Monday, December 5, 2011

Reinstate Maung Htaw Lay and Maung Khaing Streets!

Hilary Clinton at Shwe Dagaon Pagoda.
In September 1988 just after the bloodiest coup in Burmese history the new military Government led by then-slowly-going-mad General Saw Maung (now deceased) stupidly changed the name of our country to Myanmar from 200-year-old Burma and our people into Myanmarese or something horrible like that from Burmese.

And the brutish, uneducated and unbelievably ignorant General also defiled our Mon ancestors by replacing the names of the two oldest streets in Rangoon from Sitke Maung Htaw Lay and Sitke Maung Khaing to Bo Sun Pet and Bo Ywe, respectively.

Apparently the mad-bastard Saw Maung didn’t seem to know who are Maung Htaw Lay and Maung Khaing the two most famous Mon Lords who had built the Rangoon the capital of British Burma together with the British.

And he also didn’t have a clue that those two Mon Lords had rescued from the British Army our ancient Shwe Dagon Pagoda the pride of the Burmese Nation and the most venerated treasure of the majority Buddhist people of Burma, and slowly rebuilt the Pagoda to regain its former glory and status. The English soldiers had not only defiled our Shwe Dagon but also been looting the Pagoda's gold and other priceless treasures for many years before two Mon Lords' direct intervention.

Lord U Htaw Lay and his son-in-law Lord U Khaing were the founding trustees of present Shwe Dagon Pagoda Trust and without them and their huge sacrifices the President Thein Sein and the former generals now ruling Burma wouldn’t have this world famous pagoda to proudly show off to the visiting dignities including United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton just few days ago.

Even the British had respectfully recognized their sacrificial deeds by naming two wide streets of Rangoon in their names as a deserving honor to them.

Purpose of this blog post is first and foremost to let the people of Burma know who those two Mon Lords truly were and second to begin the campaign to reinstate their rightful names to their former two streets of Rangoon.

Pillars of the Civil Society in British Burma

The Flag of British Burma.
The victorious British annexed the lower Burma including the scarcely-populated vast delta and a small port town of Yangon in 1853 after the Second Anglo-Burmese War. While the British forces strategically occupied the high hill of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda for many years to come the British army engineers rebuilt Yangon into Rangoon the modern capital city of British Burma.

Ancient Sule Pagoda as the centre, downtown Rangoon was laid out on the northern bank of Rangoon River by the British as a long rectangular strip with the five main roads namely, Montgomery, Frazer, Dalhousie, Merchant, and Strand Roads running parallel from West to East with the short and narrow cross streets, named in English numerals like 28th Street, connecting the main roads from South to North.

But two of the widest cross streets were named Maung Htaw Lay and Maung Khaing. I used to live in the old house on the corner of Mogul Street and Dalhousie Road just two blocks away from Maung Htaw Lay Street and sometimes I wondered who Maung Htaw Lay really was. I knew nothing more than that they were two Mon lords on British side and the British honored them by naming two streets after them. But now I know a lot more about them from the large exile clan of their descendants now living abroad. 

Prior to the British annexation the lower Burma was basically a recently conquered land of Burmese kings from the Upper Burma. The native Mons who had finally surrendered their ancient kingdom to the Burmese invaders after many hundreds of years of long and brutal civil war were stirred by the arrival of British as the colonial government started recruiting the Mon lords as the local administrators. British policy then was to utilize the indigenous Mon leadership in setting up their new administration in Lower Burma mainly populated by the indigenous Mons.

Burmese settlers from ever-unstable Upper Burma rapidly outnumbered the Mons and eventually swallowed them up by the cross marriages. Language similarity and common religion also accelerated the merging of two rival races. My maternal grandfather was a Burmese settler and my grandmother was the only daughter of the Mon landowner he worked for as a surveyor in the Delta.

Serving the Burmese kings before as the Provincial Lord of Dala across the river from   Yangon, Maung Htaw Lay became the Provincial Lord of Moulmein for British colonial administration in 1838 as the British took possession of Tenasserim after the First Anglo-Burmese War. Called a Sitke in Burmese he was officially the Magistrate of the newly-formed Provincial Civil Service with police and judicial powers.

He was also responsible for the rebuilding of Moulmein town destroyed in the earlier wars. The prominent part of Moulmein where he used to live is still called “Sitke kone” today. He retired at the age of 77. This extract is from the book “A Twentieth Century Burmese Matriarch” written by his great-great-great grand daughter Khin Thida.

The Great-great-grand Daughter.
“After retirement he moved back to Rangoon area still in Burmese hands but very soon destined for the next annexation. He was again caught up in war but this time he had a great fortune of supporting religious ventures and gaining tremendous merit. His good karma and leadership abilities led him to the task of saving the great Shwedagon Pagoda from imminent destruction and sacking of its treasures by British troops in the second Anglo-Burmese War.

The great Buddhist shrine had been fortified by the British troops in the 1824 war and was again used as a fort in 1852. When he heard of the fortification and sacking of the shrine, he sent a letter of appeal directly to the British India Office in London stopping the desecration. He then obtained compensation from the British Commissioner of Burma Mr. Phayre and began the renovations of the Pagoda in 1855 with public support and donations.

He became the founding trustee of the Shwedagon Pagoda Trust and he was awarded the title of KSM by the British Raj for his public service. He died at the age of 95, bequeathing his prestige and high repute to his large family and descendants.”

One of his daughters married a son of Shwekyin Mingyi U Myat Phyu and that son-in-law Maung Khaing was the Town Lord of Dala first and later the Sitke of Rangoon after the British annexation of Yangon in 1853. With his father-in-law the two engaged actively in civic programs rebuilding and renovating the public building, monasteries, and pagodas in Rangoon.

When the colonial City of Rangoon was planned by the British and the roads named after famous British generals, two equally famous Mons were recognized by naming two wide streets in the center of City in their honors.  Even when all streets bearing English names were renamed by the nationalist government after the independence the Sitke Maung Htaw Lay and Sitke Maung Khiang Streets were not touched.

They were the first prominent members of the Burmese civil society gradually developing under the civilized British rule. One of their descendants Sir Maung Khin, KCIE (Knight Commander of the Indian Empire) became the first ever Home Member of the British colonial administration under the diarchy reforms in the 1920s. He was the first ever Burmese to be knighted.

(Finishing Very Soon…….)