LOIKAW, Karenni State — Standing amid a compound large enough to house a football pitch in downtown Loikaw, the palatial Kantarawadi Haw is perhaps the last surviving reminder of a bygone era in Karenni State.
The two-story building, known locally as a “Haw,” was originally constructed to house the local prince, known as a saopha, and his family. Eastern Burma was essentially divided into fiefdoms under the saopha system, which served the region well into the 20th century.
Local legend has it that the structure was built in 1912 by the saopha of Loikaw, Sao Khun
Li, and took four years to complete. The Haw survived World War II, while other Haws in the surrounding area were destroyed. Several rounds of preservation works, paid for by well-wishers seeking the showcase the Karenni people’s cultural heritage, have allowed the building to maintain its dignity despite its age.
But today the Haw is no longer a royal residence. The offspring of its last saopha donated the building to Loikaw’s Buddhist clergy, who since 1994 have been running it as a monastery, now renamed Mingalar Haw Gyi Buddhist Teaching Center. More than 30 monks now study Buddhism at the formerly princely abode.