MANDALAY — Myanmar’s largest annual nat festival scheduled to begin on Monday in Taung Pyone near Mandalay has been cancelled over fears of spreading the H1N1 influenza outbreak currently rattling the country.
“The festival ground is always crowded and germs would spread easily, so we have decided to postpone the festival until the influenza is under control,” Mandalay Region Chief Minister U Zaw Myint Maung told reporters on Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across Myanmar flock to the annual festival in Taung Pyone village, 15 miles north of Mandalay. It is held in honor of two brothers—Min Gyi and Min Lay—who were believed to have become nat spirits after they were executed by King Anawrahta.
On Sunday, the health ministry announced 10 lives had now been claimed by the influenza from a total of 182 suspected cases since July 21. Parliament approved an urgent proposal to boost awareness of H1N1 influenza in an attempt to control the country’s outbreak last week.
U Zaw Myint Maung said government health officials will screen people who have already arrived in the area to attend the festival, which was scheduled to run until Aug. 8, and treat and quarantine infected persons.
Owners of local shops, food stalls, and restaurants have complained over losing business due to the late cancellation.
Restaurant owner Daw Swe Swe said she was one of many shop and restaurant owners who would lose out after already paying rental fees for a spot at the festival.
Trustees of the festival said they had already forked out wages for security personnel and other laborers and were worried that spiritual mediums, who channel nat spirits at the event, would not pay due rental fees.
“We will miss out as medium performers will not receive visitors and worshipers,” said a trustee of the festival. “But what can we do? This is a health issue.”
Mediums, however, told The Irrawaddy that performers would remain at festival grounds to perform the rituals regardless.
“We do this every year no matter what happens,” said senior spiritual medium Mommy Noe. “We will do the ritual without failure, even if there are no worshippers visiting Taung Pyone.”
“For health and safety, I will not leave the festival grounds until the festival has finished, and I will take care of my health. I believe Min Gyi and Min Lay will bless us with good health,” she added.