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Two News and One Article from SCMP,
South China Morning Post
Monday December 22 1997
Cabinet Reshuffle Follows Junta Revamp
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE in Rangoon
The military leadership has reshuffled eight key
Cabinet positions, re-organising the regime's civilian
wing, barely a month after forming a new ruling
Portfolios including finance, national planning,
energy and education were changed yesterday,
continuing the biggest shake-up in the regime in nine
years that was designed to spur the military state
towards economic development, official press
The changes amounted to a re-allocation of
portfolios in the civilian Cabinet after the State
Peace and Development Council, as the supreme
military body is now officially known, was formed
There was only one new appointee, former director
of military engineering Brigadier General Lun Thi as
Energy Minister, in the new line-up published in the
New Light of Myanmar and other dailies yesterday.
The reshuffle saw the creation of a new portfolio,
with one of the regime's most well-known and
respected figures, Brigadier General David Abel,
appointed as the third chairman's office minister. It
brings total Cabinet positions to 41.
A Burmese analyst said the move could be
regarded as a promotion for the former national
planning and economic development minister,
bringing him closer to regime chief Senior General
Former telecommunications minister Soe Tha took
over as National Planning Minister.
The formation of the new council has seen the top
figures in the former State Law and Order
Restoration Council - which seized power when the
military crushed pro-democracy protests in 1988 -
consolidate their grip on power by elevating a new
crop of generals to the junta.
Older generals, some with a reputation for graft,
were sidelined from the old council and the Cabinet
into an advisory body which has since been
Some of them are now facing corruption
The military authorities had restricted the
movements of some former ministers under
scrutiny, while their families had also been
prohibited from leaving the country, sources said.
Four houses belonging to Thein Win - the former
transport minister under the old council - and
houses, shops and factories belonging to other
generals under investigation had been sealed off by
authorities and confiscated, they said.
One analyst said nobody was ousted in the
reshuffle, described in an official information sheet
as a "re-assignment of duties", but it could mark the
latest chapter in the regime's "house-cleaning."
On the Dance Trail
Date: 21-12-1997 :: Pg: 34 :: Col: a
THE haunting drums of Kerala pierce the night air with
their rolling rhythms while Vali and Sugriva, the monkey kings act out
their cathartic battle on the dimly lit Kathakali stage. The echo of
their shrill battle cries is heard thousands of miles away, filling the
night air over a Balinese rice field.
In the shadow of temples lit by burning torches. Balinese
men clad in black and white checked cloth tied around their waists
raise their arms in unison chanting the syllables of the Kechak dance...
Chak, Chak... good and evil are locked in mortal combat as Subali, and
Surgriwa fight it out to the end. The moon has risen early and shines in
full silvery glory casting a magical light on the majestic spire of the
temple Chandi Siva in Yogya (Javanese for Ayodhya). This temple is known
the world over as the Prambanan complex of monuments.
On a modern stage enclosed by an arena, two hundred dancers enact the
Ramayana. Children form the monkey brigade... a climax is prolonged, for
it is the favourite scene of world theatre.
The white monkey Hanuman, with his endless tail, set
ablaze by the demons of Lanka, is retaliating by burning the enemy's
palace down. Only the rise of the sun the next morning can put our
perspective in order... for we must explore the temple and see that in
the 8th and 9th centuries, the Javanese kings of the Sri Vijaya empire
asked their sculptors to illustrate forty scenes from the story of Rama
in exquisite detail on the walls of the sanctum. Furthermore, we are
thoroughly captivated by the dancing figures based on the Karanas of the
Natya Sastra, which adorn the outer walls of the temple like a necklace
borrowed from distant Tanjavur.
Indeed the dance trail from India to Bali is a long one
covering time and space of extraordinary historical and cultural
significance. Events in history seen from the modern perspective appear
to have had a very distinct ripple effect. The greatest temple in South
India was built by the Chola king Raja Raja in Thanjavur in the 10th
century, thus starting an unprecedented wave of magnificent temple
building right up to the early 13th century. The Khmer king Suryavarman
built his great monument Angkor Wat in Kambuja Desa in the 12th century.
It is well known that Raja Raja endowed the Brihadeswara temple in
Tanjavur with four hundred dancers! When the mediaeval rulers of Siam
(Thailand), conquered Kambuja, the prized booty they took with them was
a host of dancers who were part of Angkor Wat. The single event paved
the way for Thai dance to develop as it did, with such a close
resemblance to the dance of Cambodia. What is more, when one sees the
seemingly endless depictions of scenes from the Ramayana in the
sculptures of Angkor, we know that the dancers took the seeds for the
Thai Ramakien too. The ancient capital of Thailand was Ayodhya and all
the kings for centuries were named Rama.
