Nov 24, 2014

Forthcoming Seminars: In the Shadow of the King: Rural Resistance and Special Rebellion Law in Colonial Burma, 1930-1937 by Dr Maitrii Aung-Thwin

Seminar In the Shadow of the King: Rural Resistance and Special Rebellion Law in Colonial Burma, 1930-1937

Dr Maitrii Aung-Thwin

Associate Professor of Myanmar/Southeast Asian History
National University of Singapore
Date: 24 November 2014 (Monday)
Time: 4 pm – 5:30 pm
Venue: Y5-203, AC 1, City University of Hong Kong

British Burma’s Saya San Rebellion (1930-1932) is considered to be one of Southeast Asia’s quintessential anti- colonial movements. The series of armed-uprisings featured numerous acts of vandalism and violence against colonial installations and figures of authority; especially those associated with the government, moneylending, and management of the rice-economy. The rebellion drew world-wide attention for its exotic features and extraordinary accounts of a peasant leader (Saya San) who convinced his followers to rise up against the British in order to restore the Burmese monarchy, rescue Buddhism, and rid the country from foreigners. Believing Saya San to be their prophesized king, rural cultivators adorned themselves in protective tattoos, recited magical incantations, and drank sanctified oath water to signal their belief in his powers and allegiance to his cause. Scholarship’s understanding of the rebellion has been based on official reports that were based on Special Rebellion Tribunal judgments. These records, largely overlooked by both domestic and foreign scholars, reveal that the facts concerning Saya San and the movement itself were based on a problematic evidential foundation. This paper retraces the making of the official narrative and explores the role that colonial law and ethnography played in the historical construction of the Saya San Rebellion. This study also reveals the diverse experiences of those who were labelled “rebels” by highlighting the underlying tensions and divisions amongst those whose lives and deaths were adjudicated by counter-rebellion law. Underneath the veneer of rebellion, local rivalries and personal interests were contested through the procedures and power of the tribunal. Burmese rural actors used the mechanisms of colonial law and the government’s anti-rebellion discourse for their own priorities and concerns.
Short Bio
Maitrii Aung-Thwin is an area-studies specialist of Southeast Asia, with particular expertise in Myanmar history, politics, and society. His research is concerned primarily with nation-building, politics, and resistance in Myanmar. He has published widely on Myanmar and Southeast Asia, including the following books: A History of Myanmar Since Ancient Times: Traditions and Transformations (2013), The Return of the Galon King: History, Law, and Rebellion in Colonial Burma (2011) and A New History of Southeast Asia (2010). Dr Aung-Thwin is a trustee of the Burma Studies Foundation (USA), former president of the Burma Studies Group (USA), member of the Board of the Directors for the Association for Asian Studies (USA), and editorial board member of the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. He is Associate Professor of Myanmar/Southeast Asian history in the Department of History, National University of Singapore.


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