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Daw Suu's Letter from Burma #10

Mainichi Daily News, Monday, January 29, 1996
Letter from Burma (No. 10)
by Aung San Suu Kyi

	The /a-nyeint/ is a uniquely Burmese form of entertainment consisting of a
medley of orchestral music, song and dance -- and, perhaps most important of
all, witty repartee and humorous skits provided by comedians.  Traditionally
an a-nyeint troupe is hired to perform both at family celebrations such as
the Buddhist ordination ceremony for boys or on public occasions such as
pagoda festivals or jubilees.
	Jan. 4 this year was the 48th anniversary of the day when Burma became an
independent nation.  The National League for Democracy (NLD) made plans to
include in its program to commemorate Independence Day a performance of
a-nyeint by a troupe from Mandalay.  During the week before Independence
Day, members of the youth wing of the NLD has been rehearsing another item
on the program, a short one-act play that concluded with a song about
freedom.  Perhaps it was the resounding refrain of this song, repeated again
and again, that made the authorities view the forthcoming NLD celebrations
with a jaundiced eye.  It was conveyed to us that our entertainment program
should not include either /dobat/ or a play.  A dobat is a double-sided
Burmese drum to the rousing rhythm of which are sung songs in the folk
tradition, often very witty, with a satirical content that is not always
pleasing to the powers that be.  We had not in fact planned any dobat song
and there seemed no good reason for canceling the play, whose principal
theme simply underlined the importance of unity and the need to solve
political problems through dialogue.  It was therefore decided that the
program would be carried through as planned.
	On the evening of Jan. 2 a key member of my office staff was pulled in by
his local military intelligence unit for 24 hours.  He was interrogated not
only on such crucial matters as the policies and decision-making process of
our party but also on our proposed Independence Day ceremony.  The
authorities did not seem particularly keen on the idea of our commemorating
the occasion in a spirit of freedom.  However the a-nyeint was not mentioned.
	At eight o'clock in the morning on Jan. 4 there was a commemoration
ceremony in the grounds of a small rope factory organized by members of the
/Dohbama Asi-ayone/, the political organization that had been at the core of
the struggle to liberate Burma from colonial rule.  The hoary veterans
conducted the proceeding with the elan and verve possible under the
restricted circumstances, their aging voices strengthened by their
convictions as they repeated their dedication to the cause of freedom and
national unity.
	The Independence Day ceremony of the NLD began later in the morning in the
garden of my house and was expected to be completed within three hours.  In
the event the program went on for six hours because the audience of nearly
2,000 wanted the last item, the a-nyeint, to continue for as long as possible.
	It started in the traditional way with two comedians coming forward to
introduce the performance.  But as soon as the senior of the two, U Pa Pa
Lay, started to speak it became obvious, to the surprise and untold delight
of the audience, that this was going to be an act such as had not been
witnessed in Burma for several decades: The comedians were determined to
exercise to the full their traditional right to apply their comic and
critical powers to a commentary on matters of topical interest, many of a
political nature.
	U Pa Pa Lay began by saying that this was an occasion when he would be
acting and speaking according to his own wishes and that he was aware such
audacity would likely land him in prison.  He explained that he had already
served a year in prison for making a joke that referred to the overwhelming
support for the NLD throughout the whole country.  The thunderous applause
that greeted U Pa Pa Lay's introductory remarks was a fitting prelude to a
performance that scintillated with witty skits, brilliant jokes, sprightly
dances and lively music.  The audience reveled in the artistic skill of the
whole performance and were filled with deep admiration for the courage of
the company, in particular for U Pa Pa Lay and his fellow comedian U Lu Zaw
who so bravely gave voice to what the people had been wishing -- but not
daring -- to say for may an year.
	On the afternoon of Jan. 6 the troupe came to say good-bye to me before
they went back to Mandalay.  They knew they would very likely be arrested
soon but they were extremely cheerful.  They assured me nothing would
detract from the great satisfaction achieved from a performance conducted
entirely in accordance with their own wishes.  The company arrived back in
Mandalay on the morning of the 7th and later that day they were all taken
away by the authorities.
	We are now waiting for the next act in the drama of this most courageous
troupe.  Come what may, we shall stand by them.

* * *
This article is one of a yearlong series of letters, the Japanese
translation of which appears in the Mainichi Shimbun the same day, or the
previous day in some areas.