Burmese Tycoon Brings Pygmy Man to Rangoon

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 24 September 2013

RANGOON — It is not clear why Tay Za, a well-known Burmese tycoon on the US sanctions list, brought a pygmy man from Burma’s Kachin State to Rangoon this week, but some observers suggested that he was trying to promote tourism in the far northern state, where he hopes to set up a mountain resort.

Tay Za’s Htoo Foundation came to Rangoon over the weekend with Dar Weik, a man from the ethnic Tarong group—a remnant of the only known pygmy tribe of Southeast Asia, with men being less than 4 feet tall. The Tarong have seen their population diminish in Burma, with the Htoo Foundation saying that only three Tarong people now live in Kachin State’s Putao District.

Tay Za has major business interests in Putao, including a 100,000 acre logging concession, and he plans to establish a resort in the district on Fukanrazi Mountain.

“Our chairman has brought a Tarong short man to visit Rangoon, to relax here,” Paw Myint Oo, chief executive of the Htoo Foundation, told The Irrawaddy this week.

The Tarong man was introduced to the media at a ceremony organized by the Htoo Foundation. The ceremony also promoted the activities of a team of American and Burmese mountaineers who last month climbed Mount Gamlang Razi, also in Kachin State.

The Htoo Foundation announced on its Facebook page that 60-year-old Dar Weik would go on a tour of Rangoon and Naypyidaw to witness the development of the country, to enhance the “national spirit” and to gain general knowledge, in addition to purchasing necessary materials for the development of Putao.

Dar Weik is the only male Tarong living in Burma, according to local media. He lives in the remote village of Karong in Putao District and is reportedly in good health. He does not have any children and his wife died 10 years ago. He has an older sister and a younger sister, who married an ethnic Rawan man and gave birth to children of normal height.

Wolfgang H. Trost, a German author based in Hong Kong, has written about the Tarong ethnic group and met Dar Weik’s family while visiting Kachin State in 2002.

“As for Tay Za’s motives for bringing [I called him Dar Wi], I can only speculate that it was his way of making a friendly impression on the local people,” Trost told The Irrawaddy. “He likes to be seen as close to the mountains and the local people.”

Trost recalled how Tay Za was stranded on the ice-covered Fukanrazi Mountain for three days in 2011, after his helicopter was forced to land on the mountain due to bad weather. Tay Za had been conducting a survey prior to a mountaineering trip in the area.

“In any case, he has large plans for ‘mountain/ski tourism’ in the Putao region,” Trost said, adding that the tycoon also had interests in logging.

Tay Za was recently granted a 100,000 acre (40,000 hectare) logging concession in Putao by the Burma government, allowing him to access a large stretch of pristine teak forests. The tycoon’s firm has also reportedly requested a concession to 600,000 acres for gold mining.

Trost said these business plans were the most interesting possible motivation for Tay Za to bring his “new friend” to Rangoon.

“All the press, and it’s good PR for himself, as for [Dar Weik]. Yes, he is surely the only remaining and pure-blooded Tarong man. The other two are very fragile old ladies—that’s the way they looked to me, even when I saw them in 2002,” he said.

Rangoon University’s department of anthropology researched the Tarong ethnic community in the early 2000s, and said at the time that about five Tarong people remained in Kachin State.

The Tarong are a remnant of the only known pygmy tribe of Southeast Asia, and in the absence of a written history, their origin is somewhat obscure. But it is widely accepted that they are a people of Mongolian stock who, together with other regional ethnic groups, migrated south and settled in the upper reaches of the sources of the Irrawaddy River.

The original Tarong settlers in Burma came from the village of Longdammarea, and the reasons for their migration are not entirely clear, although according to local legend, they left their home in the course of violent conflict with their Tibetan neighbors.

In addition to Dar Weik, the Htoo Foundation brought to Rangoon the first Burmese national to reach the summit of Mount Khakaborazi, the country’s highest mountain. The climber, Namar Gyansen, is also a guide for trekking groups on Mount Gamlang Razi.