The Thai royals to this day patronise the dance. State
visitors can see the most spectacular tableau of the epic, with a
breathtaking scene of stage craft enacted when Rama encounters Ravana in
the final battle. The best show Bangkok can offer today is for tourists
who can relish Thai food along with a dance performance, at the Oriental
hotel! The modern over-running of this country by the West has been so
complete that, a conscious renaissance is under way.
I visited a high school in Bangkok, where dance is part
of the curriculum. A group of teenagers, dressed in dance practice
clothes, were diligently practising the sinuous movements of Thai dance
with its controlled steps, turns, and inimitable bending of the palm
backwards. On the campus students in Western clothes greeted their
teachers in passing, with a reverential namasthe. The Thais wish to
project a fresh image of themselves. A tourist can now stop-over in the
outer courtyard of an ancient temple after admiring the enormous
reclining Buddha, and get a healing massage from a
Mr. Nauth Narang, the Minister for Culture tells me that a princess of
the erstwhile Cambodian royal family who spent many years away as an
exile has returned to resurrect the dance traditions of her country. A
royal dancer herself, she found that her teaching all the time that she
had been abroad has been a great help in keeping the dance alive. The
years of strife and civil war under Polpot had virtually wiped out
thousands of artists. Only the very old remember the songs now. They
teach the younger and accompany the dance as best as they can.
Immaculately attired in brocaded custumes and bejewelled
tapering crowns, the dancers mesmerised me with their prefect movements
and synchronised turns and poses. Sita's trial by fire is composed in a
truly original and moving manner. The dancers have faces which one sees
in the stone statues of Amaravathi, Ajanta, Borobundur and Angkor...
smiling masks, telling us a story we know, differently.
As a child I used to be intrigued by the statues of the
63 saints at the Kapaleeswara temple in Mylapore, Chennai. One in
particular... an emaciated old women, seated with a pair of cymbals in
her hands drew my attention. The Periapuranam eventually educated me
about the great poetess Karaikkal Ammayar. I least expected to see her
in Cambodia! Walking through a maze of temples and trees guided by my
cycle rickshaw guide, I could see pillars carved with Grantham script
strewn all over ancient sites. I was not surprised to see the favourite
Ganesha. Nor did the multi armed dancing Shiva sweep me off my feet. But
the presence of Karaikkal Ammayar, keeping time to the cosmic dance of
Shiva, seated in the full glory of her emaciated saintly form, virtually
brought a lump to my throat. Kambuja Desa (the ancient Sanskrit name for
Cambodia), had absorbed layer upon layer of Indian literary, artistic,
social, political and theological influence. Shiva dancing on the bull
is from the Pala kingdom of Bengal, Vishnu and Adi Sesha are from the
Kalinga empire of Orissa each century brought a wave of influence which
the people of Suvarna Bhoomi adapted to encrust their gilded life.
When you see pictures of Suu Kyi, with her coiffure adorned with fresh
flowers, you know she is connected to an old culture. From Burma, came a
troupe of dancers to the Asian Arts festival. Indeed they performed the
scene of the Golden Deer, with ease. Years of social and political
isolation have not dulled these dancers. Only their costumes have become
synthetic, and their music has lost some of its original subtlety. But
in an international forum, they cannot show a better performance than a
tale of good and evil... Rama and Ravana.
In ancient times all the lands east of the Bay of Bengal
were known as Suvama Bhoomi (golden land). Sanskrit, Tamil and other
languages of the classical age of Indian history took root in this vast
landscape and flourished. Kings led the way in art and culture, as they
did in all the matters. A modern traveller might wonder... where did the
Well, they got replaced by new ones. But the culture could not be
replaced! In Surakarta, the oldest palace belonging to the Sultan is
Mangkunegarn. On a quiet afternoon when tourists have deserted the
palace, the Gamelan orchestra reverberates through vast pavilions and
gardens. The Prince (son of the Sultan) is supervising the rehearsal of
his dance troupe. Himself a dancer, he takes great interest in the
preparations for a tour to Japan.
Bambang Suryono, one of the dancers with an arresting figure and
beautiful flowing long hair is dancing with an air of assurance and
power. It is, (you guessed it) a scene from the Ramayana.. the mountain
being brought by Hanuman to cure Lakshmana. Suryono, vibrant as his name
suggests, spoke to me of his contemporary work with Japanese Noh and
Kabuki dancers. I cannot resist a question... does Suryono dance the
Ramayana with any reserve, considering he is supposed to be Muslim? He
is not embarassed. ``Yes, my identity card says I am Muslim... however I
am Javanesea at heart. Javanese culture and dance is like water
flowing...there is no stop.''
