A New Hope: Commemorating the 255th Hongsawatoi Day
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A New Hope: Commemorating the 255th Hongsawatoi Day

By Wagaru Mon

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mon people have lived in lower Burma (Myanmar) for over three thousand years with their own language, culture, customs, and common law. In 1757, the last Mon kingdom, seated at the capital of Pegu (Hongsawatoi Land), was invaded by the Burman king U Aung Ze Ya (also known as Alung Paya), resulting in the massacre of approximately 3,000 people including royal families and guards, monks, women, and children. Now, 255 years after the event, Mon people are healing past wounds with a renewed sense of hope instilled by 21st century political engagements. Hope for social and political change within the context of democratization, freedom from oppression, and enhanced norms of human rights has been increasing, as Mon political leaders have engaged in peace processes and registered their political parties for the 2015 election.

Interaction between Burman and Mon kings dates back to the 11th century, when Mon kings were deposed to Upper Burma from their palace in Suvonnabhumi (Sa Thom) City. Since the grisly battles and subsequent destruction of Mon sovereignty in 1757 that Hongsawatoi Day annually observes, the two groups have fluctuated between periods of peace and hostility. A full account of the armed battles in Pegu and Rangoon during the 1756-57 invasions was detailed in the Mon royal chronicles by Buddhist historians and Mon and Burmese scholars, but the psychological scar left on Mon people by the loss of their kingdom has never been addressed by Burma’s ruling elites. National unity will remain elusive without this acknowledgement.  The Mon royal chronicle should also be properly analyzed today, but the records are stored in monasteries in Mon State and are difficult for Mon and western scholars to access. Critical-thinking and informed debate as steps toward national unity has not yet been prioritised by Mon and Burman leaders.

Hongsawatoi Day is not Mon propaganda, or a campaign determined to stoke the embers of civil war, but is a time for Mon people to remember and honor their culture and practise their civil rights as ethnic citizens in a multi-ethnic country.
It is commemorated in Mon State (“Monland”), Thailand, and abroad, to allow Mon people to preserve and celebrate their cultural autonomy.

As a child born into a Mon family, and a man in search of truth, unity, and respect for diversity, I have been advocating for constitutional, civil, and political rights and cultural freedom for all ethnicities in Burma. Regardless of past offenses or violent history, we all deserve to walk the path toward shared peace and prosperity.

Over the past ten years, I have been seeking to understand the past by reading Mon and Burmese books, as well as English-language research papers, about the plight of the Mon people. I seek because I want to know our history, but I also hope that this truth can bring national unity for all ethnic groups in Burma.

It is time that ethnic leaders in Burma, Mon and others, search for a path to national unity by embracing historical fact and human truth: the land inside Burma’s contemporary borders belongs to all people who have lived there for thousands of years. The road to peace and unity, and the rationale for national reconciliation, must move beyond the limited mindset of the “8888” generation that does not fully recognize the difficulty experienced by Burma’s ethnic groups.

New generations of Mon people will enjoy greater wellbeing only if we mobilise and unify, advance national leadership in social and political spheres, lay the foundation for secure local economies, and champion health and education for all citizens. If we fail to secure better health, education, and economic prospects in our region today, the tragedy that occurred 255 years ago will not be reconciled. The pain of shared memory will not be alleviated. Considering our 255 years of statelessness, and a Mon diaspora stretching across the globe, the 21st century must see a revival of Mon national unity and a strengthening leadership role aimed at democracy and federalism in Burma’s new political system.

I am not a pessimist, but national reform and peace will never be achieved until civil and political rights are formally guaranteed in a constitution. War is an evil undertaking, but the world is only as perfect as the wisdom of the people who live in it. Mon generations will live another 255 years and more, if those of us alive today embrace our past and strive for a better future.

Feedback From
Sun, Aug 5, 2012 at 8:14 AM
Name of sender: Aristoteles
Email of sender: birthrightchch@xtra.co.nz
COMMENTS: As media this is one thing a document. The cotnnets of this document raise serious ethical and political-justice questions. This is a military dictatorship that cares so little for its people that it refused aid durinng a major natural disaster and then punished the monks who did their best for the people. The fact that portable means of reporting is the journalistic weapon of choice and necessity questions the entire lack of other journalism in Burma.Very glad you've reviewed this film, Ashton. Everything raises awareness. Shanti Om

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