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The generals and the elephant
- Subject: The generals and the elephant
- From: darnott@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 19:54:00
FOUR ELEPHANT STORIES
The Herald (Glasgow) November 10, 2001
Briefing: White elephant
Q: How so?
A: A white elephant might be a burden here, but in Burma, Thailand, and
Laos it is revered.
A: The white, or albino, elephant is said to bring peace, stability,
prosperity, and bumper harvests, while warding off danger.
Q: Any evidence that it works?
A: Not really. Burma-watchers are treating the news of the find with a
pinch of salt because it was reported by the New Light of Myanmar
newspaper. It is the mouthpiece of the junta and, unsurprisingly, concluded
that the auspicious event boded well for the military rulers.
Q: So do white elephants exist?
A: Oh yes. They belong to the species elephas maximus, or Asiatic elephant.
The other species, loxodonta africana, is the African elephant. Elephants
are the biggest surviving animals on land, and among the mammals are
exceeded in size only by the whales. Albino elephants are not strictly white.
Q: What colour are they?
A: Their skin is light pink in the rain and a soft reddish- brown in the
sun. They have fair eyelashes and toenails. There are ancient Asian
references to a white elephant with multiple tusks.
Q: Where exactly?
A: In Buddhist legend. Maha Maya, the mother of Gautama Buddha, the founder
of Buddhism, had a dream about a white elephant with six tusks. It was
taken to mean that she had conceived a child who would be a world ruler or
Q: What happened?
A: After 10 lunar months the child was born from her right hip. Seven days
later she died but was reborn in the Heaven of the Thirty-Three Gods
Q: Why, in the English language, does white elephant mean a useless, costly
possession that is difficult to get rid of?
A: White elephants are the symbol of kingship in Thailand. They are
regarded as semi-sacred and must be dealt with respectfully by their
keepers. It is said that the kings of Siam (Thailand's former name) gave
white elephants to obnoxious courtiers, the aim being to bring financial
ruin upon the offensive court attendant because of the great cost involved
in maintaining the animal.
SPDC BREEDING WHITE ELEPHANTS?
Posted 8 April 2001 by darnott
It appears that the good luck generated by the possession of the Mandalay
Airport white elephant (see article below) has not proved sufficient for
the Burmese generals, and another is in gestation at Pegu. Could it be that
they are planning a breeding programme for white elephants? If so, this
could provide a useful boost to Burma's exports.
Subject: Myanmar Gets Set For Third International Airport To:
Saturday, April 7 
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) The cornerstone has been laid for the terminal
building at Myanmars planned third international airport near Bago, 80
kilometers north of Yangon Construction of the new airport is scheduled to
be completed in four years, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper
reported Saturday. Speaking at the cornerstone-laying ceremony Friday,
Transport Minister Maj. Gen. Hla Myint Swe said the facility, to be called
"Hanthawaddy International airport," would boost tourism, reported the
newspaper. Hanthawaddy is the ancient name for Bago, which is also called
Pegu. The new airport will have the capacity to simultaneously serve 1,000
arriving and 1,000 departing passengers, said Hla Myint Swe at the
ceremony, which was attended by Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, a top member of
Myanmar's ruling military council. The Department of Public Works has been
working on the 12,000 foot long, 200 foot wide runway since 1994, and
22.94% of the earthwork has been completed, said the newspaper.
Construction of the airport building and related facilities such as the
control tower, taxiway and power system will be undertaken by the South
Korean company Archon Co., said the transport minister. The cost of the
construction project wasn't reported. Myanmars second international airport
opened last year in Mandalay, the country's second largest city, 560
kilometers north of the capital. The country's main airport in Yangon has
been renovated over the past few years.
THE GENERALS' SECRET WEAPON
I suspect that the construction of the new Mandalay airport is another of
the generals' attempts to acquire luck and magical power in their contest
with the Lady -- this time by possession of a large white elephant.
In Burma as in most South and South-east Asia, the white elephant is
traditionally regarded as semi-divine, a bringer of good luck, and is
treated with great veneration: "The 'Lord White Elephant' -- or Sinbyudaw
-- commanded social status second only to the king in the hierarchy of
the royal court. Sinbyudaw were treated with reverence and had white
parasols held over them wherever they went. Young white elephants were even
suckled by women in the royal court who considered it a great honour to
feed the elephant with their own milk" (Asiatours history of Myanmar
While it is unlikely that the members of the State Peace and Development
Council will literally emulate the ladies of the Burmese court, we should
not be surprised to read of senior officers walking round the airport,
shading the runways with white umbrellas, or spraying them with milk from
tankers ("donated" by local entrepreneurs).
What is certain is that the new Mandalay Airport is the biggest and most
expensive Burmese White Elephant of recent days, and is thus likely to
bring good fortune to those responsible. The only problem is that the
actual use of the airport by tourists and other foreigners, arriving in
wide-bodied jets and wearing shoes, could well profane the site and thus
reduce the benefit. With this in mind, the military junta will no doubt do
its utmost to discourage tourism by stepping up the frequency of
atrocities, increasing the penalties for foreign distribution of leaflets,
maintaining current visa requirements and placing administrative obstacles
in the way of air carriers and tour operators. Oh yes, and making sure
there is not enough generating capacity to avoid airport brown-outs at
awkward moments. In fact they will do whatever it takes to keep the balance
tilted towards them in their magical contest with the Lady.
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