Monarch’s de­scen­dants re­turn to palace for com­mem­o­ra­tion

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - KYAW KO KO

U Taw Phaya (left), the grand­son of King Thibaw, speaks with monks at Man­dalay’s Golden Palace on Novem­ber 22 dur­ing an event mark­ing the ex­ile an­niver­sary of his royal an­ces­tor more than a cen­tury af­ter Bri­tish colonists ex­pelled Burma’s royal fam­ily.

WHEN the Bri­tish colo­nial­ists bar­relled into Man­dalay on Novem­ber 28, 1885, they gave King Thibaw just one day to pack up his fam­ily and leave the coun­try.

But on Novem­ber 22 – 131 years af­ter Myan­mar’s last king en­tered his ex­ile – his de­scen­dants fi­nally had a mo­ment of clo­sure dur­ing a his­toric cer­e­mony in Man­dalay’s Royal Palace.

“The Bri­tish tried to keep us away from the com­mon peo­ple,” said Prince Taw Phaya, one of two sur­viv­ing grand­chil­dren of King Thibaw. “Bu t… Still to­day the com­mon peo­ple will pay re­spects to roy­alty.”

The event marked the first time Myan­mar’s roy­als have been al­lowed to pub­licly mark the end of their last king’s reign within the palace. Af­ter ex­il­ing King Thibaw to In­dia, the Bri­tish closed off the palace to the public in fear that the roy­als could threaten their rule in the fu­ture.

Most of the old palace was de­stroyed dur­ing World War II, and it re­mained shut­tered af­ter in­de­pen­dence in 1948. When the mil­i­tary junta seized power in 1962, they rein­vented them­selves as the war­rior kings of old and kept the royal fam­ily out of the na­tional eye. Sym­bol­i­cally, they also re­de­vel­oped most of the palace grounds into a mil­i­tary base, with only a small sec­tion be­com­ing avail­able for tourism in the late 1990s.

Pre­vi­ous cer­e­monies, or­gan­ised an­nu­ally since 1995, used to be held in se­cret. But af­ter then-pres­i­dent Thein Sein vis­ited Thibaw’s tomb in the In­dian coastal town of Rat­na­giri in 2012, in­ter­est in the old monar­chy reignited through­out the coun­try. Myan­mar’s re­main­ing roy­als seized on the re­newed in­ter­est this year, hold­ing a cer­e­mony in Oc­to­ber to com­mem­o­rate the death of Thibaw’s fa­ther King Min­don in the palace.

About 100 rel­a­tives at­tended the Novem­ber 22 cer­e­mony, do­nat­ing to monks and pour­ing out water.

“We are aim­ing for the peo­ple to know that our coun­try was once ruled by real kings,” U Kyaw Thiha, the great-great-grand­child of King Thibaw and his wife Queen Su­pay­alat, told The Myan­mar Times.

They also look to mark a cen­tury since Thibaw’s death in ex­ile this De­cem­ber. U Soe Win, a great grand­child of King Thibaw, said a small con­tin­gent of around 30 peo­ple will head to Rat­na­giri on De­cem­ber 13 for the De­cem­ber 16 com­mem­o­ra­tion. He added that pre­serv­ing these mem­o­ries are cru­cial to na­tional dig­nity, sug­gest­ing that fu­ture cer­e­monies be recog­nised at a na­tional level.

“In our his­tory, the king ruled his own peo­ple,” he said. “If we ne­glect that his­tor­i­cal iden­tity, our coun­try will feel ag­grieved. This day is rel­e­vant to all Myan­mar peo­ple.”

Ex­perts say the public gath­er­ing of roy­als will help Myan­mar re­dis­cover a crit­i­cal pe­riod in its his­tory as it em­barks on a more open fu­ture un­der the demo­crat­i­cally elected govern­ment of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Burmese self-iden­tity con­gealed around a very de­fen­sive at­ti­tude to the out­side world, be­cause that pe­riod of the Burmese king­dom was also a pe­riod of ex­treme threat,” his­to­rian Thant Myint U told AFP.

Hla Nyunt Yi, a 48-year-old ven­dor from west­ern Rakhine State who at­tended the cer­e­mony, said she had mixed feel­ings about see­ing what re­mained of Myan­mar’s once-mighty royal line.

“I feel happy and sad at the same time see­ing the king’s rel­a­tives here,” she said.

PHOTO: AFP

Photo: AFP

A man walks through the Royal Palace in Man­dalay on Novem­ber 22 dur­ing a cer­e­mony to mark the 131st an­niver­sary of the end of King Thibaw’s reign.

Photo: Kyaw Ko Ko

Mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions of royal de­scen­dants were able to host a royal event in the palace for the first time in over a cen­tury.

Photo: AFP

Prince Taw Phaya (cen­tre), 93, grand­son of King Thibaw, walks with rel­a­tives af­ter at­tend­ing the com­mem­o­ra­tion.

Photo: AFP

Rel­a­tives made do­na­tions to monks to mark the event.

Photo: Kyaw Ko Ko

Monks count their bless­ings af­ter the do­na­tion cer­e­mony.

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