Washing Away the Sins of the Past in Burma

BURMA

Locals get sprayed with water while celebrating Thingyan, Burma's New Year water festival, in Rangoon on 14 April 2011. (Reuters)

Locals get sprayed with water while celebrating Thingyan, Burma's New Year water festival, in Rangoon on 14 April 2011. (Reuters)

April 17th marks the first day of the Burmese New Year, known as “Thingyan

With the recent political landscape, the Burmese version of the festival is also changing. Over the past few years Thingyan has grown wilder. Observers have noted that the water festival, increasingly marked by binge drinking, revealing clothing, and street fights, has been the only outlet for the people to vent their frustrations after decades of military rule.

The most notable sign is that the government has removed a 23-year-long ban on Thangyat chanting, rhymed couplets that are sung to the beat of a traditional drum on festive occasions. Thangyat chants are the heart and soul of the New Year Festival. The performance criticizes and makes fun of the foibles of society, a sort of verbal version of cleansing by water.

“It’s been over 30 years – Thingyan and Thangyat are the two things that cannot be separated because Thingyan is for the people and it should be free for all and should not be monopolised by any individual or a group. This also applies to Thangyat to an extent,” says Sue Hngat.

Also, Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to make her first trip overseas in 24 years. Officials with her National League for Democracy party say the Nobel Peace Laureate will travel to Norway in June overcoming the fear she once had of not being able to return to Burma.

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