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A Water Festival without the jokes of Thangyat?


New Delhi (Mizzima) – The new Burmese government has issued an order banning traditional Thangyat that could ‘undermine the dignity’ of people during the upcoming Water Festival.

Traditional Thangyat verses are sung by people and groups during the Water Festival, shown here. The government has issued a ban against verses that 'undermine the dignity' of people, a move seen by critics as an effort to prevent jokes at the government's expense. Photo: MizzimaAn announcement appeared on Saturday in the state-run New Light of Myanmar from the Ministry of Culture telling people to refrain from ‘reciting Thangyat, singing songs, or doing things which will undermine the dignity of persons directly or indirectly’.

A Burmese dictionary defines Thangyat as a traditional Burmese verse usually sung by drum troupes for the purpose of jokes and pranks.

In Burmese tradition, people accept the songs as constructive criticism. However, the military regime may be sensitive to criticism following the recent elections which were considered rigged by many observers.

National League for Democracy leader Win Tin said banning critical Thangyat was like blindfolding and gagging the people.

‘Banning Thangyat during the Water Festival is like closing and gagging a country’s eyes, ears and mouth. Really, it is like closing people’s hearts. Thangyat has been in Burmese society for many years. Thangyat was recited during the Japanese occupation, and in the colonial period. The Burmese people fought British imperialists with Thangyat. Burmese fought against Japanese fascists in this way too’.

A well-known comedian, Godzilla, told Mizzima: ‘Thangyat is the outlet of the people’s sufferings and feelings in their hearts. They express their feelings in this form. The deeper their resentment the better their Thangyat will be. The Thangyat is more efficient than our jokes and jest. They can’t even tolerate our jokes. Our jokes express in indirect ways but Thangyat expresses in a direct way. So they are more sensitive to Thangyat’.

He said banning Thangyat goes against the government’s often cited position of calling for the preservation of  traditional culture.
'The Thangyat or rhythmic verses are like a husband and wife’, he said.

Win Tin said the ban order on Thangyat is a reflection of the government’s fear of the people and an acknowledgement that it is unpopular.

‘They (Thangyat) might be about politics or about economics or about governance. Or they might be about exposing brazen corruption. The people want to express their feelings on these evil  things daily, but they cannot. Only during a Thingyan festival, do they have a chance to express their feelings on these things’, said Win Tin.

Last Updated ( Monday, 18 April 2011 08:58 )  

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