Splashing the military Junta – Water festival (Tyngan) 2012 in Myanmar/Burma
Sanne van Oosten
We are visiting Myanmar/Burma at a remarkable time. Indeed, preliminary elections have just been held, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) won almost all of the available seats. But the time we are visiting is remarkable for another reason as well. It is the end of the year according to the Buddhist calendar, meaning the time for the yearly water festival tyngan has come. How is the outcome of the elections influencing the festivities surrounding the water festival?
First off, let me explain a little bit more about the water festival tyngan. At the end of the dry season and at the peak of the summer heat, many Buddhist countries celebrate their New Year in appropriate fashion, by refreshing each other by throwing water on all passersby. Sometimes this is done in a friendly, peaceful fashion. While smiling broadly, friendly people of all ages will run up to you and slowly pour water down your neck, while wishing you a happy new year.
But more often than not this water festival tyngan looks more like a massive water fight. Youngsters pack themselves on pickup trucks and tractors and go through the streets while others hose them down. The drivers of the pickup trucks and tractors will stop for about half a minute whenever they reach people equipped with hoses and buckets, so the passengers can get a maximum soak. In the larger cities such as Mandalay and Yangon, party stages are set up allowing paying guests (and as it turns out, white people who politely ask to be allowed in) on the stage where they get to hose the people down below with pretty powerful water cannons. Long story short, for a period of 3 to 6 days it is impossible to walk over the street without getting soaked.
Second, let me explain a little bit more about the political situation that Myanmar/Burma is in. In 1990 the elections were massively won by the NLD, headed by the famous Aung San Suu Kyi. The military junta forced Aung San Suu Kyi into house arrest while ignoring the election outcome. This initiated a series of economic sanctions from most Western countries, in order to pressure the military into acknowledging the human rights of their many political prisoners. Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for her patient and peaceful protest towards the military while she was in house arrest.
Not until 2010 was Aung San Suu Kyi released from her house arrest, after which she appeared in virtually every news paper and magazine in the West explaining the fate of the people of Myanmar. On the first of April 2012 by-elections were held and the NLD won 40 of the 45 seats that were up for election. The Myanmar parliament does not only have 45 seats, it totals to 440. The reason why only 45 seats were up for election this time is because 45 seats had become vacant as parliamentary members took on new jobs in the government. In 2015 new elections will be held in which all of the seats will be up for election. It remains to be seen what will happen then.
A person we spoke to stated that water festival tyngan is celebrated wildly each year, but that it is even more intense this year, because of how the NLD swept the elections just before. Even though I can’t compare this year’s water festival tyngan to any other year before, I can say this: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of people party so hard as the people of Myanmar during this festival. Things are slowly changing in Myanmar and the people are happy about it. Much more needs to be changed, but they are optimistic that one day they will have a government that is not ruled by the military junta. At one point we saw a pickup truck with uniformed soldiers drive by. Guess what the nearby children armed with buckets of water did? That’s right, they splashed them. Maybe things are going to change…