Independence Weekly, No. 16 (22-28 September 2002)
|Khun Sarm Law of Kengtawng|
|Weekly News Digest|
Khun Sarm Law of Kengtawng
During the last week, several reports on Kengtawng, a new township some 150 miles east of Taunggyi, were received. And several questions have been asked by the readers, including the BBC, whether or not it is another way of spelling Kengtung. Some have also asked who the legendary Khun Sarm Law is.
To the first question, the answer is no, they are different towns. In the past, Kengtawng, west of Salween, used to be a sub-township of Mongnai, 102 miles east of Taunggyi. Whereas Kentung is east of the Salween, 281 miles from Taunggyi and 102 miles north of Tachilek, the border town opposite Mae Sai.
For the second question, I'm sure the following rendition by Daw Mi Mi Khaing, wife of Sao Saimong Mangrai of Kengtung (not Kengtawng) will satisfy it. If it turns out to be too short for those who love stories, another version shall be made available in its website by S.H.A.N. sometime in October _ Editor's note.
A SHAN LEGEND
The story of Khun Sam Law, unlike so many other legends handed down, has no Burmese or Hindu-Buddhist classical threads in it; it is no tale of King, nat (spirit) or princess, but comes straight out of the Shan countryside, with the age old theme of wife and mother in conflict over a man's love. Though the theme is universal, however, the incidents are so typically Shan that I recount the story at some length.
Khun Sam Law, like most Shans of substance, came of a trading family of Kengtawng, a dependency of Mongnai State to the south of this region. Besides being rich he was handsome and all the women in town were bent on marrying him. In particular, one spinster, an ugly woman full of wiles, had won his mother over into pressing her suit. Khun Sam Law tried indirect methods of refusing his mother's plea - he asked for 500 red cows and capital to try his hand at a trading venture, and thus left home.
The next few years were spent in visiting the northern towns as far as Tawngpeng (Namhsan near Lashio), and then he retraced his steps. While passing through Mongkung (Mong Kerng) he went into a house to settle a business deal, and there saw the daughter of the house, Nang Upem. She was beautiful and he fell in love at once. Very soon, they were married. A year passed in all the joys of a happy marriage and Khun Sam Law forgot his parents and the spinster from Kengtawng.
One day, however, he remembered his mother, and suddenly overcome with remorse at his forgetfulness, he decided to go home for a visit. His wife, though pregnant with child, did not stay him. Arriving at Kengtawng, Khun Sam Law was forbidden by his mother to return to the wife who she hated already for having estranged her son as she thought.
Nang Upem, waiting in Mongkung, grew worried at his long absence, and deciding that her child should be born in his father's home, set forth with her servants, her cows and all her possessions.
Her mother-in-law received her with smiles in Khun Sam Law's presence, but soon found a pretext for sending her son out on another trip. Then she began to torture Nang Upem. She hid knives in the rice basket, so that the girl, in scooping up rice for the daily pot, cut her hands. She stuck other knives in the balustrade of the bamboo stairway, so that Nang Upem in fetching water and balancing her hand along the balustrade, cut her hand again. She fried foods all day so that the smell of oil cooking made these cuts into sores, and she served pickled sour dishes to make the sores fester.
Unable to bear more, Nang Upem set out, in advanced pregnancy, to return to Mongkung. Her child was born on the way, a son, and stillborn after all his mother's sufferings. Nang Upem cried with the infant body in her arms: "What shall I do with you, my son. I do not want to put you in the river for fear you become a fish. And I do not want to put you into the earth for fear you become a frog. Let me put you on the branch of this tree. Become a little bird and call to your Father all you can. Tell him to come quickly after your mother." So the baby became a koel, which calls "Paw Hue, Paw Hue," all through the spring and summer, "Oh Father, Oh Father", the heart-rending cry of a lost firstborn. Nang Upem went on, and on arrival at Mongkung she died.
Meanwhile Khun Sam Law returned, and finding his wife gone, he got his fastest horse to follow her. He asked all he met on the way, even little children playing on the sands of the Teng river, for news of his wife, and everyone made the same reply. "Yes, she has gone, she has passed us. A long while ago. She passed us twice. The first was when she wore the lotus in her hair and she laughed at every setp she took The second was when she wore 'mawk mai,' and cry, cry she did at every step. Hurry, hurry or you will be late".
Khun Sam Law made more speed but he was too late. He arrived at Mongkung when his wife was already laid out. The house was crowded out and he could not get her side. How could he see her? He took out all his money and threw it into the air. People scrambled and he passed through. Arriving at his wife's side, he looked at her, and stabbing himself, died.
SEPARATE IN DEATH
They laid the two corpses in the same coffin, but his parents having followed him, mother more revengeful than ever now, thrust a bamboo carrier's pole between the bodies to separate them even the death. But Khun Sam Law and Nang Upem like all true lovers, had prayed together, and after death they were taken together into the sky. If you look at the constellation called, in the West, Orion, you will see the bamboo pole with three stars to show the notches of the bamboo; on one side the red star which they call Betelgeuse is Khun Sam Law, and on the other side is Nang Upem, the star now called Rigel. The evening star left in Mongkung, where, as rocks, they always have been respected by the Mongkung people.
While Khun Sam Law sounds the keynote of the Shan spirit in romance, there are also the more material symbols of the Shan culture which are common to all the settlements no matter in what area. I refer to the dah (sword), the Shan khamauk (large hat), and the Shan bag, the characteristic lacquer and paper, the animal dances performed at festivals, and the music of the "shan-bey-hton!" Some of these features have Burmese equivalents, but whereas they have disappeared from use in the towns of Burma and figure largely only in rural life, they still dominate the scene in all Shan centers including the capital town; nowhere have Shans become urbanized in the modern sense.
