A so-called white elephant calf, which was born a few months ago and has been seen by Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing as evidence of his greatness, has been named in a ceremony in Naypyitaw.
The little pachyderm was named Rattha Nandaka (meaning Nation Affection, Prosperity and Happiness in Pali). The name means “the precious white elephant beloved by the country will bring prosperity and happiness to the nation”, according to junta-controlled newspapers.
Observers will believe the name contrasts with the chaotic situation in Myanmar since the coup.
A song was played with the chorus, “White elephants emerge during the reigns of great and mighty kings”. Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy Soe Win and junta defense minister Mya Tun Oo called the calf its name three times during the ceremony at Uppatasanti Pagoda, which houses other white elephants.
The calf, which might be tired after being transported from Rakhine State to Yangon and then Naypyitaw by road and sea, was rubbed, patted and sprinkled with scented water by the generals, their wives and junta ministers.
Min Aung Hlaing claims his coup was legal under the military-drafted 2008 Constitution but the junta leader appears increasingly eccentric, using pagodas, rubies and white elephants as evidence of his legitimacy, following earlier traditions of monarchs.
Previous junta leaders, including Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt, have hailed white elephants, seeing them as confirmation of their greatness.
“There is no significance to white elephants. Elephants are only animals, regardless of their color,” said prominent historian Dr. Than Tun.
Min Aung Hlaing says his elephant is more prestigious than eight other pachyderms unveiled by previous junta leaders, including Than Shwe and Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government after 2010.
The calf and his mother have failed to capture the public imagination amid Myanmar’s ongoing conflict but many expressed sadness that they would be held in a shed in Naypyitaw rather than living in the wild.