Museum to Honor Arakanese Independence Hero U Ottama

By Khin Oo Tha 26 June 2013

The country’s first-ever museum dedicated to the late abbot U Ottama (1879-1939), a leading figure of Burma’s independence struggle in the early 20th century, will be built in Sittwe, the capital of western Arakan State.

U Ariyawuntha, currently abbot of the Shwe Zedi Kyaung monastery formerly presided over by the nationalist hero, told The Irrawaddy that the museum’s foundation would be laid with a ceremony in July.

“Although Sayadaw [Abbot] U Ottama was one of the leaders in the independence movement, little related to him remains in Burma,” U Ariyawuntha said. “In Japan, a school where he taught and his museum [there] are still kept in good shape. We thought there should be a museum in our country as well to honor his enormous sacrifices for his people. That’s why we plan to build this.”

Born in a village in Sittwe, the ethnic Arakanese U Ottama was known for his anti-colonial political activities. He was arrested in 1921 for his infamous “Craddock, Get Out!” speech, a harangue against the Craddock Scheme of Sir Reginald Craddock, then the governor of British Burma. Craddock’s plan to give Burma some financial autonomy from its sister colony India was widely rejected by nationalist leaders of the time.

U Ottama was repeatedly imprisoned on charges of sedition and in 1939, he died in prison while staging a hunger strike.

In order to raise funds for the Sittwe museum’s construction, U Ariyawuntha said video discs detailing his fight for independence would be sold. The videos also aim to spread knowledge about the late abbot among younger generations, he added.

“The history of the Sayadaw and items relating to him will be displayed in the museum, which is expected to cost around 200 million kyat [US$208,000],” U Ariyawuntha added.

U Zawana, a monk who was imprisoned for political activism, explained to The Irrawaddy that a U Ottama museum and the school at which he taught, both in the Japanese city of Nagoya, are preserved and serve as a place for students to study. Tourists from around the world are also regular visitors.

“I didn’t know before why we Burmese figuratively called the Sayadaw ‘The Sun of Asia,’ but I now realize the reason,” U Zawana said. “He not only showed the path to liberation for our country but also for those oppressed in the whole of Asia.”

During nearly five decades of military rule in Burma, any ceremony commemorating the late abbot was banned by authorities and anyone involved in such an event risked prison time. U Ottama Park, located near Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, also had its name changed to Kandaw Mingalar Park and saw the removal of his bronze statue there.

U Ariyawuntha, however, said ceremonies honoring the national hero have been freely permitted since the administration of President Thein Sein took office in 2011.