Myanmar Folk Tale: Metamorphosis of Saviors into Monsters

Myanmar Folk Tale: Metamorphosis of Saviors into Monsters

  As SHWE BA in Burma Digest

Once upon a time, long long time ago, there was a village in a far away remote area of Burma called, let’s say, Shwe Bama village. Because of the constant disturbances of the wild beast, the villagers were wishing, praying and waiting for a hero to fight and kill the beast and to liberate them. 

One day a prince came to the village and offered his self-less humanitarian voluntary service for the liberation of the village. The prince fought and successfully killed the beast, so the villagers thanked him and offered all the rewards including the right to rule their village. But later the kindhearted, handsome and noble prince surprisingly disappeared from the village. Worse of all, there also suddenly appeared a new ogre (giant) in the forest near the village. So the villagers were very sad and just prayed and wished for another warrior to help them. 

Luck is on their side! One strong and brave warrior with a spear suddenly arrived at their village, offered his help, killed the ogre but he also disappeared again later. Unluckily another ogre, holding a spear, appeared in the forest and disturbed the villagers almost at the same time.

The story repeats it self like the wheel of the history and the show goes on with the arrivals and disappearances of warriors with one sword followed by two swords and appearances of new corresponding ogres. More than enough rewards and power followed their victories but they did not understand why those heroes disappeared later and similar new monsters appeared. At last the villagers suspected that some thing might be wrong with those saviors and possibility of transforming into monsters and start terrorizing the villagers they had saved.

At last the leader of village youths organized the youths and killed the two-sword monster. The head of the youth was wise enough to ask his fiancée to watch him closely and to remind him in time to avoid the fate of previous heroes. 

During the victory dinner, the youth suddenly disappeared again. That was noticed immediately by his lover and she tried to search for him. Actually the youth had just entered the nearby cage out of curiosity, because of the attraction by a nice music and golden glow coming out from it. He failed to notice the time because he was enjoying the wealth, delicious foods and drinks, beautiful young girls and the new found power in the cave. But because of his strong will power, attention, self-discipline and self-consciousness he managed to look into the mirror. To his surprise and horror he noticed some changes in his face, like an ogre. Coincidentally, his fiancée also appeared at the entrance of the cave and was calling out his name. He suddenly realized that the wealth and power that accompanied the success was corrupting him and slowly changing him into a monster. 

The two lovers managed to resist the temptation of power, destroyed the cave and its contents, and returned to their village. Then only all of them knew the secret of how their heroes were changed into the monsters by the ‘Power that corrupts’. 

No wonder the power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Just look at the cruel King Thi Baw’s replacement by the exploitations of the empire. After the revolution our allied Japanese changed into Fascists. There are some reports of BIA soldiers’ extreme cruel actions on some of the villages. Freedom fighter AFPFL also changed and corrupted and divided into two parties. BIA had to be replaced with BDA and later transformed into the present Myanmar Tatmadaw but its leaders, Ne Win, Saw Maung and Than Shwe are all corrupt and transformed  into biggest monsters and are still terrorizing the country.  

We all are waiting for NLD and all the opposition parties to liberate our Shwe Bama but hope and pray that they would be able to control themselves, like the wise village youth leader, from corruption and prevent changing into a monster. 

(The above was a very popular story played by the Burmese Government Cultural Opera in 70’s, but once the authorities realized that the opera carried a very good lesson they ordered to drop the curtain on it.) 




Yebaw Day said _

Dear U Shwe Ba, your writings have always inspired me and I am glad you retold this story.  As a kid growing up in Rangoon in the 60s or 70s, I saw it in the movies in a cartoon version, as a short feature film;  instead of a cave, each hero went up to the castle nanndaw to fight the monster-dictator, and each time, the people just grew poorer and poorer.  With each dictator, the people lost more possessions.  In the cartoon version, the final hero and his father lost their oxen and they were reduced to pulling the plough by themselves and this is when they cannot take it any more;  the final hero goes to fight the dictator; when done, he discovers a treasure trove within the palace, his face becomes corrupt, but he sees his reflection in the polished surface of a golden vase and he regains his senses, destroys the palace, and truly liberates the people.  But no matter what the slight differences are in each version, it does not matter.  What matters is the lesson that you pointed out.
I just wanted to indicate a small discrepancy.
In the 2nd line of the third last para, “After the revolution our allied Japanese changed into Fascists.” This means 1942.
I hope you will not mind, but the Japanese were already corrupt, cruel fascists since the time they invaded Manchuria in the early 1930’s, circa 1933, and then invaded the rest of China during the rest of the decade.  “The Rape of Nanking” was in circa 1937 in which about 30,000 Chinese where brutally killed.  So you could say that the Japanese were already fascists since then.
But that small mistake you made does not change your thesis, which is correct, so true.
In the 70’s there was another movie, this one a full length,   in Rangoon, about revolution in one of the Latin American nations.  Like in your story, a revolution occurs, the leaders become corrupt, and their men terrorize the countryside; a young boy witnesses his mother and sisters horribly violated; his father and brothers come home to capture these government soldiers and his father teaches the young boy how to shoot (holding the machine gun together)  and execute the war criminals, telling him to say , “This is for my mother, for my sister, for my country!” He grows up to be one of the heroic revolutionary leaders and succeeds in liberating his land…..
and then, in the chaos that followed, the nation again degenerates into the same corrupt violence that occurred when he was a child.
It is very Tayah kyaht zayar, philosophically sobering.
ERGO, Let us hold up your story high to remind us,  to warn us  to beware of the very possible degeneration that can insidiously begin to corrupt us when our revolution finally succeeds.
Meanwhile, let us stay motivated.
Aung yaht myi, Aung yaht myi, Aung yaht myi!