Saturday, November 24, 2007

Than Shwe Finds Burma’s Fate in the Stars

Burmese junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s wife Kyaing Kyaing recently visited the celebrated Shit Myet Hna pagoda in her husband’s birthplace, Kyaukse, in central Burma, but she wasn’t just sightseeing or calling on friends and relatives.

The revered site is known as the “Eight Faces” pagoda because it faces eight points of the compass. Kyaing Kyaing is reported to have prayed symbolically there for support from all sides for her beleaguered husband and his despised regime.

Kyaing Kyaing and her husband, like many members of the ruling military, are deeply superstitious and rely on astrologers and other soothsayers to advise them.

They also indulge in yadaya, a kind of voodoo said to ward off ill-fortune, and are said to have employed its rituals in an occult bid to influence meetings between opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the official appointed by Than Shwe to act as a go-between, retired general Aung Kyi.

Than Shwe reportedly even attaches significance to Aung Kyi’s name, combining as it does Aung at the start and Kyi at the end. This combination is known in Burmese as “Ket’ Kin,” meaning the state of two names being diametrically opposite to each other and thus astrologically significant.

There are others examples of ‘Ket’ Kin’ within the military junta. The names of Than Shwe, Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein and the official who signs government decrees and statements, Col Thant Shin, all begin with the letter T and end with S—‘Ket’ Kin,” according to the superstitious.

Than Shwe wasn’t always so subject to superstitious belief—one source close to the family says he was no strong believer in astrology when he was regional military commander in the Irrawaddy delta.

His wife Kyaing Kyaing, originally ethnic Pa-O, has long been a strong believer in nats, or spirits, astrology and yadaya.

She is said to have been told by an astrologer in the 1980s that her husband would one day head the government. The astrologer, a monk, also offered the delighted Kyaing Kyaing the information that her husband had been a king in his past life.

After the first prediction came true, Than Shwe (not surprisingly) developed his interest in astrology and yadaya and began to seek the advice of astrologers and soothsayers—including Rangoon’s most famous fortune-teller, ET (also known as E Thi).

A Buddhist nun, Daw Dhammathi, is believed to be one of his family’s most favored astrologists, and Kyaing Kyaing is a frequent visitor to her temple compound in Rangoon’s North Okkalapa suburb.

Than Shwe’s efforts to neutralize the powers of Suu Kyi are also said to account for his extraordinary initiative to force Burmese to grow physic nuts, which are intended to provide alternative fuel for the cash-strapped country.

Physic nuts are known as kyet suu in Burmese, a combination of words that carry the astrological meaning of Monday-Tuesday. Suu Kyi’s own name has the astrological meaning of Tuesday-Monday, and it’s said that Than Shwe’s astrologer suggested that by planting kyet suu throughout the country Suu Kyi’s powers could be neutralized.

There’s no sign of that happening yet. Astrology and yadaya obviously have their limitations.

Source: The Irrawaddy

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