Burma

Myanmar Junta Chief Perpetuates Predecessors’ Superstitious Obsession With Rubies

By The Irrawaddy 11 July 2022

Successive military dictators since the previous military regime the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) have one thing in common—being superstitious and thick-headed.

The military leaders of the SLORC were crazy about white elephants, which are in fact Albino pachyderms, as well as rubies, which are traditionally associated with royalty and wealth in Myanmar. Historically, the status of a king was evaluated by the number of white elephants in his possession. Peculiarly enough, military generals took great pride in the discovery of white elephants and rubies during their rule, describing themselves as true heirs of kings.

Min Aung Hlaing is the latest military leader to inherit this peculiar vanity.

The junta broadcasters in their 8 p.m., July 7 newscasts reported about the “Tatmadaw’s [Myanmar military’s] donation of a 2,789.25 carat ruby to the State”, in which the military headed by Min Aung Hlaing handed over the ruby to the interim government led by State Administration Council (SAC) chairman and Prime Minister Min Aung Hlaing. In other words, Min Aung Hlaing handed the ruby over to himself.

The Na Sa Ka ruby.

According to Min Aung Hlaing, a young man who loves the country and Tatmadaw donated the ruby, which was handed down to him by his ancestors, to the Tatmadaw; the ruby was found to be a rare treasure unearthed from Mogoke, Myanmar’s “Land of Rubies”, and therefore handed over to the State; and the young man will be rewarded duly.

The following day’s issues of junta newspapers featured huge pictures of the ruby, which was named after the SAC, or its Burmese acronym Na Sa Ka, on their front pages. The junta’s mouthpiece Myawaddy Daily even featured an editorial and an article which listed the astrological benefits of wearing a ruby, saying it brings the owner reputation and fame, commands authority and wards off evil.

The donation of a large ruby to the government is the second since the chairman of Htoo Group of Companies, arch-crony U Tay Za, who has close ties with former military dictator Than Shwe, in his capacity as the chairman of Myanmar Gems and Jewelry Entrepreneurs Association donated a 1,907 carat ruby to ex-general Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government in 2013.

The junta media said that the ruby was thoroughly examined by gemologists and lapidaries and found to be beyond valuation and thus heavily guarded by state-level security before the news was officially released.

Crony U Tay Za hands over a ruby to ministers of the U Thein Sein administration.

The craze for rubies was hatched by former military dictators Saw Maung, Than Shwe and ex-general Khin Nyunt.

A similar report about a priceless ruby was also featured in the Aug. 20, 1990 issue of the Working People’s Daily two years after 1988 pro-democracy uprising. The front-page photo featured military chief Saw Maung, his deputy Than Shwe and military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt and a bunch of generals looking at the ruby, named after the SLORC, or its Burmese acronym Na Wa Ta.

The ruby was reportedly discovered in Mogoke in early 1990. Its size is 43mm x 37mm x 33mm and the original weight is 504.5 carats; 496.5 carats after being polished.

To commemorate the discovery of the ruby, the then regime published 50-cent stamps commemorative of the 1991 jade and gems emporium with a photo of the ruby and also placed large-size replicas at a roundabout near Yangon Zoo, and at Dagon University in Yangon. Mockingly, people refer to those replicas as pieces of beef. Many regime-published books featured photos of the ruby printed on high-quality paper.

A stamp featuring a photo of the Na Wa Ta ruby.

Then military spy chief Khin Nyunt boasted in his books about how his military intelligence officers took back the ruby from Thailand’s Mae Sot to where it had been smuggled from Mogoke. But Daw Soe Soe Tun, the owner of the ruby who was imprisoned for illegally selling it, said she bought it back from her buyers and handed it over to the regime.

Over time, the ruby has faded into obscurity, and its current whereabouts are unknown.

Late dictator Saw Maung (left) and Than Shwe look at gems at a gem emporium in 1991.

Military generals’ craziness for rubies is reflected in the names of their businesses such as Ruby Mart Shopping Mall, Red Ruby cigarettes and a new satellite town named Ruby.

Like his predecessors, Min Aung Hlaing now has a ruby named after his regime, and this one is much bigger than the previous regime’s. To flatter Min Aung Hlaing, military mouthpiece Myawaddy Daily claimed that the ruby is unprecedented in its size and quality.

Former dictator Than Shwe (sitting) and generals look at the Na Wa Ta ruby.

The question is whether the ruby will bring good fortune to the country. The answer is definitely no, as long as Min Aung Hlaing is still in power.  Min Aung Hlaing may now be swelling with pride that the ruby was discovered because of his “hpoun”—power acquired through past acts of merit. If someone said successive military generals in Myanmar are superstitious and low IQ because of their peculiar notions, it would be hard to argue with them.

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