artifical disaster drags on with no clear consequence in sight. Even as urge for food for all-out battle wanes among the many normal public, and the disconnect widens between fiery on-line discourse and unpalatable realities on the bottom, there’ll nonetheless be loads of new predictions and precognitions elevating hope. And the hope of the won’t ever perish.



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