We have seen the Tholu Bommalata (leather puppets) of
Andhra. The shadow cast by these puppets was indeed a long one... for we
see it now in Java and Bali. In fact it is widely believed that the
Wayang Koelit-shadow puppets in Indonesia were the precursors of the
Wayang Wong... masked plays by actors and dancers. Many times in the
year, the Balinese celebrate the visit of the ancestral spirits to the
family shrine. How better to please those souls which have travelled a
long way from up in the mountains, than to dance for them! A ``court''
dance by heavenly nymphs is performed by two little girls dressed in
shimmering green brocade, and crowned with fragipani flowers which kept
fluttering with the head movements of the dancers. This is the Legong,
telling tales of yore, of princes, love, life, meeting and separation.
The lasya or feminine movements are like Manipuri dance. Each dancer in
Bali is trained to do only one type of dance. So a Legong dancer will
not be doing the Kris dance which is done by boys. It is a martial dance
with daggers flashing in the air. Seasons and festivals dictate what
dances should be performed.
The Balinee, like the Javanese, Thais and Cambodians have
a rich literature of poetics (Kavya), to guide their dances and their
dramas. In villages, every man, woman and child knows all the stories of
the dance. Whether it is the heroic deed of a Rama, or a Bheema, the
centuries of oral recitation has shaped the artistic responses of the
simple people. They live close to nature and love animals. Roars of
approval greets the golden deer as it gives the slip to Rama. Gasps of
fear greet Jatayu's desperate fight with Ravana. Wild applause
accompanies every trick that the comedian par excellence. _ Hanuman.
provides for young and old. In Bali one forgets time and place, while
watching the dance. For, the people and the setting are truly natural...
and they are enjoying what they always enjoyed the dance of good and
evil, repeated in each age with renewed vigour.
Almost every part of India worships the Mother goddess. Rites to please
spirits, exorcise demons, drive away disease et al are always attended
by spectacular rhythms, and dances. Trance dances abound. The Theyyams
of Kerala are now playing the international circuit''. I was invited to
a very special `show' of trance dancers in Bali. It was an hour long
orgiastic encounter between dancers who were in a trance, and a masked
actor representing the evil spirit. Daggers were repeatedly thrust by
the dancers into the belly of ``evil ones'', with great force
accompanied by the compelling rhythms of the Gamelan music. A priest
kept sauntering amid this melee, sprinkling holy water, Village toughies
separated the antagonists when the going got a bit rough. In the end
everybody reached a pitch of frenzy before tapering off to lie flat on
the stage floor and snap out of the trance. The daggers had not
penetrated any of the bodies, because of the strength of the medium, and
all was well, for the spirit had been appeased. Quite casually, the
troupe were packing up their gear, smoking, and taking leave of the
priest, leaving us wondering about man's ability to dance... as a
spirit, a demon, a god, a monkey, a king, whatever!
The Asian Age
Junta Changes Cabinet to Bolster Image
Rangoon: Burma's military leadership has reshuffled eight key Cabinet
positions in a reorganisation of the regime's civilian wing, barely one
month after forming a new ruling junta, the official press said on
Portfolios including finance, national planning, energy and transport
have been changed, continuing the biggest shake-up in the regime in nine
years, designed to spur the military state towards economic development.
The changes amounted to a re-allocation of portfolios in the civilian
Cabinet after the State Peace and Development Council as the supreme
military council is now officially known, was formed last month.
There was only one new appointee, the former director of military
engineering, Brigadier General Lun Thi as energy minister, in the new
line-up published in the New Light of Myanmar and other dailies on
The reshuffle saw the creation of a new portfolio, with one of the
regime's most well-known and respected figures, Brigadier General David
Abel, appointed as the third SPDC chairman's office minister.
The new reshuffle brings the total number of Cabinet positions to 41.
The move could be regarded as a promotion for the former national
planning and economic development minister, bringing him closer to chief
of the regime, senior general Than Shwe, a Burmese analyst said.
Former telecommunications minister Soe Tha took over as national
planning minister. The formation of the SPDC has seen the top figures in
the former State Law and Restoration Council ? which seized power when
the military crushed pro-democracy protests in 1988 ? consolidate their
grip on power by elevating a new crop of generals to the junta.
Older generals, some with a reputation for graft, were sidelined from
the SLORC and the Cabinet into an advisory council which has since been
disbanded. Some are now facing investigations for corruption.
The Cabinet changes were as follows, with previous Cabinet positions in
Energy minister: Brigadier-General Lun Thi
National Planning and Economic Development minister: Soe Tha
Education Minister: Than Aung (Cooperatives Minister)
Finance and revenue minister: Khin Maung Thein (energy minister)
Telecommunications minister: Brigadier Win Tin (Finance and revenue
Railway transport minister: Pan Aung (education minister)
Culture minister: Win Sein (Railways transport)
Cooperatives Minister: Aung Than (culture minister)
SPDC chairman's office minister: Brigadier General David Abel (National
Planning and Economic Development minister). (AFP)
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