Our Beloved Uncles - The Burmese Peasants

Having read a short story about Puerto Rican peasants in a magazine "Read & Think Spanish", it reminds me of the text about our Burmese peasants that we learnt in second grade when I was a primary school student. The title of the article I read in the magazine is El Jibaro, which means The Puerto Rican peasant. Although it is just a very short story, it can reflect the full sketch of Jivaros, their attitude and characters: hardworking, honest, patriotic, humble, poor, strong and so on. I tried to translate it from Spanish to Burmese just to learn some Spanish vocabularies, usages and sentence construction. I found it very interesting to me, because these Puerto Rican peasants, Jivaros, bear some resemblance to Burmese ones, except for the clothing style which looks a bit like American cowboys in my eyes, but I prefer Jivaros for their good attitude and spirit to cowboys. They wear half-buttoned loose shirts, wide pants, straw hats on their heads to cover themselves from the intense heat of the Caribbean.

Then how about Burmese peasants? Since Burma is an agricultural country, Burmese peasants, of course, are the pride of our country. They are our benefactors whom we call with love "Uncle Peasant". Around 70 percent of Burmese population depends on agriculture, i. e 70 percent of the population represents peasants who are naturally rural inhabitants. Unfortunately, our beloved Uncles' lives are not like a bed of roses, as those of Puerto Rican Jivaros. Although they produce rice, the main food for the entire nation, ploughing the muddy field even when it's raining cats and dogs, harvesting crops without taking any care of the intense heat, they still cannot escape the grinding poverty. But they never surrender, never give up. Against all odds, they keep themselves strong. Like Jivaros, Burmese peasants are honest, humble, patriotic and filled with dreams and hopes as well. Some of our benefactors are undereducated for some reasons. Nevertheless, they want their offspring to be well-educated, never hesitate to spend money on education of their children in spite of being very humble about their clothing and foods. The future of their children is their hope, their dream.

Looking back on the Burmese history, our grand grandfathers, the farmers, went down in history of regaining Independence. In 1924 the General Council of Buddhist Associations appointed the 45-year old Saya San, a monk and a Burmese medicine man, to head a committee surveying the living conditions of the Burmese peasantry. In the course of the 1927 survey, Saya San changed the focus of their work and began inspiring the peasants to rebel against the British Administration and its tax policies in particular. In 1929 the British proposed new taxes on the Burmese people as well as a forestry bill that would forbid the cutting of trees without British consent. In December 1930, Saya San allegedly organized a local revolt against the payment of the poll tax which quickly grew beyond his control and turned into an uncoordinated national revolt. The series of movements spread from the district of Tharrawaddy (three and a half hours from Yangon) to neighboring districts throughout Lower Burma. That event was know as Burmese peasant revolt of 1930-1931 in history.

In 1950's Burma had been the world's largest exporter of rice. It was known as Rice Bowl of Asia. Our country recognizes the powerful role of farmers in driving the country's economic output, as the peasant sector occupies around 70 percent of Burmese population and undoubtedly the most productive workforce in the country. Recently I had read a news that Myanmar [Burma] Rice Industry Association was formed to encourage the private sector to invest more in rice-based industry. The association will help the peasants by issuing "agri-credits," and providing fertilizers, seeds and technology. It's a very good news for the farmers. Glad for our beloved Uncles.

At the end of the article I read in the magazine, author came to conclusion as follow: by recognizing powerful role of the Jivaros, famous Puerto Rican composer Rafael Hernández wrote a song entitled El Jibaro. Well, how can we show our respects, love and pay tribute to our benefactors, the peasants? Of course in tons of ways. There are many songs which are dedicated to the farmers. The Peasant's Day is celebrated annually every 2nd of March. But I personally would like to suggest to promote the farmers' life and owe their gratitude as much as we can like Myanmar [Burma] Rice Industry Association(MIRA) does. Nobel Economics laureate Prof. Stieglitz suggested, "If the private companies can fulfill this prerequisite, the rice industry could be developed and exports will be raised again. Burma could become Asia's rice bowl again." at a forum on "Restoring Burma as the Rice Bowl of Asia". Hope we will soon see our country as the Rice Bowl of Asia. Lending hands to our benefactors is a kind of paying our tribute to them, a sort blessing, isn't it?

 Ko Zaw

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