THE KENGTAWNG FALLS
The Teng River flowing through Mongkung, though so near its source, is a quiet stream, only rippling. That is because Khun Sam Law, meeting with Nang Upem along its banks and fearing that his words of love would be echoed by the waters, told the stream to hush. It is this same Teng, which having perforce to be silent here, lets out all its strength in a magnificent roaring drop further south in Mongnai, creating one of the biggest falls in Asia.
[from Kambawsa: A modern review, by Mi Mi Khaing]
Weekly News Digest
Rapes continue to haunt
Blue Ribbon Panel formed at Burma Summit, Copenhagen, Denmark, that includes Asda Jayanama, former Thai ambassador to the UN, Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire of Nothern Ireland and Helle Degn, Human Rights Commissioner for Baltic States, concludes there is compelling evidence of brutal and systematic sexual violence against the women of Burma.
Forum Asia demands Thailand guarantee protection of rape victims fleeing abuse by Burmese soldiers.
UN Human Rights rapporteur Pinheiro invited by Rangoon 'to witness the ongoing process with regard to human rights' from 12-22 October.
Ten villages in Kholam, Namzarng Township, who are observing lent arrested and shot to death after a soldier was killed in a clash with the rebels.
3 Karen villages in Thasongyang, Tak Province, flee after threat from DKBA to attack them, says a local leader. (Bangkok Post)
Of 100 settlements dotted along Thailand's western flank, more than 60 are now headed by women, aged between 40-50. (AFP)
Terrorists in hiding
Heads of 9 private import-export companies arrested and assets seized, report business sources. They are some of the 299 firms being investigated for malpractice among 15,000 companies. Effect of crackdown: price of 'export dollar' driven up to 1,500 kyat, compared to open market rate of 1,200.
Burma facing worst rice shortage in 14 years, says DVB. Rangoon residents will be allowed to purchase 1 pyi (3.3 liters) per family per week at 130 kyat. Market price is 400.
Submission of list of rice merchants in the whole country ordered. Export of rice, cooking oil, dry chilies, onions and garlic prohibited. Rice riots in Mudon, Zigon and Nattalin reported.
Kyat slides to 1,260 to the dollar. It was hovering around 750 in January.
U Tha Kyaw, chairman of former Burma Socialist Program Party, criticizes the military for its economic mismanagement.
Junta announce Rangoon has 24 hour a day access to electricity. Gas for power comes from Yetagun offshore fields. (All government offices were later forbidden to switch on their lighbulbs, fans, televisions and air conditioners during office-hours, according to News Media Group.)
Sai Hpat and Saw Nandi, NLD members in Kengtung, arrested.
Aung San Suu Kyi makes urgent appeal to ASEM4 (4th Asia-Europe Meeting) for international support for speedy change in Burma.
'8 states' declaration from Copenhagen affirms commitment to Tripartite Dialogue and declares the states are ready to cease hostilities, if the Burmese military is willing to declare nationwide ceasefire.
18 exiled groups hold 2-day meeting at the border. Resolves for more coordinated pressure activities against Rangoon.
Rangoon releases 18 more political prisoners: 10 NLD and 8 students.
National Unity Party, former Burma Socialist Program Party, calls for wider involvement to achieve reconciliation. For the first time, it also denounces the military for its economic mismanagement.
Samuel Bani, President of Karenni Government, passes away at the age of 75.
Aung San Suu Kyi, on 14th anniversary of NLD founding, says, "It is high time we all worked for the country holding hands together." (Reuters)
US calls for the regime to resume substantive talks and to release all political prisoners 'unconditionally'.
Bronze statues at Mandalay's Maha Myatmuni Pagoda moved to face southeastern direction at the order of military intelligence, whose head is known to be magic-obsessed. (DVB)
Rangoon launches fresh crackdown on activists, arresting 30 dissidents and forcing others into hiding. (Irrawaddy)
Rangoon's court, based partly "on the letter sent by Aye Zaw Win to Senior General Than Shwe in which he admitted having planned the plot," according to Judge Ngwe Aung, sentences 4 relatives of Ne Win by hanging.
Appeal can be lodged within 7 days. ("Old Man" rumored to have exploded in anger and berated the generals from his Inya lake residence, according to Irrawaddy. "The conflict between Ne Win and the generals starts now," says a former magazine editor)
If King of Id the second were
Ne Win, ............
[Courtesy: Bangkok Post]
Junta asked to bring history textbooks to meeting on 26-30 November, so Thai officials can point out changes that need to be made, says Gen Sanan Khajonklam. Thai and Burmese reporters will also be invited to the meeting.
Thailand will promote Chiangmai as the gateway to proposed ski resort in Kachin State, a two-hour flight away, says deputy Prime Minister Somkhid Jatusipitak.
Meeting between foreign ministers of Burma and Thailand fails to set a date for the border reopening, although "very, very friendly and very, very fruitful" according to Win Aung. HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has accepted invite to visit early next year, also according to him.
The US is not in a hurry to wage war against Rangoon just because President Bush cites, among other justifications, Iraq's "brutal repression of its civilian population." It is only conscience of convenience, says Washington Post.
Japanese engineers inspect 975 ft Kengtawng Waterfalls. Construction of a 60-megawatt hydropower plant has been proposed.
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, human rights rapporteur to Burma, says situation in Burma will not improve until there is 'substantive progress in the process of national reconciliation and political transition.'
East Timor becomes 191st member of the United Nations.