After Decades in Limbo, A Family Will Put Their Daughter’s Soul to Rest

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 3 December 2015

RANGOON — Win Maw Oo’s parents kept their promise for 27 years, steadfastly waiting for the moment they could bestow peace on her restless soul. They now believe that moment will arrive early next year when the party of Aung San Suu Kyi takes power.

Most people recognize Win Maw Oo as the blood-soaked young woman who was pictured being carried away by two medics during the 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Rangoon. That photograph, which appeared in the Oct. 3, 1988 issue of Newsweek’s Asia edition, became an iconic reminder of the brutal event.

After learning that she had been shot down and left unconscious, her father frantically searched the wards of Rangoon General Hospital until he found her.  From what turned out to be her deathbed, then 16-year-old Win Maw Oo begged her father not to perform Buddhist funeral rites until “Burma enjoys democracy.”

The request was difficult for her family to accept; Burmese Buddhists share a deeply rooted traditional belief that a person’s soul cannot rest in peace until his or her name is called out by the family to share their merit with the deceased. It was painful for them, believing that their daughter’s soul wandered in limbo for more than two decades, but now they plan to put her to rest.

“We will do it right after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s new democratic government comes to power next year,” her father, Win Kyu, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. The rite of calling out the name of the deceased, which is known in Burmese as a hmya pay, will be repeated on the anniversary of her untimely death, Sept. 19.

The traditional rite will also be held in her honor in Irrawaddy Division on Sunday, organized by Ohn Kyaw, a former political prisoner in Nyaungdon Township.

“Given the current political situation—and as a fellow comrade,” Ohn Kyaw said, “I just wish for Win Maw Oo’s soul to rest in peace. That’s why I arranged the event and I have got her parents’ permission.”

Win Kyu said that he and his wife will attend the ceremony, but they will not perform the rite of calling out her name, stating that “we will only do it once Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has come to power.”

Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), secured a landslide victory in the Nov. 8 general election, granting it the power to form the next administration. The party had won a 1990 election in similar fashion, but the results were annulled by the military. Twenty-five years later, the party looks certain to assume its rightful place among Burma’s leadership.

“It will be good for both the country and my daughter,” Win Kyu said, “Burma gets democracy and my daughter’s soul will be put to rest.”